Kilkenny, the home of an annual international arts festival, has a long history as a cultural city. Ask About Ireland, the Irish libraries and museums’ website of cultural and historical information for Irish students, features a page on Kilkenny Theatre, describing this Private Theatre as follows:
During the late 1700s, it became very fashionable for wealthy people to have private theatricals or plays performed at their houses. The popularity of this led to the formation of amateur acting companies, such as the one formed by Sir Richard Power in Kilfane. This company became so successful that it opened a public theatre in Kilkenny in 1802 called The Athenaeum. Most of its profits were donated to charitable organizations in the area.
The introduction discusses the history of theatrical activities in the area prior to the formation of the Theatre, during the years when plays were performed in the country homes of various landed families: “…about the end of the year 1774, a taste for Dramatic amusements was very prevalent in the County of Kilkenny. Plays were got up at Knocktopher, Farmley, and Kilfane, the Seats of the late Sir Hercules Langrishe, Mr. Henry Flood, of Parliamentary celebrity, and Mr. Gervais Parker Bushe … Mr. Henry Grattan … was a member of the Theatrical Society, which passed from one elegant and hospitable Mansion to another, for the purpose of enjoying their classic recreations: a little strolling community, of no mean talents, or ordinary pretentions.”
Each chapter provides the programs for the season, and also the text of the prologue and other commentary, for example an account of reviews or of visitors. The prologue shown above takes aim at critics of the theatre, including, apparently, The Globe of London:
But merit will have foes. Amus’d we find We’ve whet the spleen of some malignant mind, Who swells ouf fame, when he would wound and probe Which, grateful for his labours, fill *The Globe.
Our copy is elegantly bound, and is a great example of the craft of an Irish bookbinder. The bookseller describes it thus:
Contemporary full burgundy morocco. Covers with double gilt frame, blind stamped Greek-key and acanthus rolls, ‘Gervase Bushe / Glencairne Abbey’ in gilt on upper cover. Spine divided into six panels by five raised bands, title in gilt direct in the second, the remainder tooled with a gilt floral device. Armorial bookplate of Benjamin John Plunket on front pastedown.
This book is from the library of Benjamin John Plunket, and bears his bookplate. The Hesburgh Libraries acquired it this year by purchase from Irish bookseller, Éamonn de Búrca.
Most of the books in our W. B. Yeats collection sit neatly on the literature shelves — in fact, the majority are in the ‘rare medium’ shelves as our special collections are organized in various size ranges. Exceptions, however, with variant editions found in the ‘rare small’ sections of folklore and children’s literature section, are Yeats’s Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry and his Irish Fairy Tales.
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry was one of Yeats’s earliest published books. At the time of this work, Yeats had been publishing in periodicals for about four years, mostly in the Dublin University Review. He had published one book of poetry, Mosada, now exceedingly rare, in 1886, and was working on having his next collection published — The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems. His published poetry and other writing of the time demonstrates a great interest in folklore, and in stories of fairies, ghosts and other phenomena of folklore, and his reading was complemented by encounters with the people of County Sligo in particular, where he spent much of his time.
To find Yeats discussing this publication, we can consult John Kelly’s great compilation, The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, which, fortunately, we have in digital form and so can easily search the letters for references to folklore and fairies. Thus we learn that Yeats was invited by his friend Ernest Rhys to produce a book of folklore for the Camelot Series of prose writing, to be published by Walter Scott.
Yeats writes to his friend Katharine Tynan in February, 1888:
I am trying to get some sort of regular work to do however, it is neccessary, and better any way than writing articles about things that do not interest one — are not in ones line of developement — not that I am not very glad to do the Folklore book or any thing that comes to my hand.
In the letters we also find Yeats consulting with Douglas Hyde on the book.
Yeats’s selection includes stories written by those friends, Douglas Hyde and Katharine Tynan and other contemporaries, and also by earlier writers, among them Crofton Croker, whose early nineteenth century collections of folklore were very popular.
In the introduction to the 1888 book, Yeats discusses the context for storytelling in the community, and he argues the merits of the folklore collectors included in his book, saying that “they have made their work literature rather than science” and that they have “caught the very voice of the people” (xiv).
