Major collections

Burns Acquires Papers of Two Irish Writers

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Boston College has obtained the collected works of prominent Irish writers Flann O'Brien and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, acquisitions which are expected to strengthen the University's international standing as a prime research center in the field of Irish Studies.

The O'Brien and Ni Dhomhnaill papers are the latest additions to the Irish Collection at the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections, which houses works of poet William Butler Yeats and playwright Samuel Beckett, as well as thousands of rare books and manuscripts documenting Irish life from the late 1700s to the present.

"These acquisitions solidify our position as the premier repository in America for Irish research materials, while enhancing Boston College's place as a major research institution," said Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill, who negotiated the acquisitions.

Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill (right) examined the O'Brien papers during a February visit to Ireland with, from left: O'Brien's brother, Micheal O'Nuallain; auction house representative Fonsie Mealy; University benefactor Anthony Mourek; and O'Nuallain's wife, Anna.

The addition of the O'Brien and Ni Dhomhnaill papers also reflects the evolution of the University's Irish Studies Program, with its growing emphasis on Irish language as well as literature, music, history and art, O'Neill said. While the Irish Collection centers on writers in the Anglo-Irish tradition like Yeats and Beckett, O'Neill said, the O'Brien and Ni Dhomhnaill works are the library's first major acquisition of Gaelic-language Irish poets and writers.

"The Burns Library is clearly the most logical home for these collections," he said, "and the corps of Boston College graduate students trained in the Irish language are their most logical scholarly readership."

Flann O'Brien was a pen name of Brian O'Nolan (1911-66), who earned critical acclaim for novels such as At-Swim-Two-Birds , The Dalkey Archive , The Third Policeman and, in the Irish language, An Beal Bocht , as well as a long-running series of newspaper columns he penned under the name "Myles Na Gopaleen" for The Irish Times. O'Brien was a prolific wordsmith in both English and Irish, O'Neill said, churning out novels, short stories, social satire, poetry and plays in the course of a 30-year career as a professional writer, and earning praise from contemporaries as diverse as James Joyce, Graham Green, S.J. Perelman and Dylan Thomas.

The O'Brien collection includes typed manuscripts, extensive correspondence and a library of more than 400 books. It also contains various personal effects, among them his desk, typewriter and violin, and a life-size portrait of the writer painted by his brother Micheal O Nuallain, who assembled the collection.

Ni Dhomhnaill, whose recent books include Pharaoh's Daughter and The Astrakhan Cloak , is widely considered one of Ireland's finest contemporary poets writing in the Irish language, and will serve as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies during the 1998-99 academic year. The Ni Dhomhnaill collection includes drafts of poems, as well as copious notebooks on the Irish folklore from which her poems have often evolved.

Irish Studies Program faculty member Assoc. Prof. Philip O'Leary (English) called Ni Dhomhnaill "the most accomplished writer now working in the Irish language and is indeed one of the two or three most acclaimed Gaelic writers of this century."

"The fact that her work has been translated by virtually every Irish poet of significance who writes in English has greatly increased her audience worldwide and given her a prominence and influence unique for a writer working exclusively in Irish," O'Leary said. "The acquisition of these papers makes Boston College a mecca for all interested in contemporary Gaelic writing and in contemporary Irish poetry in general."

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