The influence of Ireland

March 15, 2012

Professor Seàn Henne will speak Friday at art center


Seàn Henne plays an Irish whistle during last week's performance at WSCC.


mcp editor


What does it mean to be Irish? This is a question that many people may contemplate this time of year. The month of March is nationally recognized as Irish Heritage Month, the climax on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, which traditionally observes the death of St. Patrick, a Welsch who brought Christianity to pagan Ireland in the Fifth Century.

Red Wheel by Becky Alway

Over 30 million Americans are of Irish decent, comparatively 5 million people live on the island of Ireland. During the Irish famine in the mid-1800s, droves of Irish immigrated to the U.S. They have engrained themselves into the culture of this country and are the second largest ethnic group here, slightly less than the 42 million people of German decent.

Gleninchaquin Park by Becky Alway

Seàn Henne, an English and literature professor at West Shore Community College, is very much familiar with what it means to be Irish.

Being Irish American, for me, has meant emerging from a childhood full of music and stories about Ireland,” Seàn said. “Every March my father’s family, the 300 or so descendants of my great-grandfather Daniel O’Dwyer gather near Charlevoix to make maple syrup and to share stories, and to sing around the fire the songs we have always sung, the songs that connect us to our Irish heritage.

Many of my cousins play Irish folk instruments – fiddles, guitars, whistles, mandolins, banjos and the Irish goatskin drum, the bodhran, that beats the time of our gatherings. Many others dance in that peculiar magic way Irish dancing can fold straight lines into a power and a grace.”

Seàn has studied Ireland extensively.

Top of the Burren by Rob Alway

Coming out of all that music and magic made me fascinated in learning more about Ireland and I’ve always been a scholar of Irishness. I completed a master’s degree in Irish Studies in that most Irish of American cities, Boston, to help slake my thirst for Irish literature and history.”

Seàn will speak Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ludington Area Center for the Arts. His talk will is titled “Painting the Irish Landscape,” and the topic will be how Ireland’s landscape and culture have inspired poets, writers and artists.

My talk will be built of some of what I learned in Boston College classrooms about Irish poetry, but equal parts composed of what I know about reading the Irish landscape, both geographical and literary, from my three visits to the island itself.”

Green Stream by Becky Alway

When he was 20, Seàn, studied for a semester in London, England. “But I actually went less to class and more often to folk festivals across the British Isles, feeling my way toward a better understanding of the rhythms and joys, grace notes and despair of all sorts of Celtic art.

More recently my brother and I did a historical tour of Ireland, stopping at the sites that marked key moments in the development of the nation and its culture.

So I am both a product of the Irish diaspora and a scholar of its literary and musical art. My intention this coming Friday is to find the intersections of my personal and scholarly experience with the art already exhibited at the art center for Irish Heritage Month and in anticipation of what has always been to me and my family the most important holiday of the year, St. Patrick’s Day.




Editor’s Note: The Ludington Area Center for the Arts is located at 107 S. Harrison Street in Ludington. As many of you are aware, my wife Becky and I currently are exhibiting our photographs of Ireland at the art center. The name of the show is Emerald Expressions. When we started talking to the art center about our exhibit and observing Irish Heritage Month, Seàn was one of the first people who came to mind. If you have an interest in Ireland – and statistically many of you do – Seàn’s talk on Friday will be a great opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Mason County’s Press Portal, covering Ludington, Scottville, Custer, Free Soil, Fountain, Walhalla, Branch and all places in between.

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