Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Arthur Shields and the 1916 Rising

How the Abbey actor who later played Padraig Pearse in Hollywood himself took part in the Rebels' last stand in the 1916 Rising 

Arthur Shields c.1920
With the centenary of the 1916 rising only three years away the building on Dublin’s Moore street where the leaders of the Rising decided to end the rebellion has been in the news recently amid plans to turn the building into a museum.   Amongst those present on  Hanlon’s fish shop on Moore street on the final day of the rising was Abbey Theatre actor Arthur Shields.  Shields’ daughter Christine donated his personal papers to the NUI Galway archives service in 2003. 

Arthur Shields and his brother Barry Fitzgerald (real name Will Shields) both appeared in the first production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars.  Shields also played Padraig Pearse in John Ford’s 1936 film adaptation of the drama.  

The ruins of the Metropole Hotel and G.P.O. - from a booklet containing photographs of 'Twelve Interesting Views Showing the Ruins of Sackville Street and Adjoining Streets After The Rising'. (Shields Family Papers, NUI Galway).
During the rising Arthur Shields was stationed in the Metropole Hotel on O’Connell Street (now the location of Penny’s). The volunteer garrison abandoned their position in the hotel on Friday 28th April, first making there way into the GPO which was already on fire, then retreating to Moore Street with the GPO garrison including Padraig Pearse and the other leaders of the rising.  While Shields himself didn’t leave a detailed account of his role in the rising his brother in law Charles Saurin who fought along side him made a detailed witness statement for the bureau of military history in 1949.  The Shields Family papers includes a copy of this statement, while the original was recently digitised and made available on line ( see: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0288.pdf).

According to Saurin he and Shields along with the rest of the volunteers made their way from house to house along Moore street trough holes knocked in the dividing walls between the houses' basements.  Saurin recalled that “there was the question, as the last bricks and plaster of the hole went crashing out under the blows of sledge-hammers and crowbars, as to whether we might not find the enemy on the other side to hurtle grenades into our midst."

Arthur Shields, Lennox Robinson and Sean O'Casey c. 1935 (Shields Family Papers,NUI Galway)

Eventually Shields and Saurin found themselves in the loft at the back of Hanlon’s fish shop (16 Moore Street) with five other men.  Word reached them that they were to be given what “used to be know as the place of honor in the coming battle” i.e. they were to be first in the firing line.  Saurin describes the plan:

It seems that an attempt was to be made to fight our way out of the Moore Street area and to get to the Williams & Woods' Jam Factory in Great Britain Street from where we were to try and link up with our own forces in the Four Courts.  Apparently the seven of us in the loft at the back of Hanlon's were on a given word to jump out through the open doorway down on to the lane below, fire a volley and charge the barricade.  This was supposed to be a diversion while the main body in full force broke out into Moore Street and stormed a big barricade at the top of the street, and no doubt carried all before it on the direction of Williams & Woods while seven corpses lay in Moore Lane. 
 In the event the break-out plan was abandoned and the decision was taken instead to surrender in order to avoid further bloodshed.  When the time came to surrender the men were advised to dispose of anything that might be regarded as loot:

Loot: Lorna Doone
I could not say that anyone carried, loot. Arthur Shields' commandeered binoculars were of course, for military use. I had used binoculars in the Hotel Metropole which were left behind by some guest there and I in turn had left them on the evacuation.  There had been very fine gold and silver watches left on dressing tables in various rooms in that hotel, as, to my mind, a watch was No. 1 in the list of traditional loot, I had not touched them trough it would have been handy to have known the time during the week.  I was completely at a loss in that respect, for while I had made use of a small clock (to my mind quite distinct from a watch and therefore definitely not to be classed as loot) it had stopped the first time an enemy shell had hit the hotel roof.... towards 4 or 5 o'clock when we were all called together and told to form up inside the buildings, that we were going out. This is all the information we at the back of Hanlons' received. However, as I went through the shop I suddenly recalled that I had indeed some loot and I carefully  hid within the pay desk a copy of Blackmore's "Lorna Doone" which I had discovered in a room in the Metropole. I was reluctant to part with it, though where and when I imagined I was going to read it in the near future I did not know, but Arthur Shields said: "Leave it there, I’ll buy you a copy afterwards". During the years that followed I have occasionally reminded him that he has never since bought me "Lorna Doone".

