Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Archives at James Hardiman Library - A Hub for Theatre Research

James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway – A Hub for Irish Theatre Research

The recently announced Digital Archives Partnership between the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway and The Abbey Theatre will add a new and hitherto unprecedented level of digital study and understanding of the Abbey Theatre Archive. Being the largest digital theatre archive in the world – of over 1.8million items – this pioneering project will create a unique multimedia resource for the legacy and tradition of the Abbey Theatre – the first state-subsidised National Theatre in the English-speaking world.

This initiative will greatly increase the possibility for new scholarly research into the traditions and history of Irish stage writing, design, direction and management. Allied to this incredible resource are the extensive range of theatre archives also proudly and currently held by the Archives Service of the James Hardiman Library, (JHL) NUI Galway.

These theatre collections include the archives of:

Program cover for Synge's 'Playboy'
 Druid Theatre Company. The archive includes a record of the multi-award winning theatre company whose roots go back to their time in the then University College Galway. Druid have been recognised as world leaders in touring and staging the best of Irish plays and exploring the work of playwrights such as John M. Synge, John B. Keane, Geraldine Aron, Martin McDonagh and Tom Murphy. The Druid Theatre archive catalogue can be viewed here: http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/cgi-bin/FramedList.cgi?T2 

Thomas Kilroy
The Thomas Kilroy Archive consists of the papers of the celebrated playwright, Thomas Kilroy. Famous especially for his epic history plays such as the 'O'Neill' and, for his relationship with the likes of Field Day Theatre Company – with his work 'Double Cross' – and also for his time as Literary Editor at the Abbey Theatre, Kilroy is one of the giants of 20th Century Irish Theatre. The Kilroy Archive catalogue can be viewed here: http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/cgi-bin/FramedList.cgi?P103 

Program from 'San Siobhan'
The Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Archive is the administrative and creative archive of the national Irish Language Theatre of Ireland. Based in Galway, the Taibhdhearc Archive is a comprehensive record of the growth of this Irish language movement within theatre and how the Taibhdhearc has connected and influenced playwrights writing in Irish and also those translating English language works by Irish and international playwrights into Irish. The Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Archive is catalogued and available for consultation. For information click here 

The Lyric Theatre, Belfast Archive is one of the premier cultural and theatrical venues in the North of Ireland and it has been so for over half a century. Founded by Mary O'Malley and with the theatre first based in her home, the Lyric Theatre and Lyric Players would quickly outgrow their first base and establish itself in the heart of Belfast's and the North's cultural heart. Mirroring the Abbey in its founding principles, the Lyric is a theatre of great Yeatsian tradition and offers a detailed account of administrative and creative records of the theatre but also unheralded insights into the correspondence and professional relationships of Mary O'Malley to the theatre community of Ireland. The Lyric Archive catalogue can be viewed here: http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/cgi-bin/FramedList.cgi?T4

Arthur Shields
The Arthur Shields Archive consists of the papers of the actor and revolutionary Arthur Shields. Steeped in the Abbey tradition, Shields was a regular and one of the much loved members of the Abbey Company in the 1930's and was part of their many touring productions to the United States at that time. The papers offer a great insight into the Abbey Theatre of that time and also a beautiful photographic record of the Abbey, its U.S. tours and also the personal and private life of Arthur Shields. The Shields archive catalogue is available here and the Shields online photographic exhibition can be seen here 

Siobhan McKenna
The Siobhan McKenna Archive is the archive of one the great actresses of the Irish stage. Remembered so specially for her portrayal of Mommo in Tom Murphy's seminal play, 'Bailegangaire', McKenna was lauded throughout her life for her work in English and Irish. The papers offer a view into the life and career of McKenna and documents exactly why she is so fondly remembered in Irish Theatre. The Siobhan McKenna papers are catalogued and available for consultation.

