Georgia O-Keefe and Billy The Kid are icons frequently associated with the southwest – but not typically known for their connection to the Emerald Isle. Now the strong links between Irish Americans, their homeland, and the southwestern U.S. are the focus of an emerging program at the University of New Mexico.
“We’re very interested in making connections between the history and culture of the southwest and the history and culture of Ireland that people might not recognize,” said Caleb Richardson, assistant professor of the department of history, and leader in the campaign to create an Irish studies program at UNM.
A group of interdisciplinary staff are pushing to create the program. In addition to Richardson, there is Sarah Lynn Townsend, assistant professor of English, and Laura Banks, associate professor and assistant director for research at the department of emergency medicine.
The three are making their mark on campus in a unique way: by joining the national initiative to “green” pieces of architecture around St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). Banks is leading to charge and worked with the UNM Alumni Association to light the ‘U’ statue in front of Hodgin Hall green. Although it will only be lit for a quick photo-op, the move is aimed at grabbing the attention of the Irish Consulate.
“It’s an initiative that they’re promoting worldwide to support awareness of Ireland,” Richardson said. “All kinds of architecture pieces are turning green, including the Great Wall of China, Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi and the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.”
Every year, the consulate and the Irish Tourism Board publicizes the green landmarks.
“UNM is not the first school people think of for Irish Studies, so being part of an initiative like this will really help raise our profile,” Richardson said. “It’s also a recognition of Consul General Adrian Farrell, who’s been enormously supportive of our program.”
Richardson and his colleagues hope the consulate’s support and the green lighting on the ‘U’ will move the group one step closer to becoming an institutionalized program. So far, Irish Studies includes courses from the history and English departments. It also encompasses the Gallagher Scholarship – a grant funded by alumni Lori Gallagher and Curtis Huff – which pays full tuition and living expenses for one UNM student per year to study in Ireland. In addition, the group leads a study abroad program that allows students to explore Irish culture and history.
“We look for bigger themes and connections,” Richardson explained. “Like the history of colonialism, the history of religious conflict and language preservation.”from the history and English departments. It also encompasses the Gallagher Scholarship – a grant funded by alumni Lori Gallagher and Curtis Huff – which pays full tuition and living expenses for one UNM student per year to study in Ireland. In addition, the group leads a study abroad program that allows students to explore Irish culture and history.
The group plans to eventually use the curriculum to create learning and studying opportunities for all UNM students, by making Irish Studies an official minor and, eventually, a degree program. In the meantime, they plan to continue adding pieces to the schedule – including working/learning internships and collaborations with Irish schools.