America’s Great Libraries of Irish Literature

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Irish Sweepstakes


Thursday, March 26, 1959

One might expect to find America’s great libraries of Irish literary and political culture in cities like Boston where Irish immigrants settled in large numbers and left a lasting legacy on the community’s identity. To be sure, the self-styled Athens of America houses two such libraries, at Boston College and Harvard University. Few would imagine, however, that a library in Lawrence, Kansas might have an Irish collection that rivals or even excels those.

But with holdings ranging from first edition works of novelist James Joyce and poet William Butler Yeats to original programs from the early years of the celebrated Abbey Theatre, from the writings of eighteenth-century Irish martyr Theobald Wolfe Tone to the polemics of the Irish revolutionary group Sinn Fein, the Department of Special Collections at the University of Kansas' Kenneth Spencer Research Library can boast one of the most sweeping and distinctive assemblages of Irish materials in any library outside the Emerald Isle itself.

KU’s first Irish literary collection came in 1953 with a purchase of rare James Joyce material, but the heart of its Irish holdings arrived later that decade when one of Ireland’s great private libraries went on the market. Assembled over the course of more than half a century by Patrick Sarsfield O’Hegarty, a Dublin bookseller, editor, and ardent Irish nationalist, the bulk of this library came to the University in two distinct shipments. The first, which reached Mount Oread at the end of 1955, amounted to one of the finest compilations of Yeats material in the world and, despite its narrow focus, was sufficiently broad to include first edition works from the Abbey Theatre, which the poet and playwright had co-founded in 1903. The second, representing the bulk of O’Hegarty’s library, came on March 26, 1959 in some 34 crates weighing a total of 11 tons. Though especially noteworthy for its Irish literature and political writings, it reflected the broader interests of the man who assembled it.

Many, perhaps most, private libraries given en bloc to institutions of various kinds have been amassed by bibliophiles with an eye for especially rare and valuable works. This was not the case with the O’Hegarty Collection, however. O’Hegarty’s was a reader’s library, put together, often one book at a time, by a man who collected books not because they were highly valued but because he enjoyed them and, in the case of his political tracts, because he was passionate about what they represented. For this reason, the story of KU’s O’Hegarty Collection is inextricably tied to the man who assembled it.

P. S. O’Hegarty was born in Cork in December 1879 to parents who had only recently returned from America. Like many of their countrymen who were frustrated by English rule over Ireland and facing lean times at home, his parents had emigrated to the United States in the decade after the American Civil War. His father had been naturalized as a US citizen, but his heart had remained with his homeland, and so he returned with his young wife to Cork not long after their wedding. A few years after O’Hegarty’s birth, his father contracted tuberculosis, which prevented him from providing for his family, and shortly before O’Hegarty’s ninth birthday, his father died. Consequently, O’Hegarty and his brother were raised by their mother, who scrubbed floors, took in laundry, and worked as a cook to make ends meet.

O’Hegarty’s formal schooling ended abruptly in 1895 when he was dismissed from the Christian Brothers School for reasons that are less than clear. His mother found him a job as a law clerk, but two years later, at the age of 18, he began what was to be his professional career with the post office when he took a job as a clerk there. At the time, the post office was part of the civil service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which had been so named in 1801. (Great Britain itself had been so-dubbed as a result of the merger of Scotland and England in 1707.) Despite its moniker, the unity between Ireland and rest of the UK was more coercive than organic.

Ireland had essentially been colonized by the English in the 1500s, and England had exercised authority of varying sorts and degrees since. The Catholic majority of the nation, which had been stripped of many of its rights including representation in the Irish Parliament, initially welcomed the Act of Union in 1801 since it held the promise of increased liberties, but King George III and Parliament insisted on continuing the anti-Catholic policies of their predecessors. Catholic emancipation did, in fact, come in 1829 and a debate within the UK over the merits of Irish self-government was carried on through much of the mid-nineteenth century. However, “Home Rule” never came to fruition.

