Keeping Irish culture alive

In Irish history, a "seanchaí" is someone who keeps Irish culture alive by sharing stories, songs and traditions with their community. According to William Clohesy, a professor in UNI's Department of Philosophy and World Religions who is of Irish descent, this is the main way in which Irish language and culture is transmitted between generations.

Bill Clohesy
Clohesy keeps his Irish culture alive through St. Patrick's Day celebrations and visits to Ireland.

Clohesy is passionate about his Irish heritage, and part of that can be attributed to having grown up around family who shared stories and traditions. "In my family, there have been many people who fit that description," he said. "I had an uncle who was like that. He knew every story and every song you could imagine. I loved it and I learned everything."

Today, Clohesy plays that role himself. He often shares anecdotes about his ancestry, especially in political philosophy classes. "There are some really interesting things that have happened in Irish politics that are germane," he said.

Another way Clohesy keeps his culture alive is through St. Patrick's Day celebrations. It's tradition for he and his wife, Stephanie J. Clohesy, to share an Irish meal and sing old Irish songs with friends on the Irish holy day.

While Clohesy does wish more people would acknowledge the historical significance of St. Patrick's Day, which is to honor the fact that St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Irish people, he doesn't see a problem with modern celebrations of the holiday.

"It would be nice for someone for whom the religion is important to at least acknowledge the origin of it," he said. "As far as celebrating St. Patrick's Day, that's become a natural rite of growing up and there's nothing wrong with that."

Clohesy observed that modern-day St. Patrick's Day celebrations reflect other changes going on in Irish culture. According to Clohesy, Irish isn't spoken as often as English, and many Irish people are no longer identifying with Catholicism. "You cannot wish a culture to stay the same," he said. "There's just no way of going back."

While Clohesy does mourn the loss of certain Irish traditions, the globalization that can cause certain traditions to be lost can also keep other traditions alive. Clohesy encouraged students to explore traditions from across the globe.

"We're all citizens of the world," he said. "What we take away from wherever we go, that's valuable and worth keeping."