Sydney ISAANZ Conference Review

ISAANZ Conference Report by Dymphna Lonergan.

23rd Australasian Irish Studies conference, University of Sydney, November 27-30 November 2018

For the first time in its history the Irish Studies in Australia and New Zealand (ISAANZ) conference began with an Irish language day. Called a tionόl ‘gathering’, the word has been applied primarily to gatherings of musicians in Ireland and the US. Australia’s first tionόl was part of the 2017 Irish Language Winter School in Sydney, an annual gathering of Irish language learners and speakers on the long weekend in June. The tionόl was held on the departure morning. On the long weekend in January this year the Irish language summer school in Melbourne, Gaeltacht Melbourne, held a tionόl on the last day of the school. At the recent ISAANZ conference in Sydney the tionόl came of age with seven Irish language speakers scheduled over two sessions on the first day.

The tionόl was chaired by Ruairí Ó hUiginn from University College Dublin who also gave the final talk Logainmneacha na hÉireann, Irish place names. He explained  those Irish place names that tell us about the pre-Irish: the islands of Aran, Beare, Lambay and Rathlin are some. Greg Byrne then talked about small accounts (smidiríní) of written Irish language use he has come across from 19th century Sydney such as a translation of Thomas Campbell’s ‘The Exile of Erin’ and Irish words and phrases in letters home to Ireland. Tomás de Bhaldraithe then drew our attention to the scarcity of study of Irish place names in Australia. Pamela O’Neill discussed Roscommon-born Maria Charlotte Plunkett who at the age of 19 married John Hubert Plunkett and arriving in Sydney in 1832, where he took up the position of Solicitor-General of New South Wales.

Colin Ryan and Val Noone’s collection of Irish language writing in Australia was delivered by Val. The Q&A session that followed revealed that more examples are to be found in the other states such as the late Barney Devlin’s Irish language plays. Guinevere Barlow from the Nanyang Technical University in Sydney spoke about English words such as yeah, no, so, just, like, right, and okay being used in Irish today, especially by young Irish people and by writers in Irish.

The rest of the conference followed the usual pattern of papers on Irish Australia and New Zealand history such as Stephanie James’s paper on Michael O’Donnell’s ‘surprising struggle to get to the Western Front in 1916’ and Liz Rushen’s focus on ‘Garryowen’, the nineteenth century Irish-born journalist Edmund Finn whose capturing of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ can be seen as a valuable contribution to the history of that city. Literature had a section too: ‘Irish Studies and World Literature’s was the theme of the paper by ISAANZ president and Gerry Higgins Chair in Irish Studies, University of Melbourne, Rónán McDonald.

The conference ended with the ISAANZ Annual General Meeting that was preceded by a lively discussion of the future of research in the Humanities and the Social Sciences and the implications for ISAANZ. The next conferences were endorsed: 2019 in Adelaide and 2020 in Auckland. Further details will be posted on the ISAANZ web page where you can also see abstracts from previous conferences:

Dymphna Lonergan is a member of Tinteán’s editorial group