Most of Yeats’s early encounters with the rural Irish were in Sligo, where his mother’s family lived, and here he introduces a story-teller of his acquaintance, Paddy Flynn, “a little, bright-eyed, old man, living in a leaky one-roomed cottage” who tells stories of Columkill (Colmcille) and who has told Yeats matter-of-factly of his sighting of the Banshee.
The chapters demonstrate the editor’s interest in the various supernatural or magical creatures and phenomena found in Irish folklore. The sections on fairies are divided into ‘The Trooping Fairies’ and ‘The Solitary Fairies’. In the first are stories of Changelings, and of the Merrow (a sea-being), while the Solitary Fairies include the Leprechaun and his variants, and also the Pooka and the Banshee.
The stories collected from folklore are interspersed with verse, including, for example William Allingham’s ‘The Fairies’, with which the collection begins. In the section on the Changeling, we find an example of one of Yeats’s own compositions, his well-known poem ‘The Stolen Child’, with an early version of the refrain uttered by the fairies to entice the child to leave and join them:
Come away, O, human child! To the woods and waters wild, With a fairy hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
W. B. Yeats, ‘The Stolen Child’, in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), p. 59.
The rest of the chapters cover characters ranging from ghosts to priests, and there is also a chapter called ‘Tyeer-Na-N-Og’ (Tír na nÓg — the land of youth).
Yeats’s Irish Fairy Tales,with illustrations by his brother, Jack B. Yeats, was published in a series for children in 1892. This book has a modest selection of fourteen stories, a lively introductory essay on ‘The Irish Storyteller’, and an appendix on the classification of Irish fairies.
In a note on the contents, Yeats explains that he has included no story that has already appeared in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, and that he believes the two volumes to make “a fairly representative collection of Irish folk tales.”
With writers of the stature of W. B. Yeats, librarians and scholars have many resources for researching the bibliography, and in the case of Yeats, we have Allan Wade, A Bibliography of the Writings of W. B. Yeats, 3rd. ed., rev., Russell K. Alsbach (1968). Nevertheless, Yeats made so many changes in editions of his work, that it is always interesting to compare the variant editions of his work.
This immigrant librarian was delighted to see Ireland’s national holiday celebrated in American elementary schools. It was dismaying, however, to walk down a school corridor in March of 1996, and see the walls bedecked with rainbows, crocks of gold, and leprechauns.
Did a film about a leprechaun and a crock of gold so captivate American audiences that no other stories could compete? Have books of Irish stories been available for children who grew up in America in the last century?
Padraic Colum (1881-1972) and Ella Young (1867-1956) are the only Irish authors whose books have been recognized with a Newbery honor. The Newbery medal was founded in 1922 and is awarded annually by the ALA for an American-published children’s book. In addition to the medalist, a few books are named honor books each year. Colum and Young are also among the few Irish authors mentioned in American reviews of children’s books in the first half of the twentieth century.
Colum’s The King of Ireland’s Son, illustrated by Willy Pogány, has many stories woven into a framing narrative. Between the time when Connal, the King of Ireland’s son, is sent on a quest by the Enchanter and the end where he and Fedelma, the Enchanter’s daughter are finally married, there are many stories and adventures, some concerning Connal and Fedelma, and some being stories told by our characters — stories within stories.
As in all Colum’s books for children, the art of the storyteller is always close to the surface.
And then a flock of ravens came from the rocks, and flying straight at them attacked Fedelma and the King of Ireland’s Son. The King’s Son sprang from the steed and taking his sword in his hand he fought the ravens until he drove them away. They rode on again. But now the ravens flew back and attacked them again and the King of Ireland’s Son fought them until his hands were wearied. He mounted the steed again, and they rode swiftly on. and the ravens came the third time and attacked them more fiercely than before. The King’s Son fought them until he had killed all but three and until he was covered with their blood and feathers.
