The Classical Association in Northern Ireland

In our latest blog, Dr John Curran outlines the activities of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland:

In 2015, a new partnership between the ancient historians at Queen’s and the broader public led to the formation of The Classical Association in Northern Ireland/Cumann na gClasaicí i dTuaisceart Éireann. The Association seeks to bring a number of different constituencies together to explore and celebrate the history and heritage of Classical antiquity.



Already, distinguished scholars from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland have delighted audiences with lectures on a wide range of subjects from ancient Greek music to Rome’s trade with India. Poetry evenings have celebrated the unique interpretation of ancient Classical culture by Northern Ireland’s most distinguished poets Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney and provided a platform for the next generation of writers in Belfast and beyond. Film nights have featured Queen’s historians examining the historical contexts of cinema classics, from The Life of Brian to Jason and the Argonauts. Both the McClay Library at Queen’s and the Ulster Museum have hosted all-day readings of the Illiad and Odyssey, with proceeds going to local charities. And curriculum-supporting events have been staged in Newcastle, Ballymoney and Derry/Londonderry.

CANI 4Lumen Christi Latin Club, Derry

Plans are afoot, with the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded initiative ‘Classics for All’ to explore further links with schools in Northern Ireland and to enter into dialogue with local educationalists and politicians about enhancing the presence of ancient history and Classical studies in local class-rooms. A special event is planned for spring 2018 and will feature an unprecedented collaboration with the University of Ulster and Queen’s own drama students alongside a Classicist of international standing to promote the appreciation of the Classical world as an historical period worthy of study for those with an interest in history, politics, literature and science. Negotiations are even under way with the Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences to explore the possibility of offering a jointly taught course on the role of Greek philosophical thinking with regard to the formation of the Hippocratic corpus and historic medical ethics, demonstrating that the family of subjects that constitute ‘Classics’ reaches across disciplines and offers enrichment to the studies of students all over the university.

CANI 6CANI and the Open University event on 15-16th April 2016. Dr Laura Swift and Dr William Allan, presented papers on ‘Sophocles, Heaney and the Manipulation of Myth’ and ‘The Homeric Hero’.

The Association maintains a lively presence on Facebook and Twitter and on its blog has already revealed the powerful impact of ancient history on Northern Ireland’s most famous export since the Titanic: Game of Thrones. 2017 has seen the publication of the Association’s first annual, offering to readers the most popular articles, blog-entries, posts and puzzles selected by the editorial team. Perhaps the most impressive success has been the establishment in 2016 of a summer school for those wishing to learn Greek and Latin. The take-up has provided proof of an appetite for the languages of the ancient world, and working with the National University of Ireland (Maynooth) expert tuition has been offered both to Queen’s students and the broader public in July.


At a time when Adrian Dunbar is bringing Homer to Donegal and Patrick O’Kane is starring alongside Juliette Binoche in Sophocles’ Antigone, the role of the public ancient historian has never been more necessary and informing. Enjoying affiliation with The Classical Association and The Classical Association of Ireland (who will be visiting Belfast for the second time in 2018 with their summer school), The Classical Association in Northern Ireland offers a celebration of uniqueness of the study of ancient history in this place.

John Curran’s interests include the religious history of the ancient Mediterranean world and in particular in the origins of Christian ideas, their relationship to Judaism and their development in the polytheistic context of the Roman empire. Understanding the social, political and economic institutions is the necessary foundation upon which the study of religious thinking is based and in courses such as ‘The Jewish Background to Christianity’ and ‘The Rise of Christianity: Christianity in the Roman Empire’ he offers students an overview of influential methods of enquiry as well as important prevailing historical opinions on the subject. Recent published research papers have explored evidence for the historical Jesus beyond the New Testament and the transformation of Rome under early Christian emperors.


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