Mr. Kieran Cronin, Developmental Librarian at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), had the notable honour of delivering the Fourth Annual Distinguished Lecture in Irish Multicultural Studies at Georgia Southern University last month.
Co-organised by the Centre for Irish Research and Teaching and the Multicultural Student Centre at the 21,000-student university, Mr. Cronin delivered a lecture on “Civil Rights: The American South and the Irish North.”
Regarded as one of the most prestigious public lectures in the university’s academic calendar, Mr. Cronin, who was successful in his funding application to Georgia Southern University, travelled to Statesboro, Georgia, to deliver his lecture. During his time there, he also met with leading experts from a number of prominent historical sites in nearby Savannah, as well as central figures in that city's Irish-American community. These engagements were part of his work with the Wexford-Savannah Research Axis Project.
As well as holding the position of WIT’s Developmental Librarian, Mr. Cronin’s personal research has focused on the campaign for Civil Rights in Georgia and other Southern states. He has, over the years, examined a wide selection of Civil Rights sites from Northern Ireland to the American Deep South.
According to Mr. Cronin, his lecture highlighted the commonalities between the African American citizens in US Southern states and Catholics in Northern Ireland during the first half of the century. “There are certain fundamental rights we take for granted in Irish and American society in 2015. However, both of these communities were refused many of their basic civil rights, marginalised and treated as second class citizens. It was not until 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat that a chain of events was to unfold that had repercussions that were felt not just in the Deep South of the US but on the streets of Derry and Belfast.”
Commenting on the lecture, Dorsey Baldwin, Director of the Multicultural Student Centre said, "It's particularly appropriate that we're hosting Kieran Cronin in the year that America commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Like African-American citizens in the Jim Crow South, Catholics in Northern Ireland faced discrimination at the polls. The slogan 'One Man, One Vote' resonated across Northern Ireland from 1968."
For his part, Dr. Howard Keeley, Director of the Centre for Irish Research and Teaching, reflected, "Using primary sources from a range of archives, Kieran provided an insightful comparative assessment of the kindred Civil Rights struggles in the American South and Northern Ireland. Well over 300 people attended his compelling lecture, and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Our students were fascinated to revisit the Southern Civil Rights story in terms of the complex situation that obtained in Northern Ireland. By every measure, Kieran continued the tradition of scholarly excellence that folks at, and beyond, our university expect from the Distinguished Lecture series."