Tuesday 6 October 2015

And hello again, nyu.edu

At the beginning of September 2015 the team at Glucksman Ireland House negotiated a continuation for a further year of my Visiting Scholar relationship with New York University.  So, I work on - till at least Autumn 2016.

I am very grateful to Glucksman Ireland House and to New York University for this support. It has certainly made a difference to the quality of the work I have been able undertake over the past year, and gives me a certain amount of confidence in this new academic year.

So, my thanks to Anne Solari, Joe Lee, Marion Casey and the rest of the team. And I do value the long distance collegiality that they bring to the relationship. In that regard, I should especially mention Nicholas Wolf, whose words of encouragement are always welcome.

I see that Glucksman Ireland House, New York University, web site...

has me listed under 'Faculty'

- and they have grabbed from somewhere the Fiddler's Dog woodcut which has, somehow or other, become my logo...


Patrick O'Sullivan
September 2015

Saturday 29 August 2015

And so farewell to bradford.ac.uk...

And so farewell to bradford.ac.uk...

Two semi-conscious entities, my own brain and the University of Bradford's computer system, have, quite independently, come to the same decision - it is time to close down my email address at the University of Bradford...

Which I have sometimes written as

This in an attempt to make O'Sullivan visible in an email address, after a discussion with the original email guy at the University of Bradford.

I will leave it to someone else to track the long discussions about apostrophes in email addresses, and in database entries...

The University's computer system has decided that I have 'left'.

I have been associated with the University of Bradford, in many different ways, since the 1980s.  I did an MA in Social and Community Work Studies at the University of Bradford - a very significant step.  Behind much of what I do, especially my confidence in developing an interdisciplinary approach, is the influence of that MA.

I have occasionally taught for the University of Bradford, within the Department of Applied Social Studies and the Department of Interdisciplinary Human Studies.  For some decades I was able to concentrate on the development of interdisciplinary Irish Diaspora Studies, using the University as a notional base.

In 1997 I founded the Irish Diaspora list, the email discussion forum for Irish Diaspora scholars throughout the world.  This was originally based at the University of Bradford, using the University's version of the Majordomo software. 

And I will leave it to someone else to write the history of Majordomo - though, at one point, I had to sit down and write a Guide to Majordomo, a piece of software you made work by sending emails to it...

In 2004 I moved the Irish Diaspora list to Jiscmail, the UK’s academic Listserv - Bradford's ac.uk email address helped there.  Jiscmail's rules stipulate that at least one list 'owner' has to have an ac.uk email address.

With the help of the technicians at Bradford and at Jiscmail, and friends at the University of Leeds, I was able to preserve the archives of the Irish Diaspora list.  Through many vicissitudes.  All now archived by the British Library, and by Jiscmail, and stored on discs held by the Glucksman Ireland House, NYU, and by the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh.

For a  while my Irish Diaspora Studies web site was hosted by the University of Bradford.  The original design and coding for that web site was by my then very young son, Dan.

Much of my work was done under the umbrella of the notional, ‘paper’, Irish Diaspora Research Unit at the University of Bradford.  Where the notional Irish Diaspora Research Unit was especially useful was when I wrote references, research reports, book reviews, acted as a clearing house for information, made connections and introductions, and so on.  We were thus of service to the wider Irish Diaspora Studies research community - we were instrumental in getting very large sums of money for other research projects and bodies.  It seems to be especially useful to funding bodies that we stood outside the fray.

It is easy to demonstrate – with page scans of books and articles – this connection, between Irish Diaspora Studies and the University of Bradford.  I often use as an example, of what can be done with limited resources to change the landscape, our intervention into the study of the Irish Diaspora in Latin America – we published and then further developed an online Bibliography, which allowed us to help and encourage scholars interested in that field.  Again, it is very easy to demonstrate this achievement, with page scans of books and articles giving thanks and acknowledgement.

But now the University of Bradford's computer system has ended that relationship, and I cannot see any easy or obvious way to restore it.  I no longer have any influential contacts within the University.  I would be struggling to find anyone who remembers who I used to be - let alone anyone willing to work with the University system to grant me a favour.

So we are in agreement, that computer and I – let it end.  I will leave this message on my blog at Fiddler's Dog, so that if you are looking for the entity formerly known as P.OSullivan@bradford.ac.uk you can find me.

