Scots and Irish swap gift of Gaelic

October 6, 1995

As the Anglo-Irish peace process rumbles on, new cross-cultural links are being fostered through an Irish-Scottish academic initiative.

Trinity College, Dublin and Strathclyde and Aberdeen Universities will collaborate on cultural heritage programmes emphasising mutual interests in language, literature and history, covering both English and Gaelic.

The links were announced last week at a reception in Dublin, attended by United Kingdom Government representatives and hosted by Irish finance minister Ruair! Quinn, deputising for foreign minister Dick Spring who is personally supporting the scheme.

Thomas Mitchell, provost of Trinity College, Dublin, said: "This collaboration is another way of tackling the dangers of parochialism. You cannot know what is distinctive about the society you are primarily interested in unless you compare it with others."

"This initiative has a part to play in building stronger links and better understanding between the people of these islands," said Aberdeen University's principal, Maxwell Irvine.

Aberdeen is creating a new chair and research fellowship to boost the initiative. Armagh-born George Watson, reader in Aberdeen's English department, becomes professor of Irish literature in English, believed to be the first such chair in Britain, and the university will shortly advertise for a research fellow in Scottish mediaeval history linked to the other Celtic countries.

The three institutions are planning a number of trilateral research projects, including one on the Famine, and there will be a staff and student exchange scheme. The two Scottish universities already have an Erasmus link with Trinity, and there has been growing contact between academic staff researching the shared cultural inheritance of Scotland and Ireland.

Year-long student exchanges will be helped by both countries having four-year honours degrees and similar patterns of joint and single honours courses. Postgraduates will be able to be supervised by academics in any of the universities, and will be able to move between them without paying extra fees.

Aberdeen has the largest number of students studying Gaelic in Scotland, and teaches Irish as well as Scots Gaelic, while Trinity also covers Scots Gaelic language and literature. History courses in all three institutions include the history of both countries.

Allan Macinnes, professor of history at Aberdeen, and convener of the initiative's steering group, said new technology would underpin teaching and research links.

Tom Devine, deputy principal and professor of Scottish history at Strathclyde, hoped that links would evolve with other institutions, not only in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but in the United States and Europe.

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