From W.B. Yeats to Oscar Wilde, many academics would argue that Ireland has produced the most gifted writers of poetry and prose in Western literature.
Upper School English Faculty member Dr. Joseph Mendes would most definitely agree.
In January, he shared his passion for Irish literature and culture with students when he led a grade 9 and 10 immersion trip to Ireland along with Dean of Professional Development Phyllis Merrill.
This past month, Dr. Mendes traveled to the University of Missouri - Kansas City to present at the 2017 international meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies, the largest scholarly organization dedicated to the study of Irish literature and culture in the world. This was his fifth appearance at the American Conference for Irish Studies; he previously served as conference director for the 2015 event held in Fort Lauderdale and hosted by the University of Miami. During the 2017 conference, his presentation, Celtic Incursions in Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne, was enthusiastically received by a packed audience of university scholars.
“The work was well-received and represents a small part of my upcoming book on the medieval manuscript sources Lady Gregory used to compile her two masterworks, Gods and Fighting Men and Cuchulain of Muirthemne,” stated Dr. Mendes. “While at the conference, I also chaired a panel on the novels of John Banville and Jack Yeats, and I participated in discussions on pedagogy and how to incorporate experiential education into the teaching of Irish literature and culture, offering the SA Ireland trip as an example of an enormously successful curricular trip.”
Since he started teaching at SA in August 2015, Dr. Mendes has been working on his first book on Irish heroic literature, which he hopes to complete and publish by the end of 2018. He credits the Irish literary tradition, kept alive by oral storytelling and monasticism during the Dark Ages, for preserving the Western cultural tradition for nearly eight hundred years after the fall of the Roman Empire.
His love of Irish literature, culture, and linguistics began while studying at Boston College when he took a course on Early Celtic Literature. Dr. Mendes’ interest has certainly blossomed over the years and carried over to graduate school when he completed his doctoral dissertation at the University of Miami on Modernist adaptations of Irish heroic literature.
“Ireland was the only region of Western Europe not conquered by the Roman Empire, which means that the Irish literary tradition was not influenced in any major way by Roman culture or Christianity,” Dr. Mendes commented. “As a result, Irish literature is decidedly unique-- a rich tapestry of wit, heroism, wrenching tragedy, and deep ties to the land. Whereas in the United States, we tend to look to distant frontiers to provide meaning, Irish literature is about looking inwards and digging downwards, finding that, according to the late Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, “every layer they strip/seems camped on before.’”
As part of his class schedule for this school year, Dr. Mendes teaches three grade 12 English literature seminars: The Celtic Heroic Age, Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, and Nightmares of the Sea. He also instructs one section of 11 AP Language and Composition.
“Dr. Mendes has a passion for Irish Literature, and it shows both inside and outside the classroom,” said Ms. Merrill. “We took 37 students to Ireland for Immersion, and he was able to share that passion with the kids throughout the excursion. It was abundantly clear how much the students learned and how much they respect Dr. Mendes for his intellect and good humor. He has a been a tremendous addition to our English Department and Saint Andrew’s School.”