Predictably, many in Ireland had long opposed British dominance, and despite Catholic emancipation, a number of secret organizations dedicated to Irish independence emerged. The Fenians, as the more radical branch of the Irish nationalists were known, led several abortive revolts, perhaps the best-known of which came in 1848 and gave birth to the multi-national Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). But by the close of the nineteenth century, this opposition wasn’t seen only in political organizations.

Indeed, by the turn of the century, Irish resistance was coalescing into a movement that was not only political but deliberately cultural. Fearing that English cultural domination might continue even in an independent Ireland, there was a renewed emphasis on Irish culture. On the one hand, Sinn Fein, the most famous of the Irish rebel groups, was born under the leadership of Arthur Griffith. On the other, and often in lockstep with the political rebels, poets like William Butler Yeats, novelists like James Joyce, and playwrights like John Millington Synge produced self-consciously Irish works, drawing on Irish folklore and rejecting English influences. Indeed, there was even a renewed emphasis on adopting the Irish language (Irish Gaelic).

Thus, O’Hegarty, who from his childhood in Cork had been steeped in Fenian ideology, came of age at a particularly vital time in Irish history. Not surprisingly, he welcomed its cultural flowering in the early twentieth century. And when the postal service transferred him to London to work at its headquarters in 1902, he developed close connections in both Fenian circles and Irish literary groups. He remained in London for more than a decade where he distinguished himself within the service, and while he was there, as his friend Colm O Lochlainn later recalled, he became “a prominent figure in all Irish activities.” By 1910, his reputation was growing as he increasingly lent his considerable talent as a prose stylist to the cause of Irish independence, writing for numerous nationalist publications and serving as the editor of Irish Freedom (the IRB’s paper) from 1911-1913 and the Gaelic League’s An t-Eireannach in 1913. “Concessions be damned,” he wrote in a typical piece penned in 1911, “we want our country.”

In 1913, O’Hegarty returned to Ireland as the Postmaster of Queenstown, which was renamed Cobh in 1922. (The port city 20km south of Cork is best known for being the place from which 1.5 million emigrants left Ireland during and immediately after the Potato Famine of the late 1840s). His return to Ireland, however, was a brief one. Four days after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the postal service sent him to England, ostensibly on a matter of business. When he arrived, however, he was informed that he had been stripped of his postmastership in Queenstown and re-assigned to a post office in Wales where the British government could keep a closer eye on him. His writings, as his grandson later noted, “had made him a marked man.” He remained in England for several years and continued to write in support of Irish independence. In 1915, he married Wilhemina Rebecca Smyth whom he had met through Robert Lynd, a celebrated essayist and Irish nationalist.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, IRB leaders were putting together a plan for a military uprising. Joined by socialist leader James Connolly, Padraig Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Sean McDermott, Thomas Clarke, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas MacDonagh issued a proclamation rejecting British rule and declaring the existence of an Irish Republic on Easter Sunday 1916. A military uprising of about 1,250 men seized key locations in Dublin, including its post office. Within a week, the British had squashed it, however, and sixteen of the men who had led it were executed by the military for treason in a time of war. Though the Rising hadn’t garnered widespread support and had been blamed for civilian casualties incurred in the fighting, the execution of its leaders by the British provoked widespread outrage in Ireland and lent increased support to groups like Sinn Fein.

Stressed by the demands of the Great War and facing rebellions in other quarters of their empire as well, the British government passed a statute requiring all civil service employees to take an oath of allegiance to the crown in 1918. Predictably enough given his political leanings, O’Hegarty refused to do so, and so he resigned his position at the post office and returned to Ireland, this time Dublin, where he took over a bookshop.

The decision to become a bookseller was a natural one for O’Hegarty. During his youth in Cork, O’Hegarty had been struck by the vitality and intellectual atmosphere of a particular second-hand bookshop where men gathered after closing to debate a wide variety of matters; an affinity for such bookstores remained with him throughout his life. Indeed, he seldom passed one without taking at least a cursory look: “Never pass a bookshop if you have time to go in and look around,” he admonished would-be book collectors later in life. “I know you were in there yesterday, and there was nothing there. But one of the books you want may just come in at any odd moment. There is always the chance.”

