Wednesday, February 3, 2016

John McGahern - The Writer and the Archive - RTÉ Radio 1 Book Show Special (6th February)

John McGahern
The 30th of March brings about the tenth anniversary of the passing of the acclaimed Irish writer, John McGahern. In the decade since his death, Ireland and its people, society and identity, have changed beyond recognition. One of McGahern's great achievements in his writing, in any of his accomplished forms; novel, drama, short story or essay, was an ability to get to the very heart of Ireland and especially of rural Ireland and the lives of its people. The time, place and context of McGahern's writing would be recognisable constants, vivid as any character within his writing. McGahern's writing spanned over five decades and tracked the huge social changes in Ireland across this time.

This Saturday (6th February, 7pm) The Book Show on RTÉ Radio 1 will broadcast a feature on John McGahern, focusing on the life and career and also his archive. It was a pleasure to have the programme host, Sinead Gleeson, visit the archive here at NUI Galway and see first-hand the collected literary legacy of one of Ireland's most accomplished and beloved authors.

The award-winning writer had a body of loyal readers around the globe from publications from the early 1960s in The New Yorker magazine, through his early novels, The Barracks (1963) The Dark (notoriously banned on grounds of indecency in 1965) and Amongst Women, (1990) to name a few. McGahern's short-story collections, such as Nightlines (1979) and High Ground (1985) drew readers to his power of expression within the contained form of the story. John's later writing would see a life's work come full-circle and culminate in such loved works as the novel That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) and the revealing and striking Memoir (2005)

The archive of John McGahern is held with the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. Deposited by McGahern in 2003, just three years ahead of his death, the archive is a literary treasure-trove that records not just the vast and prolific writings of McGahern, but also his literary relationships with other writers and offers a unique insight into the mind and processes of McGahern as both a writer and person.

Such unique material in the archive includes the manuscript for The End or the Beginning of Love, the unpublished novel by McGahern, that was accepted for publication by Faber and Faber in 1962, but which was withdrawn by McGahern as he believed it to be not good enough. 
McGahern's unpublished novel

Other material from this period includes a letter from William Maxwell, fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine addressed to Elizabeth (Cullinane) that is confirmation of the young McGahern's publication in the prestigious magazine. In the letter Maxwell writes that 'The John McGahern story [Strandhill, The Sea] went through' and that 'whoever handles him will be writing him to tell that it is accepted'; he goes on to state that 'if you see any more [manuscripts] of this calibre floating around Dublin, start them on their way to me.' (1963) (P71/1171)

Also from this time are two letters from John McGahern to Mary O'Malley in relation to the Threshold literary journal published by the Lyric Theatre, and found within the archive of the Lyric Theatre, also within the Hardiman Library. He asks to be considered for publication although 'I have not appeared in print' (17 January 1959) and later discusses publishing an extract from one of his novels (26 June 1962).

Drafts of Bank Holiday

The archive reveals the private and intimate world of the writer at work. The writing style of McGahern is revealing of how he worked. He wrote long-hand, often in coffee-stained school copy books and A4 notebooks. The scrawl of handwriting gives a sense of working on fleeting ideas that would often change and fluctuate. The number of drafts and revisions show McGahern rarely let go of an idea or a narrative completely but would often return to make changes, often to as much or as little as a single word or line, but which would bring the setting or characters or plot in a new direction. One short-story, Bank Holiday, has over twenty identifiable drafts alone.

The John McGahern archive consists of forty boxes of manuscripts. All evidence of 'the writer at work' is within this volume of manuscripts and covers the breadth of McGahern's writing in prose, drama, fiction and essay.  The papers give the reader a unique and otherwise impossible accessibility to the mind of McGahern. McGahern himself said of the separate worlds of the writer and the reader: "I think each of us inhabit a private world that others cannot see" – the archive brings those two private worlds together and is perhaps the only place this can happen.

Drafts of The Power of Darkness - a play by John McGahern

Tune into the RTÉ Radio 1 Book Show, hosted by Sinead Gleeson, this Saturday 6th February to hear the programme!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Official Launch of our New Archive Search System

The Registrar and Deputy President of NUI Galway, Professor Pól Ó'Dochartaigh, and the Director of the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Daniel Carey will tomorrow officially launch what we in Archives and Special Collections have fondly come to know as CalmView. Here is what you, dear readers, NEED to know about this rather exciting development!

What in the name of all that is good and holy is a Calm View?! Well... it's a product name! It combines an acronym for Cataloguing in Archives, Libraries and Museums, with the word 'view' to describe what you, the researcher, will see on your computer screen when you visit CalmView describes a web interface through which you can search through all of our finding aids. In other words it is your entry point to the 350 + Archive Collections held in the James Hardiman Library. 

