The context of this volume on Irish-Romanian Cultural Connections is both very personal and academic. It is academic because I teach elective courses on Irish literature in the English major undergraduate program and the MA program at Ovidius University Constanţa, the Faculty of Letters, and since 2012 the Embassy of Ireland in Bucharest has supported all my efforts bringing the two institutions together, the Embassy and the University. Yet, the book is also very personal because, throughout these years, there has been a generous and warm-hearted group of people at the Embassy, who trusted me and encouraged me and I am grateful to: Their Excellencies Ambassadors: John Morahan, Oliver Grogan, Gerard Corr and Derek Feely; Deputy Heads of the Mission: David Costello, Andrew Harwood and Patrick Coleman; PA to Ambassador and Cultural Officer Anamaria Suciu and the entire team at the Irish Embassy. Thus, my work at the university, in a permanent collaboration with the Embassy, has revealed one vital meaning of the Irish-Romanian connections, i.e. truly dedicated individuals who are open to embrace otherness and graft it on their identity so that the communion becomes relevant for both parties.
This book is divided in four chapters: chapter I, “Travel and Cultural Diplomacy, Literature and Identity: A Transnationalist Approach to the Circulation of People and Texts as Ambassadors of Culture”; chapter II, “Journeys trough Romania (Travel Writings by Irish Men and Women: Patrick O’Brien’s Journal of a Residence in the Danubian Principalities in the Autumn and Winter of 1853, Maude Rea Parkinson’s Twenty Years in Romania and Peter Hurley’s The Way of the Crosses)”; chapter III, “Irish Writers in the Romanian Space. Highlights of the Reception of W.B. Yeats, J. Joyce and S. Heaney” and chapter IV, “Ireland-Romania Relations: Cultural Initiatives of the Embassy of Ireland in Bucharest”. The key characters of my account of the Irish-Romanian Connections are travellers, writers and their books and ambassadors. They all travel; if it had not been for their journeys – real, mental, spiritual, cultural – the connections would have been poorer. Getting back to the academic layer of my book, this is the purpose of the first chapter, to demonstrate, through theory, the vital role of the circulation of people, writers, texts and Embassy representatives in order to highlight the true value of interconnections and interrelations.
Chapter II, “Journeys trough Romania (Travel Writings by Irish Men and Women: Patrick O’Brien’s Journal of a Residence in the Danubian Principalities in the Autumn and Winter of 1853, Maude Rea Parkinson’s Twenty Years in Romania and Peter Hurley’s The Way of the Crosses)” presents the travel journals of three Irish “travellers” through Romania in different historical ages, from mid-19th century to the contemporary period. Both volumes by Patrick O’Brien and Maude Rea Parkinson have been more recently brought to the attention of the Romanian readers by Professor Constantin Ardeleanu from the History Department of the Lower Danube University of Galaţi. He translated O’Brien’s book and co-translated Rea Parkinson’s volume with a colleague from the same university, Oana Celia Gheorghiu. Taking into account the interest of the historian’s in the British economy and political interests at the Danube mouths (1829-1914) and the foreign trade and navigation on the Lower Danube (1881-1900), it is easy to realize the value of his in-depth introductions to the two volumes.
Patrick O’Brien’s book was initially published in 1854, one year after the journey, and the book was translated into Romanian and published in 2016, but fragments had appeared in the Romanian translation of Constantin Ardeleanu in the volume Calatori straini despre Tarile Romane in sec. al XIX-lea, vol. 6: 1852-1856, Editura Academiei Române, Bucureşti, 2010 (pp. 79-103). Maude Rea Parkinson stayed in Romania between 1889 and 1916, published the book in English in 1921, when she was back home, and in Romania it was printed in translation in 2014. Peter Hurley’s travel journal, The Way of the Crosses, covers his 26-day Ulyssean journey through the Romanian mountains and villages in the fasting period before Christmas 2012 and he published the book in English the following year. The Romanian context of the writing of the three travel journals is completely different, yet, through the perceptions of their Irish authors, a certain sense of continuity of identity could be discovered.
