Patrick Henchy, The National Library of Ireland, 1941-1976: A Look Back (1986) - extracts.

Full title: The National Library of Ireland, 1941-1976: A Look Back by Patrick Henchy: A Paper read to the National Library of Ireland Society, Tues. 22 Oct. 1985, foreword by Seán Ó Lúing [pp.3-4]. Publication details: Arna Fhoilsiú ag Cumann Leabharlann Náisúinta na hEireann 1986, 28pp. [incls. Acknows. To Michael Yeats for reproductions]

Library publications
R. J. Hayes succceeded R. I. Best as Director in 1940; David Green and Henchy fill posts at Assistant Librarian grade, July 1941; did not see much of Hayes 'as he had been seconded to work in Intelligence in the Department of Defence but he did still continue as Director and visited daily'; remarkably energetic man [7]

Henchy assigned to Dept. of Prints and Drawings assisting Miss R. N. Elmes in Catalogue of Irish topographical prints and drawings (Stat. Off. 1942)

Lawrence Collection
Acq. For £300 in 1941, 40,000 plates; firm of Lawrence, O'Connell St.; The light of Other Days, film dir Kieran Hickey and book of same title, 1973; subtit. Irish life at the turn of the century in the photographs of Robert French [9]

Henchy arranged for the removal of the gift of Jos. Holloway, architect and 'renowned theatre first-nighter and diarist; bachelor who lived at 21 Northumberbaldn Road and indeed there was scant room for even one person in that house, so crowded was it with his books and volumes of diaries. I still have a vivid picture of Josephen Hollowy, tall, edlderly, black hard hat, drooping moustache and untidy overcoat. He didn't talk much, but this did not matter as he had said it all in his diaries. (p.9; cartoon fig. of JH p.10.)

Acq. Library of Bulmer Hobson, Rathfarnham; 'this time I met a man who wlaked feely of experiences and was uninhibited in his comments and criticisms of his contemporaries. (p.9.)

1943 Library took over functions of Office of the Ulster King of Arms [to be] discharged by the Genealogical Office and Chief Herald. First appt. Dr E A MacLysaght, repv. Inspector of MSS for the Irish MSS Commission; 'this man of many parts was then fifty-six years of age, and is still happily with us and will be celebrating his ninety-eighth birthday next month. [Note: Dr. MacLysaght died on 4 March 1986, then aetat. 57.] His published memoirs are available for all who wish to know about him.

Ormond Deeds
Edmund Curtis had been calendaring the medieval documents; wrote to Dr Best informing him tha Lord Ossory (later Marquess of Ormonde) wd be leaving Kilkenny Castle for good and selling the effects; 'this makes me wonder what will happen to the manuscripts.. If Lord Ossory conveys the whole mass of his documents from 1185 onwards to English it will certianly be an irreparable loss to Irish historical records . the great mass of our history in the late 17 th century. I have reason to believe that most of this has not been calendared or published. [.] I therefore wish to urge that if possible this great collection should be acquired for the nation. Yours sincerely, Edmund Curtis. (p.11.)

The first deed was earlier; Confrimation by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster , of a grat of lands made by his liegeman Dermot O'Ryan, to the Convent of Jerpoint for establishing a daughter house of the Cistercian order of Killeny, Co. Kilkenny, 1162-65 . [11]

Hayes caused the Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Act, 1945, to be passed.

Kavanagh manuscripts
There has been much discussion recently about the literary remains of the poet, Patrick Kavanagh, and 1 was amazed that there was such a lack of knowledge, or even awareness, of the valuable Kavanagh collection in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library. In 1950, I negotiated with Paddy Kavanagh for the purchase of his manuscripts. He was a constant visitor to the Library and we had become good friends. When I asked him about his manuscripts, he replied that the early ones were in Monaghan, "probably lying under the bed being eaten by the Mucker mice." He expressed satisfaction when I told him that the Library would like to purchase them. He duly brought them along. A price was agreed, which, according to the standards of the time, was good, and Paddy was more than pleased. When asked about the manuscript of The great hunger which was not amongst the collection, he informed me that it did not exist. "This", he said, "I wrote on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper, including lavatory paper." He then agreed to write out a fair copy of The great hunger.

As there have been some media reports on the Kavanagh manuscripts which did not even refer to this collection, 1 am listing this collection in the National Library:

  • A variant version of Patrick Kavanagh's prose work published as The Green fool. In two holograph vols. c. 1938 (Ms 3213-3214).
  • Autograph poems ... 42 items in one vol. with details regarding those which were published between 1929 and 1941 (Ms 3215).
  • Eighty poems ... mainly unpublished. Holograph & typescript. 1937-8 (Ms 9579).
  • The great hunger. Fair copy in the author's hand. October, 1950. (Ms 3216).
  • A notebook ... containing miscellaneous jottings c.1927-30 (including local GAA details) (Ms 3218).
  • Cobbler's account book of Patrick Kavanagh (poet) 1929-39 (Ms 3217).
  • Cobbler's account book of James Kavanagh, father of Patrick Kavanagh, 1911-29 (Ms 3220).
[Henchy, p.15.]

