This has rapidly become a more retro-retrospective than I intended. I attended ‘New Perspectives on Irish Women and the Diaspora’, a one day conference at Bath Spa University, on the 24th March 2012. I wasn’t presenting a paper (for my sins, I missed the CFP deadline), so I was free to relax and reflect on the other research. This topic of diaspora interests me not only because one of my thesis poets moved from Derry to England, but because I also moved from Northern Ireland at 18.
What was quite new for me at this event was a sociological approach to the topic. In many ways, it was a revelation that diaspora studies is an entirely autonomous field. I was familiar with the ‘Generation Emigration‘ series the Irish Times are running, but I hadn’t given much thought into provision for vulnerable Irish abroad, or how the cultural, economic and legal systems can impact on experiences of diaspora.
The event, organised by Dr Ellen McWilliams, was also an excellent model of how academic conferences can be both inter-disciplinary in focus and engage with community groups (dare I say ‘public impact’?). There was an excellent round-table discussion with representatives of charitable organisations including the London Irish Women’s Centre, the Federation of Irish Societies, Justice for Magdalenes and the Abortion Support Network. There was also a reading from Moy McCrory, a talk about artistic practice from Rachael Flynn and an introduction to a community arts project at the London Irish Women’s Centre.
As regards the papers, I obviously particularly enjoyed the literary ones – and it was a pleasure to meet/catch up other academics working on poetry (Adam Hanna, Dr Deirdre O’Byrne and Dr. Tom Herron). All their papers were an intriguing mix of migration theory and gender theory. The ‘straight’ migration studies papers also introduced me to new debates and the case study practice common in that field – which I will try to consider at some stage in own academic work (thesis or conference paper based).
The conference was a great success – and I’m encouraged to see that the related Facebook group is still busy one month on. From that, I found a project based in my old city which recounts experiences of the Irish in Leicester. That website has an interactive Google map which marks locations important to the immigrant Irish there – and I’ve enjoyed reading the experiences 0f those who lived in my former neighbourhoods.