Irish Unity

Irish Studies and the Irish Institute move under one roof at renovated Connolly House

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

In the brief time it has served as the new center for Boston College's Irish programs, Connolly House has hosted political leaders, business executives, renowned poets and composers, and even a troupe of step-dancers.

After serving largely as a facility for University functions and meetings since its acquisition in 1976, the Hammond Street property was renovated and then reopened over the summer as the headquarters for the Irish Institute and Irish Studies Program. The building's formal opening took place at a ceremony Oct. 16 with Irish President Mary McAleese.

Connolly House's tenants readily sing the praises of their new home, named for former University librarians, Fathers Terence and Brendan Connolly. Besides its considerable aesthetic qualities, they say, the building has enabled them to centralize and integrate their operations, as well as enhance communication between offices.

Just as importantly, the administrators add, Connolly House stands as a symbol of the University's commitment to Irish-related academic, cultural and management efforts.

"The investment Boston College made in Connolly House shows how seriously it takes its Irish programs," said Irish Institute Director Sean Rowland. "We've enjoyed support from the University administration throughout our history, and this is a very important and visible affirmation. We're delighted to be in Connolly House, where we can invite our guests from Ireland and Britain, as well as the US, to work with us."

The main staircase in Connolly House. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
"Connolly House is a tremendous validation by Boston College of its Irish resources," said Irish Studies Co-director Prof. Adele Dalsimer (English). "Being gathered under one roof instead of several buildings has enriched Irish Studies. We can see and talk with one another, share ideas far more easily than we could before. Connolly House is truly a home."

The changes to Connolly House are not immediately apparent upon entering the building, which was part of the plan, says Planning Department Designer Robert Pion. The Andover Room and the smaller Wedgewood Room, as well as the reading and dining rooms underwent relatively minor alterations such as repainting and recarpeting, he said, with the Wedgewood Room receiving a new chandelier.

"The idea was to preserve the downstairs as an inviting place for receptions and meetings," explained Pion. "Yet we wanted to enhance it as well, so that meant upgrading some electrical and mechanical systems - there were some light fixtures from when the house was first acquired, for instance, which seemed inappropriate for what we wanted to accomplish, so these were replaced."

One conspicuous addition to the Andover Room was a stained glass window depicting St. Patrick meeting the Irish king Laoghaire. The window is believed to be a creation of the same artisans who designed the stained glass in Gasson Hall, noted Irish Studies Associate Director Robert Savage.

The second and third floors - particularly the latter - are where the major changes took place. Main offices for both Irish Studies and the Irish Institute were fashioned from what had been an apartment on the second floor. The third floor, which had contained three rooms and a kitchen, was converted into five faculty offices and a room for graduate students which includes a computer workstation.

Connolly House has been showcased considerably since its reopening. In addition to McAleese, guests have included Northern Ireland Secretary of State Marjorie Mowlam, who was on campus last month for the announcement of an Irish Institute program in political leadership for members of the Northern Irish Assembly. Participants in the institute's numerous programs for Irish managers, business executives and government leaders also have been regular visitors.

The Irish Studies Program's 20th anniversary celebration earlier this month saw visits to Connolly House by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney and international recording star Phil Coulter, among others. In addition, Irish Studies hosted an open house for some 150 people, which proved a success despite inclement weather which prevented use of the Connolly House lawn - even a demonstration of Irish step-dancing went without a hitch, Savage noted.

Smaller-scaled events such as lectures, readings and seminars are also important to the Irish Institute and Irish Studies, however, and having a venue in which to stage them further demonstrates the value of Connolly House, say administrators.

"Those kinds of regular activities are the lifeblood of a program or institute," said Savage. "It's great to be able to say, 'This is where you'll find it all happening.'"

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