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The Irish tradition at the NYS Writers Institute

St. Patrick's Day was a subdued event this year. Social distancing meant no parades, parties, celebrations. Not even a book reading.

Speaking of books: What is your favorite Irish poem or book? Add a comment below.

Let's hope for a more joyful St. Patrick's Day in 2021 and take a moment to remember some Irish-tinged Writers Institute events.

From its inception, the NYS Writers Institute has been committed to sharing the riches of Irish literature with our community of readers and writers.

An impressive list of Ireland's finest writers have made pilgrimage here from the Emerald Isle, from New York City and from the furthest reaches of the Irish diaspora (notably Australia). It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that many of them visited out of love and admiration for our founder, William Kennedy, one of the leading lights of Irish American literature.

In November 2018, for his body of work, Bill received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad, presented by Irish President Michael D. Higgins -- who is also a poet -- at a ceremony in Dublin.

Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl traveled to Ireland with the Kennedys and wrote an account published in the Times Union. Excerpt:

Kennedy met Higgins afterward and described the vast numbers of Irish immigrants who settled in Albany, including his grandparents. Kennedy complimented the president's speech and invited him to visit the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany. 
"You're a poet, so you could come read your poetry," the Writers Institute's founder told him. "Or, you can just come as the president." ("Albany's William Kennedy honored in Dublin, city of literary heroes" Albany Times Union, Dec. 4, 2018

The best Irish memories of the NYS Writers Institute are too numerous to recount, but here's a handful: Seamus Heaney, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, visited us in the early days of our series in 1988.

Irish poet John Montague, one of the most colorful figures you might ever wish to know, served as Spring Writer-in-Residence at the University at Albany for several years in the 1980s and 90s. In 1998, John went on to be named the very first Ireland Professor of Poetry, a new position created to honor the shared literary heritage of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the closest thing that has ever existed to Poet Laureate of a unified Ireland.

In the Spring of 1999, the University asked the Writers Institute to help curate a University-wide "Irish Semester," which featured numerous author presentations, as well as musical, theatrical and dance performances.

Colm Tóibín visited us in 2016 in association with the surprise hit movie Brooklyn, based on his novel.

Anne Enright visited in 2008 soon after winning the Man Booker Prize for The Gathering;

Oscar Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, who spoke about his grandfather's passionate interest in prison reform in 1999;

Ruth Gilligan, who visited in 2017 with the U.S. debut of her bestselling indie novel about Jewish immigrants in Ireland, Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan;

Frank McCourt, who keynoted a truly grand event here in Albany, The AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference, a national convention presented under the auspices of the Writers Institute in April 1999.

Colum McCann first visited the NYS Writers Institute in 2003. He returned to Albany for William Kennedy's 90th birthday celebration in 2018 where he gave an inspired toast. More recently, McCann's newest novel, Apeirogon (2020) was selected as an "Amazon Best Book of February 2020" and was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review.

And let's not forget the singalong led by Malachy McCourt at Page Hall in 2003.

If this year's subdued St. Patrick's Day left you longing for even more stories from Irish writers, please visit our Irish Writers Collection on our YouTube channel.

Now let's hear from you. What is your favorite Irish poem or book? Add a comment below and post replies to other readers' comments.

We look forward to hearing about your favorite works of Irish literature, and we raise a (virtual) glass in your honor!


The Writers Institute


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