January 15, 2008

Team-taught course focuses on Irish culture

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Whether it's because of the music, the sports, Guinness, "Riverdance" or the accent, many Americans seem fascinated with Irish culture. A team-taught course this semester at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will examine Irish culture, both contemporary and traditional, and how and why Americans seem so drawn to it.

The course, "Irish Culture and Communication," is available to students as a Speech Communication class, with graduate credit possible, or as an upper-level undergraduate English class. Course instructors are associate professor Bryan Kelso Crow from the speech communication department, and Irish native and scholar Sinead Ní Mhaoilmhichil, visiting SIUC as part of the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program.

The idea of team-teaching was an obvious one, Crow said. Ní Mhaoilmhichil expected to teach an Irish culture course as part of her Fulbright visit. Meanwhile, before he even knew Ní Mhaoilmhichil would be on campus, Crow was designing a course with similar goals. Since then, Ní Mhaoilmhichil has guest co-hosted Crow's syndicated radio music show, "Celtic Connections," and sat in with him during an informal Irish music performance at a Chicago pub, with her parents in the audience.

"There is something compelling about the culture," Crow said, noting the popularity of Irish music, Irish-styled pubs, the marketing of supposedly Irish products. "There is no pub you'd go into in Ireland that looks like the faux Irish pubs here. But people still go to them, thinking they are getting an authentic experience."

The Irish culture and communication class, he said, seeks to explain both the phenomenon of Americanized "Irishness" and contemporary Irish culture.

Ní Mhaoilmhichil said her first semester, teaching a dedicated core of students beginning Irish language, has been "very interesting." Her students learned an Irish song, with some of the students bringing instruments to play along, and watched an Irish language film as part of the learning experience.

"I think seeing Irish as a living language was encouraging for the students," Ní Mhaoilmhichil said. "Irish music is a story in itself. We hope to incorporate Irish music into the (culture and communication) class – maybe even bring our instruments to give the live version. Irish music has played a vital role in Irish identity, and I think this will make a good discussion topic."

Among the three texts assigned for the class is "The Teenage Dirtbag Years," by journalist Paul Howard under the pen name Ross O'Carroll-Kelly. Ní Mhaoilmhichil said the book is the second of a seven-book series chronicling the life of a "Southside Dublin rich kid" and using South Dublin slang.

"The Ross O'Carroll Kelly books have been a huge hit in Ireland," Ní Mhaoilmhichil said, giving that as her reason for choosing the book for the class. "(The author) explores many aspects of contemporary Irish youth-culture."

Other topics on the syllabus for the semester include Irish history and geopolitical divisions, bilingualism and language issues, the "Celtic Tiger" economic success, the Northern Irish peace process and topics selected by the individual students as well as music, literature, film, media and sports.

For more information about the class, or if interested in playing Irish music, contact Crow at 618/453-1884 or bcrow@siu.edu.