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The decision to set up an Irish Slavists' Association (renamed in 1995 Irish Association for Russian & East European Studies, and in 2007 to Irish Association for Russian, Central & East European Studies) was taken in 1975 by a meeting of a small group of teachers of Russian held at Ballymascanlon Hotel, Co. Louth. A Constitution was adopted which provided for the holding of annual conferences - with informal agreement that the venue should, if possible, alternate between North and South - and distinguished two categories of membership:

  • Teachers of Slavonic languages, literatures, history or other aspects of Slavonic studies at Irish universities or other higher education institutions,
  • Teachers of Russian at schools in Ireland, research students in Slavonic studies and other persons with an interest, professional or otherwise, in Slavonic languages or cultures.

It was also agreed to produce an annual journal (Irish Slavonic Studies) which should publish, in addition to articles and book reviews within the general Russian and Slavonic field, items relating specifically to Irish-Russian historical and cultural links.

Neil Cornwell, a Lecturer in Russian at Queen's University Belfast (and subsequently Professor of Russian at Bristol University), was entrusted with the editorship. The journal was produced on a shoestring using an electric typewriter: No.1 appeared in 1980, and the first nine issues were produced in QUE Slavonic Studies Department (No 5, a special lrish-Russian issue, attracted particular attention).

Thereafter, responsibility for editing and production was transferred to Trinity College Dublin and editor Professor Ronald Hill. The last published regular issue being No 21 (2000), various attempts at clearing the backlog and bringing the series up to date have been made, which ultimately led to a change in publishing policy. The first fruit of these attempts was borne in 2004 when the Special Stalin issue was published by editor Dr Geoff Roberts. It is now envisaged to publish a biennial volume under the stewartship of the reformed editorial committee.

At the time of the setting up ISA, the auguries appeared good. Departments (or units) of Russian Language & Literature and/or Slavonic Studies were operating at Trinity College Dublin, Queen's University Belfast, the New University of Ulster at Coleraine and - a bold new initiative - at the National Institute for Higher Education (now The University) at Limerick. In addition, there were individual scholars and teachers in the field of Russian History, Soviet Politics and Society and Slavonic linguistics working in these institutions and also in University College Dublin, while, in Northern Ireland, five or six grammar schools offered Russian.

Regrettably, during the period 1982-2002, three of the Association's institutional bastions - at Belfast, Coleraine and Limerick - ceased functioning, leaving Trinity College Dublin as the only third-level institution in Ireland with an autonomous Department of Russian (also offering Polish). Happily, this centre has grown and prospered. Moreover, although the supply of students of Russian from schools has largely dried up, the number of committed members of the Association - including a number from outside Ireland - has remained stable (the change of title adopted in 1995 and 2007 was intended to make its term of reference more explicit). Dedicated individual members have appeared not only in the traditional centres but also in Derry, Cork and Galway where the 2002, 2003 and 2004 IAREES Annual Conferences were held.

With EU enlargement to the East and ever increasing migration from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to Ireland, the Association now needs to adapt to this new challenging environment and expand its activities not only to the Academic world, but to a wider audience. We hope to engage this audience into our work through a variety of new activities: public lectures, informal cultural events, celebration of commerative historical dates, etc. We would very much appreciate any input or ideas.

Marcus Wheeler/Conny Opitz