Shakespeare 400 has kept myself and many Irish Shakespeareans busy these past ten months. With many stage productions, screenings, conferences, public lectures, festivals, and workshops to organise, participate in, and attend, both here and abroad, these wonderful events can seem like a burden and the associated demands on one’s personal finances, time etc. present a substantial challenge. (If Shakespeare is sat merrily in a pantheon of literary gods somewhere, I hope he appreciates all the fuss! And while I’m at it, I hope that Jonson, Beaumont, and Cervantes, who have their own anniversaries this year, are giving him a right ribbing!)
Thus, it was a joy to find that the recent launch of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, offered an array of pleasures for the weary early modernist. The launch took place on one of October’s prettiest autumn evenings in the inviting surrounds of the Glucksman Library’s Reading Room. Against the backdrop of the green surrounds of the University of Limerick campus, the audience were warmly welcomed by Dr. Richard Kirwan, the chair of CEMS, and his colleagues. Dr. Kirwan paid tribute to the Irish Research Council for their support of CEMS (via a New Foundations grant) and to his scholarly and administrative collaborators across the disciplines in Mary Immaculate and UL who were instrumental in establishing the new Centre.
The importance and value of collaboration and networking seemed to be something of a theme for the evening, as Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer (TCD) touched on this subject many times during her lecture on “Ireland in the Early Modern World”. The author of several influential monographs, including Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century (2012) and Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 1641-1660 (2002), Prof. Ohlmeyer presented the audience with many insights into the seventeenth century and into her approaches to and aspirations for early modern research in Ireland.
Prof. Ohlmeyer, who has been recently appointed as Chair of the Irish Research Council, highlighted how collaboration can enrich our studies, enabling us to broaden our knowledge and share it with a national and global community. The lecture and post-Q&A discussions reminded me too of the value of encouragement to and role models for emerging scholars; sometimes only senior scholars can take on new initiatives and create opportunities in our fields and the importance of their leading by example cannot be underestimated. Prof. Ohlmeyer continued to urge the audience to apply for funding for research projects and to take advantage of the excellent resources which Irish research has already produced. Should we need inspiration, the fruits of such successful bids were in evidence before us – the foundation of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick and the digitisation of the 1641 Depositions (a project funded by the IRC, AHRC, and TCD), which Prof. Ohlmeyer discussed during her talk. Prof. Ohlmeyer stressed too the significance of the Bolton Collection; not only do its treasures make Limerick a desirable place to conduct research on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Collection can help us to reconstruct and understand Ireland’s place in the early modern world.
Prof. Ohlmeyer’s wide-ranging, illustrated talk on the position of early modern Ireland and its global connections combined a ‘big picture’ approach with fascinating detail. The audience learned of the exotic items found in a washpit in Rathfarnham Castle in 2014. This treasure trove of objects, including shoes, buttons, jewellery, and jars of cosmetics, demonstrated that the Loftus family were fashion conscious and on top of the latest trends. The Castle’s inhabitants were also consumers of luxuries from far flung lands; the pit contained evidence of tea, coffee, and sugar from the West Indies, and dozens of pipes were found, the tobacco likely sourced from South America. A Spanish coin made of silver mined in Peru was also found in the pit.
Prof. Ohlmeyer discussed Ireland’s maritime connections, including pineapples arriving in to Ireland in the 1660s and the voyages of Irish sailors to Asia and the Americas. Questioning what did it mean to be ‘Irish’ in the seventeenth century, Prof. Ohlmeyer examined the complex identities of social groups such as Irish Catholics, the Old English, and New English. Prof. Ohlmeyer closed her talk by examining the impact on Ireland of the European global empires in the Atlantic and Eastern worlds. The political, social, and economic effects on Ireland were both large and small. For instance, the audience was much amused to hear of Bailey, an inhabitant of Hacketstown, Co. Carlow, who irately complained to the authorities of the loss of his spices and who suspected that the local insurgents who had stole his cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon were using them to flavour their morning droughts!
The launch of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, concluded with a convivial gathering and looked forward to the next such gathering in Limerick for the Irish Renaissance Seminar in November.
Report by Dr Edel Semple, UCC.