Colum’s children’s books, published by Macmillan, are drawn from the literature of a number of countries and cultures. His The Golden Fleece and The Children’s Homer were much-read and constantly recommended for youth, and his Hawaiian stories were written at the request of the Hawaiian legislature. His Irish stories include The Girl who Sat by the Ashes, and The White Sparrow, and The Forge in the Forest is a collection of stories of different cultures all told in a forge, a traditional setting for storytelling.
Typically, Colum’s books have stories within a story, so that the narrator and context of the storytelling is part of the story. In The Big Tree of Bunlahy, for example, the narrator sets the scene by claiming that the big elm tree in his small native village is world-famous. The narrator proceeds to tell of many instances where he sat under the tree as a boy, often in the context of an errand such as a visit to the shoemaker, and he tells of a colorful series of people who gathered under the tree, and the stories that they told on different occasions. Stories vary from early Irish literature such as the story of Oisín (Usheen) and Tír na nÓg, to stories about animals and birds.
Colum’s children’s books are just one aspect of the literature for which he was known. He was already well-known in Ireland as a playwright and a poet when he left for America in 1914. In fact, he is mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses as one of Ireland’s most promising young writers in 1904.
In his long career in America he taught literature at Columbia University in New York, sometimes co-teaching along with Mary Colum, his wife.
Another Irish emigrant, Ella Young, who made her home in California in the 1920s, was involved, as Colum was, in the Irish Literary Revival. She, too, taught in a university. She taught Irish myth and lore at the University of Berkeley in California. And Irish myth and lore is at the center of her books of stories for children. Shown above is her 1932 book, The Unicorn with Silver Shoes, illustrated by Robert Lawson.
The Wonder Smith and His Son was a Newbery Honor book in 1928, and The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales was a Newbery Honor book in 1930.
The Wonder Smith is Young’s name for An Gobán Saor, a mythical builder, stonemason and trickster, who figures in many Irish folktales. The title page by Boris Artzybasheff, with its decorations inspired by the designs on Irish illuminated manuscripts, enhances the idea of these tales orginating in ‘the golden childhood of the world’.
It is interesting that the works of these two writers of the Irish Revival, settled in America, were selected by American publishers and reviewers alike. They represent a new image of Ireland for American readers, one of a nation with its own folklore and literary traditions. Earlier books such as Only an Irish Boy by Horatio Alger, told stories of Irish immigrant children who ‘made good’ in America, and so the insistence of these writers on the existence and richness of Ireland’s culture was probably very welcome.
Our Fall 2013 exhibit was on Irish children’s literature, and we hope to have a selection from that exhibit online in the near future.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to you and yours from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!
The above illustration depicts the oft-described reversal in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, from the French Army’s almost inevitable defeat to a decisive win. At a point when the battle between the French and the Allied coalition of English, French and Hanoverian troops was almost over for the French, a line of Irish regiments advanced.
Accounts of the battle claim that the Irish Colonel Lally shouted “Cuimhnidh ar Luimneach agus ar feall na Sasanach!” And that this cry was repeated down the ranks. “Remember Limerick and the treachery of the English” is a reference to the Treaty of Limerick of 1691, broken by the English not long after it was made.
This print, new to our collection, is by Irish artist and cartoonist John Dooley Reigh (1851-1914) who contributed illustrations to periodicals such as The United Irishman, Shamrock, Zoz, and others. As we add this print to our collection, we note that it is not our only illustration celebrating that battle, and indeed, were we to explore our collections, we would find many accounts and references to the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fontenoy.
We select two examples to display here, an American print and a broadside ballad.
The print shown below, also from the 1880s, was produced by Kurz and Allison of Chicago. In this illustration the military leaders are less prominent than the fighting men, and the tattered green flag with the Irish harp emblem is prominent.
