UKZN Hosts Global Irish Diaspora Congress

Scenes at the Irish Diaspora Congress.

UKZN’s College of Humanities hosted the 2nd Global Irish Diaspora Congress, bringing together scholars from countries all over the world, including Argentina, Britain, China, Ireland, South Africa, the United States of America and Zimbabwe.

School of Applied Human Sciences’ Emeritus Professor Donal McCracken led the event with his research interests divided between environmental history and the Irish Diaspora in Africa.

McCracken said the aim of the congress was to have people engage and study the extent and impact of the millions of Irish people who fled harsh conditions in Ireland to settle in distant lands, including on the African continent, where a lot of people worked in health and education fields as well as becoming missionaries.

Among many socio-economic themes focused on were presentations on the experience of Black South African doctors trained in Ireland; the South African Irish experience referring to alcohol and drug use; the Irish portrayals and experiences in London and New York; Irish identities and the identities of destination countries; a study of a family who moved from an Irish county to the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast as well as a case study by Professor Ruth Teer-Tomaselli and Dr Mary Lange of four memorial museums on sites of incarceration.

An exhibition by the Embassy of Ireland in South Africa focused on the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, An Gluaiseacht Éireannach in Aghaid Apartheid, while a paper by McCracken examined Irish Zuluism, a study of the Irish and the Zulus during and in the aftermath of the Anglo-Zulu War. McCracken also led delegates on a two-day tour of the KwaZulu-Natal battlefields, including Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.

Professor Sihawukele Ngubane of the School of Arts said the publications presented at a panel session at the congress delved mainly into socio-economic divisions of Ireland which he related to as a South African. ‘The core issue for the majority of the presenters, some of whom have Irish ancestry, was one of identification, culture and historical experiences.’

The eye-opening and informative event showed Ireland’s rich history of conflicting cultures and discrimination at the hands of the British, a factor common to African countries, said Ngubane.

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