Four Irish Studies Students Tell Us What They Love About the Programs

Author: Hailey Oppenlander

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For some students, the call of the “Fighting Irish” goes beyond the athletic fields.

The Department of Irish Language and Literature and the Keough-Naughton Center for Irish Studies allow students to delve deeper into Notre Dame’s Irish connection from a variety of disciplinary lenses. 

A few students and recent alumni share their experiences with the programs:

Summer Kerksick

Summer Kerksick '23

Hometown: Champaign, IL

Major(s): International Economics and Irish Language and Literature

What’s the benefit of studying Irish Language and Literature at Notre Dame? 

You’re learning an uncommon language at such a depth that isn’t seen anywhere else in North America! The small classes allow us to bond with each other in a way that you can’t do in big lecture halls. Also there are so many resources available for us to continue learning Irish. There’s funding for research, study abroad programs, internships, and more. The faculty and staff want to make learning Irish the most enriching experience possible and they go out of their way to make this happen.

Tell us about the professors for your Irish Language and Literature classes. 

My professors have all been great!  My language professors have all been native Irish speakers so that really helps. They are also really patient with everyone since most of us never learned Irish until we start[ed] taking these classes. Professor O’Callaghan taught me Beginning Irish 1 and 2 and her passion for the language inspired me to continue in this major. My elective professors have all taught me how Irish culture is seen in our world today but how some of those aspect[s] intertwine with other cultures. They love hearing fresh perspectives from other cultures which leads to great discussions.

Do you think your postgraduate path will be related to Irish Language and Literature?

I want to work for the U.S. State Department in U.S. - Ireland Affairs. Learning Irish has made me want to work in Ireland, so I may work for the U.S. Embassy there or any of the Irish consuls here. I’m passionate about serving my country and Irish culture so I feel like [this] would be the best of both worlds.


Liam Galligan '22

Hometown: Summit, NJ

Major: Political Science

Minor(s): Irish Language and Literature; Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

Tell us about the professors for your Irish Language and Literature classes. 

I cannot say enough about the professors I had throughout all my classes for the minor. I truly think the Irish studies and language professors are some of the most passionate about their students, which is certainly helped by the small class sizes. My first professor really encouraged me to go to the Gaeltacht after my freshman year, which I thought was one of the most profound and cool experiences of college. Moreover, I genuinely believe the professors I had after that not only made me a better student but also a better person which I think is quite rare to gain from a course in college.  

Did you get to study abroad or visit Ireland while in college? If so, what was that experience like?

I was able to visit the Gaeltacht in Donegal under the Fulbright program through the Irish Language and Literature Program. It was honestly one of the highlights of my college experience [thus] far and extremely beneficial to my proficiency in Irish. Not only that, but it was a ton of fun. I spent two weeks in Donegal and one visiting my family in Dublin and genuinely just had a blast. The town I studied in is called Glenn Cholm Cille and it is absolutely gorgeous, with a very dramatic landscape that feeds into the sea. I also was able to visit Derry on the weekend between classes and that was a fantastic experience that I'm so grateful I was able to have.

Do you think your postgraduate path will be related to Irish Language & Literature?

I interned this past summer for the ARINS project, which is a research project focused on researching constitutional, social and cultural questions in the wake of Brexit in both the north and south of Ireland. I would be excited if an opportunity to work in politics in Ireland came about and I am sure that my background in Irish Language and Literature would be quite helpful if one did arise.


Clayton Canal '23

Hometown: Baltimore, MD

Major: English, Global Affairs supplementary major with concentration in Irish Studies

How did you decide to concentrate in Irish Studies within the Global Affairs major?

Coming here, I wanted to do the Keough program...and we have to choose the concentration, and looking at all the concentrations, Irish studies was very unique in that it was so focused on one specific area, whereas other areas are kind of looking at concentrating in an entire continent. And I also thought Irish studies would be really unique. Not many other universities have something like that and have such good professors.

Do you have advice for students interested in Irish Studies?

I'd encourage other Keough people to especially look into the Irish studies program, just because it is something that's very special and unique to Notre Dame. Whereas other schools might have similar international affairs program similar to our Keough Global Affairs school, the realm of Irish studies is very unique and special to Notre Dame that can't really be rivaled by many other schools in the United States. 

Maddie Mccafferty

Maddie McCafferty '22

Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Major: Anthropology

Minor: Irish Studies

Tell us about the professors for your Irish Language and Literature classes.

I was in a class that [Professor Mulligan] taught, but she's also an advisor for Irish studies, and I can't say enough good things about her. She makes the whole process so easy as a teacher and as an advisor; same with Professor McLeod. It's because the professors care so much about the subject they’re teaching, they push it on to you and they make you really care about it, and they really care about your learning process.

What do you like about the program?

There's so many things that set you up to learn in Ireland and so many with the Dublin Global Gateway, where they have different places you can directly go to as a Notre Dame student in Dublin, and I think they set you up for having a future there...They really do set you up for if you want to live there one day and study and work there one day, which is what I do really want to do, and I think they do a great job of making that connection.


Mairéad Dillon '21

Hometown: Pearl River, NY

Major(s): Applied Computational Mathematics (ACMS); History

Minor: Irish Studies

How did you become interested in minoring in Irish Studies?

My grandparents were from Ireland and I grew up playing Irish music, so I was always interested in Ireland and its culture and history. When I found out Notre Dame had an Irish Studies minor I thought it would be a great opportunity to get to take classes to learn more about these topics I had grown up hearing about. Ireland has such a rich culture and compelling history, and I knew that Irish Studies classes would enrich my Notre Dame education. I also knew that through the Irish studies minor and studying abroad in Ireland I would get the opportunity to take classes in subjects I was interested in but weren’t covered by my majors — such as political science and music.

Did you get to study abroad or visit Ireland while in college?

Yes, I spent a semester in Galway and a few weeks in the summer in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Both experiences were incredible. In Galway I loved taking classes for my Irish studies minor and getting to fulfill university and major requirements with classes related to Ireland (philosophy and history). I enjoyed getting to live and interact with Irish students and see how the college experience over there compares to my own at Notre Dame. I also enjoyed going to different cultural events such as music and theatre performances. Spending time in the Gaeltacht taking Irish language classes and living with a host family allowed me to greatly improve my Irish. It also allowed me to see a part of the country most tourists don’t get to see and interact with people who lived a very different lifestyle from my own. I feel I gained a better appreciation for the Irish language after spending time with those who care so much about it and using it outside a classroom.

Learn More

Explore the Irish Language and Literature and Irish Studies programs at Notre Dame.