'Erin Go Bragh' with Adrienne Leavy

While we don’t have any rolling green hills or misty coastlines, we can still get a taste of Ireland in the Valley of the Sun, especially if we sit down with Adrienne Leavy (PhD English 2013). Originally from Dundalk, County Louth, Leavy travels back to Ireland frequently.

“I miss my family and certain aspects of Irish culture that cannot be replicated in another environment,” says Leavy, who studied law at Trinity College Dublin and practiced for ten years before pursuing her doctoral studies in Irish literature. “But, I also love living in the desert, and have come to appreciate that the opportunities I have here would have been more difficult to access in Ireland. I think a persistent sense of dislocation haunts many immigrants, no matter how integrated one is in another society.”

Cataloguing a Literary Inheritance

Leavy, whose dissertation focused on the work of the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella (specifically the representation of women in his poetry), chose not to pursue an academic career within the university system. Instead, she has used knowledge and skills gained during her doctoral studies to create a literary website and magazine called Reading Ireland: The Little Magazine, which promotes Irish literature and contemporary Irish writing to both a specialist and non-specialist audience.

“We are currently in the process of entering bibliographical and critical information on the 200 or so poets, playwrights and prose writers listed on the site,” says Leavy. 

The website is a valuable research guide for students and readers alike.  The site also lists all the independent literary journals and publishing houses in Ireland along with an extensive Irish Studies bibliography.

An off-shoot of the website is her quarterly digital magazine; Reading Ireland is available to subscribers at a cost of $40 annually. In addition to Leavy’s essays, each issue includes contributions from different Irish and American writers and academics.

“The intention is to take literary appreciation out of the classroom to a cross-section of readers who do not necessarily have a college degree in English or Irish literature.”

The first issue, which focused mainly on James Joyce and Jennifer Johnston, can be downloaded at no cost under the subscribe tab on her website.

“Even though the magazine is an online publication, it is very important to me that visually and aesthetically the magazine meets the same design standards as a conventional print publication or the Little Magazines from the early twentieth-century.”

Bringing a Bit of Green to the Desert

In addition to her work online, she is very active on the ground here in Phoenix at the Irish Cultural Center, primarily McClelland Library, where she works on the programming committee.

“The McClelland Library is the only library of its kind in the Western United States dedicated exclusively to Irish literature and Irish culture,” says Leavy, who gave a lecture on James Joyce’s Dubliners at the Library in September 2014. “It is also one of the leading Irish genealogical research centers in the United States. In addition to the 7,500 plus books, periodicals, photographs and films, the library houses a permanent exhibit on The Book of Kells that includes a rare facsimile copy of manuscript which was donated to the library by Sean and Janet Lee.”

For the past year they have been preparing the exhibition, Remembering the Easter Rising: Historical Context and Cultural Legacywhich explores Irish history from the seventeenth century through modern times.

The Irish Cultural Center, located in the same space as the McClelland Library, serves as a valuable social and cultural resource for individuals of Irish descent and people interested in Irish culture. In addition to the Irish language, music and dance classes offered by the ICC, there is a reader’s theatre group facilitated by Professor Pamela Sterling from ASU. A monthly book club is also organized by Joyce East, a retired professor of Irish Studies, and Mary Wilber, a retired librarian and current chair of the Scottsdale Library Board. In addition, the ICC holds Irish céilí dances on a monthly basis in the great hall, and sponsors concerts and lectures throughout the year. 

Leavy is also on the board of Irish Network Phoenix, a local chapter of the national organization, Irish Network USA, which helps Irish and Irish-American professionals across the United States connect with peers. The organization is also a resource for newly arrived Irish immigrants.

Poetry has the ability to capture both the richness and the desolation of the human experience.

—Adrienne Leavy

An accomplished poet herself, Leavy's published work appears in various journals including A Modest Review, Boyne Berries, Crannog Revival, and The Stony Thursday Book. She is currently working with Kinsella on an essay about the creative impulse and his aesthetic response to significant experience. Her long term project is to write a book about the Irish Studies program that Kinsella developed in the 1970s during his tenure as Professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“The older I get the more I love and appreciate the poetry of W.B. Yeats. My current favorite Yeats poem is “Cuchulain Comforted,” a poem he wrote about three weeks before his death. The other Irish poet I am currently reading is Medbh McGuckian,”says Leavy. “Poetry has the ability to capture both the richness and the desolation of the human experience in a way that transcends our normal use of language.”

Sheila Luna

Photo of Adrienne Leavy by Brad Reed.