Clips from John Ford's 1936 adaption of The Plough and the Stars   

After surrendering to the British forces Shields and Saurin a long with other volunteers were marched to Richmond Barracks in Inchicore, on the way they at the corner of Francis Street they  passed “shrieking women from the back streets who called us filthy names and hurled curses at us. ” Later on Thomas Street  they saw “sympathy on the faces of people looking out of the dwellings over the shops. British officers marching on our flanks kept shouting to them: "Close those windows". While at Guinness’s  “shirt-sleeved officials were leaning out of the windows looking at us with superior, contemptuous smiles.”

In the barracks “notables” amongst the volunteers were separated out from the rest ; Shields apparently attracted attention because he wore glasses:

Arthur Shields who wore glasses and who, consequently, in the eyes of the 'G' men, may have looked an intellectual and, therefore, important, was asked his name by the individual who had picked out Willie Pearse, and also where he worked. The Abbey Theatre should have been suspect as one of the birthplaces of twentieth century Irish nationalism, but this did not seem to dawn on the 'G' man and Shields was left beside me, after a final question as to whether be knew Philip Guiry, another Abbey Player.

Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way
While Willie Pearse was among those sentenced to death and executed for their part in the rising Shields and Saurin were transported to Britain and interned in Frongoch camp, Wales.  Saurin later server as an officer in the Free State Army.  While Shields went on to play lead roles in many Abbey productions during, also acting as the Abbey tour manager for a number of tours of North America.  Eventually he and his brother Barry Fitzgerald settled in California where both acted in Hollywod films.  Barry Fitzgerald one an Oscar in 1945 for his role alongside Bing Crosby in Going My Way.

An online exhibition of Material from the Shields family papers is available here: http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/shields

Plans for 1916 Rebellion Museum - Moore Street Dublin - Narrated by John Connolly

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tribute to Éamon de Buitléar

Éamon de Buitléar
It is with a heavy heart that we learned of the passing of the great Éamon de Buitléar. To generations of Irish people Éamon has been lifelong presence and figure of inspiration through his love of the Irish landscape and wildlife, Irish music, language and culture and by being one of the pioneering broadcasters of his generation.

 Éamon has been a long-time friend of NUI Galway and its James Hardiman Library. At a ceremony on campus last November, Éamon deposited his unique and vast archive to NUI Galway which will be catalogued, digitised and made available for researchers by the James Hardiman Library and Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge. This collection is a treasure for the nation and one which documents the incredible life, work and legacy of Éamon de Buitléar.

President of NUI Galway, Dr. Jim Browne made the following statement:

 "On behalf of NUI Galway and the university community, I extend sincere condolences to the family and friends of Éamon de Buitléar.

Éamon de Buitléar was an outstanding figure of modern Ireland.  An exceptional film-maker, a committed environmentalist, a public intellectual, author, musician and member of Seanad Éireann - he was a man of many parts and a man whose contribution to Irish society has enriched the lives of many generations.

We in NUI Galway are deeply honored by our association with Éamon de Buitléar.  His decision to donate his rich multi-media, bi-lingual archive to the University will mean that his lifetime’s work of creativity and advocacy will be held in trust here for the nation and for generations of scholars.  We are proud to have been entrusted with that task."

At the launch ceremony for the de Buitlèar Archive last November those present had the privilege of not just hearing Éamon speak but also witness him playing wonderful music on the mouth organ. Also on that evening the following video was screened and is a touching tribute to the great work and legacy of Éamon de Buitléar as well as to his endearing spirit.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. Ní bheidh a leithéidí ann arís


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Éamon de Buitléar - Arts Tonight interview on RTÈ Radio 1

The Arts Tonight program on RTÈ Radio 1 featured a special interview with the wonderful Éamon de Buitléar last night. Hosted by Vincent Woods,  the program uncovers the life, many achievements and archive of Èamon which he has deposited here at the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway. The archive will comprise one of the largest digital archives of the Library's extensive holdings and will be a vital resource for all researchers of Irish nature, wildlife, music, culture and language.

Here is information on the program and click on the link below to listen back to Vincent Woods in conversation with Èamon de Buitlèar.

