Burns Scholar Sees Stronger Irish-American Ties

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

For historian Kevin Whelan, the opportunity to be the 1995-96 Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies comes at a perfect time, when he feels the traditional links between Ireland and America are strengthening.

Whelan points to the US role in nurturing the Northern Ireland peace process as a more conspicuous example of this bond, but he also sees it reflected in the growing number of Irish studies programs in America and resources on Irish culture like the collections found at the Burns Library. Irish-Americans, he said, are culturally self-confident and becoming increasingly sophisticated and aware of their shared heritage.

"I see a much greater dialogue between Irish-Americans and Ireland and a growing awareness in Ireland for our responsibility towards reconnecting with the global diaspora," he said. "These reasons make it a good time for me to be in America."

Whelan is a bicentennial research fellow at the Royal Irish Academy and an adjunct professor of history at University College Galway. He was formerly assistant keeper of manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland and a Newman Scholar at University College Dublin.

"Kevin is one of the rising stars in academic circles in Ireland and a prolific writer well known in the field of Irish history," said Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill. "He brings a broad background in Church, political and local history - as well an expertise on the famine - and we are absolutely delighted to have him here."

Whelan says he is excited to be at Boston College and take advantage of its "very rich and impressive" collections as he finishes an illustrated atlas on the evolution of rural Ireland, which will be published next year. He is also using the collections to work on a book on the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. Whelan is teaching a graduate course this semester, "A Guide to Irish Research," which O'Neill said is oversubscribed due to its popularity, and in the spring he will teach an undergraduate course, "The 1790s as a Revolutionary Decade in Ireland."

Last month, Whelan presented his first public lecture at the University, "Born Astride a Grave: The Cultural Impact of the Great Famine," to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish famine.

Whelan is also advising O'Neill on the library's Irish holdings and suggesting possible future acquisitions, although he said the current holdings already make Boston College one of the premiere places in America for Irish Studies.

Whelan holds a bachelor's degree in English and geography from University College Dublin and a doctoral degree from the National University of Ireland. He also received a fellowship from the National University of Ireland to study at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland.

The Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies chair, established five years ago with a grant from the Burns Foundation of San Francisco, is offered annually to a person who has made significant contributions to Irish culture or intellectual life, and who will use the Irish Collection at the Burns Library for research. Past holders, affiliated with some of Ireland's most prestigious cultural and educational institutions, have represented the fields of history, literature, bibliography, language and art. In addition to research obligations, chairholders teach two courses and present two lectures each year.

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