And I will leave it to someone else to raise and explore issues around the vast quantities of knowledge and research hidden behind universities' passwords and academic publishers' paywalls...  We paid for all that - why is not available to all of us, as a matter of course?  Can we not, very easily, imagine a better, and more democratic, use of resources?

Patrick O'Sullivan
August 2015

Monday 8 June 2015

Podcast, Stuart Lee and Leslie Megahey on 'Tolkien in Oxford', BBC 1968

This interview and discussion is now available on the University of Oxford's podcast site...

Very good to see real information about the making of the BBC 1968 'Tolkien in Oxford' at last in the public domain, and placed before a knowledgeable and interested audience.  Stuart Lee is to be congratulated on moving this forward.

That useful chap 'Paddy O'Sullivan', who is mentioned a few times - that is me...

'Tolkien in Oxford', BBC 1968

Duration:0:37:00 | Added: 01 Dec 2014

'A discussion between Dr Stuart Lee and film & TV director Leslie Megahey on the BBC's 1968 documentary, 'Tolkien in Oxford', given at a day-long symposium that focused on different aspects of Tolkien's academic and literary work and life in Oxford.'

Stuart Lee Leslie Megahey
Keywords:tolkien BBC 1968 lord of the rings
Oxford Unit: Merton College


Patrick O'Sullivan
June 2015

Thursday 14 May 2015

The Art of a Nation EXHIBITION

It is an ill wind...

I have just bought myself the catalogue of the new Irish exhibition, The Art of a Nation, at the Federation of British Artists Mall Galleries, in London. Sadly I don't think I am going to be able to visit the exhibition itself...

The background is that when 'The Nation' rescued the Irish banks, in the middle of that debacle, 'The Nation' found itself in possession of Allied Irish Banks' art collection - a commercial bank acting like a Renaissance prince. The collection has monetary value, of course - but any sum realised would, really, have been comparatively tiny in the midst of that crisis. And AIB's collection is an important contribution to The Nation's own history. So, the Nation has held on to it...

This is the Mall Galleries' web site...


'The Art of a Nation is the first major exhibition in London for 30 years that celebrates the story of Irish art from 1900 to the present day.
Drawing on the incomparable, award-winning collection of paintings, photography, tapestry and sculptures from the Allied Irish Banks and Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, this exhibition will include over 70 works by many of Ireland’s greatest artists...'

This is the Introduction to the Catalogue by Lewis McNaught, Director, Mall Galleries... Lewis McNaught does not put it like this, of course, but there is an Irish Diaspora Studies dimension here - studied by Lucy Cotter and others - where we need to understand the ways in which London and its art markets has shaped, and shapes, the development of Irish art. And artists...


'In recent years, we have had too few opportunities in this country to explore and evaluate the merits of Irish Art. Apart from a few commercial galleries that provide exhibition space for living, Irish-born painters, sculptors and photographers, it may surprise you to learn there has been no wide-ranging survey or other single exhibition in London providing an historical dimension to Irish Art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries for more than 30 years...'

This is the Guardian's report on the exhibition...


'The paintings and sculptures all come from a collection assembled over decades by Allied Irish Banks (AIB), begun when it moved in 1980 to a grandiose new HQ. The collection was unusual because the bank set out not just to commission boardroom portraits but to collect backwards – to assemble a collection that traces the history of Irish art back into the 19th century. As Frances Ruane, who advised on acquisitions, notes in her catalogue introduction, the collection outgrew the lobbies and meeting rooms until the bank’s thousands of employees became accustomed to pictures hanging on almost every wall. The bank bought the work of young contemporary artists, which was cheap, as well as the work of Yeats, Orpen and Lavery, which even in the 1980s was not. Louis le Brocquy, who has several paintings and two glowing tapestries in the show, would become the first living Irish artist to smash the £1m barrier at auction...'

There is a really interesting Sean Keating, visible on the web pages.

The home of the collection is the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork - so maybe I will get to see it some day...

Patrick O'Sullivan

Monday 20 April 2015

The Fable of the Autoharp in the North NOTES

The Fable of the Autoharp in the North NOTES

I have been told that my Fable of the Autoharp in the North has become curiously invisible on the web.  So, I have put the text here on my blog, where a web search will find it.  The Fable was written as part of the lead-up to the Gargrave Autoharp Festival 2014.

