Celebrating Irish-American Ties

Celebrating Irish-American Ties

Burns' renowned Irish collection just keeps getting better and better

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

After Sept. 11, a gift arrived at the John J. Burns Library: an Irish tricolor that had flown above one of Dublin's historic buildings during the Irish Civil War of 1922-23.

A photo of Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney by Irish photojournalist Bobbie Hanvey recently added to the Burns Library collection.
Presented as a goodwill gesture by an Irish antiquarian bookseller to mark the bonds between Ireland and America, the flag is on display at the library as part of an Irish history exhibition running until St. Patrick's Day.

Few institutions reflect Irish-American ties as thoroughly as the Burns Library, which claims one of the world's foremost research collections documenting the life, history, music and culture of Ireland.

The Burns recently added to its Irish holdings a noteworthy George Bernard Shaw collection, correspondence by the playwright Samuel Beckett and thousands of photos by one of Northern Ireland's leading photojournalists.
The library also hosts a show of Irish art in March, and has extended an Irish history exhibit marking the acquisition of the papers of Thomas Clarke, a leader of the Easter Rebellion of 1916, and his wife, Kathleen, first woman to serve as Lord Mayor of Dublin.

"As you can see, we're not holding pat," said Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill. "I say all the time we have the premier collection of Irish research materials in the United States, and certainly the most comprehensive."

An art exhibition, "Art Seisiun," on display March 7-27, showcases an eclectic group of Irish and Irish-American artists whose media include bogwood, bronze, oils and textiles. Meantime, an Irish history exhibit, "From the Easter Rising to the Rise of the Irish Republic: Thomas and Kathleen Clarke and their Era," has been extended through St. Patrick's Day.

Recent acquisitions have strengthened the library's holdings on three of the four Irish Nobel laureates in literature represented at Burns. Among the additions are more than 3,400 items related to the Anglo-Irish comic dramatist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature, and regarded among the greatest playwrights of the modern era. Amassed by private collector Samuel Friedman, the materials include manuscripts, photographs, etchings and paintings.

"This is considered by many to have been the finest Shaw collection in private hands," said O'Neill. "This catapults us into the major Shaw collections in the world."

Burns also has received more than 11,000 photographic negatives by prominent Irish photojournalist Bobbie Hanvey of County Down that document the major political and cultural figures and events throughout "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years. Included are more than 700 photos of the 1995 Nobel Laureate and poet Seamus Heaney, along with portraits of politicians and playwrights, photos of Unionist firebrand Rev. Ian Paisley haranguing a crowd, and shots of average people, from soldiers to chimneysweeps.

"Images that leap out in the mind are those of life in general, of people living life the best they can under the circumstances," said O'Neill. BC retains the copyright to the images, he said.

Another recent acquisition is correspondence in French between Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and noted for works that included "Waiting for Godot," and Swiss-born French novelist and playwright Robert Pinget (1919-97).

"This very important collection adds to the body of Beckett materials we have, and is the fourth major Beckett acquisition we have made in the past decade," said O'Neill.


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