Irish programs leadership

After serving as interim director of the Boston College Center for Irish Programs during the 2016-17 academic year, James H. Murphy, CM, was appointed as the center’s director this summer.

Murphy becomes the third director in the history of the center, established in 2000 to coordinate the University’s academic, research, cultural and other activities in Irish affairs.

James Murphy
James H. Murphy (Lee Pellegrini)

The center encompasses the Irish Studies Program, renowned for its interdisciplinary approach to the study of Irish culture and society; the John J. Burns Library’s esteemed Irish Collection of famous authors, artists and other personalities; BC-Ireland, which incorporates a growing range of activities and services housed at its Dublin-based facility; the Irish Institute, which engages with Irish policymakers; and the Gaelic Roots Series, which presents concerts and other events to feature music and dance traditions of Ireland, Scotland and the United States.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be named director of Boston College’s Irish programs,” said Murphy, formerly a professor of English at DePaul University. “DePaul was a wonderful place in which to work, and I’m grateful for the time I spent there. But the opportunity to be at Boston College, the premier university for Irish programs, is an exciting one. I look forward to building on the many positive experiences I’ve had here.”

Murphy noted that next spring will be the 40th anniversary of the BC Irish Studies Program’s founding by Associate Professor of History Kevin O’Neill and Professor of English Adele Dalsimer (who died in 2000). 

“Irish Studies proved to be a strong, foundational program, directed by two inspirational leaders, and paved the way for the rich, diverse offerings in Irish history, literature, arts and culture we enjoy here at BC.”

Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., said, “James Murphy is an internationally known scholar, and the leadership he has shown in the past year will be instrumental in helping move our Irish Studies program forward at a time when the field of Irish Studies worldwide is at a crossroads. We are fortunate to have a director with great thoughtfulness and collegiality here as the important discussion about the contemporary mission of Irish studies as a field takes shape at Boston College.”

 A Vincentian priest who was the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies in the fall of 2015, Murphy has pursued a career as both an historian of fiction as well as a political historian. Among his publications, he is the author of Irish Novelists and the Victorian Age; Abject Loyalty: Nationalism and Monarchy in Ireland During the Reign of Queen Victoria; Ireland’s Czar: Gladstonian Government and the Lord Lieutenancies of the Red Earl Spencer, 1868-1886; and editor of the 19th-century volume of the Oxford History of the Irish Book.

He holds two doctorates from University College Dublin and is also a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Maynooth University and the University of London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Murphy described his tenure as Burns Scholar and interim director as a series of revelations and impressions that convinced him to take the helm on a permanent basis.

“The teaching and research I did here as Burns Scholar was very satisfying, and I was struck by the liveliness in the Irish Studies Program,” he explained, citing as examples the major conference organized by Irish Studies to mark the 150th anniversary of William Butler Yeats’ birth, and the Raidin’ the Wake reading group devoted to Finnegans Wake. “I also appreciated the welcoming, friendly reception I received from the Irish Studies faculty and staff.

“During the past year, as interim director, I was able to get a wider view of BC’s Irish programs and the wonderful resources of Irish Studies, which enable us to put on excellent conferences and invite top speakers to campus. We are also fortunate to have the Burns Library, with its special Irish archival material; BC-Ireland, and what it provides for students and scholarly activities as well as BC’s outreach; and the Gaelic Roots Series, an important connection to the music community in Boston and elsewhere.”

Murphy also cited the networks created through the Irish programs of the Global Leadership Institute (which now incorporates the Irish Institute) and the many Irish-themed exhibitions hosted by the McMullen Museum of Art as other signs of vitality in Irish programs and initiatives at BC.

Echoing Fr. Kalscheur’s comments about the future of the Irish studies field, Murphy said that at the time BC’s Irish Studies Program was created, scholarly work in the discipline tended to center on issues related to The Troubles, and Ireland’s post-colonial identity.

“Time and events have moved on, of course, and there is a general feeling that Irish studies should be part of a wider discussion, connecting the history and culture of Ireland to those elsewhere in the world through comparative studies.”

Murphy said he would encourage the Irish Studies faculty – “a very distinguished group” – to continue and expand interaction with scholars from other disciplines, at BC and elsewhere. He also spoke approvingly of providing resources for conferences and other events that would be of interest to wider audiences, and would produce publications. 

“In general, I hope our work is marked by tolerance and inclusiveness, and shows balance and openness to perspectives on various issues,” said Murphy. “As we draw nearer to the start of Irish Studies’ fifth decade at BC, I feel confident about the future of our Irish programs.”

-Sean Smith / University Communications