O’Hegarty, then, had been collecting books since his childhood, and by the time he returned from London “he had amassed an enormous library” of his own. But it wasn’t only the books themselves that appealed to him. He was also captivated by the ideas they sparked and the discussions they engendered. At the time, the latter often took place in the bookshops themselves. Decidedly masculine in their clientele, the bookshops acted as clubs of a sort, as O'Hegarty pointed out, in which “men [could] meet and argue, persuasively driving home an argument by picking a book off a shelf and quoting from it.” Given the renaissance in Irish literature and momentous political events that marked the early-twentieth century in Ireland, such shops would have been vibrant.

Second-hand bookshops, he believed, had “character, individuality, crabbedness sometimes, but the dust in them,” he eloquently added, “is the dust of the imaginations of centuries of humanity.” (New bookstores, by contrast, were “indistinguishable in spirit from a grocer’s shop and [had] about as much character.”) Not surprisingly, considering the milieu of the time and O’Hegarty’s connections with many of the leading literary and political figures of the day, his shop quickly became “a Mecca for all Dublin booklovers” and a “centre of intellectuality.”

O’Hegarty remained deeply involved with Irish political movements, writing for nationalist journals and newspapers, and even served on the IRB’s Supreme Council, though “he mistrusted [its] increasing emphasis on force.” Although he was not formally trained as a historian, he published the first of a number of his own works of history, all of which had a decidedly Irish bent, in 1917. It was a biography of John Mitchel, a noted nineteenth century Irish nationalist. Three shorter works followed quickly on its heels: The Indestructible Nation, Sinn Fein, an Illumination, and Ulster, A Brief Statement of Fact, the first in 1918 and the second and third in 1919.

A year after O’Hegarty returned to Ireland, a guerilla conflict remembered as the Anglo-Irish War began when a revolutionary Irish parliament (the Dail Eirann) was convened and the Irish Republican Army, claiming legitimacy from the Dail Eirann, mounted a campaign against the British. The British cracked down on the Irish again. The so-called Black and Tans, who were primarily World War I veterans, began raiding homes and arresting people on little more than suspicion, even shooting unarmed civilians. This sort of behavior swung popular support in the IRA’s favor. Irish dock workers, for instance, refused to unload war materiel from British ships, and engineers refused to operate trains with British troops on board.

Perhaps more significantly, the Anglo-Irish War began costing Britain in the court of international opinion. Of course, the activities of the Black and Tans undercut Britain’s moral authority, but other incidents played a role as well. In the midst of the conflict, for instance, one of O’Hegarty’s childhood friends from Cork, Terence McSwiney, was put on trial by the British for seditious speech. McSwiney launched a hunger strike in August 1920 that ultimately ended in his starvation. His political imprisonment and subsequent death drew international attention to Ireland’s plight and cast the British in a bad light.

All of this bode ill for Britain, which was facing an economic downturn with rising unemployment at home. As a result of the treaty conditions that ended WWI, the nation was financially strapped in the post-war period, but dealing with expanding imperial mandates (particularly in the Middle East). Consequently, at the end of 1921, they signed a treaty with the Irish leaders, establishing the Irish Free State (the forerunner of today’s Republic of Ireland). The treaty gave Ireland the self-government which it had sought for so long, but it kept the nation under British dominion (in a relationship with Britain not unlike that of Canada at the time).

Furthermore, its provisions allowed the six counties of Northern Ireland to opt out of the Irish Free State, which they did. Neither the British nor the Irish thought that the arrangement with regard to Northern Ireland would be tenable for long. However, the fact that the Irish Free State remained a dominion of the larger British Empire created a rift in Irish society, and a civil war broke out between the treaty’s supporters and opponents—a war its supporters won. (As an unintended consequence, the civil war actually hardened the partition in the north.)

For his part, O’Hegarty supported the treaty, albeit with some misgivings, and in 1922 he edited The Separatist, “a short-lived journal which sought to heal the cleavage caused by the Treaty and Civil War.” Given his connections among the Irish political elite and his postal experience, it isn’t surprising he was made the state’s first Secretary of the Post Office. He took up his duties in that capacity in 1922, and retained them (albeit with some changes in title) until December 1944 when he reached the mandatory retirement age.

