Recent Speakers

We pride ourselves in presenting a wide array of leading scholars and accomplished writers every month. See recent speakers…


The Saint Patrick’s Banquet – March 19, 2017, featuring Harpist & Storyteller Patrick Ball and song and dramatic reading by Esther Mulligan with fiddler Anne Bingham Goess.






We were very pleased to present our annual St. Patrick’s Banquet on Sunday, March 19 at the Saint Patrick’s Ballroom in the United Irish Cultural Center.  The banquet this year featured a wonderful evening of fine dining and Irish music & drama, featuring Harpist and Storyteller Patrick Ball, along with song and dramatic reading by Esther Mulligan and Fiddler Anne Goess.


Matthew Spangler – February 26, 2017 on  “Walking in the City: A Kurdish Asylum-Seeker’s Arrival in Dublin”.

Professor of Performance Studies at San Jose State University, ILHS Vice President, and successful playwright Matthew Spangler spoke about interviews he has conducted with a Kurdish asylum-seeker and now refugee living in Dublin, Ireland.  A former member of the PKK – the Kurdish separatist organization, labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and many Western European countries – he left Iran because, as he put it, he was too “old to be fighting and living in the mountains anymore.”  Eventually he ended up alone and wandering the streets of Dublin, which he initially took to be Toronto.  In Ireland he requested asylum and, after five years of hearings, rejections, threatened deportations, and appeals, was awarded refugee status.  This presentation will focused on his first morning in Dublin, and subsequent application for refugee status.


Elizabeth C. Creely – January 29, 2017 on Republican Daniel Harnedy and the “Sinn Fein Shoe Store”



Community historian Elizabeth C. Creely spoke about her research on the history of the Irish community of San Francisco’s Mission District, focused on Republican Daniel Harnedy and the “Sinn Fein Shoe Store.   In March, 2016 Elizabeth produced a walking tour for the festival, entitled  “Walking the Rebellion: Irish-Americans and the 1916 Easter Rising in the Mission District”, which explored and examined Irish and Irish American culture at home, and in meeting halls, churches and places of business within the Mission District.


Charlotte Headrick – November 20, 2016 on Irish Women Dramatists

Charlotte Headrick, Professor Emerita of Theatre Arts at Oregon State University presented from her new book, Irish Women Dramatists 1913-2001   (co-edited with Eileen Kearney), the first anthology of Irish women playwrights that is firmly grounded in the history of twentieth-century Irish theater and the social history of modern Ireland.

Fran O’Rourke – October 30, 2016 on Irish Songs of James Joyce


Fran O’Rourke, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University College Dublin presented Irish Songs of James Joyce, during which he performed songs which were central to Joyce’s creative work.  The audience joined in singing some of Joyce’s favourite Irish songs, with texts and references inside of Joyce’s works provided.


Liam Cunningham – September 25, 2016 on the State of the Irish Language 1916 – 2016
Liam Cunningham

Liam Cunningham, a founding director of the the Oideas Gael school, is internationally known for his innovative approaches to language learning.He is a well-known language activist and recently completed his second of two terms, totaling ten years, as Cathaoirleach (Chairman) of Údarás na Gaeltachta, the agency responsible for the cultural and economic wellbeing of the Gaeltacht regions nationally.  Cunningham spoke about the evolution of the Irish language over the many years of colonization and suppression, and the many challenges facing the language since the establishment of the Republic, and the prospects for the future.


David Brundage – Sunday May 22, 2016 on Irish Nationalists in America

David Brundage BookUC Santa Cruz Professor David Brundage spoke from highlights of his new book titled Irish Nationalists in America, The Politics of Exile, 1798-1998 just released by Oxford University Press.
In this important work of deep learning and insight, Brundage gives us the first full-scale history of Irish nationalists in the United States. Beginning with the brief exile of Theobald Wolfe Tone, founder of Irish republican nationalism, in Philadelphia on the eve of the bloody 1798 Irish rebellion, and concluding with the role of Bill Clinton’s White House in the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, Brundage tells a story of more than two hundred years of Irish American (and American) activism in the cause of Ireland.


