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A Transition Ahead in BC Irish Programs Leadership

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor
Published: Apr. 23, 2015

Thomas Hachey, who served as the founding executive director of Boston College’s Center for Irish Programs (CIP) since its inception in 2000, has announced that he will retire after the current academic year. Following a sabbatical in 2015-2016, Hachey will remain at the University as a research professor in residence.
During his 15 years at BC, Hachey has overseen the organizational umbrella for Boston College’s highly acclaimed Irish-related initiatives and resources. 
CIP encompasses the Irish Studies Program, renowned for its interdisciplinary approach to the study of Irish culture and society; the Irish Institute, whose corporate, professional and educational development programs have drawn praise for promoting social and economic progress in Ireland and elsewhere; the John J. Burns Library’s esteemed Irish Collection of famous authors, artists and other personalities; and BC-Ireland, which encompasses a growing range of activities and services housed at, and coordinated through, the Dublin-based facility within Boston College’s Center for Irish Programs.
Reflecting on his tenure as CIP director, Hachey spoke of the talented faculty members, administrators, staff and students with whom he has worked through the Irish Studies Program, Irish Institute, BC-Ireland and Burns Library. He cited the numerous distinguished lecture series, book launches, prominent guest speakers and other special events sponsored through CIP as a highlight of the past 15 years.
“My job was to make it possible for these programs to undertake initiatives and projects that would enable them to achieve their goals,” said Hachey, who expressed gratitude to University President William P. Leahy, SJ, for his support of the center. “Seeing those come to fruition were some of the most rewarding moments for me.”
Oliver Rafferty, SJ, an expert on the Catholic Church’s role in the development of Irish nationalism, will succeed Hachey as CIP executive director effective Aug. 15.
Fr. Rafferty has published or co-published such books as Irish Catholic Identities; George Tyrell and Catholic Modernism; The Catholic Church and the Protestant State: Nineteenth Century Irish Realities; The Church, the State and the Fenian Threat, 1861-75; and Catholicism in Ulster, 1603-1983: An Interpretative History. He is working on two other forthcoming books, The Church and the 1916 Rising and Violence, Politics and Catholicism in Ireland.
“Oliver Rafferty is a leading historian of the Catholic Church in modern Ireland, and he will bring great energy and vision to the Center for Irish Programs,” said Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley. “I look forward to working with him as we build on the legacy of Tom Hachey’s 15 years of leadership here on campus and in Ireland.”
“This appointment is an immense honor, and a tremendous responsibility,” said Fr. Rafferty, a native of Belfast who entered the Society of Jesus in 1981. “Boston College has a great reputation in the field of Irish studies, and it’s very well-deserved: There are outstanding teachers and researchers here. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to work in such an exciting place.”
Fr. Rafferty cited the Burns collections, where years ago he conducted some research for his doctoral thesis, as one of the most visible of BC’s Irish resources, along with the library’s Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies Chair.
“The roster of eminent writers, historians, authors and poets who have served as Burns Scholars is most impressive, and adds to the prestige of BC’s Irish programs.”
Fr. Rafferty said that in the coming months he plans to “do a lot of listening” to administrators, faculty and staff in BC’s Irish programs. “I want to hear what their visions, hopes and expectations are. Coming in as an outsider, I see things from a different perspective, but they are the ones who have the experience and the day-to-day knowledge.”
The field of Irish studies itself is at a crossroads, Fr. Rafferty said, especially in its examination of Irish history.
In contrast to the generally high visibility of Irish literature – notably through the work of figures like Joyce, Yeats and Shaw, which forms part of the canon of English literature – Irish history has typically been viewed as a more specialized area of scholarship. But that may be changing, he said, as aspects of Irish history – such as the Great Famine or The Troubles – are increasingly seen as pertinent to the wider discipline. For example, 19th-century Irish nationalism as represented by Daniel O’Connell was, in some ways, “the first mass democratic movement in Europe.”
He added, “Another consideration is that, unlike in the past, not all those who are interested in Irish history, literature or art are of Irish descent. There is far greater diversity among students and scholars in Irish studies. What are the implications of this, for teaching and research? There are many fascinating questions for us to explore.”
Last fall, Fr. Rafferty taught the course Ireland at War in the 20th Century and is currently teaching Ireland Since the Famine. His previous appointments include as the Wade Chair at Marquette University; visiting professor of Jesuit studies, history and theology at Loyola University Chicago; visiting professor of history at the University of Western Australia and Sogang University (South Korea); international Jesuit scholar at the College of the Holy Cross; and Hopkins Chair at John Carroll University.
In addition to authoring or co-authoring articles in a variety of academic publications, Fr. Rafferty has written for popular media such as The Guardian, The Irish News, America and The Tablet. He also has discussed various historical, theological and religious topics on BBC radio and TV, RTE radio and TV and Ulster Television, as well as in US outlets.
Fr. Rafferty holds doctoral and master’s degrees from Oxford University, a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin’s Irish School of Ecumenics, and a master’s degree in church history from Heythrop College at London University, where he also earned his bachelor’s degree.
The success and scope of BC’s Irish programs has given the University a high profile throughout Ireland, said Hachey, recalling how the Irish government had offered to host the Irish Institute’s 10-year reunion at Dublin Castle – one of Ireland’s most iconic sites. As another example, Hachey pointed to the University’s 2011 acquisition of the archive of documents chronicling the decommissioning of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups — widely regarded as one of the most crucial facets of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
“I genuinely believe that, as Mary McAleese [former Irish President and Burns Visiting Scholar in the fall of 2013] said, Boston College indisputably has achieved the highest possible visibility among American colleges and universities in Ireland, and enjoys an equally high reputation.

“I am confident that my good friend and colleague Oliver Rafferty, SJ, has the talent, commitment and vision to lead the CIP to an even greater level of achievement.”