Greatest literary collection in the National Library - the Yeats collection; Michael Yeats fnd member of Nat. Library Soc.

Inchiquin Manuscripts dating from 1543 presented to National Library by Lord Inchiquin when Dromoland Castle was converted by new owner to use as hotel, 1963.

National bibliography
Refers to ‘fertile brain’ of R. J. Hayes. Seq.: 'But in 1954 Mr. Frank Gallagher who sometime previously had been Director of the Govt. Information Bureau was appt. to a new post as Bibliographical Research Officer in the National Library. It had been suggested to Hayes that he would compile a Dictionary of National [17] Biography. Hayes, who was never one to put the cart before the horse, took matters into his own hands and decided that this would not be possible, without, first of all, compiling a National Bibliography (the source amterial for a National Biography). Frank Gallagher was accordingly - with some assistants that were allotted to him - put to work indexing the Irish periodical collection.

Printed matter was, however, just one part of the source material for a National Bibliography. Manuscript material, whatever the source, had also to be considewed. Already, in 1950, a departmental grant of £5,000 (a considerable sum in those days) had been made available as a first instalment for examining and filming Irish manuscripts abroad. The Trustees Report, 1950-51, gives a list of medieval manuscripts relating to Ireland up to 1200 AD. Ninety per cent of this source mateiral was in countries outside Ireland . These manuscripts were in [18] 138 different locations and it was estimated that it would take two or three years to film them. In the Vatican Library, Rev. R. Dodd, Rev. L. Boyle and Monsignor (now Bishop) Conway were engaged in this project. Dr. Ludwig Bieler was imilarily engaged in Austrian, and later in other countries.

Eventually, as a result of all this research and listing over two decades, Manuscript sources for the history of Irish civilisation, edited by R. J. Hayes was published in 11 vols. By G. K. Hall, Boston , in 1965. The time and energy of a large part of the staff had been engaged in this colossal project. Since then it has been kept up to date with supplements.

In the meanitme, the indexing of periodicals continued, and now this was published under the title: Sources for the history of Irish civilisation: articles in Irish periodicals, ed. by R. J . Hayes and published in nine vols. By G. K. Hall, Boston, 1970. (pp.18-19.)

An imaginative plan for indexing The Freeman's Journal [1763-1924] by prisoners in Portlaoise was initiated in 1954. The governor of the prison gave his active co-operation to the project. Within two years the indexing of five years of the newspaper had been completed, and the Trustee's Report tells us that "a very high standard of bibliographical accuracy has been maintained." This is not surprising as the standard of education of those who when to prison in those days was, on the whole, high. It was reckoned that the entire indexing would produce three million cars. The prisoners, too, as I can testify, were happy at this work. Unfortunately, the project ran into difficulties, and, although revived for a little while, was eventually discontinued. (p.19.)

Irish Land Commission docs. An idenex to Griffith 's Primary Valuation and the Tithe Applotment Books (c.1820-24) undertaken by Dr. Edward Keane, a Special Research Assistant (NLI).

Hayes resigned as Director, July, 1967, becoming Librarian of the Chester Beatty Library; Henchy succeeded him and remained in post for nine years. Serious overcrowding; acq. Morehampton Rd. , plans for new national library there; promise of a John F. Kennedy Cultural Centre at Beggar's Bush to incl. National Library; nothing came of this scheme because of financial stringency.

Kieran Hickey engaged by NLI Soc. To make an hour-long film, Portrait of a Library: The Natioanl Library of Ireland , spons. Bank of Ireland; script by Maurice Caig, narr. Cyril Cusack [here Cuscak], 'guides us through the many departments of the Library and gives us a glimpse of the wealth of the collections.' (p.22)

Lects. Incl. Maurice Craig, Irish Bindings, K. B. Nowlan, Irish Newspapers; sice lectures on Reireann.

Special grant given for acq. Of Book of Mág Shamhradháin ( Duanaire Mheug Shamhradháin ; NLI Ms G. 1200), 14 th c. vellum MS, oldest known duanaire of bardic poetry; talk given by Prof. Brian Ó Cuiv, publised and distrib. To members of the Society. (p.24)

Humphreys Rport 1971 [Dr kenneth Humphreys]; Minister of Ed. promised college of Art stie for buildings of National Library development, and also to make available accomm. In Leinster Lane (Trustees Report, 1971-72); Devlin Report, 1971, recommended that the NLI should be under the envisage Dept. of National Culture.

