Brendan Behan letter among treasures in donated archive

Conradh na Gaeilge is giving a 124-year-old collection to NUI Galway

Brendan Behan letter: the writer sent a note to Conradh na Gaeilge from what is now Theatre Royal Stratford East, the producer Joan Littlewood’s London theatre

Brendan Behan letter: the writer sent a note to Conradh na Gaeilge from what is now Theatre Royal Stratford East, the producer Joan Littlewood’s London theatre

 

A letter from Brendan Behan, a ballot paper with Michael Collins among the candidates, and correspondence relating to Douglas Hyde, Patrick Pearse and Thomas Ashe are among items in the Conradh na Gaeilge collection that is being deposited to NUI Galway this week.

The 124-year-old archive of the State’s oldest Irish-language organisation offers “an unparalleled insight into linguistic, cultural, social and political aspects of Ireland’s past", according to Dr John Walsh of the university’s school of languages, literatures and cultures.

Founded in 1893, with Douglas Hyde as its first president, Conradh na Gaeilge was closely associated with the Gaelic revival. Hyde proposed that it become a political party with the sole aim of electing TDs who would support Irish. This contrasts with his earlier belief in the apolitical, nonsectarian nature of the organisation and with his wish that Irish not be used as a “cloak for politics”, Dr Walsh notes.

The letter from Behan, written in Irish and signed as Breandán Ó Beacháin in May 1956, is on headed paper from what is now Theatre Royal Stratford East, the producer Joan Littlewood’s London theatre. The typewritten letter tells the Conradh that his play The Quare Fellow is being staged there and suggests that London-based Gaeilgeoirí might be interested, as there is a “good bit of Irish” in it.

The London-branch material, which includes the ballot paper for a committee with Collins among the candidates, also contains a flyer for an aonach, or sale, of Irish manufactured goods in the Prince’s Hall, Lambeth Baths, during November 1913, with the headline “We are a practical nation”.

Other correspondence includes a letter from Elphin, in Co Roscommon, that suggested the Conradh na Gaeilge should advise the new Dáil.

Conradh na Gaeilge archive: the Brendan Behan letter
Conradh na Gaeilge archive: the Brendan Behan letter

A Co Clare member of the first Gaeltacht Commission, in 1925-26, Pádraig Ó Cadhla, wrote that, no matter who was “King of Ireland”, Conradh na Gaeilge would be needed in the future, as there would always be people who would neglect Irish. Another Co Clare member called for Irish to be made obligatory for public office and in banks and commercial concerns.

The leading Conradh member Risteard Ó Foghludha suggested deepening ties with other Celtic countries. “We will never succeed,” he said, unless Irish was spoken by “the priest, the school teacher, the postman, the doctor and the Peeler”, or policeman.

Conradh na Gaeilge archive: the ballot paper on which Michael Collins is a candidate
Conradh na Gaeilge archive: the ballot paper on which Michael Collins is a candidate

Dr Walsh says of the archive: “This deposit marks a major expansion of the already extensive Irish-language archival collections at NUIG and is highly significant for Irish-language scholarship. By studying Conradh na Gaeilge we can better understand contemporary European minority-language movements which continue to have such resonance today.”

Conradh na Gaeilge’s president, Dr Niall Comer, has welcomed a plan for the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway to catalogue and digitise the material.

An event is planned next year as part of the organisation’s 125th anniversary, by which time part of the material will have been catalogued.

Conradh na Gaeilge archive: the flyer for the sale of Irish goods and produce at Lambeth Baths
Conradh na Gaeilge archive: the flyer for the sale of Irish goods and produce at Lambeth Baths