O’Hegarty’s administrative responsibilities didn’t deter him from continuing to run the bookshop (though thanks to a law proscribing government officials from trading under their own names, he often acquired books under his wife’s maiden name, W. R. Smyth). In fact, his fellow Dubliners often spotted him riding around the city on his “old-fashioned bicycle,” umbrella tucked beneath his arm, his jacket pockets—including a special one he had had sewn inside—filled with books. And so his library continued to grow.

For that matter, he continued to publish his own works. In 1922, he published a memoir of his friend Terence McSwiney, and two years later published perhaps his best known book, The Victory of Sinn Fein. He finally completed his magnum opus, A History of Ireland under the Union, 1801-1922 five years after his retirement, though it wasn’t issued until 1952.

In addition to writing histories of Irish resistance, operating the bookshop, and his responsibilities as Secretary of the Post Office, he regularly contributed to numerous political journals and newspapers. He also managed to assemble more than 20 bibliographies of the works of prominent Irish leaders and writers like McSwiney, some of the Rising leaders, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins (an enormously influential figure in the Dail Eirann and the leader of the original IRA), and James Joyce. And, of course, he continued to add books to his already immense personal library.

By 1953, however, O’Hegarty’s health was beginning to decline, and looking at the tens of thousands of volumes that lined the shelves of his home, he drew up a shorthand inventory of his library to aid his wife in selling it in the event of his death. Classifying his books into 15 categories, he touched on the highlights of each section and suggested where it would fetch the highest price at auction. Even a cursory glance at the list reveals that he had accumulated a remarkable library indeed.

The heart of O’Hegarty’s library was found in its assemblage of Irish materials, both political and literary. Among the journals, articles, polemics, broadsides, leaflets, and posters could be found The United Irishman, a journal edited by Arthur Griffith, and Sinn Fein, its successor. Likewise, it contained The Worker’s Republic, a short-lived journal edited by James Connolly and a printing from the Gaelic press in 1925 commemorating Connolly’s execution for his part in the Rising. For that matter, it also included some of the earliest copies of the proclamation from the 1916 rebellion announcing the existence of the Irish Republic and the text of Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh’s address to the court following his sentencing. Pamphlets advocating the positions of both sides of the civil war, and polemics by Eamon de Valera (perhaps the most influential political figure in twentieth century Irish history, who had been a participant in the Easter Rising, the leader of Sinn Fein, the president of the Dail Eirann, and later of the President of Ireland itself) were also numbered among his collection.

Ironically, given his political connections, the real strength of O’Hegarty’s library was its nineteenth—not twentieth—century political documents. There were, for example, better than 160 pamphlets from the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, an organization which lasted only six years, from 1885-1891. Indeed, some of the political material stretched back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Perhaps the most celebrated of these were those by Theobald Wolfe Tone, who was convicted of treason by the British court in 1798 on his own confession that he “regarded the connection between Great Britain and Ireland as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced that, while it lasted, [Ireland] could never be free nor happy.”

Equally impressive was O’Hegarty’s collection of Irish literature. In part this stemmed from the fact that he was as connected with Irish literary figures as he was with political ones, and many of the works in his library included inscriptions or letters. Among the volumes of Irish literature on his shelves could be found works by Michael and Richard Banim (the first major Irish Catholic novelists), William Carleton and Charles Lever (both of whom had died before O’Hegarty was born), George William Russell (a good friend of O’Hegarty’s who wrote under the pseudonym AE), James Stephens (best remembered for his retelling of Irish fairy tales), Lord Dunsany (a noted playwright), Samuel Lover (a well-known songwriter, novelist and painter), and George Moore (a writer and poet who was immortalized in a painting by his friend Edouard Manet).