Why would this be useful to me? The enhanced search functionality afforded by this new service means you can carry out keyword searches across the entire catalogue. This means you can browse through over 20,000 records from more than 350 collections simultaneously, bringing insights from other sources to light that you may not have considered previously. Archival research is fuel for innovative research in any discipline, and CalmView could hold the key to unlocking your next research project. 

When? The launch takes place on Wednesday 3rd February at 5:15. It will be held in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room, on the Ground Floor of the James Hardiman Library. Our speakers include Professors Pól Ó'Dochartaigh and Daniel Carey, and our University Librarian John Cox will act as MC. There will also be a demonstration of CalmView in action. If you would like to attend, for catering purposes please email or

CalmView is already up and running, so please go ahead and check it out for yourself. You can find it at Happy Browsing!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pearse, Hyde, Casement, Markievicz and na Fianna Éireann

Cover of Na Fianna Handbook
An item of interest to historians of numerous aspects of revolutionary Ireland will be this volume from within the collections of the Hardiman Library - the Fianna Handbook, issued by the Central Council of na Fianna Éireann, the forerunner to the Boy Scouts of Ireland and published in Dublin by E. Ponsonby, Limited, 116 Graftom Street.
The foundation of this boy-scout movement can be traced back to prior the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, to 1913. Bulmer Hobson, having managed a successful version of the group in Belfast was keen, along with Helena Moloney and Seán McGarry, Countess Markievicz and others to recreate a new Fianna Éireann movement in Dublin in 1909.
Though not clearly or directly indicated in the volume, the Handbook is thought to have been issued in 1913, which would again coincide with increased engagement and involvement with youth organisations and the formation of the Volunteers in that year and in the run-up to events such as the Easter Rising in 1916. Though it is interesting to spot that on the inside front title page, the image on the left includes an artist’s signature of ‘C de M, 1914’, perhaps indicating this could be a later printing or edition.
Title pages of na Fianna Handbook

The volume is striking for many reasons but when one considers the list of contributors, there are very few publications of any kind that feature contributions from so many major protagonists and social and cultural figures of this time. The volume features an introduction from Countess Markievicz, President of na Fianna and who describes:
“the army of young people who are daily taking the Declaration of Na Fianna Eireann and banding themselves together in a glorious brotherhood of youth and hope to win Independence and Freedom for their country.”
Introduction by President of na Fianna, Countess Markievicz

Following this is a chapter entitled ‘Filleadh na Feinne” by An Craoibhinn Aoibhinn (Douglas Hyde); a statement on the mission and objectives of na Fianna, which reference its commitment to the re-establishment of the Independence of Ireland and the declaration of Na Fianna which every boy had to give but only after three weeks of training and that declaration reads:

“I promise to work for the independence of Ireland, never to join England’s armed forced and to obey my superior officers.”
As well as chapters laden with diagrams for support of information on topics such as drilling, rifle exercises, camp life, knot-tying, signalling, first aid and swimming, there is also an essay on ‘Chivalry’ written by Roger Casement, who though writing for an audience of young boys was no less forthright and philosophical in his ideas on this topic:
“Chivalry dies when Imperialism begins. The one must kill the other. A chivalrous people must respect in others what they strive to maintain in themselves. Hence it comes when the age of empire begins the age of chivalry dies.”
Padraig Pearse, signing himself here as P.H. Pearse, B.A., Barrister-at-Law, invokes the folklore and history of the past Fianna, linking the recruits of ‘current historic companions’ to the first Fianna of over two thousand years ago. Pearse adds that “the story of those old Fianna of Fionn should be part of the daily thought of every Irish boy, and especially of every boy in the new Fianna.” Pearse relays in detail the story of the Fianna of Fionn and ends by reproducing Dr. [George] Sigerson’s translation of text from the book of Lismore which includes Acallam na Senórach, translated to English as The Colloquy of the Ancients, Tales of the Elders, etc. a Middle Irish narrative dating to the last quarter of the 12th century and an important text of the Fenian. It contains many Fenian narratives framed by a story in which featured the Fianna warriors Oisín and Caílte mac Rónáin. Following this poem, Pearse  issues this rallying cry to the boys of na Fianna:
‘Centuries afterwards an Irish poet said mournfully: “All the Fianna have passed away/There remains to them no heir.” – But what say the boys of na Fianna Eireann?”.
This volume is an incredible record of its time, when the leaders of this period and being contributors to this handbook were clearly focusing a lot of attention on the youth of the country.

