Colmcille, Hume, Heaney: city greats are focus of international conference

Professor Malachy Ó Néill discusses the American Conference for Irish Studies which Derry is hosting this week

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 11:11 am
Dr Malachy Ó Néill, Provost (Magee campus).  (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)
Dr Malachy Ó Néill, Provost (Magee campus). (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

This week, the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS) will be broadcast live from this historic city of Derry and 1500 years after the birth of our city region’s patron, writes Prof. Malachy O’Neill.

We will seek to recognise and celebrate Colmcille as one of the most influential figures in Irish and British history in our unique context just three miles from the post-Brexit UK/EU international transition point. This conference is a highlight in the year-long Colmcille 1500, citywide educational and tourism programme that showcases the Columban story and its place in regenerating the city and its hinterland.

In the coming days (June 2-5), historic and current aspects of ‘Heritage, Healing and Home’ will be discussed in a global conversation with keynotes from President Higgins, Congress Brendan Boyle and both the UK and Irish Ambassadors to the US, Dame Karen Pierce and Dan Mulhall.

While COVID restrictions have prevented delegates from travelling to the city, Ulster University – in partnership with the John and Pat Hume Foundation – will seek, in the coming days, to bring a sense of Ireland’s Northwest to everyone who wishes to join the conversation via a newly created ACIS2021 YouTube channel which will stream the keynote lectures and Fireside Conversations to a local and global audience.

Lisa McGee, Roma Downey, Marie Heaney and Mo Hume have all contributed in their own way to the conference programme. Contributions from film-maker Maurice Fitzpatrick (John Hume in America, The Boys of St Columb’s, etc.,), journalist Susan McKay (presenting her new work on Northern Protestants) and a preview of the new digitised edition of the famed manuscript, The Cathach of Colum Cille, the event embraces regional and international narratives - past, present and future. Brian Friel’s The Enemy Within (dedicated to Colmcille) will feature prominently and, in the weeks after the loss of another of the region’s literary giants, Seamus Deane’s contribution to the Irish canon will feature alongside new examinations of Seamus Heaney and a great many others with associations to the city.

While Colmcille was a huge part of our past, our present and future has been shaped by Professor John Hume, Nobel laureate, Gandhi Peace Prize recipient and winner of the Martin Luther King Award. As a Derry native, this city had a major influence on his emergence as one of the great critical thinkers of modern Ireland and the conference will celebrate John’s philosophy of healing and steadfast commitment to peace and reconciliation. His enduring legacy, through the John and Pat Hume Foundation and its partnership with the University, now gives young people a brighter, non-violent future.

Healing also gives a nod to the imminent opening of our much-anticipated School of Medicine in August, a huge step in the process of palliating the past and building a better future.

While our political, cultural and social ties with America clearly remain strong, our academic bonds have been consolidated through our collaboration with the American Conference for Irish Studies and our shared passion for supporting the expansion of Irish Studies and all aspects of society, culture and literature of Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

As always, the spirit of collaboration and support has been wonderful. Visit Derry has worked alongside us from the beginning. O’Neills have created a special commemorative jersey featuring digital artwork by artist and recent Ulster University Graduate Carla Fulton while the team at NuPrint Technologies have printed postcards featuring the beautiful Magee College artwork and an excerpt from ‘The Cure at Troy’ by the great Seamus Heaney, a key inspiration in the choice of the themes of Heritage, Healing and Home.

For any young people considering pursuing humanities at Ulster University, this discipline has a key role to play in preserving the great accomplishments of the past, helping us understand the world we live in, and giving us tools to reimagine the future. Join us, to do just this, in a virtual Derry space this week.

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