Marilynn Richtarik’s talks in Belfast were the academic equivalent of a sold-out arena hosting a semi-famous rock band — albeit without cellphone flashlights aloft or the pungent smell of marijuana.
Audiences that require more than the fingers on two hands to count are considered good by scholarly standards, so it was quite refreshing to host 70 people Tuesday at Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute of Irish Studies (including 40+ online viewers) and about 40 on Thursday at the Linen Hall Library across from Belfast City Hall. The audiences were enthusiastic, and discussion after the presentations was lively.
Just like touring with that semi-famous rock band, celebrity sightings were also common. David Park’s novel “The Truth Commissioner” and Michael Longley’s poem “Ceasefire” both feature in Marilynn’s book. Park was on hand, as was Michael’s wife, Edna Longley, herself an accomplished scholar.
Anne Devlin and Rosemary Jenkinson, both playwrights and short story writers, attended the Thursday event, as did a journalist from Shared Future News and more than a dozen people from a cross-community initiative in north Belfast that strives to bridge the sectarian divide. That group asked particularly probing questions about how the Good Friday Agreement changed (or, rather, did not change) the lives of common folks in Northern Ireland, especially disaffected young men.
It was fantastic to see so many friends at both events and to make new ones along the way. We also are grateful to people at the Queen’s Institute of Irish Studies and the Linen Hall for making the necessary arrangements, and to No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast for selling copies of Marilynn’s book at both events.
Finally, while I wish I had come up with the headline for this post, that honor belongs to Dana Miller, a former grad student of Marilynn’s who tuned in while covering the SXSW Music Festival in Austin. She wrote, “What a brilliant talk you have given, and it is such a joy to watch you talk about your incredible work.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.