The “My Story – My Words” Day at NUI Galway

We talked about it, we prepared for it, we sent out invitations, we shared ideas, and then it happened: on September 29, academics, artists and NGO workers came to NUI Galway on a rather rainy day to talk about language and migration.

It was a pleasure to host so many different perspectives on the topic that we have been working on. It was great to have so many different backgrounds coming together to talk about their right to call this island ‘their’ Ireland. Last but not least, it was great to have academic and non-academic voices interact on the same platform.

We started w20170929_094226ith our more specificaly social/sociolinguistic panel. Mary Gilmartin started by illustrating some of the narratives that she and Bettina Migge collected from migrants in Ireland. It was very interesting to see how the ‘placeness’ of this place can mean so many different things to different people.


Then, Lisa McEntee-Atalianis explored one of the most pressing issue20170929_095045s in Europe nowadays, the refugee crisis, from the point of view of the press and social media. What is lacking in the way in which the refugee crisis is usually narrated is precisely the migrants’ voice.

Speaking of voice, Unn Røyneland presented us some divergent voices from Oslo: rappers who claim their Norwegian identity, and the debate that ensues online about varieties such as the so called ‘Kebab Norwegian’. Who can really decide the boundaries of a language, and who can grant access to it?

20170929_101919In the following panel, Stefan Nowotny talked about the task of the translator in relation to the challenges of the time and of history, and the difficulties of relating this particular and very important task to the needs of our age of borders and incomprehension.IMG_20171002_112654

Ozgecan Kesici-Ayoubi talked about her task as a translator; from her translation of Kazakh poetry from the 19th century to her own work as a poet who lives in Dublin but takes Kazakhstan, Turkey and Germany with her.IMG_20171002_112626

Marta Golubowska (we talked about her project Be-Longing in July) showed us some of the interviews that she made in her project which brings together members of a community in Kildare to talk about their homes.

After lunch, it was time for theatre, poetry and film. OT Platform  are a community effort, and so they took the stage in three: Bernie, Maud and Rula. They talked about grounding their theatrical efforts in Dublin 8, the need to build an expressive space in the community, and the projects that they developed around it.

Jijo Sebastian, a film director who works in Dublin but whose film speak mostly Malayalam, is starting a collaboration with them soon. In Galway, we had a chance to hear his ideas on making locally grown cinema, and to watch a few minutes of his darkly comic film “Box“. Due to time constraints, we had no time to show scenes from “Parakayapravesham”, but you can watch it here.IMG_20171002_112609

Also, Kasia Lech (who teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University, but was also one of the founders of Polish Theatre Ireland) gave a very appropriately titled talk: “They came here and stole our jobs and then they took our language”. In its works, PTI have always tried to intercept different linguistic directions and suggestions, and play an interestingly complex linguistic picture of contemporary Ireland.IMG_20171002_112619

Anne Mulhall talked about her experience with establishing a Women’s Writer Network, which included refugees and migrant women and which challenged borders of expression on so many levels.

Christodoulos Makris read passages from his essay “Travelling Light: Shedding Poetry’s National Baggage” which resonated with so many things that were being said. The key question is: do we really need to pigeon-hole poets into national slots, and have them compete as if it was the Eurofestival? What are the choices available to a poet who wants to bypass all of that?

Nithy Kasa also talked about borders: both in her native DR Congo, and in Dublin; all of this in very powerful verse. While Nita Mishra presented some of her poetry about misconceptions, stereotypes and the necessity of finding a voice. She also talked about the difficulty of rendering her Hindi words in English.

Fiona Bolger, who was of great help in reaching out to poets across Ireland (thank you Fiona!) talked about the upcoming anthology All the Worlds Between. And another anthology to be presented was Migrant Shores, of which we wrote a few days ago.

As you probably know, we have been walking the streets of Ireland in the past few months, talking to migrants about their languages, their hopes, their needs and aspirations (more of that in the future). We have been lucky to work with Teresa Buzckowska from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and she was here with us to talk about the many things that her organisation does.

The symposium was concluded by the O Briain lecture, for which we invited Patrick Stevenson. His latest book is a very compelling exploration of the language stories in a building in Berlin. The students of the NUI Galway course in drama and theatre helped us bring it to life (thank you guys!).

We would like to thank the speakers who came from near and far, the Moore Institute and the Immigrant Council of Ireland; the office of the registrar, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh who funded the O Briain lecture; the many interns and staff of Italian at NUI Galway who gave us a hand; and many others whom we have encountered on our journey so far. Our journey is not over: stay tuned for more updates!






The programme of the “My Story, My Words” day is here!

Hello everyone, I am pleased to announce that our programme for the symposium is ready. It will be a full day of study, conversation and performance about language and migration. Scholars of linguistics, literature and geography; poets; NGO workers; theatre companies; film directors and visual artists are coming to NUI Galway on September 29 to talk about the role that language has in the experience of migration, and how to create a conversation among all the components of a multicultural society.

The symposium takes place in the Hardiman Research Building, in room G010, and it will be concluded with the prestigious Máirtín Ó Briain Lecture.

