Bringing 1916 to Montana
Few may realise that Montana is home to the largest Irish-American population, per capita, west of the Mississippi River. Since the 1870s large numbers of Irish migrants made the long journey to the Rocky Mountains, where they mined copper and gold in great quantities.
The city of Butte remains the center of a very large Irish-American population, mostly descended from Cork emigrants. It is no surprise then that UM has a vibrant Irish Studies programme, which grew from collaboration between the Irish-American community and UM’s faculty. Carefully directed by Dr Traolach Ó Riordáin, students study the Irish language, literature, music, dance, film, theatre and history.
I am teaching two modules here, the first a general survey of Irish history from the earliest times to the present; the second drawn from my specialist expertise in eighteenth-century Ireland, intermixed with American colonial history (the two places having similar political and social experiences). Those taking classes range from individuals with no knowledge of Ireland to those who have not only visited the country and are aware of its past, but can also speak fluent Irish.
There is tremendous interest among the students in understanding the significance of the 1916 Rising, and what I’m doing in my modules is providing time for them to research and present their findings on the rising itself and how it was and is being commemorated in Ireland and America. This has been both exciting and rewarding, as the students often adopt approaches and provide insights that reflect their own cultural background.
While in Montana, I hope to continue to build the ties between UL and UM’s faculty and students to provide more opportunities for collaboration and partnership.