In 1853, the international background was that in which the Russian army occupied Moldavia and Wallachia. Between 1828 and 1834, the Romanian Principalities had been under Russian military occupation as the latter were constantly targeting the straits at the Black Sea and the Western powers became more willing to counter its force in the region. The Russian domination was visible through the quarantine measures at the mouths of the Danube and the taxes and trade control in the ports of Brăila and Galaţi. Further and stronger control by the Russian Empire was manifested in the period 1848-1851 in exchange for the loss of the domination of the Holy Lands at the expense of the Catholics, a situation used as a pretext for the Russians to invade Moldavia and Wallachia in 1853, when Patrick O’Brien was in the area.
Twenty Years in Romania was written a few decades later in an equally difficult context, that of the Great War and Romania’s participation in it in 1916. The public opinion in the West in general and in Britain in particular was favourable to the goal of the Romanian independence and union, the framework for it having been created through the work of the Anglo-Romanian Society, publications and the official propaganda of the Romanian authorities. Maud Rea Parkinson’s volume brings a personal contribution to the warm, yet, picturesque, image of Romania at the turn of the 20th century (1889-1916). The focus of her descriptions is mainly on townlife, especially Bucharest in full process of modernization, social layers, pastimes, institutions, politics, education, beliefs and customs in various parts of our country.
One century later, in 2012, Peter Hurley, this time an Irishman who eventually settled in Romania in 1994, embarks on a journey on foot through Romania, from north (Maramureş) to the capital city, Bucharest. His travel journal gives an answer to the question the Irishman is constantly asked mostly by Romanians and which he mentions in the preface to his book The Way of the Crosses: “Why the hell do you live in Romania?”. This is the Romanian context at the turn of the 21st century, meaning a “quiet cataclysm”, according to Hurley (The Way iii), that of Romanian migration all over Europe and even all over the world. For the Irishman, it rings bells of an entire history of Irish migration. But, the counterargument to this reality and the answer to the question previously mentioned is offered by Hurley’s entire experience on the way from Săpânţa to Bucharest: the spirituality of the places given by the humanity and generosity of their inhabitants and their stubbornness to preserve a traditional way of life in spite of all obstacles. This is what gives meaning to the lives of those who chose to stay in Romania in spite of the difficulties and this gives a sense of continuity to the travelling accounts from 1853 up to the present.
I began writing chapter III, “Irish Writers in the Romanian Space. Highlights of the Reception of W.B. Yeats, J. Joyce and S. Heaney”, as a presentation of the reception of the great literary voices of Irish literature in the Romanian space and as I was looking for information on when texts by Yeats, Joyce and Heaney were first read, translated and appreciated in our country, I realized that the story of reception is also one of movement and circulation, similar to that of the travelers in chapter II.
Thus, the earliest instances of Yeatsian reception date back to the 1930s, when the visionary poet was in full maturity and still writing. The same decade, the 1930s, witnessed the fist translations into Romanian from Joyce’s Dubliners, with the entire volume translated in 1966. There is proof that Ulysses had reached English language specialists in Romania in the 1930s, but its journey of translation and publication was more difficult in a context of communist censorship. And Seamus Heaney was introduced in our country in the 1990s when he was first translated by the poet Ana Blandiana and presented by Professor Mihaela Irimia.
Beyond the initial encounters of the Romanian reading public with each of these writers, the odyssey of their reception continues: through conferences in Romanian universities and attendance of summer schools in Ireland by Romanian academics, through concerts, exhibitions, lectures organized by the Embassy of Ireland in Romania, through more recent translations or further editions of older translations and all sort of other publications related to their works and last, but not least, through the legacies of Yeats, Joyce and Heaney for Romanian writers, to which the third chapter refers.
The last chapter, “Ireland-Romania Relations: Cultural Initiatives of the Embassy of Ireland in Bucharest”, rightfully crowns the volume as the contribution of the Embassy of Ireland to the present richness of Irish- Romanian connections has been the engine to start the journey of my book. And what other people than the ambassadors and representatives of Ireland, supported by an entire Romanian team in the institution, could offer better examples of joint projects, initiatives and have ideas for cooperation and collaboration?
St. Patrick’s Day, the EU Irish Presidency in 2013 (interestingly, Romania’s turn is in 2019), Bloomsdays, film festivals, concerts, theatrical productions, book launches and literature festivals, lectures and travelling exhibitions all have given opportunities for cultural diplomacy, which the Embassy of Ireland in Romania has fully made use of. By contributing to better knowledge of Irish culture in our country and developing a stronger profile of Ireland in this space, the Embassy, also thanks to the networks activated, manages to strengthen the Irish-Romanian relationships and enhance socio-cultural cooperation.