Richard Burke (Min. for Ed.) attended Trustees' meeting, April 1973, writing: 'that as a measure of the Minister's interest in the welfare of the Library, he was now entrusting to his Parliamentary Secretary, Mr John Bruton, the special duty of ensuring that all practical steps would be taken to ameliorate the Library's difficulties without delay.' (Here p.24.) There follows an account of Bruton's involvement incl. his attendance at meetings, opening address to Exhibition of National Library Buildings throguhout the World, arranged in Rome ath a UNESCO/IFLA Colloq., 2 Sept. 1973, and brought to Dublin for display in Nat. Library of Ireland, Dec. 1973. Bruton's his scheme to promote wider interest in national collections with educ. Centres at Trim and Castelbar as pilot schemes. New post of Education Officer in the Library created. (p.24.)

Publication of new and enl. Edn. Of Irish topographical prints and drawings ed. by Michael Hewson (Malton Press.NLI Soc. 1975)

Union list of periodical in Irish libraries (1975); edcu. Pack Irieland and Irishmen in the American War of Independence 1975); New edn. Of Clarlitriocht na Nua-Ghailge undertaken.

Leinster Lane premisses convered to Official Publications Dept.

'In February, 1976, Dr. R. J. Hayes who had become Librarian of the Chester Beatty Library died, and soon afterwards 1 resigned to succeed him in that post. At this point the curtain comes down on my talk on developments in the National Library, but before concluding I would like to say a few words on some of the personalities associated with the Library at that time.

I always had good relations with the Trustees and acknowledge their help and co-operation on all occasions. They were an illustrious group, and for some years included three class mates of James joyce: Prof. Felix Hackett who was Chairman for many years, Mr. Con Curran and Mr. Justice James Murnaghan. Another contemporary of Joyce who frequented the Library was Dr. Séamus Ó Ceallaigh. Both he and Murnaghan showed a certain dislike of Joyce and made it clear that they did not wish to co-operate when on behalf of Richard Ellmann I wished to interview them. Prof. George O'Brien, whose biography has been written by Prof. James Meenan, succeeded Felix Hackett as Chairman in 1967. He, in turn, was succeeded by Sir George Mahon. Some of the other names worth recalling and well known for their activities in the fields of literature and scholarship are: Seán Ó Faoláin, Mary Lavin, Prof. F. X. Martin, Sir John Galvin, [26] Maurice Craig, and Sybil Le Brocquy. It is worth noting as evidence of the good understanding that existed between the Trustees and this Society that one of the Trustees, Mr. Eric Lambert, was for a period Chairman of the Society.

The Joly connection
Sybil Le Brocquy was a lady who involved herself in a wide range of cultural activities and in doing good wherever she went. I recall how one Sunday in 1974 she got me to drive her to Offaly to search for the grave of Jaspar Joly. We found it eventually in Clonbullogue, and this Society was responsible for putting on the tombstone the inscription which tells of Joly's great gift of books, niss and maps which led to the establishment of the National Library. That trip also led to the discovery of the Joly family papers which were acquired by the National Library and were the subject of a paper read by me to the Society which was later published in the issue of the Irish University Review devoted to the National Library centenary in 1977.

When Sybil died in 1973 her friends decided to commemorate her [27] by seeking to restore the decaying Rutland memorial in Merrion Square . The restoration which t as carried out in co-operation with the Corporation of'Dublin bears t e inscription cut in the seat facing the street which reads:

This fountain was restored by the Corporation of Dublin as part of its contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. The project was assisted by generous donations from friends of Sybil Le Brocquy, 1892-1973 whose enthusiasm for life, literature and the arts enriched many lives.

I have in my possession a film of the opening ceremony which was performed by President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

Among the many readers and scholars whom it was my privilege to know and assist over the years, there is one scholar whom 1 will select for special mention - Richard Ellmann - but, as in the case of Sybil Le Brocquy, it is not possible to convey here an adequate picture of this outstanding scholar. He came to Ireland after the war to study the writings of Yeats, Joyce and Wilde and became a leading authority on these authors. He is best remembered for his biographies of Yeats and Joyce ( Yeats: the Man and the Masks , 1949 and James Joyce, 1959). The National Library became his spiritual home, and I became his chief helper. I can recall how pleased he was when I dug out from a collection of old posters the programme for the bazaar "Araby" held in Dublin , 14-19 May, 1894. Araby is, of course, the title of one of joyce's stories in Dubliners, and here we had some proof of its factual background. 1 have told elsewhere of our successful trip to interview Nora Joyce's sister, Kathleen.

I will conclude on what 1 regard as a happy note for this Society. A constant Friday visitor to the Library was the late Barry Brown of Naas. Barry, born into a prosperous legal family, had an adventurous life and served in the first World War where he suffered the loss of an eye, was himself a solicitor and became County Registrar for Kildare. His heart, however, was not in the law, but in book collecting, and it was in that capacity that I got to know him. He had a unique collection of rare books and pamphlets, and Teerinck in his Bibliography of Swift lists some of them. He was always glad to get any discarded antique book dealers' catalogues from the Library. He and his wife Petronella had no family, and, as a result of the will of Petronella who outlived Barry by some years, a large sum of money was left to be administered by three trustees. We are now glad to learn that these trustees are making available a sum of £30,000 for the promotion of the National Library of Ireland Society.


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