Burns Scholar Perspective
One of the great joys of being the Burns Library Visiting Scholar at Boston College is having access to both the Burns and O’Neill libraries. Warwick University, in England where I work, is not a good research library for someone like me whose research interests lie generally in the area of Irish women’s history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I either have to travel to Dublin to do my research or go to the nearest well-stocked library, the Bodleian in Oxford. Though I must admit it is never a chore to do either of these things, there is something wonderful about having two excellent libraries within walking distance of my residence. Currently I am working on a collaborative project with Dr. Gerardine Meaney of University College, Dublin. We are, with the able research assistance of three post-doctoral fellows and funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, constructing a bibliographic database of all Irish women writers who wrote, in the Irish and/or English languages, between 1800 and 2000. Both the Burns and O’Neill libraries have offered treasures for this database. It is not easy to locate many of the volumes and writers we are listing but a surprising number are held here. Few will have heard of Lily McManus, a staunch supporter of the language revival movement. Her autobiography, White Light and Flame: Memories of the Irish Literary Revival and Anglo-Irish War (1929), manages to ignore about half her life. That life, for her, really starts when she is 41, and begins to read Irish history. When we all take for granted access to libraries, and knowledge, McManus’s attempt to get a reader’s ticket for the library at Trinity College Dublin, shows how far we have progressed. She noted: ‘one of the Fellows of Trinity College gave me a card of introduction … All this was to enable me to get a reader’s ticket … in an ante room to the library … an old man with a skull cap in a shrill angry voice called out “I won’t give you anything! It’s no use you coming.” I told him I had not come for a subscription, but for a reader’s ticket … He replied unpleasantly that he did not want women to get tickets. I offered him my card of introduction. He took it sullenly and grudgingly gave me a ticket’. Two of her novels, The Silke of the Kine (1896:1902) and The Professor in Ireland (1918) are also available in the O’Neill library and Burns library respectively. The Professor in Ireland was serialised in the newspaper Sinn Fein, held in both hard copy and on microfilm in the Burns and O’Neill libraries respectively. A close friend of McManus was another language revivalist, Mary E. L. Butler, credited with naming Griffith’s political organisation, Sinn Fein. A number of her pamphlets for the Gaelic League are available in the Burns Library. Amongst the hundreds of books by Irish women writers held in the O’Neill there are works by Pamela Hinkson, the daughter of the prolific author Katharine Tynan. Hinkson was a novelist, travel writer and biographer. Six of Dorothea Conyers novels can also be located in the O’Neill. She was a writer of ‘light romantic’ fiction, keen on horses and ponies. Annie M. P. Smithson is also well represented in the collections. Smithson noted in her autobiography that at her birth her mother remarked, “Oh, take her away. The ugly little thing”. Unsurprisingly, she was estranged from her mother for much of her life.
But it is not only the novels and memoirs and autobiographies that are of interest, both libraries also hold substantial collections of journals and newspapers which offered women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries space for their writing. The Burns has hard copies of The United Irishman where many Irish women, including Alice Milligan, found an outlet for their nationalist views. Similarly, Donohue’s Magazine, which is available in the Burns from 1879 to 1907, is a treasure trove of writing by Irishwomen. The O’Neill collection of Irish newspapers on microfilm also offers much to the researcher in this area. The Irish Press, for instance, was noted from the 1970s for its publication of new Irish writing. Likewise both the national and local press, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, offered opportunities for writers to publish short stories and to serialise novels.
This short piece barely does justice to the holdings of these libraries. Both libraries contain serious and substantial collections of Irish women’s writing.
Dr. Maria Luddy
Burns Library Visiting Scholar