WIH Reporter: Welcome to WIH, Robert. We are excited about your upcoming class on Ireland that begins on Monday, March 23 at 1:30. Being from Ireland yourself, can you elaborate on the subtitle of your class “Four Weddings and Two Funerals”?
Cremins: Well, wordplay is important in Irish culture, hence the wink at the film title. More importantly, surveying all Irish history and culture in six lectures would be a bit like the old Monty Python “Summarize Proust in Fifteen Seconds” challenge, so I have chosen a series of portals into the world of Irish Studies. We’ll cover quite a bit of ground, and I’ll be making lots of recommendations about further exploration. Now, I’ll be taking a fair amount of poetic license with these notions of weddings and funerals. Just how much? I hope folks will come and see!
WIH Reporter: You have mentioned that you will be conducting a “tour” of Ireland using cultural artifacts associated with a milestone in the life of the nation. Without giving too much away, could you give us an example of one of these artifacts and its significance?
Cremins: I love lists, and there is a particularly powerful one in Anna Burns’ 2018 novel Milkman, which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Mark O’Connell mentions the list in his insightful review of the novel. It’s a roll-call of all the first names frowned upon by one side of the sectarian divide during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The conflict extended to language. Wordplay was weaponized. But I also want to show how there are wonderful hybrids and cross pollinations in Ireland. In James Joyce’s famous story “The Dead,” Mrs. Mallins reports that her recent sea journey from Scotland was a “beautiful crossing.” Irish culture is full of beautiful crossings.
WIH Reporter: Obviously this would be a great class to take if someone is traveling to Ireland in the near future—WIH students are definitely globetrotters. More importantly than simply planning a trip though, what do you hope the students will take away from this class and what are a few things that you most love about your native land?
Cremins: I have brought several groups of college students from Houston to Ireland. My plan for this class is to bring Ireland to Houston. In doing so, I’ll be following the methodology I have used on the tours I have led: mixing the famous with the out-of-the-way, the celebrated with the obscure, the world famous with the local favorites. People know about James Joyce, but what about Mary Lavin? They know about U2, but what about Paul Brady? Yes, thru should visit the Book of Kells, but also the gem that is Marsh’s Library.
WIH Reporter: What would we be surprised to know and what mistaken impressions do we have of the Emerald Isle?
Cremins: Ireland has a consulate in Austin! I believe it’s one of just two countries to have a consulate there. That’s emblematic of the creative, innovative thinking you’ll find prevalent in 21st century Ireland. It still has it’s problems, but it’s a forward-looking place, engaged with its history, but not beholden to it.
WIH Reporter: For fun, we might need to have a beer tasting at the break of one of your classes. Apparently, the Irish are 2nd in their per capita consumption of beer (1st place falls to the Czech Republic). Tell us how this love of a good brew came about?
Cremins: One of my best friends lives in the Czech Republic—so many Irish lives have this international dimension—so I must pass on this data to him. As in many northern European countries, beer became a big part of Irish culture in part for pragmatic reasons. It’s liquid bread. You couldn’t trust the water supply. In 1759, the Guinness started flowing. And today, as in Texas, there’s a very busy craft beer scene. Sláinte!
Ireland: Four Weddings and Two Funerals begins on Monday, March 23 at 1:30.