Matthew Horton – April 24, 2016 on “The Gravesite of Thomas Desmond, legendary Fenian and veteran of the Fremantle Mission”

freemantleUC Berkeley scholar Matthew Horton spoke about “The Gravesite of Thomas Desmond, legendary Fenian and veteran of the Fremantle Mission”.  His talk addressed the social and political history of the Irish Republican movement in California through the gravesite of Thomas Desmond, legendary Fenian and veteran of the Fremantle Mission. He considered the historical context of nineteenth century Irish California and the development of the Fenian movement here, Desmond’s early life in California, his participation in the famous jailbreak, his thirty year political career in San Francisco that followed, his legacy, and the centrality of his grave as a site for commemorating the Easter Rising today.

Annual St. Patrick’s Banquet – March 13, 2016

procframedOne the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Tracy spoke about the Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic as both a work of literature written by poets and as a political document modeled on the U.S. Declaration of Independence, emphasizing civil rights, women’s suffrage, and independence from foreign rule.

“Poetry and Politics: The 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic” included performances by musicians Kyle Alden singer and Catherine John.

 Ethel Rohan – February 28, 2016

Rohan, EthelNovelist Ethel Rohan, a Dublin native and San Francisco resident, presented passages from her debut novel, The Kingdom Keeper, will publish from St. Martin’s Press, 2017. She is also the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Cut Through the Bone, the former longlisted for The Edge Hill Prize and the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. An award-winning story and memoir writer, her work has appeared in The New York TimesWorld Literature TodayPEN AmericaTin House OnlineGuernica MagazineBREVITY MagazineThe Rumpus, and more.




Tony Bucher – January 31, 2016  on “Old Saint Mary’s – San Francisco’s Irish Monument”

stmarysILHS President Tony Bucher spoke on San Francisco’s Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which served as a key seat of institutional power in the early development of the City and the greater West, and as an important focus of community for a significant portion of the population, for generations.

Beyond the story of the church itself and its features and biographical details, Old Saint Mary’s has broader significance as a metaphor for a history nearly unknown in the City the Irish helped build, with the remains of Kathleen Sullivan, the Irish benefactor, interred in the basement of her Irish church, hidden in plain sight.



Kathleen Walkup – November 22, 2015 on “Pulling the Devil by the Tail: Cuala Press, Elizabeth Corbet Yeats and the Ghost of Albert Bender”

lollyyeatsOne of the more iconic images in the history of printing is that of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, dressed in a long smock, printing at an Albion handpress. Behind her a woman is preparing to ink the press; in front of her another woman sits at a table reading proofs. The image is often seen as an example of the genteel art of amateur printing by the ‘ladies’, part of the move toward finding ways for the privileged women of the Arts & Crafts era to keep themselves occupied. In fact that reading could not be further from the truth.

In 1902 Elizabeth became a printer and proprietor of what would become Cuala Press, an Irish private press whose editor was her brother, William Butler Yeats. In 1922, Elizabeth began a correspondence with the Irish-American collector Albert Bender. This correspondence lasted until her death in 1940. Some fifty-five letters from Elizabeth to Bender have survived and are housed at Mills College. This talk will examine the history and legacy of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats and Cuala Press, with a particular focus on her correspondence with Bender. The paper will also draw on research at the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Boston College.

Kathleen Walkup is Professor of Book Art and Director of the Book Art Program at Mills College, where she teaches typography and letterpress printing, artists’ bookmaking and seminar/studio courses that combine print culture and book history with studio projects. She is also Book Art Director for the MFA in Book Art & Creative Writing, the first such program in the country.

Clare Moriarty – October 25, 2015 on “Berkeley’s Marvelous Mathematics”

ilhsoctoClare Moriarty, doctoral candidate at King’s College, London, and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley spoke on “Berkeley’s Marvelous Mathematics”.  George Berkeley is undoubtedly Ireland’s most celebrated philosopher, but his role in the history of mathematics is less renowned. In a heated debate between the British and Continental academies over who truly invented calculus (between Newton and Leibniz), Berkeley’s contribution was to publicly scorn the intelligibility of the theory. The speakers interest is in Berkeley’s unusual motivation in these attacks, which seem to be the result of learning that certain mathematicians had been ridiculing religion on the basis of its ‘unintelligible’ ideas. Despite majority agreement that Berkeley’s mathematical criticism was correct, and instrumental in guiding the project of fixing early calculus, the question remains as to whether Berkeley cared more about sticking his finger in people’s eyes than he did about the mathematics.