Èamon de Buitlèar and Vincent Woods

"Nature has become invisible. People don't see it any more, or hear it. You need to see it, you need to feel it. As human beings, we need it, specially nowadays." The words of filmmaker, broadcaster, writer and conservationist Éamon de Buitléar. On tonight's programme, we visit him at his home in Delgany, Co. Wicklow and step into his remarkable archive of over 2000 audio and film tapes. He has recently donated this archive to NUI Galway and it will soon be delivered there and digitised: not only his hundreds of wildlife films for television such as the series Amuigh Faoin Spéir for which he is probably best known, but also painstakingly catalogued wildlife sounds dating back to the 1950s, early radio recordings from the traditional music revival featuring Séamus Ennis, Sean Ó Riada and others, and his radio and television series for children, Lúidín Mac Lú about a leprechaun and his mouse."


To learn more about the Cartlann Éamoin de Buitléar/Éamon de Buitléar Archive, click here

Èamon de Buitlèar at the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Special Collections Book of the Month - 'Life in the West of Ireland', Jack B. Yeats

 Jack B. Yeats
Life in the West of Ireland
(Dublin: Maunsel, 1912)
 Our Book of the Month for January 2013 is
Jack B. Yeats.  Life in the West of Ireland
The curator of the digital exhibition of Yeats material at Villanova University has described Life in the West of Ireland as “a collection of forty illustrations representing life in the west of Ireland. Yeats often said he painted what he saw and this book provides an interesting look at country life at the turn of the century. Titles such as The Country Shop, A Political Meeting, The Race Day and Gathering Seaweed describe daily life. Looking at the illustrations the viewer will see many segments of social class, folkways, local characters, daily chores, and recreational events”.  
The book, which is on display at our Special Collections and Archives Reading Room for the month of January, contains color prints, line drawings, and reprints from oil paintings. Some of the works illustrated in the book were later exhibited. It is a summary of his work at the age of 40. 
The copy here in the Hardiman Library would have been received at the time of publication. Related contextual material would include copies of the Cuala Press Broadsides, produced by Yeats’ sisters and for which he also created many illustrations. Researchers may view the original hardcopy Broadsides on request in the Special Collections Reading Room. A digital archive has been created by Villanova as part of their extensive Yeats collection and is viewable at http://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/jack-butler-yeats/
The Metal Man
The illustration shown here is that of the Metal Man, well-known to anyone with Rosses Point, county Sligo, connections. Local sources indicate that the Metal Man was placed on his 15ft high pedestal at the entrance to Sligo Harbour in 1821 in an effort to guide ships away from dangerous rocks in the area. He stands 12 ft high and is dressed in the uniform of a Royal Navy Petty Officer. A similar metal man stands at the entrance to the bay in Tramore, county Waterford.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Image from Aran Islands c.1894

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted the new background image on our Twitter page. As well as providing a New Year's facelift, the image is question is one of the highlights among the many striking images from the Balfour Album which is housed here at the James Hardiman Library.

The Balfour Album of photographs was originally created in 1893-1895 by the Belfast photographer, Robert John Welch. It was a gift to the former Chief Secretary for Ireland, Arthur J. Balfour in recognition of his support for the building of the Galway-Clifden Railway. The album was presented to Arthur Balfour in the summer of 1896, a year after the railway had opened. It remained in the property of the Balfour family until 1987 when the Earl of Balfour offered to sell it to the National Library of Ireland. Staff at the National Library felt that it more properly belonged in Galway and it was accordingly offered to the Librarian of the James Hardiman Library who purchased it for the library's collection.

The large group of children, both boys and girls, are pictured mostly facing camera. They are standing in front of a cottage whose partially white-washed gable is visible. Many of the girls are wearing white pinafores. Some of the boys are wearing traditional Aran kintted clothing. Welch's use of the word "Firbolgs" in the caption possibly refers to the legendary motif that the Aran islands was the last bastion of the Firbolgs, a small dark race of people subsequently defeated by the Tuatha de Danann in Irish myth.

Reference Number: Bal/0018

The Balfour album is digitised in full online and can be viewed here

Monday, January 7, 2013

J.R.R. Tolkien as external examiner at University College Galway

Following on from the great interest in our recent news and updates on the great J.R.R. Tolkien being an external examiner in English here at (then) University College Galway, here is a slideshow of exam papers in English from 1949 - 1959 of which the master of Middle-Earth was visiting the West of Ireland and reading and correcting the work of our students.

How would you fare in having Tolkien correct your answer's to these questions?!

For more press coverage of this news click here and here