Video link between Ireland and Hungary: A Conference on Regional and National Identities
Interview with Prof. Michael McAteer
by Dr Gabriella Reuss
This was the first ever video-conference at the Department. About twenty-something students, both from the MA and the BA, and also a few staff members turned up to spectate and enjoy this rare event, and even Fate and the rail workers at Pilisvörösvár were merciful to us: we had perfect audio- and video connection throughout both lectures and the questions. (Thanks, Klinger Csaba!) Lecturers: Dr Una Kealy at Waterford, Ireland and Dr Michael McAteer, in Piliscsaba, Hungary
EDZine: Michael, what was your motivation to organize the event? Why do you consider such a conference important?
MMc: The idea for a video-conference was first suggested by the Head of the School of Humanities at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Dr. Richard Hayes. In 2014 a new ERASMUS exchange link was established between the School of Humanities at Waterford Institute of Technology and the Department of English at the Faculty of Humanitites, Pázmány Péter Catholic University (PPCU). This was a very important event in formally inaugurating the first direct dialogue between Pázmány and an Irish Third-Level Academic Institution.
EDZine: Why and how did you choose Una Kealy and the WIT?
MMc: I first made contact with WIT when I met Dr. Richard Hayes at the European Federation of Centres and Associations of Irish Studies (EFACIS) bi-annual conference in Galway, Ireland, during the summer of 2013. Later in December 2013 Dr. Károly Pintér and I met with Faculty members of WIT to discuss proposals for developing links between WIT and PPCU. Following this, Dr. Una Kealy visited PPCU to present a paper at the International Irish Studies conference that I organised in the Depart of English, PPCU, in June 2014. Dr. Kealy having already visited our University, I thought it appropriate that she would be the first Faculty member at WIT to present a Video-Conference paper to our staff and students at the Department of English, PPCU.
EDZine: At first sight, the two topics, Dr Kealy’s paper on contemporary theatre practice and your paper on a poem by Yeats, did not seem very tightly related – yet, what made them belong together?
MMc: The topics of the two seminar papers were indeed quite different. However, for students taking the Irish literature, history and culture courses that I teach at the English Department here in Pázmány -, and also for students not taking these courses – it was useful to gain some insight into the diversity of approaches and of topics in the field of Irish Studies. Certainly important points of connection between both papers were the themes of place and belonging, themes pronounced in different ways in the plays and the poem that were discussed.
EDZine: Dr Kealy’s research approached contemporary Irish theatre from a theatre-sociological point of view. Her talk gave theatre practice pride of place besides treating the plays with the kind of literary/critical attention which we at the English Department are more accustomed. Unfortunately, approaches that deal with actual practice do not usually belong to English Departments, much rather, to Theatre History Departments at separate univeristies. Do you think by following her approach (method and research) here at our English Department at PPCU we can overarch the gap between Theatre and English Studies?
MMc: One of the exciting possibilities that is opened by this new connection with WIT is that it enhances the prospects for bridging this gap between the teaching and study of theatre practice, and the teaching and study of the drama text, here at Pázmány. The experience that Dr. Kealy brings as someone who has been involved in theatre direction – with one of Ireland’s most distinguished theatre companies since the 1980s – is very significant in this respect. Equally, the knowledge base of drama text, context and performance history that staff at the English Department in PPCU hold – including medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and Victorian drama – will be important in developing collaborative initiatives between WIT and PPCU in future years.
EDZine: Your talk considered one of Yeat’s early poems, „How Ferenc Rényi Kept Silent?”, which tells us about Rényi’s heroic resistence to the pressure of the Habsburgs after the tragic 1848-49 war of independence. Some scholars, as Csilla Bertha (University of Debrecen) or Győző Ferencz (ELTE) refuse to accept the romantic story of Rényi as real. Yet, in the Aristotelian sense, perhaps the question of reality or fiction does not profoundly affect the construction of our national identity and past. What is your opinion?
MMc: I accept that even if the story of Ferenc Rényi’s traumatic ordeal and subsequent confinement to an insane asylum turned out to be a fabrication, it is still significant for the scale of its dissemination across Europe and to the United States in the 1880s. However, this significance is altered substantially if evidence supports the story as based in fact. For if indeed Rényi had suffered such an ordeal during the Hungarian Revolution 1848-49, the story could no longer be classified merely as a tragic-heroic narrative typical of nineteenth century Romantic nationalism. There are several questions around the Rényi story and its treatment in Yeats’s poem that merit far more attention than it has received to date.