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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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19 ‘The Words Will Come’: Today’s Legacies of the Great Irish Famine1



‘As we confront a pandemic today, let us recall that the Great Famine was a public health emergency in its own right’. Thus argued Ireland’s Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, at the sober but impressive ceremony to commemorate Ireland’s Great Famine, on 18 May 2020. Her words reveal the relevance of historical and cultural legacies of the Famine in our present time, as we face the global Covid-19 crisis. Indeed, the Minister’s speech drew parallels between the heroic fortitude shown by ‘the doctors and nurses of the fever hospitals, in and outside Ireland, who risked their own lives to care for others’ and ‘the same qualities of courage and commitment to others in our healthcare staff today’.2 The high rate of mortality in Ireland as well as across the world, caused by Covid-19, evokes memories of the outbreak of typhus, dysentery and the dreaded famine fever in famine-stricken Ireland,3 as well as recollections of the religious orders who ←301 | 302→nursed the severely diseased, newly arrived emigrants in the quarantine stations in, for example, Montreal.4 Current remediations of the Famine past in the public sphere therefore, testify to the inherent fluidity of performances of memory which, as Astrid Erll observes, can travel through time and space, ‘across […] and also beyond cultures’.5

In our introduction to Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine (2014) in the Reimagining Ireland series, Christopher Cusack, Lindsay Janssen and I concluded that, ‘The cultural...

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