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The Irish prepare for another season of learning and laughter on the Atlantic coast.
The themes can range from Ireland’s place in the world, as at a recent Merriman school, to the problems of reporting China, at the Burren Law School last year (where I was recruited to speak), or to the history of traditional music, at this year’s Willie Clancy Summer School.
The Irish like commemorating their defeats, hence the popularity of the General Humbert Summer School in County Mayo, named for the French commander who made a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to free Ireland from the British in 1798.
Upon arriving at this school one year I was assigned Room 4 in an ancient castle hotel, and was that evening warned by a local in the bar that this particular room was haunted, as it was the scene of a long-ago murder. Before retiring I asked the manager if there was a ghost in the hotel. “You’re not in Room 4, are you?” he asked. It was all part of the fun but I didn’t sleep well that night. (The website generalhumbert.com, incidentally, is not the summer school but a pub in La Rochelle, France.)
The Yeats International Summer School is the biggest of the dozens of Irish summer schools now held all over the island, and it goes on for two weeks this year, from July 25 to August 7. The writer Carolyn J. Mooney once described well the atmosphere at this event in her column in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “In the evening the group congregates in the Silver Swan Hotel. There is laughter and smoke, scholarly debate and entertainment. One night a South Korean professor recites his own epic poem, then sings 'Santa Lucia' in Italian. An American scholar takes out her fiddle while a guitarist strums a Yeats poem set to music.”
The schools may gain something from the current recession, as the number of Irish people going abroad this year is down by 13 percent, according to the Central Statistics Office, and many will make a virtue of necessity by vacationing in Ireland.
So I will arise and go now, and go to a summer school. The only problem — which one this year.
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