Glucksman Ireland House, the home of Center for Irish Studies at New York University, hosted its inaugural university day “Who Do You Think You Are,” on Saturday, April 17. The event, attended by some 125 people, was remarkable in content and variety of presenters.
Professor Pádraig Ó Cearúill, a popular Irish language lecturer at NYU, set the tone for the day by examining Irish place names, the true meaning of which is often lost in English translation.
Trinity College Professor Dan Bradley and Brian Donovan, Dublin-based heritage research specialist, explored the themes of Irish DNA and genealogy research.
Bradley, one of the foremost scientists in Irish genetic history (he unveiled Professor Henry Louis Gates’s Irish genes for PBS’s African-American Lives documentary series) talked about Niall of the Nine Hostages (one in five New Yorkers of Irish descent have his DNA). Donovan discussed materials available for genealogical research such as deeds, land surveys and other documents that are often overlooked sources of information.
Professor Marian Casey and Glucksman Ireland House Oral History Project colleague, Professor Miriam Nyhan, introduced excerpts of tapes of interviews that they have already carried out in a session entitled “Our Stories, Our Memories.” Meanwhile, an illustrious panel explored the theme of what it means to be Irish in America. Speakers were William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (Ironweed); Alice McDermott, National Book Award-winning novelist (Charming Billy); John Patrick Shanley, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and director (Doubt); and (Moonstruck) Academy Award-winning screenwriter.
Kennedy talked about rediscovering “the parish” when he was writing his Albany cycle. Shanley talked about rural Ireland, visiting his aunt and uncle on the family farm and their wonderful use of language, while Alice McDermott talked about her son finding his way to his cultural heritage through music. To top it off, Kennedy read from a new work.
The remarkable day was brought nicely to a close by Niall Burgess, Consul General of Ireland in New York, who talked about the relationship between Ireland and America.