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by Patrick Fitzgerald
"THE ABOVE PHOTOGRAPH was taken on the evening of Monday 11 November 1996. Pictured are the eight students who had just embarked upon their first year of study of an MSSc. in Irish Migration Studies. Also pictured are the lecturers charged with delivering the course, Dr John Lynch, then of the Department of Economic and Social History, Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Patrick Fitzgerald, of the Ulster-American Folk Park.
Officially launching the new course on behalf of the university was Professor Mary McAleese, then Pro-Vice Chancellor responsible for outreach. Finally, on the extreme right was Mr Eric Montgomery, former Chief Executive of the Ulster-American Folk Park who had always harboured an aspiration that the Folk Park site should become a centre for scholarship and learning about emigration as well as a popular visitor attraction.
On reflection, being in a position to offer a two year part-time postgraduate course in the early autumn of 1996 was remarkable, given that the project had only really been hatched during the previous spring.
Discussions between the Ulster-American Folk Park and Queen’s University, and particularly between John Gilmour, Folk Park Director and Gary Sloan, who oversaw the university’s developing outreach initiative, led to a commitment from both parties to work in partnership towards the establishment of a taught course dealing with emigration."
In this article, the author reflects on his time teaching Irish migration studies.