Student group seeks to dispel Irish stereotypes

For many students, March means spring break. Midterms are done, they are free from school for a week and many are headed out of town. However, March is also Celtic Heritage Month, and thanks to a group on campus, students may soon be hearing all about a heritage they may have never known they had.

Tuath an Ard Tíre Ardaí: The Celtic Studies Club is a student group that was formed in 2009. Tuath an Ard Tíre Ardaí means “Highland Heights Tribe.” The group was formed by Celtic studies minor students and is sponsored by faculty member Dr. Michael Simonton.

Simonton is a graduate of the National University of Ireland with a degree in social anthropology (or “a Ph.D in being Irish,” according to Simonton). Simonton said he believes that the group will be an important part of campus culture.

“It’s a major part of U.S. history, for one thing,” he said. “About 20 to 25 percent of U.S. presidents have Celtic heritage.”

Simonton said this includes sitting President Barack Obama, who is part Irish on his mother’s side. He also mentioned that many giants of American industry (such as Andrew Carnegie) and athletes (such as Muhammad Ali, who visited Ireland to visit his great-grandfather’s home last year) have Celtic roots.

For Simonton though, it’s also about educating people in Celtic heritage. Celtic studies can include people of Scottish, Welsh, Cornish and Irish descent. It also includes Scots-Irish, also known as Northern Protestants. People also of Britol descent, from Brittany in France are included. For Simonton though, it’s also about perception.

“Well, everybody thinks, ‘Oh, they must just like going out and drinking, or having baked goods and stuff,’” he said. “That’s not it at all.”

Talking about how many people see others of this ethnic descent, Simonton said, “It’s just an ethnic stereotype that really isn’t accurate.”

Simonton said he would like to see the Celtic Studies Club doing more activities, but “it’s hard to get people.”

Still, Simonton said they are working to bring MacDara O’Conaola, a Gaelic language musician to the campus. O’Conaola was scheduled to be in Texas on St. Patrick’s Day, and the group is trying to get him here as well. The Office of International Programs offered to donate some of his travel fees.

Also, the group is working with Ray Carn, President of the Euro-Celtic Institute. Carn also serves on the board of the Taft Museum of Art, and he and Simonton are working to bring a major Celtic event to the campus, possibly sometime in summer 2012.

For more information about the group, they have pages on Facebook under both Celtic Studies Club and their Celtic name, which is listed above.

Story by Sean Dressman