Limerick Student Scoops Global Award for Research on 18th Century Limerick Poetry

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Keith Ó Riain
KEITH Ó Riain, who recently completed his final year of undergraduate study at Mary Immaculate College (MIC), has been announced as the Global Winner in the History category of the 2020 Global Undergraduate Awards.
The Limerick native is one of 25 students worldwide to receive this prestigious award, which recognises the undergraduate research of some of the world’s brightest students across a variety of disciplines.

Keith, who hails from Crecora in Co. Limerick, is one of just three Irish winners and the only winner from a Limerick or Munster third-level institution. His work was chosen from over 4,000 submissions from across the globe following a rigorous and lengthy judging process led by over 400 expert academics worldwide.

Having recently completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Gaeilge and History at MIC, Keith received the award in recognition of his research into the mentalité (collective ideas, values and beliefs of a community) of the Maigue-side district of County Limerick in the period c. 1730-1770.

Keith’s research provides a more comprehensive interpretation of Gaelic Irish mentalité than has been previously achieved by historians, and offers a unique insight into the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs of the Gaelic Irish community in mid eighteenth-century Limerick by drawing on the Irish language poetry of Filí na Máighe (The Maigue Poets).

Reacting to his win, Keith said, “I hadn’t anticipated it at all! To be highly commended in my field of study at a global level is a huge honour in itself but to be a Global Winner is a tremendous compliment. Recognition of this kind is rare and I find it very heartening and a great encouragement for the future.”

He added, “I worked hard on my dissertation because the subject fascinates me and I got great encouragement from my lecturers, to whom I’m enormously grateful, particularly Dr Breandán Ó Cróinín (Head of Roinn na Gaeilge) who proof read my translations, Dr Eilís Ní Dheá (Department of Language and Literacy Education) who made suggestions on primary sources, but especially Dr Liam Chambers who supervised it and made it an enjoyable as well as beneficial experience.”

Keith’s work focuses on the major aspects of mentalité such as Jacobitism, penal legislation and religious issues but also lesser discussed themes such as alcohol, community, intellectual activity, women, and superstition.

His winning paper, ‘Do b’ait liomsa spóirt ‘s amhrán: The Popular Concerns of Gaelic Irish Mentalité in the Mid Eighteenth-Century’, focuses on themes that were hitherto unexamined by historians but are nevertheless historically significant, and engages with the vernacular literature of County Limerick to demonstrate its wealth and value as historical source material in social and local history. 

Congratulating Keith on his achievement, Professor Michael Breen, Dean of Liberal Arts at MIC, said, “We are immensely proud of Keith’s achievement in winning this global award. Having Arts students from MIC perform at this level in a global competition is a reminder of the quality of both the Faculty of Arts staff and their students. Keith’s work is further evidence of how the College’s research profile, by both Arts Faculty and Arts students, is at world class level.”

Dr Liam Chambers, Head of the Department of History at MIC, who supervised Keith’s dissertation, expressed his delight at Keith’s win, saying “Keith’s undergraduate dissertation was an outstanding scholarly work. His research drew on a very impressive array of challenging sources, in Irish and English, to produce a thought-provoking analysis of Gaelic Irish mentalité in eighteenth-century Ireland. Keith’s success at the awards is a thoroughly-deserved recognition of both his abilities and his potential.”

Keith was also recently awarded a Departmental Assistantship with MIC’s Roinn na Gaeilge, where he is continuing his research into eighteenth-century Gaelic Irish poetry as he begins his research masters under the supervision of Dr Breandán Ó Cróínín, Head of Roinn na Gaeilge at MIC. Keith said, “My research will hopefully provide the first ever edited collection of poetry by the eighteenth-century Cork poet, Éadbhard de Nógla, along with textual analysis of the poems and a study of his life and work.

“I intend to bring the historical training I gained from my undergraduate dissertation to bear on this work because I believe that it is only within the history of the period that the poetry can be discussed accurately. I know that my undergraduate dissertation will be of great benefit to me for this project and for the future. “ he said. 

Describing his time as an undergraduate student at MIC, Keith said, “My experience at MIC has been first class. The Bachelor of Arts programme here has a great reputation and was my first choice when leaving school. The College’s excellent reputation is matched by the actual experience of studying here.”

He added, “I received the best of instruction and supervision from the academic staff at MIC and the whole college community of staff and students made my time at the College priceless. I’ve made friends for life, been given opportunities to develop and pursue my interests and gained valuable professional experience by getting to spend a semester on Inis Oírr and another with local government.

“Tá an-cháil ag an gcoláiste ó thaobh na Gaeilge de freisin agus bhaineas sár-thaitneamh as an mbealach neamhfhoirmiúil go n-úsáidtear an teanga anseo (The College also has a great reputation for the Irish language and I really enjoyed the informal way the language is used here).”

Keith’s dissertation also recently won the Limerick Centre for Early Modern Studies Undergraduate Dissertation Prize for 2020. The Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick supports the research activities of scholars of the history and culture of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries at Mary Immaculate College (MIC) and University of Limerick (UL).
This is the second time that a student from MIC has been announced as a Global Winner at the Undergraduate Awards. In 2012, Patrick Burke, who is currently a lecturer in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at MIC, was the overall winner in the Teacher Education category for his entry ‘Rewarding results in reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic: Literacy and numeracy today and during payment-by-results in Irish primary schools (1872-1899)’.