Professor Frank Shovlin visits the University of Notre Dame, USA

Posted on: 15 October 2019 by Professor Frank Shovlin in 2019 posts

Professor Frank Shovlin writes about his recent visiting fellowship to the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA.

I recently returned from a two-week visiting fellowship at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. When I initially received the invitation to visit last March I knew immediately that if I could fit a visit in with work commitments in Liverpool, I would go.

I don’t quite know when I first heard of Notre Dame but it goes a long way back into my childhood when I developed an interest in American football and I was conscious that the university had a proud history of national football titles, of portrayals in Hollywood films and of famous former players who went on to stellar professional careers in the National Football League: Joe Montana, Tim Brown, Paul Hornung and many, many more. I had the pleasure of attending a game between Notre Dame and New Mexico university – a game won comfortably by Notre Dame – on 14 September, and the day before was given a stadium tour by Hunter Bevin, a former offensive lineman and perhaps the single biggest human I have ever met.

Professor Frank Shovlin

But as important as football is to Notre Dame’s DNA, I was not in South Bend as a sportswriter but as a literary scholar. For Notre Dame has the most impressive Irish Studies programme anywhere in North America, generously funded by donors and therefore formally called the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. At its head is Professor Patrick Griffin, an American of Irish parentage and an expert on the intersection of colonial American and early modern Irish and British history, focusing on Atlantic-wide themes and dynamics. He has published work on the movement of peoples and cultures across the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the process of adaptation. He also examines the ways in which Ireland, Britain and America were linked during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Other prestigious figures who I met during the course of my short fellowship include Declan Kiberd, one of Ireland’s leading literary scholars and many years ago the external examiner for my Oxford D.Phil; Gary Murphy, visiting from Dublin City University, working towards completing the authorized biography of Charles J. Haughey; Enrico Terrinoni, Chair in English Literature at the University of Perugia, and the Italian translator of Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; Brian Ó Conchubhair, the Irish language scholar writing a much needed biography of Flann O’Brien; and the NEH postdoctoral fellow Stephen O’Neill from Belfast, now working on a cultural history of the partitioning of Ireland. There were many others who contributed to making my trip intellectually stimulating and socially enjoyable.

My overall impression of Irish Studies at Notre Dame was one of a vibrant and exciting academic community where pretty much every aspect of the Irish experience at home and abroad comes under careful scrutiny. My own contribution was to deliver a guest lecture on John McGahern’s letters in the year 1970 in the impressive surrounds of the Snite Museum of Art surrounded by a wonderful exhibition of Irish art ‘Looking at the Stars’.