Reflection: Christopher Fox

In a visit to Ireland in 1990, I asked colleagues, “If we were to start Irish Studies at Notre Dame, who should we hire?”  Several responded, “Just get someone good, a student of Seamus Deane’s.” My response was why hire a student when we could hire the master? 

To that end, in 1991, we invited Seamus to give a keynote lecture at Notre Dame’s Sesquicentennial event, a conference I hoped would help make an argument for establishing Irish Studies at Notre Dame. I recall watching Seamus move to the podium holding a short piece of paper with four words on it, and deliver a spell-binding, one hour and fifteen minute talk on virtue, travel, the Enlightenment and Jonathan Swift. The intellectual range of his lecture was stunning, as was the delivery; he remains to this day the best speaker I have ever heard. (A response to a later lecture he delivered at an Eighteenth Century Society meeting was that it was as if his favorite, Edmund Burke, had come back to life.)  Seamus spent that week at Notre Dame in 1991 and mentioned that he had been there in the 1970s and taught quarterback, Joe Montana.  Seamus also was delighted that week to receive an advance copy of The Field Day Anthology which he carried around like a baby. During the later launch of the Anthology in Chicago, discussions in earnest began about Seamus joining Notre Dame permanently to establish a groundbreaking program in Irish Studies.  Donald Keough made this possible with a major gift in 1992, and the rest is history.   

Years later, Seamus’s legacy stands. The loss of Seamus Deane to the field of Irish Studies and to the republic of letters is incalculable. There will never be another like him.

Christopher Fox is Professor of English Emeritus. From 2001 to through 2017, he served as director of the Keough-Naughton Institute, which he co-founded with Seamus Deane.