“Who can say why one child in a family develops a fascination with her Irish heritage, any more than we fully understand why another is captivated by mathematics, and another needs to understand the structure of molecules?” asks Catherine McKenna, who as the Margaret Brooks Robinson Professor of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University is in a unique position to find out.
McKenna’s paternal grandparents hailed from Counties Monaghan and Cavan; her mother’s parents were natives of Laois and Kerry. Her interest in all things Irish has been intense for as long as she can remember.
“I have sometimes thought that it was in part because I didn’t know my father, who died when I was an infant, or my mother’s parents, who died before I was born, that I came to look beyond family history into the history of the country from which my people had come for my sense of who I am.”
Her love of stories, particularly Irish ones, has been lifelong. A native New Yorker, McKenna earned a bachelor of arts from Marymount College in Tarrytown, followed by a master’s and PhD from Harvard.
“I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in being able to devote so much of my professional life to teaching the Irish and Celtic heritage that has been my lens on the world and its history,” says McKenna, who will undoubtedly pass on her affinity for Ireland to her 1-year-old son John Andrew McGill, and husband John Allen McGill.
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