Arguably the crown jewel of his library was his Yeats collection, which included the first edition of all of the noted poet’s works except the very rare Mosada (1886) and The Hour Glass (1903), the latter being a privately printed edition of only 19 copies. By themselves, these first editions would be valuable, but he also had some correspondence of Yeats and a number of books from Yeats’ own library and from the libraries of the poet’s family, complete with inscriptions. Probably most significantly, however, some of the works had Yeats’ own annotations in them, and these, of course, are truly one-of-a-kind. In part, O’Hegarty had access to this material because his daughter had married Yeats’ son (an indication of the circles in which O’Hegarty moved). But his Yeats collection didn’t stop there. O’Hegarty had even tracked down various journals (some quite short-lived) that had carried articles by or about Yeats, along with the published record of Irish Parliamentary debates for the years in which the poet had served as a Senator.

And to the Yeats material proper was added full sets of publications from the Dun Emer and Cuala Press, which had been founded by Yeats and his sisters, Elizabeth and Lily, in the first decade of the twentieth century to publish works by Irish writers and to provide employment for Irish women. Furthermore, his library included a collection of plays (and many of the original programs for them) that ran at the Abbey Theatre, which was co-founded by Yeats and fellow playwright Lady Augusta Gregory in 1903. By 1925, when it became the first state-sponsored theater in the Anglophone world, the theater had attracted international acclaim, having run the plays of some of the best known Irish playwrights including its founders and John Millington Synge.

Though his library had a decidedly Irish tilt to it, O’Hegarty was not averse to collecting the works of American, British and French authors. He owned a nearly complete set of American writer Henry James’ first editions—both of the American and English printings—along with a handful of James’ letters. To these were added first edition works by George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and special editions of works by Oscar Wilde.

Despite the impressive array of political and literary works he assembled, a glance at his library made it quite clear that his was a reader’s (rather than a collector’s) library. O’Hegarty claimed to “have always read for pleasure and entertainment, and hardly at all for instruction or uplift. The main function of the novel,” he maintained, “ought to be to tell a story, and not to propagate fads and complexes.” In fact, in offering advice to would-be book collectors, he enjoined them to “Buy the books you like whether they are collected items or not.” In light of such advice, it is hardly surprisingly that his collection wasn’t at all pretentious.

One of his library’s greatest strengths, for instance, was in books written for boys. He had scores of first editions by G. A. Henty (perhaps the foremost of England’s nineteenth-century juvenile novelists), R. M. Ballantyne, W. H. G. Kingston, and Jules Verne (including some in French, which O’Hegarty spoke fluently), along with those of lesser known writers. He had also collected bound volumes of journals that carried serial stories. In addition to his boys’ books, he had amassed a sizeable number of volumes of popular fiction aimed at adults, including the “penny dreadfuls,” serial works so dubbed because of their “lurid plots and illustrations.”

KU entered the picture less than a year after O’Hegarty drew up the shorthand list of his library for his wife when John Carter, an English book dealer then working for the British embassy, wrote to Larry Powell of Columbia University’s libraries to see if the New York City school would be interested in all or part of O’Hegarty’s library. Powell believed that Columbia was too strong in many of the prominent authors from the O’Hegarty library to justify its purchase but passed the information on to his friend Robert Vosper, the head of KU’s libraries.

Vosper had only been at KU a relatively short time, having been brought to Lawrence by Chancellor Franklin Murphy and charged with improving the University’s libraries. By the time he heard from Powell, Vosper had already begun to revolutionize the libraries. He had already convinced the Endowment Association, for instance, to establish a Development Committee for Libraries to raise funds for the acquisition of rare and unusual materials. By their very nature, he reasoned, such acquisitions were beyond the means of state funds since those were “budgeted against clearly defined needs and [could not] be held in reserve or accumulated for use when special materials turn up unexpectedly at auction or private sale.” In 1953, KU had added an unusually impressive collection of material relating to James Joyce, and Vosper was looking for ways to add more.

In that regard, the letter from Powell proved serendipitous, and Vosper wrote Carter expressing his interest in O’Hegarty’s library. He was especially interested in O’Hegarty’s Yeats material, since it afforded him the opportunity to develop an Irish literary collection of substantial note by adding Yeats to the Joyce already at KU. He hinted at the possibility of acquiring the Henry James as well, but was considerably less enthusiastic about the prospect. Carter agreed to forward news of KU’s interest onto O’Hegarty and his book agent, Charles D. Massey.