And here are some notes...

Obsessive narratologists will recognise that the Fable of the Autoharp is a version of the very old story of the Sailor and the Oar – except that I have turned it on its head.

In the story the Sailor who is tired of the Sea – or is afraid of the Sea – puts an Oar on his shoulder, and walks inland, until he meets a passer-by who has never seen an Oar.  The passer-by says, ‘Where are you going with that threshing flail?’ Or some such. And so the Sailor knows that he is finally safe from the Sea.

In literature most people come across the story in Homer, The Odysssey, where it is not so much told as foretold - twice.

First, during Ulysses' foray into the Underworld, where the blind (and dead) poet Tiresias tells Ulysses how he can make peace with the God of the Sea, Poseidon - he must journey, with an Oar, until he reaches a people and a land with no knowledge of the Sea, and there he must erect an altar to the God of the Sea.

Second, Ulysses himself tells the story to Penelope, that he must in the future make this one last journey out of Ithaca. These foretellings make for an odd choice of tenses.

Our guide to the background is William F. Hansen, who - in two splendid articles - shows that the story of the Sailor and the Oar is one of those widely spread folktales absorbed by Homer into Homer.  Hansen shows the same story told about Saint Elias and Saint Nicholas, and turning up in the present day in anecdotes and in jokes - a pattern that will be familiar to readers of my own chapter, 'The Irish joke'.

Hansen pauses to note the oddity that many translations of Homer have the inlander mistaking the oar, not for a 'chaff-wrecker', a threshing flail or a winnowing shovel, but for a winnowing fan or a winnowing basket.  Then the story is wrecked - no one can mistake a long wooden thing for a kind of basket.

When I was working on my version, the Fable of the Autoharp, my wife and I quickly worked out what kind of thing an autoharp might be mistaken for - 'cheese-grater' is the usual insult.  The autoharp certainly has its limitations, and it would help if the thing would stay in tune.  It is a difficult instrument for musicians to get their heads round, when they meet it first.  With most musical instruments you are creating chords - with the autoharp you are unpacking chords

Hansen is very good on the notion that the 'Oar Test' works through silence. The Sailor just has to carry his thing, and walk, until others speak to him. Dialogue, Hansen wisely points out, would protract the tale 'uncomically'.  And so it is with my Fable.

All this arose from my thinking through what it was we were trying to achieve with the Gargrave Autoharp Festival - the creation of a place where the autoharp would be known and be made welcome.  Albeit with Yorkshire bluntness.

Patrick O'Sullivan


Incollection (Hansen1990Odysseus)
Hansen, W. F.
Edmunds, L. (Ed.)
Odysseus and the Oar: A Folkloric Approach
Approaches to Greek Myth, Approaches to Greek Myth, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990, 241-274

See also
Article (Hansen1977Odysseus)
Hansen, W. F.
Odysseus' Last Journey
Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, JSTOR, 1977, 27-48

Incollection (OSulliv1994Irish)
O'Sullivan, P.
O'Sullivan, P. (Ed.)
The Irish joke
The Creative Migrant, Leicester University Press, 1994, 3, 57-82

Available at

One printed version of the Fable can be found here...
Fable of the Autoharp in the North
with charming illustrations by Gargrave artists, Jo Ball and Alan Poxon...

The Fable of the Autoharp in the North TEXT

The Fable of the Autoharp in the North

The story so far…

An autoharper put his autoharp into its bag, slung the bag over his shoulder and began to travel north.  He came to a small and pretty village, took out his autoharp— but he did not play it.  He sat on a bench, and put the autoharp on the bench beside him.  So, they sat there, the man and his autoharp, until a passer-by passed by.  I cannot tell you much about this passer-by — but I can tell you this:  he had a very big nose.  The passer-by paused, gave a nosy look, and said, ‘That’s a strange looking chili-dryer…’

The autoharper said not a word, packed his autoharp into its bag, slung the bag over his shoulder, and travelled on, north.  He can be criticised for this, I know.  But I think that his behaviour is understandable.  In the circumstances.