Elsewhere, we have an example of the Battle of Fontenoy as recounted in nineteenth-century Ireland in our the Broadside Ballads collection. “Fontenoy” by Thomas Davis introduces the Irishmen’s advance with a summary of the wrongs inflicted by the English:
… How fierce the look these exiles wear, who’re wont to be so gay, The treasured wrongs of fifty years are in their hearts to-day— The treaty broken, ere the ink wherewith ’twas writ could dry, Their plundered homes, their ruined shrines, their women’s parting cry, Their priesthood hunted down like wolves, their country overthrown— Each looks as if revenge for all were staked on him alone On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, nor ever yet elsewhere, Rushed on to fight a nobler band than these proud exiles were. …
Ninety years ago, Francis O’Neill made the University of Notre Dame the valuable gift of his remarkable personal library, a library known primarily for its collections on Irish music and Irish history.
Though the magazine covers literature, history and politics, it is for the music that O’Neill collected these volumes, as borne out by both his pencil annotations on the pages and his listing of these volumes under ‘Musical History and Literature’ in his inventory of the collection (O’Neill Library Inventory, MSN/MN 0502: Series 2).
The periodical ran, with various name-changes, from 1839 until 1843. When William Elliot Hudson (1796-1853) became editor, his brother, Henry Hudson (1798-1889) contributed a regular section on Irish music. This is the same Henry Hudson, a dentist with a practice on St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, whose manuscripts found their way into various collections including that of Francis O’Neill. We know how O’Neill came by the manuscript from a letter he wrote to Charlotte Milligan Fox in 1911:
When I obtained the MSS. Volume referred to on pages 68 and 249 of “Irish Folk Music” through Nassau Massey, Cork, I was informed that some four or five similar volumes had been purchased for the Boston Library. These latter, it appears, reached Mr. Massey, and were disposed of before the volume I now possess came into his hands.
O’Neill’s letter is published in an article by Fox, “Concerning the William Elliott Hudson Collection of Irish Folk Songs” in which she describes her discovery of the five notebooks in the Boston Public Library, and also argues erroneously that the author is William E. Hudson.
Hudson transcribed the songs and melodies at a time of enthusiasm for collecting and preserving traditional music of Ireland. Edward Bunting’s published collections, beginning with the melodies he transcribed from the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, inspired a number of others to engage in similar work.
While the manuscript notebooks are filled with the songs or melodies, his published sections on Irish music include also lengthy introductions to the songs. The February 1941 issue of The Citizen also includes an essay on the printing of Irish music.
In our present number we again present our readers with three Irish airs. In the mechanical departments of the work, we are but experimenting. The neglect of every matter of art in Ireland has hitherto been so great, that we have had to cope with difficulties, which few, possibly , of our readers, are prepared to appreciate. The metals to be graven, — the tools to be employed,– the inks to be used, are all in a state of imperfection. The result is, and it has been the case for years, that those requiring any musical work of nicety to be executed, go, or send to London for it; and thus, even in Bunting’s last beautiful work, in the bringing out of which so much notationality has been tastefully displayed, the reader will find the last page deformed with the announcement, “London, engraved by H. T. Skarratt, 5, Eyre-street, Hatton-garden.” One hundred and thirteen plates for an irish work, especially national, engraved in London!
The Citizen or Dublin Monthly Magazine XVI, no. III, February 1841. P. 134
Hudson assigned Irish language titles along with English titles to most of his tunes. Examples are “Fuaim na dTonn” / “The Sound of the Waves” and “An Deoruide Tuirseach” / “The Weary Wanderer”.
Hudson’s series of notebooks of music manuscripts is divided across three libraries: one in the National Library of Ireland, five in the Boston Public Library, and one here in Notre Dame’s Special Collections.
Our notebook has been digitized may be viewed online, and digital copies of those at the Boston Public Library are available in the Internet Archive:
St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st, marks the beginning of Spring in the Irish calendar.
In our exhibition of Irish children’s literature some years ago, we showed the first children’s alphabet book written completely in Irish that we know of — Na Rudaí Beaga (c. 1920) by Pádraig Ó Bróithe, illustrated by Lucas Rooney. We recently added a bilingual alphabet to our collection. An Alphabet of Irish Saints, illustrated by the same artist, was first published in 1915.
This book has a two-page spread for letters of the 18-letter Irish alphabet, each entry listing a saint and including a verse in English by Charlotte Dease and one in Irish by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha. An illustration, an ornate letter in the Gaelic font, and notes on the saint and associated place and festivals complete each entry.
