Dhananjay Singh: JNU SPECTRESS Fellow in Dublin

In January 2015, I had been teaching a course on Irish literature at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, for six years. What was different this time, though, was that Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin, who was visiting the Centre for Historical Studies, as a Visiting Professor, came to my class and delivered a talk on early twentieth century Irish history leading up to the Easter Rebellion. I talked to her about my current research interest in Seamus Heaney, reading his poetry, poetics and politics from a Buddhist perspective. It was then that she not only informed me about SPECTRESS, but also motivated me to apply for the fellowship under its auspices.


Using the philosophical framework of the Mahayana Buddhist epistemology, I have been trying to trace in Heaney’s language the phonic consciousness of Ireland, and the meanderings of a flickering poetic voice through Irish history, mythology, and political violence, that still conceals aspects of Irish subjectivity that has escaped critical analysis. My study seeks a critical vocabulary that makes possible the articulation of the poet’s selfhood as an “inner émigré” contra his political and religious identity socially inscribed in the scenes of collective victimhood.


I was the beneficiary of the collaboration between JNIAS, JNU, and Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, which offered me a Visiting Research Fellowship to visit Dublin during May-July 2017 to pursue my research. A significant part of my fellowship funding came from the Research Secondment I was awarded under the European Union’s Marie Curie International Research Exchange Scheme to the Project “Social Performance, Cultural Trauma and Re-establishing Solid Sovereignties (SPECTRESS).

I reached Dublin on July 16, my first arrival in the Joycean city, and I longed to tread the paths immortalized by Leopold Bloom. The next morning, my first at the Long Room Hub was Wednesday, and the time 11 am. As I entered the ground floor of the wonderful wooden building, I could hear voices upstairs, questions and answers, dialogues emanating from a research presentation. Little did I know that it would be a regular affair every Wednesday at that hour, and one during which I myself would be making a short presentation on my research and receiving pertinent perspective on my work in such a friendly ambience. After the ‘Coffee Morning’ I met the staff, Dr. Catriona Curtis, Dr. Emily Johnson, Ms. Eva Muhlhause, and Ms. Aoife King, who were so kind and prompt with all their help within the first hour of my visit. I am so grateful to each one of them.

Subsequently, I was taken to Prof. Jane Ohlmyer, the Director of the Hub, and introduced to Dr. Jennifer Edmond, Director of Strategic Projects, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, also the Coordinator of the SPECTRESS project. They both welcomed me, and suggested a few names to meet and the resources at Trinity. Dr. Edmond gave me a short orientation on the SPECTRESS project, which was indeed useful. Thereafter, I met Ms. Deirdre Byrne, Project Officer at the Trinity Centre of Digital Humanities, who explained to me the practical aspects of my stay as the Research Fellow. She was always kind, every single time I approached with any problem.

My visit to Dublin as a SPECTRESS Research Fellow provided me a rare access to the works of Seamus Heaney both at the library of the Trinity College as well as the National Library of Ireland. For someone who has loved and admired the poetry of Heaney for a decade, it was a truly humbling experience going through the letters and diary notes of the great Irish poet in his own handwriting. I had a truly amazing experience of feeling the presence of the poet’s spirit unwinding through those pages as one read each letter and word with calm and measured attention as if one was reading the English letters for the first time and trying to make the original sense of the movement of the ink on the page.

Photo 1

I was truly privileged to have met Prof. Nicholas Greene, who was kind to invite me to his chamber, and who engaged me in an unforgettable conversation on Heaney and Yeats. Dr. Tom Walker was kind enough to meet me in the Trinity Common Room and discuss Irish poetry over a cup of coffee.

I was most fortunate that Dr. Rosie Lavan who teaches Heaney at Trinity and who has been researching on the poet spared some valuable time for me, even though she was so busy, and gave me references of works that would prove crucial to my research.

I have been reading and dreaming of W.B.Yeats since my adolescence. It was indeed a dream come true to have got the opportunity to visit Galway and Sligo, and that too in the company of the one of the finest persons I have met in my life, the poet Martin Dyer, himself an excellent poet and a great human being, an avid conversationalist with an enormous knowledge of poetry. The tower Thoor Ballylee brought memories of several of Yeats’s poetry alive in my mind. Martin explained to me the significance of each part of the tower and its surroundings, and I realized the difference between reading about it and experiencing it with one’s own eyes helped by the commentary of a great friend Martin. I am grateful to him for spending the whole afternoon with me taking me to the beautiful places in the Galway city, talking of Ireland and poetry.

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Sligo to me was no less than a spiritual pilgrimage, visiting Yeats grave under the brow of the Ben Bulben. Walking on the shores of the Atlantic, I could experience the Yeats’s childhood voice returning with the waves that hit the rocks and the sand.

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SPECTRESS made possible almost the impossible for me, a literary and cultural experience of Dublin, Galway and Sligo. I returned to New Delhi not only with literary and critical resources outside and inside my mind, but also the feel of Ireland that has made me love the country and its culture even more.




About Jennifer Edmond

Dr Jennifer Edmond, is the Director of Strategic Projects in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Trained as a scholar of German literature, Jennifer is mostly engaged professionally with the investigation of knowledge exchange and collaboration in Humanities research and in particular the impact of technology on these processes.
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