Friday, December 23, 2022

A Christmas Archive Miscellany - Festive Acts and Writings

Christmas has inspired many personal stories and writings for so many of Ireland's writers. From playwrights to novelists, the story of Christmas and what it means, in comedy and tragedy, for many have found readers and audiences over many decades. A selection of such Christmas-themed writings can be found within various collections among University of Galway Library Archives.

Draft of story, Christmas, by John McGahern

The novelist and short-story writer John McGahern explored this particular time of year in one of his short stories. How that story even came to be is a story in itself. Christmas is the story of the young boy deposited to a family at Christmas time from an orphanage. He rejects a gift he is given, that of a toy aeroplane and this act forms the 
focus of McGahern's attention in the drafting of the story. The McGahern Archive contains numerous drafts of the story which was first published in the Irish Press in 1968. Numerous titles range from Santa ClausA Gift for HimselfThe Aeroplane, before finally being published as Christmas in the volume of short stories Nightlines in 1970.

Draft of story, Christmas, by John McGahern

The opening line of many of the drafts begin with "The thaw overhead in the bear branches had stopped the evening we filled the load for Mrs. Grey". This would imply that winter has passed and Christmas is over. Yet the published story opens with a different scene, one of a young boy being boarded onto a train, described as a "ward of State" and being sent to live with 'Moran' for the Christmas period. Moran is a recurring name within McGahern's work, also being the family name within his 1991 novel Amongst Women. The novel itself was nearly called The Morans, only to be changed very close to publication.

Given so much effort of redrafting, editing and re-titling of the story is evident with McGahern's papers, it is clear this particular story meant quite a deal for the writer in the late 1960s. The variances in handwriting styles also show the revisions were carried out over a number of years, as McGahern's hand changed over the years.

Cover of A Christmas Carol, Lyric Theatre Archive, 1981
Another traditional Christmas tale is that of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. In 1980, the Lyric theatre in Belfast staged a version by John Boyd. Boyd was a prolific playwright during the previous decade of the 1970s, writing some of the most important plays regarding the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland with works such as The Flats in 1972 also presented by the Lyric Theatre. In his introduction to the play, Boyd writes of Dickens' story being linked to the plight of everyday life in Belfast at the time. The Lyric theatre founding director, Mary O'Malley, was so enthused with Christmas-themed drama that one of the very first productions by the Lyric players was a version of The Nativity, by Lady Augusta Gregory in November 1950. The script of this had to be procured from the Gate Theatre, Dublin, as seen in the letter here.
Scene from the Nativity by Lady Gregory, Lyric Theatre Archive, 1950
Letter from Gate Theatre sending script of The Nativity to the Lyric Theatre
Lyric Theatre Archive.
At the Gate Theatre itself, the theatre staged a revival production of Micheál MacLiammóir's Christmas play, Home for Christmas or A Grand Tour. First staged in 1950, in the original programme note, reproduced in the 1976 revival programme, MacLiammóir recounts how he was prompted to write the play by Orsen Wells about an prosperous English family touring across Africa and Europe at a time of Victorian empire and exploration. MacLiammór took that advice but set the story among an wealthy Irish family who are returning from world travels to Ireland for Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Winter Solstice and Newgrange - Images from the Etienne Rynne Archive


Entrance of Newgrange passage tomb - Rynne Archive

The Winter solstice took place this week and included an annual gathering of people at the historic site of Newgrange in Co. Meath, to witness the sunrise and illumination of the inner chamber on the shortest day of the year, 21st December.

Within the archive of archaeologist Etienne Rynne at University of Galway Library Archives are a number of records including photographs, postcard images, some dating from the 1950s, and later research files by Rynne into the history, archaeology, and culture of the site at Newgrange. Etienne Rynne (1932–2012) took up work as a lecturer in Archaeology at then University College Galway in 1967, having previously worked at the National Museum of Ireland. Rynne retired as Professor of Celtic Archaeology at UCG in 1998 after thirty-one years. 

Rynne's archive holds a wealth of material about many of Ireland's greatest archaeological sites and objects, including Newgrange. His research files include studies and analysis of the carved symbols and artworks on numerous stones around the entranceway of the passage tomb on the site. The images show the layout and condition of the site at the mid-point of the 20th century but also interestingly show the appeal and interest, nationally and internationally, about the site and its symbolism, as its image, such as the famous carved stones at the entranceway to the tomb, were used and reproduced on postcards which were available for purchase at the time of the 1950s.

Material relating to Newgrange Passage Tomb - Rynne Archive

An internationally renowned UNESCO world heritage site, the Brú na Bóinne complex, including Newgrange, and the solstice lighting of the inner chamber of the passage grave, is a spectacle to behold and the Rynne archive provides new insights into archaeological record of Newgrange.

The wider Etienne Rynne archive (and Rynne family archive, comprising of records of other members and branches of the Rynne family) is a hugely detailed archive of Irish archaeological sites and objects, and a record of a life’s research into Ireland’s early history and the discovery, recovery, and care of its archaeological heritage through the twentieth century.

Postcard with image taken at Newgrange - Rynne Archive

The full Rynne Archive catalogue is available to searchonline here.