The first U.S. (now international) scholarly organization for Irish Studies began in 1960, founded by leading scholars of history and literature, as detailed in the History of ACIS National (1983). Academics from the western states joined what was then called the American Committee for Irish Studies (ACIS), and those who could do so attended and delivered papers at the national meetings, all of which were hosted in the eastern United States. The eastern dominance could be amusing. For example, at the business meeting ending the 1969 national conference in Milwaukee, the leadership concluded that because ACIS had met in the west that year (Wisconsin!), they should return to the east for 1970. West-coasters in attendance smiled and wondered if these folks could locate California anywhere between Chicago and Samoa. The problem, though, was hardly that of the national ACIS founders. The problem was the property of western Irish Studies scholars and enthusiasts.
In the mid-1980s, a group of scholars took it upon themselves to address the need for a western regional organization. In April 1985, Audrey Stockin Eyler (Pacific Lutheran University) and Robert Garratt (Puget Sound University) drew the national organization to the Pacific coast for the first time in its 25-year history, co-hosting the ACIS National conference in Tacoma, WA. Meanwhile, plans for the western regional organization progressed, led by the first board of officers and organizing committee:
James Walsh, Chair (San José State University)
James Allen, Vice Chair (University of Hawaii)
Donald Jordan, Secretary-Treasurer (Stanford University)
Robert Tracy, Program Committee Chair (University of California, Berkeley)
Hazard Adams (University of Washington)
Frank Beach (University of San Francisco)
Audrey Eyler (Pacific Lutheran University)
Ronald Gallagher (St. Mary’s College)
Dorothea Kenny (California State University, Fullerton)
Victor Power (Cochise College, Arizona)
The first ACIS-West conference was held in October 1985 in San Francisco, CA. The names of many of those who contributed to the founding of ACIS-West may be viewed among the hosts of subsequent ACIS-West annual conferences, in past conference programs, photos, and in the list of Jordan-Potts Award donors.
Over the years, ACIS-West has welcomed a variety of dignitaries—mayors, governors, ambassadors, Consuls General, university presidents—and featured some of the most prestigious scholars in the field of Irish Studies. It has also hosted acclaimed authors, poets, artists, playwrights, filmmakers, and choreographers, including John Montague, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Muldoon, Eamonn Wall, Micheal O’Siadhail, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Trevor Joyce, Carol Moore, Nicola McCartney, Bisi Adigun, John Scott, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Donal O’Kelly, Moya Cannon, and more.
ACIS-West hosts its annual conference each fall, and the organization recognizes outstanding work by emerging scholars in Irish Studies through the annual Donald E. Jordan, Jr. – Willard C. Potts, Jr. Award. Members beyond the founding generation continue to sustain, advance, and renew the longest-standing professional association for Irish Studies in the American west.