And he came to a charming town, sat on a bench, took out his autoharp – but he did not play it.  He put the autoharp on the bench beside him.  And they sat there together, the man and his autoharp, ignoring each other.  Until a passer-by passed by.  I cannot tell you much about this passer-by — but I can tell you this:  he had one eye bigger than the other.  The passer-by paused, aimed a beady eye, and said, ‘That’s a strange looking pasta machine…’

And the autoharper sighed, and packed up his autoharp, and travelled, north.
Then he came to another pretty town, and — as before — sat and waited, with his autoharp beside him.  And there was a bystander.  I cannot tell you much about this bystander — but I can tell you this:  he needed a shave.  And the bystander pointed a whiskery chin, and said, ‘That’s a strange looking cheese grater…’

And the autoharper said not a word, not a word.  He packed up his autoharp and travelled on, still north.

And he came to a very pretty village, with everything you would want, a pub, an old stone church, an old stone bridge over a clear river, a tea shop.  And the autoharper took out his autoharp, and put it on the bench beside him.  And he waited.  And there was a passer-by.  I cannot tell you much about this passer-by — but I can tell you this:  she had a very good ear.  And she said to the autoharper, ‘Are you going to play that autoharp or not?’

And by this he knew that he had finally reached Gargrave, where everyone knows what an autoharp looks like.  And they like to hear the autoharp played, in the pub, in the church and in the tea shop.  And, of course, in the Gargrave Village Hall. 

And the autoharper picked up his autoharp, cuddled it to his chest, and played and played and played.  Until his fingers bled.

Which was not wise.  But is understandable.  In the circumstances.

© Patrick O’Sullivan 2014

Friday 17 April 2015

Article Published: Visualising the Emigrant Letter

An article reporting on the first parts of the Irish Emigrant Letter projects has at last been published in the Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales (REMI)- there were many delays on the journal side, and the article finally appears with a 2014 publication date.

Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 2014, 30 (3 & 4), pp. 49-69

Emma Moreton, Niall O’Leary and Patrick O’Sullivan 
Visualising the Emigrant Letter

ABSTRACT - see below..

The article, as published, is a compact summary of much discussion, and incorporates many different kinds of expertise from the research network - notably of course the expertise of the three co-authors...

Emma Moreton
Linguistics, digitalisation and annotation...

Niall O'Leary
IT/Digital Humanities Consultancy, Visualisation

Patrick O'Sullivan
Irish Diaspora Studies - for example at...

You can see some of Niall O'Leary's visualisations at

For me participation in the research network was part of the neverending quest for enlightenment - in this case, a better understanding of the Digital Humanities. I have written formally to Emma Moreton, thanking her for that.

So, yes, I wanted a better understanding of the technologies and the processes, but in the back of my mind there were two questions:

did the amount of effort that had to be put into a Digital Humanities project genuinely answer existing research questions, and explore research issues?

did that effort create new research questions and new methodologies for the traditional humanities?

The answer to both questions is, Yes.

This becomes very clear, easily clear, within Irish Diaspora Studies.

I am currently writing the more considered, 'Irish', version of the material, with a much larger word count, which can expand on the detail.  We like detail.

The journal, the Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, has made its entire collection, dating from 1985 to 2001, available online at Persée.fr. Since 2002 every issue published has been added to the free public portal Revues.org,
funded by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Ministry of Research, and designed to be a home for the most prestigious French journals in the field of the Humanities and Social Science.  The latest issues published are available for online sale at Cairn.info, with a three year restriction. I am sorry about that - but at least the French are making an effort.

Patrick O'Sullivan

Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 2014, 30 (3 & 4), pp. 49-69

Emma Moreton, Niall O’Leary and Patrick O’Sullivan
Visualising the Emigrant Letter

Emigrant letters are a rich resource for teaching and learning, transcending disciplinary and methodological boundaries. They are expressive and indicative of correspondents’ identities, values, preoccupations and beliefs, providing a powerful source of information about migration issues and shedding light on processes of language change and variation. Although many emigrant letter collections have now been digitised, not all are properly archived; some are reduplicated and others are in danger of being lost. The documentation and preservation of such letters is, therefore, a particularly pressing need. In 2013, an AHRC research network was established to look at ways of improving interconnectivity between digital collections of migrant correspondence. This paper reports on work carried out so far, focusing on how emigrant letter projects might move beyond the digitisation stage to exploit text content and enhance usability and searchability through the use of visualisation tools.