The English verse refers to the story of Brigid receiving a promise that she could have all the land that her shawl, or mantle, could cover, to build her abbey. Her shawl spread to cover a great expanse of land. While this verse suggests a learned woman leader who could also cook, scrub and sew, the Irish verse must have been far less appealing to any young reader. It takes the form of a prayer to St. Brigid, and the prayer asks that the comely young women of Ireland would emulate her in practicing hard work.
Whether or not Brigid was a real person, an abbess in the fifth century, her legends have been part of Irish tradition and custom for centuries. In fact, look closely at the illustration above, and see the rushes strewn on the floor. These were surely added by the artist in reference to the story of the saint weaving a cross of rushes from the floor, and hence the traditional Crois Bhrighde, or Brigid’s Crosses, made at this time of year around the island of Ireland through many generations.
Ireland’s Great Famine began in 1845 when the potato crop, the main food of much of the population, was destroyed by a potato blight. This blight recurred in the following years, leading to the deaths of over a million people. With the emigration of up to another million people, Ireland lost almost a quarter of its population.
Among the vast range of books and other materials our library has to help us study the Famine, there are a couple of rare or unique items. Such items give insight into various aspects of people and communities. One such item is the notebook shown here, the accounts of a soup kitchen, one of the many set up to give relief during the Famine.
This is the daybook, or notebook, listing all the receipts and expenditures for Drumbo Soup Kitchen from December 1846 to March 1848, accompanied by a sheet of tickets for Drumbo Soup Kitchen (MSE/IR 0100). Of the various places of that name, this is most likely Drumbo, County Down. This has not yet been verified. It was acquired by the Library in 2012.
The expenditure gives us an idea of the ingredients. In January 1st, 1846, purchases included cayenne pepper, black pepper, split peas, whole peas, barley, beef, cow’s head and carrots.
The 32-page notebook includes the names and amounts of cash subscriptions, and the notebook bears the treasurer’s name — “Dr. James Orr, Treasurer to the Drumbo Soup Kitchen.”
Along with the notebook is a sheet of printed tickets with the following text: “Drumbo: Soup Kitchen: One Ration. Paid, One Penny.”
2019-2020 marks the two hundred years anniversary of Washington Irving’s first publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which includes the perennial Halloween favorite “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow”. In the time since its publication, the story has found its way into films, TV shows, other books, and various other popular culture references. In honor of the anniversary, we’ve selected it for our 2020 Halloween tale.
The particular volume shown in this post came to us across the ocean from Ireland. It was part of the library of Walter Sweetman, a nineteenth-century Catholic landowner in County Wexford. When the Sweetman family of South Dakota inherited the Irish property, all the books from the library were included with furniture, but many perished from exposure to the salt water. It’s a pity our conservators were not involved in organizing that shipment. We like to imagine a reader in a large Irish country house reading of Sleepy Hollow with the backdrop of an Irish stormy evening.
Irving’s headless horseman was not the first of his kind, however. Riders who have lost or carry their head appeared in various stories and folklore before featuring as Ichabod Crane’s nemesis, beginning as early as the 14th century poem Gawain and the Green Knight. In Irish legend, the Dullahan or dúlachán is a Grim Reaper-like rider who carries his head under his arm (sometimes also known as the Gan Ceann, meaning literally “without a head” in Irish). (See Jessica Traynor’s ‘How tales of the headless horseman came from Celtic mythology’ in the Irish Times, October 23, 2019.)
Our colleague Doug Archer, a longtime activist for intellectual freedom and a Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor awardee, has always used Banned Books Week as a time to raise awareness of threats to intellectual freedom. During this year’s Banned Books Week (September 27 to October 3), since Doug is enjoying his well-earned retirement, we decided to dive into our collections and identify books whose circulation has been impeded in different times and places.
In this post, you will find an assortment of examples that show various types of books and the ways that they have been withheld, by government or by church, nationally or locally, in various parts of the world.