Philip Mullen – September 27, 2015 on “Mr Bloom’s Potato”

mullenbucherSome things you could not be expected to know and other things that are just plain ‘wrong’ in Joyce’s Ulysses”
It is well known that James Joyce was meticulous in researching the details for the recreation of his beloved Dublin in Ulysses, but even the great writers sometimes get it wrong. “Mr. Bloom’s Potato” is a light-hearted look at a some of Joyce’s mistakes and a few hidden details that his readers could not possibly have been expected to notice. Such as: Who is Parnell’s brother’s unnamed chess opponent? How could Joyce, of all people, get the two Dublin canals confused, and what is Mr. Bloom doing with that potato? Speaker Philip Mullen is Dublin-based independent scholar.



joycebw2015 Bloomsday Celebration – June 16, 2015

14th Annual Bloomsday Celebration: Re-Joyce in the Stacks Muses, Music and Dramatic Readings from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Sojourn though the streets of Dublin with Leopold Bloom and other characters featured in James Joyce’s quintessential novel Ulysses and other works. The evening includes dramatic readings and song performed by Bruce Bierman, John Ilyin, Esther Mulligan, Melanie O’Reilly, Josiah Polhemus, and Laura Sheppard. Fiddler Anne Goess is joined by flutist Jason Pollack and guitarist Will Wheeler, who offer lively accompaniment with a selection of traditional and well known Irish music. Mechanics Institute, San Francisco

irishhillSteven Fidel Herraiz – May 17, 2015 on “San Francisco’s Lost Irish Hill”

The Irish Literary & Historical Society welcomes Local historian Steven Fidel Herraiz who will discuss Irish Hill a lost Irish neighborhood (c. 1860-1918) near SF’s shipyards.

This neighborhood was known for its infamous saloons, bare-knuckled boxing matches, and boarding houses. Steven brings it all to life with his research, archived news clippings and photographs.


celtictigersSarah Townsend – April 26, 2015 on “Miracles of Development: From Irish Pigs to Celtic Tigers”

Professor Townsend discussed “Miracles of Development: From Irish Pigs to Celtic Tigers” a lighthearted and erudite exploration of representations of the animals applied to the Irish from the 19th century through the recent economic crisis. This talk examined Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel The Butcher Boy and Enda Walsh’s 1996 play Disco Pigs, arguing that the two works deploy and upturn pig stereotypes in order to critique late twentieth-century Irish gentrification.

4 Shillings
St. Patrick’s Banquet – March 8, 2015

The St. Patrick’s Banquet – presenting the music of Aodh Óg Ó Tuama & Christy Martin of Four Shillings Short and a dramatic reading of the works of early 20th Century humorist Finley Peter Dunne. Produced and performed by Myles Dungan and Professor Glen Gendzel.



BrehonLawsCatherine Duggan – February 22, 2015 on “The Lost Laws of Ireland”

Author Catherine Duggan on the Brehon Laws.Catherine Duggan, attorney and historian of Irish law will discuss her book The Lost Laws of Ireland, How the Brehon Laws Shaped Early Irish Society. Brehon Law was the legal system that governed Irish society for over 1000 years. Since there was no central authority, the Brehon Laws were enforced by the community. They reflect a culture that sought to ensure fairness and harmony in a hierarchical warrior society.



Rough WeatherDavid Hirzel – January 25, 2015 on the Rough Weather All Day, An Account of the Jeannette Search Expedition by Patrick Cahill

Author and historian David Hirzel will speak about his new book Rough Weather All Day, An Account of the Jeannette Search Expedition by Patrick Cahill. This book concerns the life of an Irish-born seaman, Patrick Cahill, who served on board the U.S.S. Rodgers which left San Francisco in June 1881 to go in search of the missing Arctic exploration ship Jeannette.