University hosts symposium on the Irish Hunger

Christine Kinealy
Christine Kinealy

June 18, 2014 - Ireland's Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University hosted the 20th biennial meeting of the Ulster-American Heritage Symposium June 18-21, 2014.

Christine Kinealy, founding director of Ireland's Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, opened the conference at 3 p.m. on the York Hill Campus with welcome remarks for over 50 attendees, some of whom traveled from as far away as Ireland, Finland and the Netherlands. "There are a lot of events packed into these four days so literally, don't miss the bus," she said. "No professor left behind." 

Brian Lambkin, director of the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, then discussed the history of the Ulster-American Heritage Symposium and highlighted the thought-provoking and participatory spirit of the proceedings. "The idea behind the symposium is conversation," he said. "Not just to solemnly listen to interesting presentations." 

Piaras Mac Éinrí  of University College Cork in Ireland also presented the day's keynote lecture, "Prince Charles at the GPO? The Politics of Memorialisation." "The question of memorialisation and commemoration is full of many complexities," he said. Mac Éinrí emphasized the importance of development studies and links between famine and diaspora studies to get a better understanding of history. Sometimes people can be overwhlemed by the past to the point of losing any sense of it, he said. 

Since 1976, the symposium has met every two years, alternating between co-sponsoring universities and museums in Northern Ireland and the United States. This year marked the first time the symposium was hosted in a northern U.S. state.

Promoting cross-border and transatlantic relationships, the historic conference received sponsorship from the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland:

  • A grant through the Northern Ireland Bureau supports the reception at the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven
  • The Consul General of Ireland, Noel Kilkenny, and Hanora O'Dea Kilkenny will host a special viewing of the exhibition, "A Monumental Legacy: Archbishop John J. Hughes and the Building of St. Patrick's Cathedral," at the Consulate (exhibition continues through July 31).

Topics covered during the four-day symposium included:

  • Multifaceted explorations of the impact of Ireland's Great Hunger on migration patterns, personal and national identities and legacies
  • Consideration of less prominent, or hidden, famines and their correlation to Ireland's Great Hunger
  • Appearance of related themes in literature from both sides of the Atlantic
  • Religious legacies of the period and their impact on civil life

In addition to the academic program, participants took part in several special events:

  • A viewing of the "Lady Sligo Letters" exhibition with its curator, Christine Kinealy, founding director of Ireland's Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University. This collection from the 19th century chatelaine of Westport House in Co. Mayo was recently opened by the Irish Ambassador, Anne Anderson.
  • A visit to Ireland's Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac, where Executive Director Grace Brady offered a special tour of this unique collection of art related to the 19th century famine and its aftermath
  • A reception at the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven
  • A trip to the Famine Memorial in Battery Park, New York City.
  • A viewing of the exhibition, "A Monumental Legacy"with expert commentary by Curator/Producer Turlough McConnell, also a UAHS organizer and presenter.

About 40 lively and scholarly papers, many breaking new ground in understanding and scholarship, were presented. Keynote addresses were given by Kinealy, founding director of Ireland's Great Hunger Institute and conference co-chair; Dr. Gerald Moran, a pioneering academic researcher on emigration whose new book "Mayo: History and Society" has just been published; Dr. Piaras Mac Éinrí, lecturer in migration studies at University College Cork; and Dr. Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University, an international academic leader in Irish studies.

Learn more about the symposium, keynote speakers and organizers.

For more information, please contact Kinealy at 203-582-4564 or