Fordham’s Irish Connections
By Carolyn Farrar (FCRH ’82)
The ties between Fordham University and Ireland are deep and long-lasting, beginning with its founder, Archbishop John Hughes, who was born in County Tyrone. In the years since, three-quarters of Fordham’s presidents have had Irish names, including the incumbent, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., and his immediate predecessor, Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J.
Fordham as a reflection of the changing Irish-American condition since the mid-1800s could serve as the subject of a book in itself.
In 1847, at the height of the great famine in Ireland, St. John’s College, which would become Fordham University, sent Jesuits to care for the thousands of sick and starving Irish emigrants who came to Canada. In the next decade a Kingsbridge Road blacksmith warned that Fordham Heights members of the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party were planning to attack and burn the college. John Larkin, S.J., Fordham’s president at the time, armed the college with 12 muskets furnished by the U.S. Government, though the attack never materialized.
From 1928 to 1932, Belfast-born poet Joseph Campbell brought his School of Irish Studies into the Fordham curriculum, and though the school left, the interest remained. Wrote The New York Times in 1941: “So marked has been the trend toward Irish studies at Fordham University in the last 20 years that Fordham now enjoys a position as the popular center of Irish culture in the United States, at least as far as the variety of courses in the language, history, art, literature, and music of the country is concerned.” In that same year, Fordham held an Irish feis, or festival, that included competitions in step dancing, harp, Irish language, and essay and poetry writing.
Fordham and Marymount currently facilitate study abroad programs at five Irish universities and Fordham Law runs a monthlong summer program that enables law students interested in international law and the ongoing dialogue between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to study in Dublin and Belfast.
Fordham’s rolls of Irish alumni and faculty is also a long and illustrious one. It includes officers in the U.S. Civil War, such as John E. McMahon, an 1852 graduate and first colonel of the 155 New York Volunteers; writers such as Mary Higgins Clark (FCLC ’79), Peter Quinn (GSAS ’75); and Susan Cahill (GSAS ’95), whose work includes For the Love of Ireland: A Literary Companion for Readers and Travelers; and Susan’s husband, Thomas Cahill (FCRH ’62), the author of several books, including How the Irish Saved Civilization. Fordham alumnus William J. Flynn (GSAS ’51), chairman of Mutual of America, was a prominent figure in the early stages of the current peace process in Northern Ireland. The late former president James C. Finlay, S.J., also a Fordham alumnus, was one of many Fordham faculty members who was born in Ireland.
The University’s Irish connections, its people and programs, link Fordham not only with Ireland but with Irish-America in all its manifestations. In one last example, Fordham marches every year in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. And when the parade passes the reviewing stand, bands, county associations, firefighters and police officers are also passing another great monument left by Fordham founder John Hughes: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which has become a center of celebration and consolation during so many New York moments.
The information in this piece came from the article “Fordham University: The Irish Connection,” by Thomas P. Farley (FCRH ’90), which appeared in a 1997 issue of Hibernia magazine; and from Fordham: A History and Memoir by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. (Loyola Press, 2002).