Constitution of Na Fianna

Monday, January 18, 2016

1916 from the Archives - New Publications and Events

It has been a busy time of late with so many archive collections of the Hardiman Library pertaining to Ireland’s revolutionary period. It will come as no surprise, being the year that it is, that material relating to 1916 has been so prominent in new publications and TV programmes of late.

Arthur Shields
Tonight (Monday 18th January) a new documentary series will air on RTÉ One, 7.30pm, Ar Son na Poblachta. The first episode of the series focuses on the life and career of actor and revolutionary, Arthur Shields. An actor and stage manager at the Abbey Theatre and as a 17 year-old was caught up in the fervour of the Rising as it broke out around the corner from the Abbey Theatre, on O’Connell Street. The Hardiman Library holds the Shields Family Archive, comprising records relating to Arthur Shields and his brother William, more commonly known by his acting-name of Barry FitzGerald. The archive is a fascinating visual and written account of Arthur’s role in the Easter Rising, his Abbey Theatre career as well as the part he and his brother Barry played in the Irish invasion of Hollywood in the 1930s, becoming two of the major screen-stars of a golden age for Hollywood. (For more on this see Hollywood Irish by Professor Adrian Frazier)

An online exhibition of images from the Arthur Shields Archive and a link to its catalogue can be seen here.

A new book by Dr. Fearghal McGarry, Abbey Rebels: A Revolution, Lost, was recently published and is a history of the varied and prominent roles played by Abbey Theatre personnel in the Easter Rising. The book features a chapter dedicated to Arthur Shields and exclusively reproduces high-resolution copies of many items from the Shields Archive of the Hardiman Library. You can read more about the book in its latest review.

NUI Galway, in partnership with the Abbey Theatre has also made digitally available and fully transcribed, the minute books of the Board of the Abbey Theatre, 1904 - 1939, incorporating not just the Revolutionary period and the emergence of the Free State, but also spanning a major portion of the lifetime of poet and senator, W.B. Yeats, one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre.

Throughout 1916 a series of major events will take place on campus at NUI Galway. A recent publication by NUIG 1916-Scholar-in Residence, Dr. Conor McNamara, is The Easter Rebellion 1916: A New Illustrated History. The book was singled out in the Irish Times as being one of the major publications of this time that revisits the complex history of 1916. The book offers a visual insight into the events and aftermath of the Rising and you can see a selection of those images reproduced by The Irish Times.

On 22-23 January a major conference, Proclaiming the Revolution will take place at the Aula Maxima, NUI Galway. Featuring leading scholars and researchers from NUI Galway, nationally around Ireland and also international speakers, the conference will provide a rich and varied platform for debating one of the key facets of the 1916 Rising, its Proclamation. The conference is free but booking essential. Details and speakers are available here:

A major new exhibition focusing on the events of 1916 will also open in February 2016 at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway. For a full programme of events for the NUI Galway 1916 programme, see A Nation Rising.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Remembering Alan Rickman - A star turn in Kilroy's "The Seagull" 1981

Alan Rickman and Anna Massey in Thomas Kilroy's version of "The Seagull",
The news of the passing of actor Alan Rickman was extremely sad news for the vast amounts of people who had followed Rickman's varied career over forty years on stage and screen. Rickman, 69, was acclaimed for being one of the great character actors of his generation with a canny ability to enthral his audiences, from young and old, from  fans of Harry Potter to Dogma  or as an unequivocal De Valera in Michael Collins. Such was Rickman's charisma and presence, with an always distinct voice, was an ability to transform even a supporting character into a memorable and major role. You may not always remember the film but you always remember Rickman's character and all the great lines. (Sheriff of Nottingham: "That's it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings . . . and call off Christmas!" (Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves)

Rickman like so many screen stars began his career on stage and throughout a glittering Hollywood career maintained a successful stage curriculum vitae. Rickman was reported to be a pupil of renown at RADA and developed his craft on the fringe and regional circuit of the UK in the late 1970s and 1980s. Michael Billington, theatre critic of The Guardian notes that:

All this came to the fore in a golden period at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-1980s when he was a stubbly, neurotic Achilles in Troilus and Cressida and a mockingly cynical Jaques in As You Like It. But it was his performance as the dissolute Valmont, successively in Stratford, London and New York, that elevated him to star status. Playing opposite Lindsay Duncan’s Marquise de Merteuil, Rickman conveyed both the lassitude of the practised seducer and the growing self-disgust of a man aware of his destructiveness."