The Galway Arts Festival Archive documents the growth of this festival, again from roots in University College Galway to a festival for the community and city of Galway through to its incredible growth in becoming one of the largest annual multi-disciplinary Arts Festivals in Europe. The Galway Arts Festival is synonymous with exploring Irish culture, identity and tradition through national and world leaders in the Arts. The Galway Arts Festival Archive catalogue can be viewed here:  http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/cgi-bin/FramedList.cgi?T5


Abbey Theatre Digital Archive Partnership - Get the Facts


Abbey Theatre and NUI Galway Digital Archive Partnership

About the Abbey Theatre

·         Ireland’s National Theatre was founded by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904.

·         Since its inception, the Abbey has played a key role in establishing who we are as a nation – by challenging, questioning and celebrating Irish-ness and Ireland.

·         The Abbey was founded to ‘bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland’. Today our mission is to create world-class theatre that reflects Irish life.

·         The Abbey has produced work by all four of Ireland’s Nobel laureates, premiering new plays by Yeats, Shaw and Heaney, while also producing several of Beckett’s works.

·         Over the past century :

Ø  616 playwrights have worked with the Abbey Theatre

Ø  Over 3,914 actors have thread the boards

Ø  70,000 characters have been brought to life

Ø  1,455 plays have been staged

Ø  600 costume and set designers have worked at the Abbey Theatre

About NUI Galway
·         Established in 1845, the National University of Ireland Galway is one of Ireland’s foremost centres of academic excellence.

·         NUI Galway has internationally-recognised research expertise in digital humanities and in Irish Theatre.

·         NUI Galway is home to an impressive collection of internationally significant archives in the fields of history, politics, theatre and literature.

·         The Archive Collection at the University’s James Hardiman Library comprises over 350 collections, dating from 1485 to the present.


About the abbey Archive

·         The Abbey Archive contains over 1.8 million items including:


Ø  Master programmes for over 4,300 productions 

Ø  Over 28,000 Press Cuttings

Ø  Video recordings of 430 productions

Ø  More than 6,000 scripts

Ø  600 Production posters

Ø  1,000 Production handbills

Ø  Over 16,000 photograph prints

Ø  600 Music Scores

Ø  Over 2,600 hours of audio files from the productions

Ø  6,000 pages of Minute Books

Ø  An extensive collection of costume and set designs


All forming part of the largest digitised theatre archive in the world.


About the Digitisation Project

·         The largest theatre digitisation project ever undertaken

·         133 years of Irish theatre, history, culture and society preserved for future generations (1904-2037)

·         Researchers, archivists and librarians at NUI Galway are applying the most advanced digital technology to Ireland’s most historic theatre archive to create a rich online collection.


·         It will take three years to digitise, with an estimated completion date of September 2015.


·         Digitisation of this historic Abbey Archive commenced on 4th of September, 2012, in the James Hardiman Library on the NUI Galway campus.


·         The first phase of digital material will be available to researchers from September 2013, including collections of Master Programmes for 4,300 productions, video recordings of 430 productions, Audio Cues, Minute Books, Stage and Lighting Designs, Administrative Records and Logbooks of plays received by the Abbey.


·         New PhD students will be recruited and funded annually to undertake research on the digitized archive at NUI Galway.


·         Many more researchers and students will visit NUI Galway to view the digital Archive, while original documents will continue to be available to view at the Abbey Theatre.


·         It is envisaged that by 2020, the archive will have generated a substantial number of scholarly books and articles, public exhibitions, public lectures, documentaries, and new digital teaching and research resources.

·         The Archive Collection at the University’s James Hardiman Library comprises over 350 collections, dating from 1485 to the present. Theatre collections include the papers of Thomas Kilroy and the Shields Family Collection and there is a particular focus on the archives of companies such as the Druid Theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe and the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast




New Digital Archive Partnership between Abbey Theatre and NUIG Archives, James Hardiman Library

Abbey/NUI Galway launch ground-breaking digital archive partnership

A Digital Journey through Irish Theatre History, the Abbey/NUI Galway digital archive partnership, was launched today, Monday, 22 October 2012 by President Michael D. Higgins in the Abbey Theatre. It is the largest digital theatre project ever undertaken, and heralds a new era of scholarship for Irish theatre internationally.

