The Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day
Mar 16, 2021 11:45 AM
James Flannery, Professor, Emory; Singer/Producer
The Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day

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James Flannery's mother grew up in an Irish-speaking family in West Clare and her father was a revered seanachiesean nós singer and traditional musician. Jim’s father was raised on the banks of the River Shannon near the legendary 6th century monastic community of Clonmacnoise. A deeply committed nationalist, his father fought in the Irish War of Independence. As a singer, he was steeped in the republican ballad tradition that inspired Ireland’s struggle for freedom. Jim traces his lifelong interest in Irish culture and the arts generally to the influence of his parents.

A producer, stage director, singer, scholar and teacher, Jim has an international reputation as a specialist in the dramatic work of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats. His book, W.B. Yeats and the Idea of a Theatre: The Early Abbey Theatre in Theory and Practice, is considered the definitive study of Yeats’s aesthetic of and practical work in the theater. As a director, his imaginative stagings of the challenging plays of Yeats have won critical acclaim. From 1989 to 1993 he was the ED of a Yeats International Theatre Festival at the world-famous Abbey Theatre, the National Theatre of Ireland.

Jim has also achieved distinction as a singer and one of the foremost interpreters of the beautiful art songs of Thomas Moore. His book/recording, Dear Harp of My Country: The Irish Melodies of Thomas Moore, accompanied by the distinguished harper Janet Harbison, is a combined critical and artistic examination of this seminal figure in the history of Irish literature and music. Bill Whelan, the composer of Riverdance, described Jim’s contribution as a singer:

Blessed with a beautiful tenor voice and a remarkable feeling for the subtleties of poetic
language, James Flannery also has the gift of knowing how to reach into what the Irish call uaigneas en chroi – the secret places of the heart.

Winship Professor Emeritus of the Arts and Humanities at Emory, Jim came to Atlanta in 1982 to found the theater program at Emory. In 1989 he founded the W.B. Yeats Foundation, which has produced a regular series of lectures, concerts, poetry readings, symposiums and exhibitions designed to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of Irish culture. His film of A Southern Celtic Christmas Concert won the 2012 Southeastern Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Arts and Entertainment and has been featured as a Holiday special on PBS stations across the country for 8 years.

Among his many honors, Jim is the recipient of a Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities for his promotion of the contributions of Ireland to the distinctive culture of the American South. He has a particular commitment to promoting peace and reconciliation among the different communities of Ireland through the arts, in recognition of which the University of Ulster granted him an honorary doctorate. The citation noted that “the quality that informs all of Jim’s academic, creative and performance work is that he translates ideas into action and thereby shows how thrilling an idea can be when it is realized physically.”

In 2020 he received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award of the Government of Ireland for his lifetime achievement as an artist and scholar as well as his efforts as a producer fostering a deeper appreciation of Irish literature, culture and song both in Ireland and the US.