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March 17, 2005 • Volume 13 Number13

A selection from the Burns Libraryís exhibition on Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.

A Hub of Hibernia at the Heights

When it comes to things Irish, Burns Library always in clover

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

St. Patrick's Day finds the Burns wearing the green, as the rare-books library noted for its Irish Collection plays host to a confluence of Hibernian events and exhibitions.

A 1 p.m. reception today in the Thompson Room marks the launch of a new Web site, Information Wanted, a database of genealogical information on Irish immigrants drawn from "Missing Friends" advertisements placed by friends and relatives in the weekly newspaper The Boston Pilot between 1831 and 1921. [See accompanying article].

Four exhibits currently on display at the Burns showcase the Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw; Irish-American concert bandleader Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore; a rare collection of Irish famine letters, and the correspondence of a 19th-century Irish emigrant family.

The Burns recently purchased the Eva McKee Collection of Celtic Revival Arts, containing note cards and bookmarks, in a style evocative of the Book of Kells, by a founder of the Irish Decorative Art Association in 1920s Belfast.

Another recent acquisition was the personal library of the late Trinity College Dublin historian T. W. Moody, containing 5,000 books on Irish history that have been arriving in shipments since this past summer.

The Burns also expects to co-sponsor with the Irish Consulate an exhibition at the Boston Public Library later this year on John Boyle O'Reilly, the 19th-century Irish patriot who rose to prominence in Boston as a poet and as editor of The Pilot.

"Outside of Ireland, the Burns Library has the best collection of Irish cultural, historical and literary materials," said David Horn, head of archives and manuscripts. For example, the W. B. Yeats Collection at the Burns is the largest outside the National Library of Ireland, he noted. Of the 150,000 rare books in the Burns, as many as 35,000 reside in the Irish Collection.

Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill spent this past spring break week in Ireland on the trail of new additions to the library's ever-growing Irish holdings. "The most important aspect of the four Irish-themed exhibits currently on display is that they are all new collections, acquired within the last three years," said Horn.

Which isn't to say the Burns is all Irish all the time, Horn said. "Erin go Bragh may be the watchword this March, and our Irish Collection is 'world class A-plus' - but equally strong is our British Catholic Authors Collection, with Newman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, Francis Thompson, Belloc, Chesterton and Graham Greene."

A recent exhibition highlighted Special Collections holdings in astronomy, geology, mathematics and physics, he said. Exhibits are planned in coming months on the history of musical instruments, and on a recently acquired collection of 25 rare incunabula, or early books, from the dawn of printing in the 15th century.

"We don't normally have all Irish exhibitions - it just kind of happened that way," Horn said, with a smile. "We normally mix it up."

Now at the Burns:

"Mr. Shaw's Time is Filled Up for Months to Come." Ford Tower, Fine Print Room and Irish Room. Through March.

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, 1829-1892: Father of the American Concert Band. Francis Thompson Room. Through March.

"I Prefer a Free Country" Letters to and from Galway Emigrants, 1843-1856. From the Dugan/Persse Collection. Francis Thompson Room. Through March.

The Grundin-Royer Collection of Irish Famine Letters. Five letters telling of the distress caused by the failure of the potato crop during the crucial years of the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1850. Francis Thompson Room. Through March.

Details on the Shaw and Gilmore exhibitions are available via the Burns Library Web site .

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