The Abbey archive, which contains over 1.8 million items, is one of the world’s most significant archival collections. It has a wealth of extraordinary and unique material providing a fascinating insight into Irish theatre, history, culture and society. The archival material ranges from show posters, programmes, photographs, minute books to lighting plans, set and costume designs, sound cues, prompt scripts and audio files.

Celebrating the launch, Fiach MacConghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said: “It’s been a long cherished ambition of the Abbey Theatre to preserve our archive. The digitised archive will help scholars and historians to write the history of the Abbey in greater detail. The Abbey archive is a major resource for Irish theatre and will help us celebrate the unheralded artists, actors, writers who have worked at the Abbey over the years. It will also inspire the next generation of theatre makers. We are excited to partner with NUI Galway and to have arts and science disciplines come together in this way.”

Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway said: “As East meets West, and the creative arts and scholarship combine, this project will see the most advanced digital technology brought to bear on one of the country’s most historic theatre archives. This digitisation project is based on an awareness of the importance of the Abbey Theatre for the social, cultural and economic history of this country – not to mention its ongoing significance for Ireland and the international community as one of the key national theatres in the world.

“The benefits to our students and researchers of having direct access to this rich national collection will be immense. There is also great interest in the digital archive abroad and it will draw researchers of international repute to Ireland.”

The earliest item in the Abbey archive actually precedes the founding of the Abbey Theatre. It is an 1894 poster of the first production of The Land of Heart’s Desire by W.B. Yeats, which was performed at the Avenue Theatre in London and is reflective of Yeats’ ambition to present Irish theatre outside Ireland. Other archival gems reveal that Éamon De Valera trod the Abbey stage as Dr. Kelly in an amateur production of A Christmas Hamper in 1905. Even our own Irish James Bond had a presence on the Abbey stage when in 1964 Donal McCann played Seamus Bond with Angela Newman as Puísín in the Christmas pantomime Aisling as Tír na nÓg. Part of the Abbey Archive was damaged as a result of the devastating effects of the fire of 1951 and some archival artefacts are in a fragile condition due to age.

The digitised archive will change our understanding of Irish drama. The history of Irish drama is largely understood to be the history of Irish plays – of the written script. As a full multimedia archive, the digital archive will provide researchers with access to the complete range of materials associated with theatre performance: not just the scripts but also the visual materials (costume, set, and lighting designs), sound materials (music scores, sound effects), and the supporting materials (adverts, press releases, reviews).

This digitisation project which began in September, will take place over a three to four -year period. The digitisation process, which is currently taking place on the NUI Galway campus, will bring together multidisciplinary teams of the University’s researchers, students and archivists to realise this exciting project.

The digitisation project is unique in that it highlights two of the most important features of contemporary Ireland: the richness of its cultural traditions and its capacity for technological innovation. NUI Galway is ideally positioned to capitalise on those strengths, as it brings both international expertise in Irish theatre and digital humanities to the project. The Moore Institute for the Humanities and Social Studies at NUI Galway is home to several major digital humanities projects, including the EU-funded TEXTE initiative; while its Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) is the world’s largest research institute dedicated to internet technology-based research. Researchers at both of these institutes, together with archivists and librarians from the James Hardiman Library, will work together to ensure the very latest technology is used to illuminate the past.

The digital Abbey archive will be a major addition to the existing collection of literary and cultural archives at NUI Galway. The Archive Collection at the University’s James Hardiman Library comprises over 350 collections, dating from 1485 to the present. Theatre collections include the papers of Thomas Kilroy and the Shields Family Collection, featuring the Abbey actor Arthur Shields and there is a particular focus on the archives of companies such as the Druid Theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe and the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast. A new Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research facility will open at the heart of the campus in 2013, providing the perfect home for this significant collection.

