With Ireland in the spotlight this month thanks to St Patrick's Day celebrations, Chronicle.lu reached out to Dr James Gallacher, Vacataire Lecturer in Irish Literature, to learn about a new undergraduate module in Irish literature which he developed for the University of Luxembourg.
The module "Introduction to Irish Literature in English" has been available to students of the Bachelor in European Cultures - English Studies programme since mid-February 2023.
Chronicle.lu: Please tell us how the post of lecturing in Irish Studies came about at the University of Luxembourg?
Dr James Gallacher: I initially made contact with the university with a view to developing a research project concerning literary and cultural connections between Ireland and Benelux and during the discussion, the Director of the English department mentioned they would welcome some dedicated teaching on Irish literature and asked if I would be interested in designing an undergraduate module.
Chronicle.lu: Did you have a hand in planning the curriculum?
Dr James Gallacher: Yes, apart from ensuring we avoid repeating content or "doubling-up" on writers covered in other courses, I've been allowed to design the module largely by myself. Obviously with guidance to ensure it satisfies the academic needs of the department.
Chronicle.lu: And where were you working beforehand? Have you always been in academia?
Dr James Gallacher: For the previous few years, I'd been working for an Irish Studies research network based at the University of Leuven in Belgium. I moved to the Franco-Belgian-Luxembourg border a year or so ago when my partner took a job at the University of Luxembourg, so it seemed natural to look into opportunities here.
Yes, I’ve been involved in academia for most of my adult life, with a smallish side line in freelance copyediting and writing.
Chronicle.lu: And do you have Irish roots? If not, where/how did your interest in Irish Studies start?
Dr James Gallacher: Simply put, no. My surname is the Scottish variant of a Donegal name but I am basically English as far back as is traceable.
I'm not entirely sure I can pinpoint where it started, I guess I've always been a bit of a Hibernophile, especially when I was younger, and given the prominence of literature in Irish culture, as my own interest in reading developed, it was a quick-step connection to make between the two!
Chronicle.lu: Do you cover specific period(s) in your course? Does it include various modules?
Dr James Gallacher: Presently, we're teaching a single module, comprised of two teaching sessions per week. There's never been any Irish Studies teaching at the university before so we're very much at the introductory stage. The course is structured broadly chronologically from the late-19th century up to the present day, with the earliest text featured being Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla from 1872 and the most recent being Jan Carson's Firestarters from 2019.
Chronicle.lu: Do you have a particular emphasis on Irish literature?
Dr James Gallacher: Yes, it is ultimately a literature module. However, I like to teach from the intersection of literature and history, as I think it's ultimately impossible to truly understand a text without appreciating its cultural and historical environment. Therefore, I try to anchor the writers and their work firmly in the contexts in which they were created. For example, it would be pointless trying to explain a poem like Yeat's "Easter 1916", which is featured in the module, without offering a broad insight into the events surrounding the Easter Rising, as well as the personal and political developments in the poet's life in the years preceding it.
Chronicle.lu: Please tell us about your students' backgrounds. Are they all studying similar courses or do they have varied (academic) interests?
Dr James Gallacher: The module is taught as a component of the university's Bachelor in European Culture degree, which is an interdisciplinary degree encompassing a variety of humanities and social science disciplines. Students get to specify a preference, so those that I teach have a natural inclination for Anglophone literature, but the broad interdisciplinarity of their academic backgrounds certainly helps keep things interesting.
Chronicle.lu: Apart from lecturing undergraduates, do you also undertake post-doctoral research?
Dr James Gallacher: At the moment I'm just teaching, but I'm also in the latter stages of applying for research funding that would enable me to develop the research project I mentioned earlier.