This was the poster for our 2008 exhibit on the Index of Prohibited Books, curated by Benjamin Panciera (now Director of Special Collections and Archives at Connecticut College). The Freedom to Read and the Care of Souls: The Index of Prohibited Books since the Enlightenment examined how the Catholic Church sought to influence the circulation of ideas in the 19th and 20th centuries and what sort of material was considered dangerous.
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list compiled by the Catholic Church over a period of four centuries, consisted of a large number of books that lay Catholics were not permitted to read. Galileo’s Dialogo dei massimi sistemi [Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems] was added to the Index in 1634 and was not removed until 1822. In addition, Galileo was tried for heresy in 1633 and placed under house arrest, where he remained until his death almost a decade later.
One of the most famous pronouncements on censorship of a literary work, which occurred in the U.S., is that of Judge Woolsey on James Joyce’s Ulysses. This was widely reported in newspapers at the time.
James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a novel which has been banned from the United States by custom censors on the ground that it might cause American readers to harbor “impure and lustful thoughts,” found a champion yesterday in the United States District Court.
Federal Judge John M. Woolsey, after devoting almost a month of his time to reading the book, ruled in an opinion which he filed in court that “Ulysses” not only was not obscene in a legal sense, but that it was a work of literary merit.
New York Times, December 7, 1933.
As we have seen in the case of Galileo (above), in various places and at various times in history, censorship has not only prevented people from access to certain books, but has sometimes punished, imprisoned, or publicly shamed their authors.
This rare book is an example of early Stalin propaganda. It became the first and only Stalin-era book that glorified the use of slave labor in the massive building projects of the 1930s. An estimated 170,000 prisoners worked in subhuman conditions on Belomorkanal, moving stones and digging the canal using their bare hands or primitive materials and technologies. Tens of thousands of inmates died during the twenty-one months of its construction (1931–33).
Commissioned by Stalin and published in Moscow in 1934 to coincide with the opening of the infamous XVII Party Congress, this book was presented as a souvenir to Congress delegates to celebrate the success of the First Soviet Industrial Five-Year Plan. Thirty-six Soviet writers and many leading artists, including the avant-garde photographer Aleksandr Rodchenko, visited the Canal and contributed their essays and photographic images of prisoners to praise the “transforming power” of the Gulag. By 1937, at the height of the Stalin Great Terror, the policy of “reeducating” class enemies through corrective labor was replaced by mass arrests, imprisonments and executions. The new policy called for the physical extermination of the “enemies of the people” and the obliteration of their names from the public record, including books. Four years after its publication, even this blatantly propagandist piece was found suspect and withdrawn from circulation; most copies were destroyed, and its many contributors were sent to the Gulag.
While many countries have not taken such extreme measures against authors, censorship has sometimes been carried out along with public shaming.
In Ireland, books that portrayed indecency or behavior that was not approved by the Catholic Church were often subject to censorship. A famous case was that of The Tailor and Ansty, Eric Cross’s book portraying the storytelling and commentary of a rural couple, Tadhg Ó Buachalla and his wife Anastasia, or Ansty. Not only was the book the subject of government debate over a four-day period, but the couple were visited by a priest (or three priests in some accounts) and ordered to burn their own copy of the book.
In the first decade of Ireland’s Free State, the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, was enacted to prohibit the sale and distribution of “unwholesome literature”. Over the next forty years, hundreds of books were banned from sale in Ireland.
Ethel Voynich’s popular novel, The Gadfly, first published in the U.S. in 1897, was banned in Ireland in 1943. We had occasion to pull this book off the shelves as a Notre Dame student who is writing her senior thesis on this novel is particularly interested in why the book, popular elsewhere in Europe, was little known and also banned in Ireland.
Novels by Kate O’Brien were banned in Ireland and in Spain. The novel featured here, Land of Spices, was apparently banned in Ireland on account of one sentence in which the protagonist learns that her father was in a homosexual relationship. “She saw Etienne and her father in the embrace of love.” Thus the novel was deemed indecent and obscene.
