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Placing Edmund Spenser in Ireland

Monday, 4 July, 2016

The fifth International Spenser Society conference, co-organised by Dr Jane Grogan (School of English, Drama and Film and Vice-President of the International Spenser Society), was held with great success at Dublin Castle in June. With the four previous conferences hosted at Yale, Princeton, Cambridge and Toronto, it was a coup for Dublin and UCD, and Spenser scholars turned out in force from as far away as New Zealand, Japan and North America for a conference assessing ‘The Place of Spenser’ and ‘Spenser’s Places’. They had good reason: Ireland was the key place in the life of this major Tudor poet, who lived and wrote most of his poetry here from 1580 until 1598.

Three plenary talks and more than 150 papers assessed Spenser’s place and writings in sixteenth-century Ireland (including his major allegorical epic romance, The Faerie Queene, as well as his notorious prose treatise A View of the Present State of Ireland) as well as the long afterlife of his work here. A fourth day of the conference saw delegates take a tour of sites of historical significance to Spenser in southern Ireland, including Youghal and, the ruins of Spenser’s Kilcolman castle, in north Cork. It was the first time the International Spenser Society had hosted an event in Ireland, and to judge by the positive reactions, it won’t be the last. Among those presenting were Professor Roland Greene, president of the Modern Languages Association of America (the largest professional association of scholars worldwide in the field of European literature) and Professor Nicholas Canny, former president of the Royal Irish Academy and Ireland’s only representative on the European Research Council.

The conference was opened by Minister Jan O’Sullivan, Professor Orla Feely (UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact) and Professor Graham Hammill (President of the ISS), and Professor Anne Fogarty (School of English, Drama and Film) gave a brilliant opening plenary on the connections between Spenser and James Joyce, at the Royal Irish Academy. Also at the RIA, Dr Marc Caball (School of History) introduced delegates to the literary culture of early modern Gaelic Ireland, developing on an exhibition presented by the Library of the RIA in association with the conference. Both the lecture and exhibition provided the international scholars with a strong (even corrective) sense of the English poet’s place alongside the extraordinarily rich bardic and intellectual culture of the Gaelic world in Ireland and Europe. The exhibition, ‘Another View: Gaelic Manuscript Culture in Spenser’s Ireland’, ran until 7 th August 2015.