By Jeanne Leong
Interest in Irish studies increased at Penn in the 1980s as the territorial conflict that began in 1968 continued over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
The University began offering world affairs courses that focused on Irish history and society, as well as a noncredit course on Irish culture.
In 1981, the lord mayors of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dublin, Ireland, came to Penn as part of their U.S. tour of East Coast cities with the charity Co-operation North, a non-political and non-denominational organization that worked to promote reconciliation between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Lord Mayor John Carson of Belfast (pictured, left) and Lord Mayor Fergus O’Brien of Dublin (middle), wearing ornamented sashes over their dark suits, joined Brendan O’Regan (right), the chairman of Co-operation North at a luncheon with Penn administrators and faculty. O’Regan, an Irish businessman, founded the organization in 1979 to help direct exchanges in tourism, trade, energy, and education. The charity is now known as Co-operation Ireland.
After the meeting, the lord mayors and O’Regan spoke with the media, stating that they were on a mission of good will.
“It is a movement based on economics and social matters,” said O’Regan.
“We hope to inform the American public that there is a strong will to live peacefully together … that there is something tangible happening,” O’Brien said.
One year after their visit, the University of Pennsylvania Press published a book titled, “Irish Folk History: Tales from the North” by Henry Glassie, the former head of Penn’s Folklore and Folklife Department. In the fall of 1982, Penn offered a course on Irish traditional music taught by Mary Ellen Cohane.
Since the 1980s, Penn has added many other courses in Irish studies, some of which are still being offered, including Irish literature, politics, and culture, as well as examinations and analyses of the 30-year conflict from 1968-1998 known as “The Troubles.”
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online