Research Radar – Dean Farrell

Dean Farrell is a PhD student at Concordia University’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, specializing in Literature in Irish.

Photo Credit: Sarah Kierstead

What are you working on right now?

I’ve just done my first semester of the PhD and completed two classes as part of my coursework requirement; one was a directed study with my supervisor, Máirtín Coilféir.  For that course, I looked at early archival records of An Gúm, the government department that publishes Irish language texts and literature.  The other course that I completed, a mandatory course in HUMA, was “Embodiments” with VK Preston.  I produced a research paper for that course about a topic that I am interested in pursuing further.  In it, I proposed that folklore is a more appropriate methodology for considering Irish language literature that traditional literary theory.  I’m not the first person to suggest this, but the way I’m applying the idea is new.  I considered the text “Bruidhean Chaorthainn,” edited by Patrick Pearse, and its erotic exchange between Diarmuid Ó Duibhne and Conán Mac Móirne.  I suggest that it is one of Irish literature’s original queer texts that comes from an oral source.  I’m interested, then, in considering how folklore can provide a model for performing queer readings of literary texts in Irish.  This idea is still taking shape, and I know that it is perhaps daring and bold, but I really think there is something there.

Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why? 

The reason why I really believe in the idea I just mentioned is because of a class taken at UCD with Máire Ní Annracháin, who has had such an influence on me.  Her work on feminism in the Irish language, some of which is based on Bandia an Fhlaithis (the Goddess of Sovereignty), a prominent feminine figure in Irish mythology, is outstanding.  She is part of a 1980s’ posse of feminists working in Irish to whom we are so indebted.  During my MA, I took a course with Máire during which we she asked us what we thought of her reading of Bandia an Fhlaithis in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille and I remember saying “I think it’s a bit of a stretch.”  She roared out laughing and challenged me on it, but she didn’t mind me thinking so.  After a few years of reflection, I now think it is one of the most accurate readings of Cré na Cille.

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

I read a lot for leisure; I need to switch my brain off from work.  One of my required courses for this semester is about photography, and so I decided to pick up a book that I had read over the summer titled Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson.  It’s sort of prose poetry, it’s queer, and it takes classical Greek mythology and blends it with the modern world.  I really enjoyed it.  I love poetry’s ability to capture a fleeting moment, and this text does that really well, which pairs nicely with my work on photography at the moment.  I also want to take this opportunity to talk about Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the ThroatIt takes the Irish oral tradition, the literal voice of Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill and her “Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire,” and archives it in a non-traditional way.  It weaves the sentiments of the poem into the narrative of Ní Ghríofa’s own life; it’s outstanding.  I was lucky enough to recently interview Doireann.  Her work also points to folklore as a framework, in this case for the introspective understanding of self. 

What podcast do you recommend?

I don’t listen to podcasts, no.

What is your favourite archive or library?

I don’t have a favourite archive or library.  I do, however, really enjoy working at the National Folklore Collection, it’s pure magic thinking about the collecting of all that material.  I also really enjoyed the archival work on An Gúm that I mentioned earlier.

What book or movie changed your life?

I recently read Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. The author is Pakistani-American, and he wrote a novel that reads like a memoir.  It is about the experience of growing up Muslim in the Midwest United States.  The narrator’s father is a heart surgeon who treated Trump at one point. He voted from Trump, even when he was spreading Islamophobic rhetoric during the election.  The protagonist’s father maintains some sort of devotion to Trump, seeing him as the embodiment of the American Dream.  This book was really powerful for me, making me think about privilege and whiteness, and about being a settler here on unceded lands.  In terms of movies, Call Me By Your NameIt is so beautiful.  I just sobbed.  It is so romantic and I’m such a romantic person.  I even romanticize the research work I do, so that film really impacted me.  Arracht as well; I was able to see that through the Irish Film Festival in Ottawa.  It’s great to see an Irish language film, with excellent acting, that is beautiful aesthetically, and with a thought-provoking title.  I have to mention the poetry of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.  Her work was my way into literary studies.  She has had such an impact on my work and my spirit.  Finally, I also wanted to mention the Georgian film And Then We Danced, directed by Levan Akin, and perhaps add that we never really know the things that change our lives in the moment…

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?

I do, but it depends on what I’m doing.  I might not listen to music when I’m reading.  Sometimes I listen to a group of Dublin rappers, Versatile/Outburst (although I should say, not all their music, as some of it is problematic, while they maintain their art is satire).  They’ve managed to produce a sound (much like Doireann Ní Ghríofa) that is completely Irish.  It’s not uber traditional, it’s not romanticized.  I love sad and slow music for working, like Joni Mitchell and Adele.  I love Lil Nas X; according to Spotify, I’m among his top 1% of listeners.  I also appreciate pure silence.

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

I really wish that I paid more attention to the standards of academic work during my first year, with respect to referencing and writing style, for example.  I had to learn all that the hard way.  But it really is possible to turn it around; if you have an interest, keep going.  Other than that, knowing that learning how to do a PhD is a process.  Balance is a goal that is important to work towards, but be kind to yourself and make it work for you.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

I must get outside every single day.  I like doing physical exercise.  One day last week, when it was -29 with the wind chill, I didn’t go outside and I really noticed a difference in how I felt by the end of the day.  Feeling the elements on my skin helps me to de-stress.

Is there a research initiative that you would like to highlight?

In June 2021, I participated in a research seminar series called “Dána” (which means naughty), and it was the first seminar on gender and sexuality studies in Irish.  It was organized by Seán Mac Risteaird, John Walsh, and Amy Mitchell.  It was really cool to be part of it, as was the organizers’ offering of such a platform to ECRs.  The papers are available here on YouTube.  I talked about Seán Ó Curraoin’s Beairtle, and I was really proud to be part of the event.  Seán Mac Risteaird mentioned to me that we panelists could be the next generation, or the next posse, of Irish language scholars working on gender and sexuality.  We have big shoes to fill.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?

I would say silence.  Previously, I would have said coffee, but I sort of accidentally gave it up five weeks ago and I’m feeling good!  Other than that, a reference management system like Zotero is handy.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

The pandemic hit when I was finishing up the end of my second year as an ICUF instructor in New Brunswick.  I started my PhD remotely, so I’m somewhat used to it by now, although I would say that it has made things a little lonelier.

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