All welcome!




Polish Theatre Ireland joins our symposium

Founded by Kasia Lech, Helen McNulty and Ania Wolf in 2008, this Dublin-based theatre organisation has produced both original plays and new translations of Polish works, always inhabiting the space between languages and cultures, always involving a highly multicultural cast. It will be a pleasure to welcome Kasia Lech in Galway on September 29.

Working on theatre as a way of bridging cultural divides, they were born with the intention to “promote Polish texts – both classical and contemporary – on Irish theatre stages” and challenge audiences to “feel, think and interact with the Polish diaspora in Ireland within the dramatic context.” Their activity quickly expanded, involving also productions and actors from different backgrounds.PTI logo

Their past productions include translations of Polish playwright
Radosław Paczocha’s Scent of Chocolate (2010) and Delta Phase (2012) Chesslaugh Mewash (2011), a play based on poet Czesław Miłosz where the English language encounters Irish, Polish, French, Lithuanian and Slovakian; and Bubble Revolution (2016), a coming-of-age story set before and after the fall of communism.Delta Phase by by Silver Merick Studio

In their work, they always paid attention to language: the language we inhabit, the language we encounter every day in Dublin, the language of the company members and the language of the written texts they were working on. Polish Theatre Ireland is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural company; we cannot wait to hear about how they approach this aspect of an art form that combines the universality of the human body on stage with words that are pronounced in a given language, which in turn comes from a given place, and sometimes travels a long way to reach the audience.  Kasia Lech, by Tomasz Lazar





(Pictures courtesy of Kasia Lech. Copyright by the respective authors.)

Some notes from the Migration and the Humanities conference

This weekend, we took part in the “Migration and the Humanities – Critical Challenges” conference organized by the Moore Institute at NUI Galway in collaboration with the Irish Research Council and the Irish Humanities Alliance. The conference brought together scholars and activists from all Irish universities and various disciplines: geography, social sciences, history, literary studies, linguistics, ethno-musicology…

migration and the humanities poster

It was a very valuable chance to discuss the questions raised by migration, recent and less recent, outbound and inbound, in Ireland. Anne O’Connor and I talked about “My Story – My Words” as part of the panel on “Experience of Migrants in Ireland”, together with Regina Donlon (Maynooth), Mary Gilmartin (Maynooth), T.J. Hughes (NUI Galway), Valerie Ledwith (NUI Galway), Piaras Mac Éinrí (UCC) and Orla McGarry (UCC). As we talked about our plans to research migrant agency through individual narratives and experiences of translation, we had a chance to discuss with scholars who are tackling many of the same issues from the point of view of human geography and sociology. That made for a very proficuous exchange of points of view – which made it evident how, if we wish to address questions of inclusion, agency and representation, one discipline is not enough. And, as Debbie Lisle (QUB) said in another panel, it is not enough to be interdisciplinary, but rather transdisciplinary. That is to say, it is not enough to consult different disciplines and then retreat safely into our own discipline, but it is necessary to create moments of contact that transform all the disciplines involved in the dialogue.

The discussion surpassed individual frameworks to discuss the present situation, and what we can do to inform policy as migration scholars. The issue of direct provision, that was recently in the news, came up again and again – also through strong testimonies, coming from Lucky Kahmbule and Vukasin Nedeljkovic (who narrated the experience of asylum seekers both as a researcher and a visual artist).

Another recurring issue, that is particularly interesting from the perspective of our work in “My Story” was the question of migrant agency and authorship. That came up in presentations by Charlotte McIvor (NUIG), Patrick Crowley (UCC), Aileen Dillane (UL), Anne Mulhall (UCD), where not only we heard about many instances of art and creativity inspired by migration; but also about the role that this may play in society, and our role as scholars as we open up spaces for representation. With a reiterated call to not just wait for migrant art to happen, but analyze it and engage with it as it happens, as it is being made, it was evident how much we need to concentrate on the very socio-cultural instances that make art possible, and visible to the general public. It is an issue that we will take into account in the few months of “My Story – My Words”, as we collect migrant narratives together with the staff at the Immigrant Council and reflect on how to make them visible and appreciated. A consequence of this, and a challenge for us, is to open spaces of representation, within our research, for the migrant individuals who participate in it and give their point of view. Few areas of research benefit from a bottom-up approach as migration studies.

As the participants discussed policy, and the issues of inclusiveness and racism, and the future of migration in years to come, this conference was also very importantly a reminder of why we research and reflect on migration: to have an impact in society, to make migrant lives easier and more visible, to make pleas understood and received.

We thank Daniel Carey, director of the Moore Institute, for organizing this interesting, stimulating and very useful conference, and for inviting us. And we thank all the speakers for their very interesting ideas.

Since Aileen Dillane played one of their songs at the conference, and they are a very fresh and interesting example of how migration opened up spaces of creativity that challenge and enrich the fabric of Irish society, I would like to conclude with a video from Limerick-based hip-hop collective Rusangano Family: