Irish president announces $40,000 grant to UC Berkeley for Irish studies program

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Irish President Michael Higgins has announced the donation of a $40,000 grant from Ireland to UC Berkeley establishing an Irish Studies Program on campus.

The announcement was made during Higgins’ multiday visit to Berkeley after a speech on global poverty and hunger to students and community members at the International House. The new program will become part of the campus Institute of European Studies, or IES, in the 2016-17 academic year and will be directed by UC Berkeley associate English professor Eric Falci.

According to Jeroen Dewulf, director of the IES, the money will be used to hold events that highlight contemporary Irish politics, culture and society for students. Furthermore, the money will fund outreach to Irish universities, develop programs in conjunction with the Celtic Studies Program and English department, and be used to strengthen relationships with Irish universities in the field of science.

Although the money “is only seed money … it enables us to start building the program,” said Dewulf, who also noted the historical connections the campus shares with Ireland — such as its name, that of an Irish philosopher.

Edward Stack, a lecturer in the Celtic Studies Program and former student of Higgins at Galway University, said Higgins’ visit was an acknowledgment of the work already being done in the Celtic Studies Program.

“Announcing an Irish program to foster relationships between Irish universities and UC Berkeley, and also act as a platform for visiting speakers … is very timely and will add to the Irish and Celtic footprint here,” Stack said.

UC Berkeley’s Celtic studies department was the first degree-granting program for Celtic literature and language in North America and, according to Falci, remains one of few U.S. programs that offer an undergraduate degree in Celtic studies. Although UC Berkeley has had a strong representation of and strength in Irish culture, he said, there has “never been a formal center that organized it all.”

“The Celtic Studies Program is one of the best kept secrets at Cal,” said Celtic studies lecturer Thomas Walsh. The program, he added, “is most happy to welcome the new Irish Studies Program as a partner in our study of this important corner of the humanities.”

According to Falci, the interest in Celtic studies is campuswide and the Irish Studies Program could influence studies of other disciplines on campus, such as political science and public policy. Additionally, Falci noted an increasing concentration of technology companies with corporate offices in both Ireland and San Francisco, alluding to potential international partnerships that could grow out of the program.

Junior Eleanor Vardigans, who is spending a semester abroad at UC Berkeley from a university in Dublin, said in an email that the program could have the potential to “help with the recognition of different cultures and counteract the negative effects of globalization.”

Contact Maya Eliahou and Daniella Wenger at [email protected].