Poster from the Royal Court production of "The Seagull"
starring Alan Rickman. P103/115
It was during this time that Rickman would perform in a play by Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy. Directed by Max Stafford Clarke, the play was premiered at the Royal Court on 8 April 1981. The play would have its Irish premiere, produced by the Irish Theatre Company at Siamsa Tíre Theatre, Tralee on 30th September 1981.

The idea of the version of Chekhov's classic to be translated and moved from the Russian provinces and set in the West of Ireland case from the director of the Royal Court, Max Stafford-Clarke. He wrote to Kilroy as follows:

"Dear Tom, I have been talking with Joe Dowling about the possibility of the Royal Court and the Abbey mounting a joint production of THE SEAGULL. The idea is that the play should be cast with English and with Irish actors and instead of being set in Russia, should be set in the midst of an Anglo-Irish family . . . Would you be interested in doing a translation and would you have time for it?”

The adaptation that Kilroy would write featured Alan Rickman as Mr. Aston and the cast would also feature Harriet Walter, Alan Devlin and others. Within the Thomas Kilroy archive at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, the production files for Kilroy's Seagull offer a wonderful account of the development, writing and drafting of the play that stemmed from Stafford-Clarke's single letter. Billington would write in his 1981 review of the Royal Court London production:   It is a fine performance superbly backed by Alan Rickman's Aston."

Rickman's star ability to make any character and indeed any production his own and ensure it is most memorable for his audiences must be among the highest tributes for any actor. Both stage and screen will be far poorer with the loss of Rickman.

The Thomas Kilroy Archive is available at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway and a catalogue is available to read here: 

Cover of rehearsal script of "The Seagull" by Thomas Kilroy,
for production at the Royal Court theatre, London. P103/115

Thursday, January 14, 2016

'Proclaiming the Revolution' Conference - NUI Galway 22-23 January

Proclaiming the Revolution

Lower Aula Maxima
National University of Ireland, Galway

22-23 January 2016


9.00     Registration

9.30     Introduction

9.45     Keynote address: Dr Brian Hanley (independent scholar)
            ‘The Ireland of our ideals': republicanism and separatism in 1916
10.45   Tea/Coffee

11.00   Panel 1: Images of the Republic and Republicans

Dr Conor McNamara (NUI Galway)
Popular and rhetorical notions of land and Freedom in the context of the 1916 Proclamation

            W.J. McCormack (former Professor of Literary History from Goldsmiths College,        London)  
            The Proclamation and its Democratic Credentials

            Dara Folan (NUI Galway)
            “Glúin na haislinge”: imagining an Ireland 'not free merely, but Gaelic as well’
            Dr Jackie Uí Chionna  (NUI Galway)
            Shades of Green: Ideological interpretations of Irish nationalism in Galway 1916

1.00     Lunch

2.00     Panel 2: ‘The whole nation and all of its parts’?
            Liam Kennedy (Emeritus Professor of Economic History, Queen’s University, Belfast).
                Texting Terror: The Ulster Covenant and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic
            Dr Mary Harris (NUI Galway)
            The Proclamation and the Partition Question

            Dr Shane Nagle (Independent researcher)
            Contextualising the Proclamation: The Problem of Unity and Disunity in Nationalist     Thought

3.30     Tea/Coffee

4.00     Keynote address: Eamon Ó Cuív. T.D. 
            Does 1916 and the Proclamation have a relevance in Modern Ireland?
5.30     Book Launch: W.J. McCormack, Enigmas of Sacrifice: A Critique of Joseph M.  Plunkett and       the Dublin Insurrection of 1916 (Michigan State University Press)


9.30     Keynote address: Sinéad McCoole
            How Revolutionary? Addressing Irishwomen
10.30   Tea/Coffee

10.45   Panel 3: Women in 1916 and Beyond

            Maryann Gialanella Valiulis (Trinity College Dublin)
            The Proclamation of 1916: The Making of Equality

            Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington
            The role of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in shaping post 1916 Ireland
            Dr Marie Coleman (Queen’s University, Belfast)
            Female veterans of 1916 and the Irish state after independence
12.45   Lunch

1.45     Panel 4: The Pursuit of Equality

Dr Mary Muldowney (Trinity College Dublin)
Working for "the principles of equal rights and opportunities for the people of Ireland". The Irish Citizen Army and the 1916 Rising
            James Curry (NUI Galway)
            Rosie Hackett and the 1916 Rising
Dr David Convery, (NUI Galway)
'The Communist Party of Great Britain and the memory of Easter Rising'

3.15     Tea/Coffee

3.30     Keynote address: Dr Emmet O’Connor (University of Ulster)
            How radical was the Proclamation?

4.30     Final discussion chaired by Dr John Gibney (Trinity College, Dublin)

Admission to this conference is free but pre-registration is advisable.