By May 1955, O’Hegarty and KU had agreed that Massey would broker the deal, which would concern only the Yeats collection. The arrangement was finalized over the summer, and by mid-October, O’Hegarty had written to inform the University that the books were enroute. The bulk of the Yeats collection, which included the Abbey Theatre and Dun Emer/Cuala Press materials, arrived in December of that year.

On December 17, 1955, only a little more than a week after the first shipment of books reached Lawrence, O’Hegarty died. Before this news reached Vosper, however, KU’s library director Vosper had mailed a letter to O’Hegarty that included a photograph of himself and Special Collections director, Joseph Rubinstein, opening the first crates of books. A few days after mailing it, however, the news reached him and he wrote a letter of condolence to O’Hegarty’s widow. In her reply, she noted that she thought it likely that Vosper was a kindred spirit to her husband—in their love of books and their commitment to making them accessible to the public—and her letter touched off a lively correspondence between the two that culminated in an invitation for Vosper to visit her in Ireland.

Almost from the initial correspondence with O’Hegarty’s widow, Vosper delicately hinted that the University might be interested in buying the rest of her husband’s library. For her part, Mrs. O’Hegarty, who confessed to not understanding her husband’s passion for books while he was alive, insisted on going through and cataloguing the library herself, and in doing so found herself for the first time understanding the lure it had held for him.

By December 1956, a year after O’Hegarty’s death, Vosper had begun to get a little anxious. He certainly didn’t want to put any pressure on a grieving widow, but he needed to know how he could best allocate his funds, and if she wasn’t going to have the library prepared for sale by the end of June 1957, he needed to pursue other options or risk losing his funding to make any purchase at all. Consequently, he wrote Massey, who was still acting as the O’Hegartys’ agent, to this end in December and in January wrote Mrs. O’Hegarty to the same effect. She replied that she didn’t think she could have the inventory done by then, and, to be sure, she had accurately judged the scope of the project. She didn’t get the complete catalogue—four volumes running to a combined total of better than 700 legal-sized pages and listing some 14,000 books, pamphlets and other items—to Massey until September 1958.

Massey forwarded the list to Vosper, who, in mid-October, wrote Mrs. O’Hegarty to confess his astonishment at the library’s richness. He had known it was an excellent library, he explained, but had underestimated it nonetheless. Though Massey hinted in his correspondence with Vosper that there might be other interested parties, a deal between KU and Mrs. O’Hegarty was quickly reached, and the University agreed to purchase the remainder of the collection. Ironically, as O’Hegarty’s grandson would later point out, “the major Irish libraries showed little interest” in the library despite its obvious cultural and historical value, a decision that some in Ireland have come to rue. (Even so, Mrs. O’Hegarty chose not to include the Irish-language material, reasoning that it would prove of little value to a community in which virtually no one could read it.) By mid-February 1959 the library was enroute, and by the end of March, it had arrived—all 11 tons of it.

The addition of O’Hegarty’s collection to the University’s library occasioned the birth of a new course in the English Department on the Irish Literary Renaissance, a “study of the poems, plays, and novels written from 1880 on by Irish authors such as Yeats, Synge, AE, and O’Casey.” It also attracted some scholars, though perhaps fewer than his material relating to Yeats and Irish Theater had following its arrival in 1955. In large measure this was due to the fact that the Yeats material was catalogued first, in 1959-60.

For the KU libraries, however, the collection’s storage and organization proved problematic, and it took quite a while for the University to properly catalogue and store it. Initially placed on “wooden shelves hastily installed in the basement of the new Music and Dramatic Arts building,” most of the books had been brief listed, and an “unknown number of presumed duplicates … sold” by the end of 1962. Books that were requested during this period—and, indeed, until the collection was moved to the new Kenneth Spencer Research Library in 1968—were “catalogued and classified for Watson” Library. Thus, a good number of the O’Hegarty books found their way into the library’s general collection in the Watson stacks. (Most of these, however, have since been retrieved and placed with the rest of the collection in Spencer.)

