It is perhaps surprising that Wake Forest University Press, dedicated to Irish poetry, is located at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—surprising because one would sooner expect it to be located in a Northern city with a large Irish/ Irish American population. This is certainly how I felt upon arriving in Winston-Salem to take up my new position as director of the Press. Yet, the cultural connections are more extensive than is at first apparent. There are deeply ingrained patterns linking the two places as important as the conscious associations that are readily visible in the North. For example, during my first week here, while walking through the woods near campus, I heard a bluegrass band playing; the next song they played was a traditional Irish folk song. I have since found that North Carolina, especially Appalachian mountain culture, has a lot in common with rural Ireland because of the heavy Scots-Irish influence.
Many direct intersections between Ireland and North Carolina occur as a result of the Press's existence here. Some recent memories persist: Harry Clifton and fellow poet Paula Meehan, game to try Western Carolina's sloppy pork barbecue sandwiches, but eating them with knife and fork, to the amused stares of the local diners; poet Conor O'Callaghan giving Irish language lessons to an earnest, wide-ranging crowd at the Wake Forest Irish Festival during a lightning-streaked, robust Carolina downpour. We recall that when Irish poet David Wheatley gave a reading at Wake Forest to celebrate the publication of the first volume of The Wake Forest Series of Irish Poetry, in which he was featured, this rather formal poet's picture was displayed in the Old Gold and Black, the student newspaper, above the cringingly bad caption, “Where's Me Lucky Charms?” Finally, and quite movingly, there were the Appalachian cloggers one Irish Festival year, dancing alongside Irish step dancers, visually demonstrating the strong links between them. The astonished cloggers had never seen Irish stepdancing before, and were amazed to watch the highly structured and restrained origins of their dance. When the Irish stepdancers announced that they were going to the finals in Kilkenny, Ireland, the cloggers responded that they were going to a contest in Detroit—a reminder of the different roads these cultures now travel for all of the similarities between them.