Boston College announced earlier this month that Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, will be joining the university as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies this fall. She will present lectures on a variety of different disciplines while pursuing research in the Burns Library Irish Book and Manuscript Collection. The Burns Chair is held by a person who has made significant contributions to Irish culture or intellectual life.
Elected in 1997, McAleese was the eighth President of Ireland and the second woman; she was the first to be from Northern Ireland. Her country of birth is not insignificant, as the period of violence known as “The Troubles” forced her family to move from Belfast for their own safety. She took her desire for peace and reconciliation into her presidency, the theme of which she declared to be “Building Bridges”. Considering the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and her approval ratings in both nations, that could certainly be called a success. McAleese made frequent visits to Northern Ireland during her presidency and was very well received there, while her constituents largely approved of her attempts to forge a better future for Ireland as a whole.
Since the end of her second term in 2011, McAleese has been studying for her doctoral degree in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome. She was a professor before entering politics, so students should expect a seasoned professional when they come to her lectures next fall.
BC, of course, has been linked to Ireland since its founding. Perhaps it is fitting that a school founded for Irish immigrants will now host one of Ireland’s most important figures. McAleese has visited BC before, in 1998, where she praised the institution for aiding the peace process in Northern Ireland, including a program to assist members of the new Northern Ireland Assembly in preparing for their roles as leaders in government, and the economic development of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Despite her Catholicism and once governing one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, McAleese has become known for her liberal viewpoints regarding homosexuality. She has criticized the church for its severe condemnations and placed blame for the high rate of suicides among the gay population of Ireland.
“Coming to Boston, using that wonderful Burns Library, talking with students and faculty members from a variety of disciplines, including my beloved Irish Studies will be for me a seminal opportunity to enrich and deepen the insights I can bring to my own research and also hopefully to add a little to the insights of others,” McAleese said.
Feature photo by osku.com/Flickr.