Students of the new undergraduate degree in Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, as well as a new PhD programme in Irish Drama will encourage a new wave of young researchers from Ireland and abroad to come to Galway to learn about Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory and the many other great writers associated with the Abbey. The University has also introduced two new fully-funded PhD fellowships dedicated to research in Irish Theatre to give an immediate boost to the research team working on the Archive project.

To view the Abbey Theatre/NUI Galway digital archive partnership website click here

Learning the Ropes - Walter Macken and Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in the 1930s

It is perhaps true to say that Walter Macken is always identified to the flowering of activity at Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in the 1940s. He was a central figure in this development, bringing industriousness and a drive to the theatre that encouraged others to get involved. However, this role did not occur within a vacuum. It has to be viewed within the context of the evolution of Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in the 1930s, and what Walter Macken learned at the Taibhdhearc from 1933 to 1936, and in particular what he learned from the producer at the time, Frank Dermody. We will then look briefly at his return as artistic director, and everything else that he did to promote the theatre and Irish language drama at the time. In his semi-autobiographical novel Sullivan (1957) he wrote:

He worked an average of twelve to fourteen hours a day . . . He designed and painted the scenery, he made flats and stretched the canvas on them, he kept the accounts, drew up the advertising, learned off long parts, trained raw actors to become presentable . . . He did all this for a feverish love.

He not only acted as administrator, dealing with the day-to-day running of the theatre, dealing with the Board of Directors and everything else, but also dealt with every aspect of the artistic process of the theatre, from getting production rights, to translations, to casting, set design, rehearsals, publicity and productions, as well as doing much of the acting himself.

The idea of an Irish language theatre had been around as a possibility for some years before it’s actual establishment in Galway in 1928, and it was the culmination of many years endeavour. Writing in May 1919 in Fáinne an Lae, Tomás Ó Máille (Professor of Irish language, Philology and Literature at UCG from 1909 to 1938) outlined their reasons for seeking an Irish language theatre in Galway.

Tá lucht cabhartha na Gaedhilge sa mbaile seo le tamall ag cur rompú taidbhdhearc Gaedhealach agus cuallacht taidhbhreadóirí a chur ar bun I nGaillimh le drámanna nó taidhbhréimeanna i n-ár dtrangaidh dhúthchais a thaidbhsiú agus a fhiorléarú i nGaillimh agus ar fud na hÉireann.
Other sponsors of the plan included Fr. Tomás Ceallaigh, Dr. Séamus Ó Beirn and Liam Ó Briain (Professor of Romance Languages at UCG, 1917 – 1958). Given the unstable nature of the country in the 1920s, however, this early attempt fell into abeyance. Several of the theatre supporters were on the run, some were imprisoned, including both Ó Briain and Ó Máille.

The idea of an Irish language theatre was revived in 1927. Galway was viewed as an ideal location for an Irish language theatre, because of it’s proximity to Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht as well as its concentration of Irish-speaking institutions. The city had a large Irish-speaking population, An Céad Cath (the Irish speaking battalion of the Irish army stationed at Renmore) and a large number of Irish language enthusiasts and scholars at University College Galway. A committee of eleven was formed, and the project benefited from the personal interest of the then Minister for Finance, Ernest Blythe, who was keen to establish the cultural credentials of the Irish language within the new Irish state. The committee approached Micheál Mac Liammóir to act as artistic director, and he did most of the early plays from 1928 to the end of 1930, before committing to the development of Dublin’s Gate Theatre with Hilton Edwards.