Edna O’Brien, whose recent books include Girl (2019) and The Little Red Chairs (2016), is the author of novels that were very controversial in Ireland in the 1950s and ’60s. Her earliest novels, found offensive for their depiction of girls’ and women’s lives, including sexuality, were consistently banned by the Irish Censorship Board. O’Brien’s books circulated widely in spite of censorship, and the following account by Dónal Ó Drisceoil shows that the Irish Censorship Board was fighting a losing battle:
At a packed public meeting in Limerick in 1966, O’Brien asked for a show of hands as to how many had read her banned books: she was met with a sea of hands and much laughter.
Ó Drisceoil, 154
The censorship in Ireland of Frank O’Connor’s Kings, Lords, and Commons continues to provide amusement as the content that raised the censors’ concern was O’Connor’s translation of the acclaimed poem “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche” written in the eighteenth century by Brian Merriman. Much praised and valued as a literary work, the original Irish language text, and even earlier English translations, had never been censored, but this translation by O’Connor, conveying the humorous, hard-hitting language of sexually frustrated women, suggested that such lively discourse could exist in Irish-language literature, but not in English.
Once again, the Republic of Ireland is the place where this book by Hemingway was banned. This book and many others in our collection that could be freely read in the U.S. might not have been available to readers in Ireland and in other countries where such censorship was practiced. Examples of American books not allowed in Ireland for some time during the twentieth century include Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (banned 1933), Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos (banned 1934) and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (banned 1941).
Moving from national censorship to local censorship, the Hesburgh Libraries’ shelves are filled with books that have been censored in some way, either by being removed from the shelves of libraries, or being challenged and banned by local school boards. This is the kind of censorship that is generally of concern to the American Library Association, and that is highlighted during Banned Books Week.
Judy Blume, an author whose books have often been removed from school libraries, has become a spokesperson against the censorship of books. Her 1970 book, Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret, has a young protagonist who muses on, and discusses, sexuality, menstruation, bras, and religion. Reasons that the book has been challenged and sometimes removed from library shelves include the sexual content and the treatment of religion.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, has frequently been challenged, e.g. by parents asking school districts to have the book removed from library shelves. The combination of science and religion in the book, along with a kind of magic or fantasy, is at the root of many of the challenges. The American Library Association’ Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles annual lists of books based on reports they receive from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. For two decades, L’Engle’s novel was in the top one hundred challenged books.
More on the American Library Association’s findings on the books challenged throughout America may be learned by checking the Banned Books Week website.
Ó Drisceoil, Dónal. ‘The Best Banned in the Land: Censorship and Irish Writing since 1950’, in The Yearbook of English Studies 35 (2005), pp. 146-160. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3509330
Waterford-born artist William Hincks created a set of prints depicting linen production in the north of Ireland. It is assumed that he spent some time in Ulster, but this has not been documented. He published the prints in London in 1783, and the set was republished in 1791 by R. Pollard of Spafields, London.
The linen industry played an important part in Ireland’s economy, accounting for the occupations of a large proportion of the people of Ulster in the eighteenth century. The prints show a whole range of tasks performed in the pre-industrial production of linen, from ploughing and sowing flax seeds in a County Down field, to selling the linen at Dublin’s Linen Hall.
The fourth plate is the first with an indoor setting. Women, girls and a man are engaged in beetling, scutching and hackling. These were all very unfamiliar verbs for me, and I recommend the video of Ulster Folk Museum curator, Valerie Wilson, who describes the process of linen-making from beginning to end. The video is at the end of her blogpost, Warp and Weft: The Story of Linen in Ulster.
This print, the sixth in the series, shows women spinning, reeling, and boiling the yarn or thread.
Following spinning and boiling, the next print shows a weaving shed, with the tasks of winding, warping and weaving. At this time, Ulster had an estimated 40,000 weavers, so one can imagine that the activities depicted were common in villages and towns throughout the province.
As Irish economic history forms an important part of the Irish collections at the Hesburgh Libraries, we have many books treating various aspects of the linen industry. We are glad indeed to have a set of William Hincks’ prints, with their view of activities and equipment that were once an important part of Irish life.
RBSC is closed Monday, September 7th, for Labor Day.