Irish Collections at Boston College

IMG_5967 (1)The Irish Institute at Boston College hosted Justin Dolan Stover, Assistant Professor of Transnational European History at Idaho State University, for five weeks during the summer of 2017. This brief research stint provided him time and workspace to explore John J. Burns Library collections relevant to his work, and to take advantage of the O’Neill Library’s valuable resources, as well. Dr. Stover’s current work considers the environmental impact of the Irish Revolution, which provides contrasting guerrilla and counter-insurgency examples to larger-scale war damage, displacement, and environmental nationalism in modern Europe. As you’ll read below, Boston College resources greatly contributed to his research!

Irish Collections at Boston College

It is difficult to assess the overall worth or application of the Burns Library Irish collections, or the important resources available on the shelves of the Bapst and O’Neill libraries. There are numerous holdings unique to Boston College, while other more widely known collections are also readily available, permitting students and the general public access to records replicated from holdings in Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom. For five weeks, I moved freely between the Burns special collections and more general resources, often detouring to recharge with a BC Bolt in the Hillside Café. Here are a few elements that really struck me about BC’s collections and their accessibility.

I imagine it’s easy to take for granted the variety of material available for Irish studies scholars and students at Boston College. Its book collections not only reflect an acquisition of the most recent scholarship but also contain rare volumes essential to the field. In certain cases, these books are reserved for use in the Burns Library, but many are also available at the O’Neill Library. I express surprise (delight) at this because of the joy I experience in perusing shelves, and because it allows for a much more organic approach to secondary source research. My Alma Mater, Trinity College Dublin, had/has world-class collections, but its volumes were too often stored off-site and needed to be called to campus – a minor inconvenience, but one that the luxury of a five-story library on a hill easily overcomes. Moreover, O’Neill library’s digital scanners allowed me to capture a great deal of material for future reference – a necessity for those on brief research trips.

The Burns Library’s archival holdings represent BC’s unique approach to acquisition, with rich and diverse literary, historical, and artistic material available to scholars exploring a variety of disciplinary sub-fields. The Thomas and Kathleen Clarke Collection, for example, contains the type of political material one would expect from a Fenian family. Poetry, news clippings, and unique photos of the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising buttress the more enchanted items, such as the scarf worn by Tom Clarke. However, you can also find items that permit a view beyond the political atmosphere of revolutionary Ireland and legend of its leaders. For example, Kathleen Clarke’s sons’ correspondence includes numerous postcards of cartoon cats in humorous situations, foundational evidence for future historians examining society’s obsession with feline shenanigans.



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More serious material, preserved during Kathleen Clarke’s tenure as Lord Mayor of Dublin, presents highlights an important gender equality narrative concerning her suitability for the office. (“Women’s Brains As Good As Men’s,” Daily Sketch, 25 August 1939). The Molly Flannery Woods’ papers also illustrate a deeply documented life, which can be further cross-examined in her witness statement to the Bureau of Military History, a way of extending the relevancy of the BC collections and corroborating historical documents.

Dublin and London are historically rich, beautiful cities with archives and libraries that provide a foundation for studying Irish history. However, limited time, resources, and accessibility (opening times, digital photography policies, off-site collections) may not allow for extended stays. For those studying the modern period – particularly Ireland under the Union, 1801-1922 – the O’Neill Library contains microfilm of some of the most significant files documenting the British administration in Ireland – the infamous CO 904 series. These records include police reports, rebel suspect profiles, agrarian outrage summaries, and returns on political violence, and  permit undergraduate, graduate, and even postgraduate students to establish a solid foundation of primary source research in Boston before travelling abroad. The Colonial Office records are complemented by the vast collection of Irish newspapers housed in O’Neill. However, the greatest asset (I believe) is BC’s microfilm readers, which allow for continuous, automatic scanning to USB key, saving time and allowing visitors to maximize their research!

I was able to access and examine many newspapers that I had failed to consult in Dublin. The Irish Builder and Engineer, for example, provided a glimpse into Irish architects’ attitudes toward Dublin’s reconstruction and how best to utilize the bricks and other building materials from damaged structures.  The Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal provided equally novel approaches to revolutionary activity, as well as a more nuanced explanation of martial law and its application. Labour and agricultural concerns are also well represented, with issues of Bottom Dog, Land, and Irish Homestead in ready supply.

Environmental Humanities at Boston College

During my stay, my primary research concern was to explore Irish collections connected to the environmental humanities. Of immediate relevance to the revolutionary period (1916-23) are the outrage reports (CO 904/148-50) that detail the date, location, and severity of damage wrought on built environments. “The Weekly Summary,” compiled by Dublin Castle and circulated amongst police and soldiers, provides an additional British-centric view of the conflict and its impact on the urban landscape. However, the libraries also boast a deep secondary source catalogue, which includes classic works, new releases, and lesser-known titles, such as Redfern Mason, Rebel Ireland, and Wilfrid Ewart, A Journey in Ireland 1921. Other material outside the immediate revolutionary period provides a view toward Irish interpretations of environment, its manipulation, and restoration. For instance, the Bapst Library shelves relevant art and architectural history, including JoAnne Marie Mancini, Keith Bresnahan, Architecture and Armed Conflict: the Politics of Destruction; Anne Tucker Will Michels, Natalie Zelt, War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath; and Moises Saman, Witness to Man’s Destruction: This is War.

One of the most intriguing books I discovered was a small volume that detailed the Catholic Church’s response to contemporary environmental issues. Published in 1980, Environmental Problems in Ireland: A Report to the Churches, presents a straightforward, ecclesiastic argument about environmental protection: “God made the Earth, the Sea and the Sky. … Ireland should use and not abuse the natural resources of our land, which are God’s gift.” However, the period’s prevailing para-military violence, political divide, and mounting social issues in Northern Ireland and the Republic did not deter recommenders from citing the need for cross-border efforts to combat pollution and environmental damage. This small volume, tucked away in the Burns Library, helped to broaden my own approach toward the environmental history of Ireland. One that, like so many other sub-disciplines of Irish history, moves between various spatial and chronological scales, which incorporates diverse voices and interpretations, and is often informed from the most unlikely of sources. Much of this material finds its home at Boston College, which I look forward to visiting again soon!

  • BC-Ireland photo July 2015 (1)Dr. Justin Dolan Stover, Assistant Professor of Transnational European History at Idaho State University and Burns Library Visiting Researcher, Summer 2017

Justin Dolan Stover holds an M.A. in 20th Century Irish History from University College Dublin, and a Ph.D. from Trinity College Dublin. He has held various research fellowships, including the William B. Neenan, S.J. Fellowship at Boston College Ireland, which he served in 2015. His research has explored the social impacts of war and violence in Europe, touching on the processes of identity formation and loyalty, trauma and memory during the First World War and Irish Revolution. He has published widely on the Irish Revolution. Recent publications include: “‘Shattered Glass and Toppling Masonry’: War Damage in Paris and Dublin,” in Paris – capital of Irish culture: France, Ireland and the Republic, 1798–1916; “Families, Vulnerability and Sexual Violence during the Irish Revolution,” in Perceptions of Pregnancy: From the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century; and “Violence, Trauma, and Memory in Ireland: The Psychological Impact of War and Revolution on a Liminal Society, 1916-1923,” in Aftershock: Psychological Trauma and the Legacies of the First World War. He has also collaborated with Century Ireland on a piece about the destruction of Dublin during the Easter Rising.

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