There had been a decline in the number of plays produced in the theatre in 1930, reflecting Mac Liammóir’s reduced involvement and it was clear that replacement producer-directors were needed. At the end of 1929 Blythe and Richard Maulcahy (Minister for Defence) arranged for Prionsias Mac Diarmada, a corporal in An Céad Cath, to transfer to Cathal Brugha Barracks and learn production skills at the Gate Theatre with MacLiammóir and Edwards. MacDiarmada (later known as Frank Dermody) had joined the army in 1923 and had been involved with the Taibhdhearc from an early stage, having played the part of Oisín in their first production Diarmuid agus Gráinne.

At the end of 1930 the Committee was cut down from eleven to 3, and it was decided to appoint Frank Dermody as Manager and Secretary. His appointment certainly met with the approval of Ernest Blythe, who commented in a letter to Liam Ó Briain in a letter of 11th February 1931 “I am satisfied that the arrangement which has now come about is the only one under which Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe has a chance of developinig as it ought to develop”. Mac Diarmada’s first production was J.M. Synge’s Deirdre of the Sorrows (Deirdre na mBróin), translated by Ó Briain. Supported by Tommy King in the more practical aspects of organising the theatre, Mac Diarmada brought an energy and enthusiasm to the job that ensured a good selection of actors and a wide spectrum of productions. Tensions within the Board of Directors centred on the what productions should be done, Ó Briain favoured translations of European works with comparable Irish language plays, Ó Beirn’s focus wanted more kitchen-comedy style plays to build support for the theatre. Mac Diarmada and Ó Briain did not always see eye to eye either, although Ó Briain was instrumental in keeping the Departments of Finance and Education onside with the theatre’s activities.

Bríd Ní Gríofa and Mairtín Ó Direáin in a scene from Deirdre na mBróin by J.M. Synge [Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Collection, James Hardiman Library Archives, T1/E/1].
Although there may have been disagreements on the board and it was operating on a shoestring budget, the Taibhdhearc consolidated it’s position, due in no small part to the hard work of Mac Diarmada. The productions from the 1930s staged by Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe included translations, both continental and English plays, as well as original drama in Irish. Other initiatives at the time included the involvement of the players in radio plays with Radio Eireann, and a steady stream of original drama in Irish through An tOireachtas, who ran a competition each year.
It was into this setting, then, that Walter Macken entered. His first acting role with Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe was at the age of 17, when he played the role of Sean-Mhaitias in Pádraig Pearse’s Iosagáin. In the play Iosagáin visits Sean-Mhaitias who is too sick to go to Mass, but he receives hope of solace. It is a sign of Macken’s versatility at this early stage that he was also credited with set design for the play, which ran from the 12th to the 14th December 1933. The play was billed in The Connacht Tribune as an experiment with the boys of St. Ignatius’ College, saying that the public were in for a treat: “it is confidently expected that they will agree that the experiment was justified when they realise what our youth are really capable of” (9 Dec 1933). This would indicate that it was through his school that Walter was first introduced to the Taibhdhearc, and his activity in this production clearly impressed Mac Diarmada.

Walter’s versatility was underlined in March 1934 when he co-wrote Ceart agus Cáiteamh (Mayor Lynch of Galway) based on the story of James Lynch, the 15th century mayor of Galway who infamously condemned his own son to death for having murdered a young Spaniard. Billed as “triumph and tragedy” in medieval Galway, with a cast of fifty and eleven scenes, it was noted that “Mr. Walter Macken collaborated with Mr MacDiarmada in the writing of some of the scenes of the play”.

Scene from Ceart agus Cuiteamh by Prionnsias Mac Diarmada and Bhaitear Ó Maicín, featuring Maire Ni Giolla Mhairtin and Uinsionn Ó Mathuna, Mar 1934 [Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Collection, James Hardiman Library Archives, T1/E/6].

