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International Conference to Explore Global Ireland

Dec. 6, 2002 — President Mary McAleese of Ireland will keynote "Re-Imagining Ireland: Transformations of Identity in a Global Context", the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ groundbreaking international conference and festival, to be held May 7-10, 2003 in Charlottesville. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Ireland’s Cultural Relations Committee, this unique gathering will feature more than 100 journalists, writers, politicians, artists, scholars, musicians, and citizen activists from Ireland and around the U.S.

Intel plant in IrelandA town meeting of Ireland, out of Ireland, "Re-Imagining Ireland" will explore the relation between global economics and traditional culture, the challenges and opportunities posed by the worldwide migration of national populations, and connections between religious and political identity and issues of war and peace. Focusing attention on Ireland’s and Northern Ireland’s changing profile in a global context, the program will have particular relevance for an American audience, speaking to their country’s role in the world of the future.

“'Re-Imagining Ireland' has been planned as a kind of ‘time-out’ on neutral ground,” says project director Andrew Higgins Wyndham. “We want to take people out of place, routine, and mind-set, to a new environment in America, where for four days they will exclusively focus on, analyze, and appreciate Irish culture, both in itself and in relation to America and other parts of the world.”

The conference and festival schedule includes 31 thematically organized panel sessions and special activities. On the roster are two major concerts, a series of musical narratives, an award-winning play, a new Irish feature film and series of short films, readings by major Irish poets, and an exhibition of contemporary Irish art. The program will accommodate 450 participants and featured guests from Ireland and throughout the United States, with larger audiences, ranging up to 900, at special events. A broadcast documentary film and published book will extend the life and reach of the program.

Mary McAleeseMary McAleese, the opening speaker, is the eighth President of the Republic of Ireland and the first to come from Northern Ireland. A barrister and former professor of law, she was graduated in law from the Queen's University, Belfast, in 1973 and was called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1974. In 1975, she was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin. In 1987, she returned to her alma mater, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she became the first female Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen's University. President McAleese is also an experienced broadcaster, having worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann, Ireland’s national broadcaster.

Among the 102 other participants slated to appear at the conference are such award-winning writers and poets as Frank McCourt, Roddy Doyle, Nuala O’Faolain, Colm Toibin, Ciaran Carson, Paula Meehan, and Cathal O Searcaigh; renowned musicians, including Frankie Gavin, Seamus Egan, Mick Moloney, Andy Irvine, Joannie Madden, Martin Hayes, Tommy Sands, Bruce Molsky, and Len Graham and Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin; celebrated historians, including Declan Kiberd, Joe Lee, Kerby Miller, Donald Akenson, Tim Pat Coogan, Marianne Elliott, Roy Foster, and Noel Ignatiev; respected journalists and authors Susan McKay, Jacki Lyden, Eamonn McCann, David McKittrick, and Fintan O’Toole; and such well-known activists and politicians as Margaret Mac Curtain, Michael D. Higgins and David Ervine. Participants will also include economists, prominent business and cultural leaders, clergy, Irish Travelers (sometimes referred to as “tinkers” or gypsies), and representatives of the news media.

Major arts events will include concerts by “De Dannan” and “The Green Fields of America” and by “Solas” and “Cherish the Ladies;” an exhibition of contemporary sculpture and painting from the Irish Museum of Modern Art, to be presented from April 12 - June 8 at the University of Virginia Art Museum; performances of Michael West’s “Foley,” an award-winning play starring Abbey actor Andrew Bennett, from Dublin’s Corn Exchange and Richard Wakely Productions; a series of short films from the Cork International Film Festival; and a new dramatic feature film from the Irish Film Board.

"Re-Imagining Ireland" is funded by a $200,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a grant of 50,000 Euros from the Cultural Relations Committee of Ireland. Additional major support has been provided by the Anne Lee Ueltschi Foundation, the Office of the President at the University of Virginia, Foras na Gaeilge in Dublin, Caterpillar, RBC Dain Rauscher, the U.Va. Forum for Contemporary Thought, the Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation, Peter Sutherland, and other individual donors. Dominion Digital of Charlottesville and Richmond is contributing the design of the "Re-Imagining Ireland" Web site; ServerVault is the pro bono host of the site. Institutional co-sponsors include Poetry Ireland, the Film Board of Ireland, the Cork International Film Festival, the Irish Centre for Migration Studies, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Glucksman Ireland House at New York University.

Beyond the conference and festival, the "Re-Imagining Ireland" documentary film and book will reach an American and international audience of millions, introducing new perspectives on Ireland and global culture, challenging national stereotypes and easy assumptions about historical and contemporary change. The documentary will be co-produced by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Paul Wagner and RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, with distribution support from South Carolina ETV. The project book, a group of commissioned essays with photo illustrations, is under contract with the University of Virginia Press. The entire program package will, for years to come, attract people interested in Ireland generally, issues of globalization, and Irish studies.

Complete program information on "Re-Imagining Ireland" is available at the project
Web site
. The conference is a public event, with free admission to all panels, but registration will be limited. The fee structure for the conference package, including meals and all arts events, will be posted shortly. Those interested in attending can register on-line beginning Jan. 10. To receive printed bulletins or registration materials when available, please e-mail Tickets for individual events, including concerts, film screenings, Foley, and other performances, will be available on-line and by mail beginning March 1.

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