To register, email your name and institutional/university details (if any) to

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

NUI Galway and Abbey Theatre release digitised Abbey Minute Books, 1904-1939

This week the Abbey Theatre/NUI Galway Digital Archive Partnership made freely available online the digitised minute books of the Abbey Theatre 1904 – 1939.

As part of the Yeats2015 celebrations, the online digital archive of Abbey Theatre Minute Books will be made available to the public for the first time. Collectively, the minute books amount to nearly 1,000 pages, covering some of the Abbey’s most significant events from the period 1904-1939, being the period that spans Yeats' lifetime.

'A Digital Journey Through Irish Theatre History', the Abbey Theatre - NUI Galway Digital Archive Partnership is the largest digital theatre project ever undertaken, and heralds a new era in Irish theatre scholarship, both nationally and internationally. Previously unseen, the Abbey Theatre Minute Books include the period in history when both Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats were involved in the management of the Abbey Theatre.

The Abbey Theatre minute books contain notes from meetings of the theatre’s Board of Directors. They offer a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the theatre, showing how the Abbey’s managers dealt with a variety of issues, from choosing plays to determining how much to pay their actors.Along the way, we find important information about leading figures from the Irish Literary Revival and beyond: not just W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge but Sean O’Casey, Lennox Robinson, Teresa Deevy, Sean O’Faolain, Frank O’Connor, and many others. We also learn about great Irish actors such as Molly Allgood, Ria Mooney, Barry Fitzgerald, Cyril Cusack and many more.

Prof. Patrick Lonergan
NUI Galway Professor of Drama Patrick Lonergan said that the minute book will be of huge interest to theatre scholars, historians, and anyone with an interest in Irish culture: “the story of the Abbey Theatre is in many ways the story of our nation in microcosm. This online resource shows the Abbey Theatre and NUI Galway working together to reveal new aspects of that theatre’s story – and, by extension, new aspects of the story of Ireland. Users of the site will be able to search easily through hundreds of pages of records, and can move between the handwritten originals and carefully transcribed webpages. And all of this is available entirely free of charge to readers anywhere in the world.”

The minute books allow us to understand better how theatres are run. Yeats wrote about his approach to theatre business in a poem that was tellingly called “The Fascination of What’s Difficult”, cursing “plays/ that have to be set up in fifty ways”. Here we find Yeats encountering all sorts of difficulties - from the threat of government censorship of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in 1926 to the leaking of his late play Purgatory to a Jesuit priest in 1938. And those difficulties are indeed fascinating.

Dr Charlotte McIvor, lecturer in drama and performance at NUIG, said that the books contain valuable information for scholars and teachers. She said: “I think they are going to be very important in explaining to students the different kinds of labour involved in running a theatre.”Dr McIvor said the books document “in minute detail” the decisions of the board right down to discussions about whether or not to allow cigarette smoking in the theatre. “I think you could honestly take any two pages in these books and build a successful lesson around it,” she added.
Dr. Charlotte McIvor

Playwright and Abbey board member Thomas Kilroy said the books help illuminate the relationship between the early theatre and the changing Irish State.He said: “One extraordinary thing which I had never heard of before which was that in 1939 Dublin Corporation tried to establish stage censorship. They assembled a number of inspectors to establish what was going on in Irish theatres.”

We also learn much about the day to day activities of keeping a theatre in business: the struggles to find appropriate funding, the actors’ requests for extra money or time off, and the maintenance of the building. And of course we learn much about Ireland, both before and after independence. The Abbey Theatre famously was the first state-subsidised theatre in the English-speaking world, earning funding in 1925 from the newly independent Irish Free State.

Bryan McMahon, Chairman of the Abbey Theatre said:  “The Abbey Theatre is proud to reveal, for the first time, our early Minute Books, an exciting milestone in our ground-breaking digital archive partnership with NUI Galway.   It is wonderful to manifest digitally the inner workings of the national theatre during its formative years.  These Minute Books give us fascinating insights into the management style and business acumen of W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory and the contribution made by the Board of Directors.  Indeed, the Minute Books reveal that Yeats was so integral to the Abbey Theatre, that Lennox Robinson, playwright and Board member, was dispatched to France to assist in the repatriation of his remains.  As we all know, it was an unsuccessful mission.  The Abbey Theatre is delighted that in this Yeats’ commemorative year, the full story of W.B. Yeats as theatre maker can be fully revealed.”

The Abbey Theatre Minute Books can be viewed

Excerpt from the Abbey Theatre digitised minute books