Why more schools in the United States should offer Irish studies

Irish flag, weathered and tattered.

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, there is about to be an influx of ignorant people wearing overwhelmingly offensive t-shirts that are branded with slogans like ‘One more and I’ll be drunk, or Irish’  or that awful ‘Irish yoga’ shirt. This could all be avoided if more schools taught Irish Studies.

If we introduce Irish Studies to more schools we can finally end the entire debate about “is Ireland in England/UK/Great Britain?” More and more people will understand the devastation and lasting mark the Great Famine left on Ireland.  People will understand why the Irish get so angry about those terrible t-shirts. People will stop complaining about the pronunciation of Irish names like Caoimhe, Fionnuala, and Eoin and pronounce them correctly.

It make take a while, and it won’t happen overnight, but maybe within a decade we’ll begin to see less offensive Irish t-shirts and less offensive pronunciations of Irish names. I’d like to name my daughter Maire Fionnuala and my son Eoin Seamus (pending approval from the mother of the aforementioned, hypothetical children) without having to worry about their names being butchered.

I was taught Irish Studies from fifth until the last days of my college career. It was my minor in college and my family’s Irish lineage has always fascinated me.

My first day at Hofstra University on Long Island, was also my first day in their Irish Studies program. I was 18 and all bright-eyed. I was excited and nervous and I’d had three cups of coffee before my first class had even started. I was as ready as I was going to be.

I chose a seat, in the middle but towards the back. I was here to learn but also to make friends. I didn’t want to look like an overachiever. The professor walked in, smiled and said, ‘Welcome to IRE20: Ireland inside out.” From that introductory course on, I was hooked. 

I was already pretty well versed in the area of study and was already enthralled in this course. That morning I was just glad I had picked a class that I could really get into.

My experience in Hofstra’s Irish Studies department was incredible in many ways. A major one was how the staff always made me feel like a peer instead of a pupil. I was never spoken down to, I could always get their help without being embarrassed, there was a real sense of mutual respect in the program that I think is often missed in universities. The field of academia is so new that the professors instead of brutally correcting a student’s mistake will actually take the time to find the answer and to it learn with you.