North American Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts

The Project

Breandan O Buachalla

The Keough-Naughton Institute is delighted to support and develop the major catalogue project envisioned by our late and world-renowned colleague, O’Donnell Professor of Irish Language and Literature Breandán Ó Buachalla.  When completed and published in two volumes by the University of Notre Dame Press, the work will be the repository of essential information on all the Irish manuscripts in North American libraries. 117 of them contain over 10,000 titles. Most of these manuscripts came to America with their owners in the wake of the Great Famine in the nineteenth century and are, quite literally, the cultural baggage those immigrants brought with them.  Since there is not a tradition of print in the Irish language, the manuscripts offer the main and in some cases only gateway into the study of the Irish diaspora, and of what the settlers left behind.  There is much to be learned from these manuscripts about the varied experience of exile and immigration, Anglo-Irish relations, gender issues, class structures, Irish families and settlements, poets, thinkers, politics and culture.  Because there is no centralized, searchable catalogue, these manuscripts have gone unused or underused by scholars.  This deficiency constitutes a serious impediment for scholars, since these materials appear primarily in manuscript format and are available nowhere else.  Enhanced access to these manuscripts will open lines of inquiry in a wide number of fields, including American, Irish, and English History, Comparative and English literature, Irish Literature, Diaspora Studies, Irish Studies and British Studies.  Work in many fields is already reflecting a growing awareness of the fact that the vast majority of the Irish people before the Famine and after it--including those who came to America--had Irish as their first and often, only language.  The troops blessed by Father Corby at Gettysburg--the Fighting 69th--were all Irish speakers.

A Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts in North America aims then to fill a major gap that resides at the intersection of Irish language manuscript studies and a constellation of other fields.  To date, catalogues of Irish manuscripts in Irish libraries and those in the United Kingdom and Europe have been done.  North America has not been covered.  This Catalog will address an audience of a new generation of scholars fluent in Irish and doing important work with these materials, and it is appropriate that it be produced at Notre Dame under the auspices of members of the only Department of Irish in North America.  There is also a market for the volumes outside of North America, with a large Celtic Studies constituency internationally (much larger than Irish Studies).  These volumes would be required for all libraries with faculty interested in this field in universities throughout the world.