The D'Arcy McGee Chair of Irish Studies
The D'Arcy McGee Chair of Irish Studies was established at Saint Mary's University by Dr. Cyril J. Byrne in the spring of 1986 by means of an endowment from the Charitable Irish Society of Halifax and the University. This was matched by the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, Multiculturalism Directorate, under the terms of the Endowment Assistance Program.
With these initial funds, the Chair was set up to form a focal point for the study of all aspects of Irish and Irish-Canadian culture, particularly language, literature, history, political science and folklore. While Irish Studies inter-disciplinary courses are mainly for undergraduate students, donations to the trust fund have make possible the development of research projects and the expansion of library holdings at the Patrick Power Library, thus serving to attract graduate students and scholars in the field.
Another important concern of the Chair is interaction with the general community. This has been achieved through the provision of opportunities for local residents and others to pursue their interests in Irish and Irish-Canadian studies through lectures and other similar activities.
The choice of Saint Mary's University as a centre for Irish and Irish-Canadian studies is a natural one. Saint Mary's was originally founded by members of the Irish Catholic community in Halifax and has kept many of its Irish connections to the present. An early President, Father Richard Baptist O'Brien, taught monoglot Irish Haligonians in the Irish language, and for many years the college was run by the Christian Brothers, an educational religious order founded in Ireland. Further, while the influx of Irish immigrants was fairly general throughout the Atlantic region in the nineteenth century, Halifax was one of the major ports of entry.
The foundation of the Charitable Irish Society of Halifax (1786) to relieve the sufferings of the indigent Irish poor was remarkable not only for its early date but also because the Society was from the beginning non—sectarian. The Chair of Irish Studies has sought to maintain and expand this ecumenical spirit of ethnic solidarity and generosity by offering the culture and heritage of the Irish and Irish—Canadians to all who are interested in studying the varying streams of Irish culture.