Though the collection was moved to Spencer, the brief-listed cards on which it was catalogued remained in Watson’s card catalogue. Thus, at Spencer, where it was housed, there was little record of what the O’Hegarty Collection included, though, of course, many of the librarians there knew where material could be found on various shelves. In the early 1990s, this was finally rectified when the O’Hegarty Collection was incorporated into the library’s electronic database, making information about its holdings available not only to students at KU but to scholars the world over via the Internet.

Even so, the richness and diversity of the O’Hegarty Collection made cataloguing portions of it difficult. Unbound pamphlets, single-issue periodicals, “scrapbooks and loose bits and pieces,” for example, were difficult to describe, and so were placed on shelves in the library and left uncatalogued. The obvious downside to this arrangement was that the uncatalogued material wasn’t found in the card catalogue (or, later, the electronic database), and so few people knew it was there. Though the library’s intent has always been to share the materials with the larger academic community—it allows “serious researchers” to look through the shelves of uncatalogued material, always accompanied, of course—these arrangements succeeded in making this more difficult.

The same layout has had an upside, however, as “new” material has occasionally been “discovered.” Recently, for instance, some W. A. Henderson scrapbooks were found on the shelves. A journalist associated with the Irish literary renaissance, Henderson collected news clippings and other documents relating to Ireland’s literary and cultural flowering, most especially those related to the Abbey Theatre, and assembled them into scrapbooks between 1899 and 1911. The only other original Henderson scrapbooks are found in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, and while these have been microfilmed, those discovered by KU are not among them and so were previously unknown to the world’s scholars.

The discovery of the Henderson scrapbooks serves as reminder of just how impressive a library O’Hegarty assembled. The fact that his was a reader’s library makes it all the more unique. In his lifetime, he divided book-buyers into two groups. The first was made up of “collectors, poisonous people who … collect books as one would collect china, and put them in a glass-case, who hardly read them, whose interest is merely that they are rare and supposed to be valuable.” The second, on the other hand, were “the people like you and me, readers, who just love books and like to have them.”

Writing to Vosper shortly before his death, O’Hegarty noted, “I think that my sort of Irishman … is not likely to appear in Ireland save as a very lone wolf. Indeed, I suppose,” he continued, “I have always been a sort of lone wolf here.” And unique he was. “His great virtue,” his grandson later observed, “was the originality and self-reliance of his judgment,” and his library reflected those characteristics. It is perhaps an understatement to say that it is KU’s great fortune to be the chief beneficiary of O’Hegarty’s literary judgment.

Mark D. Hersey

Department of History

University of Kansas


[Source Notes: Many thanks to Richard W. Clement, curator of the Spencer Research Library’s Department of Special Collections, for his valuable assistance. Most of the biographical material was gleaned from the administrative files of the O’Hegarty Collection, which includes a number of obituaries, an account of O’Hegarty written by Cian O hEigeartaigh, his grandson. It also includes O’Hegarty’s “Notes about my Books,” written for his wife in 1953, letters of recommendation written on his behalf, articles written on book collecting, and all of the correspondence between the O’Hegartys and Vosper. The library also has information about the O’Hegarty Collection in some publicly accessible binders. These include a history of the collection, biographical synopses, and large listings of what can be found in it. Vosper published both annual reports for the library and a series of articles in Books and Libraries at the University of Kansas. After acquiring both the Yeats and the O’Hegarty library proper, both carried news on the acquisition. So information can be found in The University of Kansas Libraries Annual Report (June 1955-June 1956) and (July 1958-June 1959). The “Books and Libraries” from November 1956 and May 1959 have more information, as do other numbers. A Silver Anniversary: The first 25 years of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library (Lawrence, Kansas, 1994) also contains information about O’Hegarty and the O’Hegarty Collection. It is especially valuable in contextualizing the O’Hegarty Collection within the other collections relating to Irish literature and politics. Much of the background on Ireland’s history is available via the Web, and in surprisingly good detail. Since Bartleby’s is online, for instance, you can find the text of Wolfe Tone’s confession of treason at Information about the Spencer Library’s Irish Collection can be found at the following url:]

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