Historian, Author, Activist
By Matthew Skwiat, Editorial Assistant
April / May 2014
Christine Kinealy is the world-renowned historian and newly appointed professor of history and founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut. Beginning with her Ph.D. dissertation at Trinity College on the Irish workhouse system and continuing, in 1997, with her breakthrough book This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52, Kinealy has become an influential authority on Ireland. Throughout her many books she has expertly tackled issues like the Irish Famine, the abolitionist movement, the revolutions of 1848, and Northern Ireland. Her most recent book, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: The Kindness of Strangers, sheds a groundbreaking light on some of the many donations that were made to Ireland during the Famine both within Europe and around the world by such interesting persons as Abraham Lincoln, Tom Thumb, the Choctaw Indians, and Queen Victoria.
Cementing all of Kinealy’s work is a firm belief in social justice, which she told Irish America “underpins my work on the Famine, but also my interests in women, abolition, ‘invisible Protestants,’ and the treatment of Jews.”
While Kinealy is an authority on Irish history, she was raised in Liverpool and never learned Irish history in school. She says of her youth,
“Irish people living in Britain lived under the tremendous strain of trying to remain invisible.” It was not until she began her Ph.D. at Trinity College that the voices of Irish history denied in her youth were heard. From there, she worked in Belfast teaching Irish history in a women’s center, became an administrator for the Public Records office in Belfast, and spoke on the Famine in the British Houses of Parliament in 1997.
Kinealy’s influence has been felt, not only by the readers of her books, but by her students whom she has guided and helped shape into successful men and women. One of her greatest gifts is that of teacher. Yet, Kinealy admits she never wanted to be a teacher. “I always wanted to research. But teaching and research are indivisible; they feed each other,” she told Irish America.
Kinealy has lectured all over the world and up until her appointment at Quinnipiac University in 2013, was a tenured professor of Irish history in Drew University’s Caspersen School of Graduate Study in New Jersey, receiving the 2009 Will Herberg Award for excellence in teaching.
Anyone lucky enough to sit in on a lecture of Dr. Kinealy’s will be at first surprised by her soft-spoken manner, subtle charm and infectious warmth. She presents history in a way that is both accessible and exciting. Her passion for the subject is contagious. I know that I speak for many of her students when I say how truly grateful I am for the knowledge, support, and friendship she has given me.
When she is not researching in the archives, flying around the world, or teaching class, Kinealy enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Her daughter Siobhan was born in Dublin and is currently a law student at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Her son Ciaran was born in Belfast and currently lives in New York with his wife.
Of her Irish heritage, Kinealy says: “The Kinealys (and our family spelled it in many ways – my grandparents on this side were illiterate) were from Tipperary; and on my mum’s side, Mayo – Ballycastle and Castlebar. I love Tipperary, but when I return to Mayo, which is often, I feel I am home. Both my parents are now dead – I was the youngest child and, typically, now regret not asking more questions when they were around.”