Friday, February 14, 2014

A Galway Love Story

If this particular time of year makes one appreciate a good love story all the more, then the story of James Joyce, Nora Barnacle, the death of a young man and a mix of poetry and the greatest short-story ever written surely makes this a suitable and timely tale.

Moving from Galway city and areas such as Rahoon to Dublin City on the feast of the Epiphany, the story of love and loss is retold through a blurring of reality and fiction. Manuscripts here at the Hardiman Library add much to the telling of the story.

Among the Special Collections is a limited edition manuscript copy of Pomes Penyeach, a book of poems hand-written by James Joyce, printed on Japanese silk paper and hand illustrated by Joyce's daughter, Lucia Joyce. Published by Obelisk Press and sent to the Hardiman Library directly by James Joyce in 1935. Obelisk press was run by Run by Jack Kahane, an admirer of Joyce’s work, and Desmond Harmsworth.

Editions were signed by Joyce and offered for sale at £12. Joyce sent copies to other authors and connections in the publishing world. His letter to the Librarian at University College Galway notes that copies were also deposited in the British Museum Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France.

Inscription by James Joyce

Joyce’s letter to Prof. John Howley, University Librarian of U.C.G., was written in August 1935 and in it he indicates that his uncle-in-law, Michael Healy, had requested him to send a copy of the special edition of Pomes Penyeach to the Library. Joyce states that he was doing so not only because the illustrator was a “grand-daughter of Galway” and the bearer of one of the ancient tribal names but also as a token of appreciation of the support he had received over the years from Michael Healy himself.

Letter from Joyce to UCG Librarian, 1935

The story takes a twist when one looks at the poem, 'She Weeps Over Rahoon'. The wall of the graveyard in Rahoon now bears a plaque bearing an inscription of the poem. The graveyard also holds the family vault of the Bodkin Family of Galway and in it lies the remains of 17 year-old Michael Bodkin, who prior to his early and untimely death was the boyfriend of the young Nora Barnacle. Nora, of course would later be the love of James Joyce.

Example of illustration in 'Pomes Peanyeach'
'She Weeps Over Rahoon' - Rahoon Graveyard

In 'The Dead', Joyce's masterpiece finale to his volume of short-stories, Dubliners, the character of Gretta Conroy mourns still the death of her young lover, also named Michael, and who died many years previously in Galway. In a powerful climactic scene of the film version of 'The Dead', directed by John Huston, Gretta (played by Anjelica Huston) tells for the first time to Gabriel (Donal McCann) of her past love for Michael Furey:

"O, I am thinking about that song, 'The Lass of Aughrim'. . . I am thinking about a person who used to sing that song . . . I think he died for me."

'The Dead' - from the Huston Archive
Script cover page - 'The Dead' - from Huston Archive

Scene of revealing of past love for Michael Furey - 'The Dead'
From the Huston Archive

Scholars have debated that this Michael Furey is indeed the same Michael Bodkin who was in love with and loved by Nora Barnacle and whom Joyce had written into the story "The Dead". What is for certain is that this is truly a gripping and masterful story, a love story of reality and fiction.

The Huston archive online exhibition is available here

For more on the Archive and Special Collections of the Hardiman Library please click here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Stephen Gwynn and University College Galway

On this day, 13 February 1864, Stephen Lucius Gwynn, writer, politician and soldier was born as Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin, eldest son of John Gwynn, warden of St. Columba’s and later professor of divinity at TCD, and Lucy Josephine, daughter of  William Smith O’Brien. Having worked as a teacher and writer for a number of years, he returned to Dublin and in 1906 won the by-election for Galway City for the Home Rule Party under John Redmond against John Shaw-Taylor, holding the seat until 1918.

In this letter to Professor Senier, Mr Gwynn is arranging to meet ahead of a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in London in relation to University College Galway. Professor Senier was born in Lancashire and studied under A W von Hofmann in Berlin. He became Professor of Chemistry at QCG in 1891 and established a reputation as a prominent academic in his field. He died on 29 June 1918 and is buried in the new cemetery, Bohermore, Galway.  Another member of the deputation was Sir Peter Freyer, a graduate of QCG who had been in the Indian Medical Corp and by 1910 was consulting surgeon at the Queen Alexander Hospital and Millbank in London. He pioneered an operation now known as a prostatectomy.  The letters relating to the deputation are part of one of our small collections (P32), more information on the interaction between the University and the London Government are available in the Papers of Professor Alfred Senier (A21), and the archives service also holds the papers of Sir Peter Freyer (P57), the descriptive list for this collection is online at

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sigerson Cup - Looking back to 1912

The colleges competitions of the Sigerson football and FitzGibbon hurling cups are in full swing at the moment it is a timely chance to look back at NUI Galway (or University College Galway as it then was) and its first win in the competition in 1912. First contested in 1911, UCG won the second year of the competition in 1912 where Joseph F. Donegan was Captain of the winning UCG team which defeated University College Cork on a scoreline of 1-4 to 1 point.

The victorious U.C.G. team are pictured here:

University College Galway also went on to claim the Sigerson 50 years later 1962 with the winning team pictured here:

The Sigerson and FitzGibbon cups are two of the GAA oldest competitions and with such a rich history and tradition. Best of luck to all!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Plough and the Stars" and its Critics

On this day, 11th February 1926, rioting greets the Abbey Theatre performance of Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" because of what was viewed as it's anti-Irish sentiment. Yeats tells the audience "You have disgraced yourselves again".

From the Shields Family Collection is a photograph from that production, featuring G Fallon, Arthur Shields, FJ McCormack and Shelah Richards(T13/B/246). In spite of the controversy surrounding aspects of the play, it played to full houses, and had many re-runs and revivals, as well as a film version in 1937.

In a reply to critics, printed in "The Irish Times" on 19 February 1926, O'Casey tackled some of the criticisms of the play, and went on to state.
The politicians - Free State and Republican - have the platform to express themselves, and Heavens knows they seem to take full advantage of it. The drama is my place for self-expression, and I claim the liberty in drama that they enjoy on the platform (and how they do enjoy it!), and am prepared to fight for it.
For more on productions of "The Plough and the Stars" check out the Shields Family Collection at and programmes from the various Abbey Theatre productions are available to third level researchers in our Archives and Special Collections Reading Room under the Abbey Theatre Digitization Project.