Research Radar – Máirtín Coilféir

Máirtín Coilféir is an Assistant Professor of the Irish Language at Concordia University’s School of Irish Studies. His first monograph, Titley (2019), examines the work of the foremost contemporary writer of the Irish language and was shortlisted for the Oireachtas Book of the Year award. He is currently working on a research project on the ethics and the internationality of translation in minority languages, with a focus on Irish.

Who is your favourite academic? Alan Titley, a professor emeritus of the Irish language and a creative genius with an ethical wisdom. He does it all: writes novels, short stories, plays, poetry; fills a weekly column in a national newspaper; writes and presents TV programmes; he speaks on the radio; he’s taught on three continents and his takes on the troubles of our day are always worth listening to (even if you don’t agree with him).

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days? As usual, I have too many books on the go for my own good. For work it’s the latest volume of COMHARTaighde, an on-line academic journal; Margaret Sommerville’s The Ethical Imagination; and I always seem to be reading Dáithí Ó hÓgáin’s work on Irish folklore. For leisure it’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil [The Great Wheel of Life] by Micí Mac Gabhann, the graphic novels of Guy Delisle, and I just finished Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s Normal Sheeple. Then there’s a kind of in-between category – interesting fiction and poetry that may or may not make it into my research programme. For that, I’m going back to turn-of-the-century adventure literature and their Irish translations: The Adventures of Jimmie Dale by Frank Packard; Kindred of the Wild by Charles Roberts; and Moondyne by John Boyle O’Reilly.

What podcast do you recommend? I’m not really up to speed on the podcast world but the two I listen to regularly are The Second Captains, which is a daily sport/current affairs podcast from Ireland, and BBC Radio Four’s In Our Time. Special mention goes to their episode on the evolution of the whale.

What is your favourite archive or library? Marsh’s Library is the oldest one in Dublin and my favourite one to visit. It’s a beautiful space to be in, and it still has the cages that scholars used to be locked in so that they couldn’t steal the books.

What book or movie changed your life? They all leave their mark, I hope, but Alan Titley’s An Fear Dána [The Man of Poetry/Daring] was the book that first showed me that literature in a minoritised language can be every bit as experimental and as powerful as the literature of more dominant tongues.

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what? I do, but I change it all the time. If I’m writing I can only listen to instrumental music, otherwise my essays will be full of early Elton John quotes. This week I’ve been listening to Interplay by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, a jazz album that I’ve come back to after years of forgetting.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why? It’s hard to beat the pen, paper and table for sketching out research plans, hypotheses and first paragraphs. If I have an idea I want to pursue, typically I’ll go to the university’s library, find the shelves that hold books on the relevant area or thought, pull ten or twenty out onto a table and then just go for a “walk in the woods” through them all. As a first step I find it much more uplifting and productive than trawling through the on-line databases and (in my case) squinting at a screen.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

That the departmental administrator has thousands of times more answers than the wisest professor. That theory never properly fits the thing you need it for. That writing words you never actually say (“moreover”) is risky, especially for presentations. That trying to create a galaxy of interconnected references from everything you’ve ever read won’t work out, but the temptation will remain.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

Being on the road, or on the trail. I really like long distance walking, landing in some place and then setting off in one direction for days or for weeks. When you’re near books, research has a way of completely consuming the mind so I try to make room for a different type of existence as often as I can.

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