With Walter’s acting skills being put to good use in various productions, it is no surprise that he took the title role in a show-case production to mark the first seven years of the Taibhdhearc. MacDiarmada’s production of Beatha Iogantach Bhearnáird Óig de Menthon by Ghéon, with its lavish costumes and set, made a statement about the new confidence of the Taibhdhearc. Eamonn de Valera attended the opening night, which coincided with the unveiling of a statue of Pádraic Ó Conaire in Eyre Square. The Connacht Tribune review noted “the central figure of the drama, St. Bernard, was admirably played by Bhailtear Maicin. Mr. Mackin showed admirable restraint in St. Bernard’s mental battle against worldy lives – a restraint which held him from overstepping the bounds into rant”. Seamus O’Sullivan, the noted sculptor who had been involved in the foundation of the Abbey, found Macken’s performance outstanding, and as good as anything he had seen since the heyday of the Abbey.

Walter was next noted as an actor in Na Cruiteachán a translation by Liam Ó Briain of La Farce des Bossus by P Jalabert. In the play a young wife who is married to a miserly man invites a group of wandering musicians in to keep her company. Walter played on of the musicians. It was the first radio-play broadcast by Radió Éireann using the Taibhdhearc, and it was broadcast on Wed. 10th July 1935 at 8pm. It reflects Mac Diarmada’s forward thinking that it was the first of a series of broadcasts, and the fact that he was aware that he was competing with film and provincial theatres to draw an audience into the Taibhdhearc.

Cast list from Na Gaduithe by Gearóid Ó Lochlainn, featuring both Walter and Peggy on the cast list, December 1935 [Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Collection, James Hardiman Library Archives, T1/D/39].

One interesting review from The Connacht Tribune comes the following December, when, in a review of Na Gaduithe, the Gearóid Ó Lochlainn play, there was a detailed review of most of the characters. The basic premise, two investigators come to a Gaeltacht hotel on the tail of two robbers, and fall in love with the hotellier’s two daughters. Walter played the role of Brian Ui Neill and Padraic Breathnach played the role of the other investigator, the two daughters were played by Eibhlin Ni Suilleabhain and Peigi Ni Chionnigh. The review of Walter’s role is telling, probably pointing to the writer of the review as Peigi, the only person not to get a detailed review of her performance.

Uaitear O Maicin gave a very good performance as Brian. The young man who was able to move around and enjoy himself while conducting his investigations into the robbery. His scenes with Eibhlin were good, but we were inclined to wonder what passed through his mind when, on the garden scene, he told Eibhlin of his love and was accepted. His smile did not seem to us one of happy contentment.
Walter continued to be a stalwart actor for the Taibhdhearc from 1936 and into 1937, with over thirteen productions in that year it was clear that Mac Diarmada’s industriousness was paying off, and that he was catering to a number of different ideas coming from the Board of Directors. For Walter, acting in Deireadh an Aister (Journey’s End) by R.C. Sherriff and translated by Aodh Mac Dubhainn, must have been particularly poignant given its setting in the trenches of World War One.

Cast list for Mayor Lynch of Galway by Frank Dermody, produced in Galway by the Art Players, 18-19 October 1935 [Christopher Townley Collection, James Hardiman Library Archives].

Walter’s last role in this phase of his involvement with the Taibhdhearc was in January 1937 was Grádh an Spréidhe (Sovereign Love) by T.C. Murray, translated by Mairtín Ó Direáin. Again, the reviewer in The Connacht Tribune was fulsome in their praise of his acting
Uaitear Ui Maicin carried the honours of the Taibhdhearc production. This young actor who has innumerable successes to his name, gave a delightful reading of Domhnall O Cearnaigh, the old farmer who seeks to secure a good “fortune” with his prospective marrying in son-in-law.
The following month he and Peggy had married in Dublin and had moved to London. In a reference written the same day as his marriage, Prionsias Mac Diarmada wrote in glowing terms on his work as leading man and business manager for the theatre, commenting that he had taken leading roles in thirty full length and thirty-six one act plays.

