Ambassador brings insight on Yeats, Irish America

October 3, 2018
Danielle Joubert
Mulhall speaks

Above, Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall speaks in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall on Monday. Below, Saint Michael’s Professor of English Greg Delanty moderates during questions. (photos by Danielle Joubert ’20)

Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall visited Saint Michael’s College on Monday, October 1, for an evening lecture at the McCarthy Recital Hall. His topic wasn’t world affairs, modern Irish-U.S. relations, or the daily ins and outs of diplomacy. Rather, he spoke about the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Irish America, and Revolutionary Ireland.

Mulhall came to stage prepared with his 40-year old paperback Yeats collection, but hardly had a need for it. Instead, he was able to recite the works confidently from memory throughout the discussion. It became clear early on why the ambassador would take such an interest in Yeats in particular: The poet was deeply political and often controversial, caught up throughout his life in the spirit of revolutionary Ireland and Irish America, the talk and Yeat’s poems revealed.

Much of the lecture focused on Yeats’ five visits throughout his lifetime to the United States, where Irish immigrants proved to be an enthusiastic audience for his nationalist poetry. Revolutionaries like Yeats back in the homeland didn’t underestimate the millions of supporters keeping the fight for freedom alive even oversees. “They realized that there was a bigger Ireland across the Atlantic that could actually lift Ireland up Delanty moderatesin a very positive way,” Mulhall said.

He also acknowledged that Yeats’ Irish nationalism was complex and came with its periods of doubt, frustration, and disenchantment. “He had a complicated relationship with the land of his birth. Of course, although he was a nationalist, that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Mulhall said.

Mulhall, who assumed his present office in 2017, was invited to campus by Greg Delanty of the Saint Michael’s English faculty, an Irish poet himself who hails from Cork. The ambassador posts daily poetry quotes on his Twitter account and considers poetry as an essential, too-often ignored element of politics and the human imagination.

“Literature and history are part of the backstory of humanity,” Mulhall said, “and you can’t be a proper politician or a public servant without knowing those things, without knowing what literature can teach you.”

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