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Celtic charm warms new reading room

Irish Studies turns new (and old) page with its special collection
November 9, 2011
By Scott McCulloch

Friends, colleagues and alumni gathered on November 3 to inaugurate the Father Thomas McEntee Reading Room — a soothing study sanctuary replete with hundreds of books on Ireland and firmly embedded at Concordia’s School of Canadian Irish Studies in the Henry F. Hall Building.

The evening featured a ribbon cutting ceremony and tour of the newly minted chamber, whose diverse collection spans volumes on topics ranging from the Irish experience to early 20th century curiosities such as Dublin telephone directories.

Principal of the School of Canadian Irish Studies, Michael Kenneally spoke warmly of McEntee, whose eponymous reading room is only 10 weeks old. He noted that McEntee, who spoke Latin, never missed the annual spring march to the Black Stone at the foot of Montreal’s Victoria Bridge, which commemorates the 6,000 Irish immigrants who died of typhus in 1847 and 1848.

Irish studies | Photos by Ryan Blau/PBL Photography
Left: Concordia President Frederick Lowy at the inauguration of the Father Thomas McEntee Reading Room. Right: Michael Kenneally, principal of the School of Canadian Irish Studies and research chair in Canadian Irish Studies.| Photos by Ryan Blau/PBL Photography

Kenneally added that representatives from more than 15 Irish associations, including the powerful Canadian Irish Studies Foundation (CISF), had converged at the event to thank an anonymous donor “whose exceptional generosity allows us to honour Farther McEntee.”

McEntee, who died at age 84 in a Montreal palliative care residence in 2008, grew up in Montreal’s Griffintown, the fourth of five children to Irish immigrants. In 1990, he was honoured with the Order of Canada and, in 2002, named Montreal’s Irishman of the Year.

“Beyond [his] pride in his Irish heritage, he was a man of many other parts,” says Kenneally, who specializes in 19th-century Irish Canadian life writing, such as diaries and autobiographies. “He participated with distinction in the Canadian Navy during World War II and he was the driving force in the creation of Executives Available Inc., which sought to integrate unemployed middle-aged executives into the workforce.”

Concordia President Frederick Lowy said the reading room will be a “vital resource” and that “support for the school has been transformative.”
The inauguration comes more than three years after Premier Jean Charest announced a $2-million Quebec grant to fund a chair at Concordia’s Canadian Irish Studies program.

The provincial grant honoured the contributions of the Johnson family to Quebec society. Descendants of George Johnson, who came to Canada in the 1820s, include three former premiers — Daniel Sr. who headed the Union Nationale government from 1966 to 1968, Pierre Marc who replaced René Lévesque as Parti Québécois premier for three months in 1985, and Daniel Jr. who was Liberal premier for nine months in 1994.

The Quebec grant, made directly to the CISF, headed by Brian O’Neill Gallery, was supplemented with $1 million from the Concordia University Foundation.

Concordia has a strong commitment to the Irish community and the community, led by Gallery, has worked hard to return the compliment. To do so, the CISF is raising $500,000 over five years to help fund the appointment of a new professor in Canadian Irish Studies in 2012.

The School of Canadian Irish Studies currently offers 20 courses with an enrolment of 700 students.

Related links:

•  School of Canadian Irish Studies
•  Canadian Irish Studies Foundation
•  “Dead and Alive” – NOW, November 2, 2011
•  “From Belfast to the Shaw Festival” – NOW, October 12, 2011
•  “The Case of Maria Edgeworth” – NOW, September 13, 2011


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