Mr. Macken is in my opinion the most outstanding character actor (comedy or tragedy) in Ireland today not excluding the Abbey Theatre. My contention may be substantiated by a perusal of many press notices which he has received. As regards his personal character I have always found him to be honest upright and trustworthy in every respect.
That thirteen plays were produced in 1936 and 18 more in 1937, bears testimony to the industry of the theatre and to Mac Diarmada’s tenure as producer-director. When Mac Diarmada was appointed as Director of the Abbey School of Acting in October 1938, he moved to Dublin and eventually succeeded Hugh Hunt as producer at the Abbey. An appreciation written following his death in 1978, noted that: “During his years in Galway he devoted all his time and unquestionable talents to bringing the Taibhdhearc into national prominence (Connacht Tribune, 11 July 1978).

Black and white photograph from Aintín Searlaí (Charley’s Aunt) by Brandon Thomas, featuring Eibhlín Ni Suileabháin and Micheál Ó Beirn, produced by Walter Macken [Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Collection, James Hardiman Library Archives, T1/E/8].

Walter Macken’s association with the Taibhdhearc ended until 1939, when he returned as Artistic Director. His undoubted ability from his time as an actor there, his and Peggy’s wish to return to Galway, and the support of elements within the Board of Directors and Mac Diarmuda, all came together to support his return. In a meeting of 8th April 1939 Captain Ó Concubhair proposed that Uaiteár Ó Maicín would produce the next production and that the Directors would get a sense of whether he was a suitable producer for the theatre. The following meeting, on the 26th April it was noted that his first production would be Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas, and at the following meeting it was proposed by Dr. Tomas Breathnach that Walter Macken would be appointed director at £3 a week, and that he would be sent to the Gaeltacht in August to improve his Irish. He moved on to become one of the most successful artistic directors of the long history of Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, before moving to the Abbey Theatre as an actor, later becoming a prolific writer.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Ban on Ye Small Ball

 Hurling banned in Galway City in 1527


"But only the great football" - Detail from Liber A 1527
 The James Hardiman Library includes in its archive an original manuscript of Galway corporation statutes dating back to 1486.  The Galway corporation statute book or Liber A as it is know is made up of annual entries listing office holders in Galway Corporation and statutes or local laws passed each year.

1527 Entry in Liber A
With Galway's recent success in wining the Leinster Hurling Championship and taking Kilkenny to a re-play in the all Ireland it may be a surprise to read that in the 16th century there was an attempt to ban the sport in Galway city, 'hand ball' was also banned, however 'football'  was allowed.

According to a statue in Liber A dating from 1527:

...at no tyme the use ne ocupye the horlinge of the litill balle with hockie stickes or staves, nor use no hande ball to playe without the walles, but onely the great foote balle, on payn of the paynis above lymittid (a fine of 8 pence)

or in modern English:

...at no time the use nor occupy the hurling of the little ball with hockey sticks or staves,  nor use a handball to play outside the walls, but only the great football on pain of the pains above limited.

Detail from 1527 entry relating to fines on the playing of games including 'the horlinge of the litill balle'

Liber A which covers the period the period 1485-1711 is a large volume with each page measuring roughly 45cm x 25 cm.  While the first entry dates from the late 15th century the handwriting would suggest that the first 70 years were transcribed in the mid 16th century.   The item has been part of the University Library collection since its foundation.  It's not clear how it came into his possession but it appears that Liber A was originally part of the University's first Librarian James Hardiman's personal collection. 

Liber A with pencil for scale

The statutes in Liber A  cover a range of issues including trade,  local taxes, public morals and property rights.   While the content of Liber A relates primarily to local laws one can see  wider issues reflected in the manuscript.  For example entries for 1611 records that the mayor Valentine Blake was removed from office for refusing to take the 'Oath of Supremacy' .  The appointment of a Catholic mayor following the ascension to the throne of James II in 1685 is marked by the use of  ornate golden lettering.

Liber A entry for 1686, with Catholic Mayor's name written in Gold

 The Digitisation Service of the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway is currently engaged in digitising this unique item which will be made publicly available on our website.