Fordham honored its historic ties with Belfast, Northern Ireland, and committed itself to future dialogue with the city at a conference on June 9.
The University’s Lincoln Center campus hosted the opening of “New York-New Belfast,” a two-day event that brought representatives from Belfast’s business, education and arts communities to Manhattan. They showcased their city’s economic and cultural vitality and pitched it as a location for investment on several fronts.
Speaking at the 12th-Floor Lounge to an audience of 96 attendees, actor-playwright and Belfast native Geraldine Hughes explained Fordham’s connections to the Northern Irish city.
“In 1928, Belfast poet Joseph Campbell founded the Irish studies department at Fordham. It was the first-ever Irish studies department at any U.S. college,” Hughes said.
Campbell was a nationalist who supported the Easter Rising in 1916 and was a political prisoner in the Irish Civil War. He died in poverty in Ireland in 1944 without seeing the full fruits of his endeavors, she said.
“He was fluent both in Ulster Scots and in Irish and he wrote one of the most beautiful songs about Belfast called My Lagan Love,” Hughes said. She then introduced Irish tenor David O’Leary, who sang the song to commemorate the occasion.
“The fact that we’re here at Fordham is a sign that Campbell’s dream is still alive,” Hughes said. “This link between him and his beloved Fordham and his beloved Belfast will have him smiling down on us tonight.”
In his welcome address, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, gave an overview of the University’s history and mission.
“Fordham has a long tradition of serving the Irish, founded as we were by an Irishman, Archbishop John Hughes. We, therefore, are delighted to be part of a partnership that ties us to Belfast,” Father McShane said.
He mentioned that Thomas A. Dunne, Fordham’s vice president for government relations and urban affairs, had represented the University this past February at the City of Quarters Conference in Belfast.
“We want to have an ongoing conversation with you about the ways in which an urban university can help a city transform itself,” Father McShane said. “We want to talk with you about the opportunities that exist for partnerships within the community.
“We also understand that we have a great deal to learn from Belfast and from the New Ireland,” he said. “We have a great deal to learn about reconciliation. We have a great deal to learn about the arts, a great deal to learn about the magic of language.”
For their part, the conference organizers praised Fordham for its emphasis on social justice issues.
“Father McShane comes from a long line of campaigning Jesuit priests who want their students to be worried about injustice. I think that’s a marvelous thing,” said Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, managing director of Belfast Media Group and publisher of the Irish Echo newsweekly.
Ó Muilleoir moderated the event with Mark Finlay, trustee director of the Presidents Club, Belfast. The evening also featured remarks from New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who praised the University’s ties with Belfast.
“We’re here at the great Fordham University, where they have a wonderful Belfast summer exchange program,” Quinn said. “Tonight, I’m proud to announce that over the next 12 months, we’ll work to make sure every major university in New York City follows Fordham’s lead and offers a Belfast exchange program.”
She discussed how the two cities are growing closer, including Belfast joining the list of New York’s Global Partners—a consortium of 55 cities that are committed to dialogue and sharing best practices. She mentioned that while Northern Irish filmmakers were presenting at the most recent Tribeca Film Festival, city high schoolers were in West Belfast learning about non-violent conflict resolution.
“New York and Belfast have long been partners in commerce and culture—a near-instantaneous give and take that has characterized the relationship between our two cities for centuries,” Quinn said.
“The cities that will weather these tough economic times are those that have deep roots and a deep belief in their senses of community,” she continued. “There are no two more creative, more unique cities that believe in the importance of community than New York and Belfast.”