“Since the President is very passionate about the Irish language, we were particularly excited to welcome him here,” commented Professor Beate Schücking, Rector of Leipzig University. “Celtic studies was one specialisation of Ernst Wilhelm Oskar Windisch, who received his doctorate in Leipzig in 1867 and was rector of the University from 1895–96. He translated the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúalnge into German and published an Irish grammar and a dictionary. We showed these works to President Higgins.”
The University’s holdings also include the notebooks of Irish scholar Whitley Stokes, who was one of Ernst Windisch’s students. Four years ago, Irish Ambassador Michael Collins inspected these notes in the University Library. The President also looked at them. As a gift, he received a facsimile with excerpts from Stokes’s correspondence with Windisch, including references to the epic as well as its front cover.
In the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century, Leipzig University was a stronghold of teaching and research into Celtic languages, including Irish. Currently, students can read Irish alongside Celtic studies as part of the international bachelor’s programme in European Minority Languages. There are 19 students enrolled on the programme. Leipzig University also offers the elective subject Celtic Studies, educating more than 60 students in corresponding courses each year.
“Celtic studies has become increasingly rare, but in 2013 we secured Irish language support financed by the Irish government, which allowed us to further expand Minority Languages at the Faculty of Philology,” reported Dr Sabine Asmus, a Celtic and Slavonic studies specialist who presented a selection of works to the Irish President. Currently, the University is hosting 18 Irish students under the European Erasmus+ exchange programme, with some 27 students from Leipzig spending a semester abroad in Ireland. Twenty-one Irish students are regularly enrolled at Leipzig University.
When he visited in the morning on 4 July, Rector Schücking welcomed President Higgins in front of the Neues Augusteum. After signing the University’s visitors’ book, Higgins gave a speech in the Paulinum entitled “The future of Europe – making new connections between ecology, economics and ethics”. Saxon Minister President Michael Kretschmer also spoke. During his visit to Leipzig University, the Irish head of state also took the time to talk to students.