A Day For More Than Keggers And Clovers Jim Murphy Of Villanova University Works To Undo Stereotypes Of Irish People And Culture.

Posted: March 17, 1997

VILLANOVA — Shamrocks, shillelaghs and shenanigans. These often come to mind when speaking of the Irish and particularly the celebration of St. Patrick's Day in America.

Jim Murphy, associate professor of English and director of the Irish Studies program at Villanova University, has spent his career dispelling myths and destroying stereotypes by emphasizing the great wealth of history and culture of the Irish people.

``Irish culture goes beyond the green-beer season,'' Murphy said.

``There's a lot of silliness and cliches about St. Patrick and a lot of people get all their history from pub sessions. Now, while that's entertaining, it's not the best way to learn Irish history.

``We're trying to raise the awareness level of what Irish culture is about.''

The recent rise of Irish movies and music has made his program more popular among students. He cited, for example, such movies as My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, and Michael Collins; such bands as U2 and the Commitments; and the show Riverdance.

``Very different from `Danny Boy' and `I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.' I mean, The Quiet Man was a nice movie, but it has no place in reality.''

Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir of an Irish childhood, and Seamus Heaney's receiving the Nobel Prize in literature last year also pointed up the richness of Irish culture.

Murphy created the university's Irish Studies in 1980 as an interdisciplinary program combining literature, history, culture and archaeology. Courses include seminars on James Joyce or William Butler Yeats; Irish American drama and film; Irish art history; Irish politics; and the Irish in America.

Today, about 100 students are enrolled.

Murphy is a first-generation Irish American, the son of parents from Counties Mayo and Leitrim in the Irish Republic. Though he was born and raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, famous for its own accent, there seems to be just a tinge of brogue in his speech.

Maybe it's those yearly trips to Ireland.

As part of the Irish Studies program, Murphy oversees a Villanova-in-Ireland program at University College in Galway.

Two who made the trip last summer - Jill Wotanis of Manville, N.J., and Nancy LaVine of Long Island, N.Y., both Villanova juniors - said the visit gave them a new perspective on Ireland.

``I didn't realize how broad the culture was,'' LaVine said. ``I had heard about Yeats and Joyce, but that was about it.''

Said Wotanis: ``I didn't realize it had such a strong history. I think `the struggles' is a good term when talking about the Irish.''

Both women were surprised at how cosmopolitan Dublin was.

``It was like being in New York,'' LaVine said. ``You heard different languages on the street all the time.''

Thanks to Ireland's entry into the European Common Market, unemployment is going down, Murphy said.

``The European Union has changed the nature of Irish culture; some for better and some for worse,'' he said.

``More and more Irish are working in the European Union because they have good English-language skills. They're bringing back European influences to Ireland.''

Immigration to and from Ireland also has changed.

``When my parents came over, they they couldn't afford to go back,'' Murphy said. ``Now even on a moderate income, Irish can afford the trip for weddings and funerals or a vacation.''

In addition to his summer trip for students, Murphy also leads an excursion open to the general public - ``Ireland . . . The Cultural Tour'' - an 8-day visit to the Emerald Isle at the end of May.

He goes along, of course, because, after all, ``somebody has to do it.''

Murphy, a charming, gregarious soul, is not so serious that he doesn't enjoy a wee bit of nonsense himself, when it comes to St. Patrick's Day. He will be spending this evening as one of a handful of ``celebrity'' bartenders at the anniversary of Muldoon's Saloon in Philadelphia.

``And I'm sure to be lifting a pint or two myself,'' he said.

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