Mining the Works of Irish Women Writers, Primary Sources in Archival Collections

Kathleen Williams

As researchers, particularly those exploring Irish women’s writings know, challenges abound!  Just as many of the works of Irish women writers have been hidden, so have, or indeed, still are, the primary sources that would foster greater understanding of the women and their work.

Work to create a list of archives for the Irish Women Writers (1880 – 1920) Network website, may lead one to believe that the challenges are overwhelming. A selective list of some of the difficulties involved in exploration of women falling into this category and timeframe includes:

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An Appreciation of Winifred Letts

“An Appreciation of Winifred Letts” [1]

Dr. David Clare, Mary Immaculate College, UL

 

Winifred letts newspaper
Winifred M. Letts

Winifred Letts was born in Salford, in what is now Greater Manchester, in 1882 to an English vicar father and an Irish mother. As a child, she greatly enjoyed the long holidays that her family spent at her maternal grandparents’ house – Knockmaroon, located on the edge of Dublin’s Phoenix Park. These visits instilled a deep love of Ireland in young Winifred, and, when she was 16, she asked her parents to let her transfer from her boarding school in Bromley, Kent to Dublin’s Alexandra College. Her parents acquiesced, and – as a result – Letts joins the important writers Edith Somerville, Mary Manning, and Dorothy McArdle in being an alum of that celebrated south Dublin school. Read More

“A good English factory-girl”: the erased Irishness of nineteenth-century poet Fanny Forrester in Ben Brierley’s Journal

Dr Suz Garrard

Ben Brierley-Fanny Forrester-June 23, 1875-pg 37-9- 1
Fanny Forrester pictured in Ben Brierley’s Journal

Twenty-first century newspapers and media outlets have unparalleled power to not only shape the narratives surrounding superstructural subjects such as immigration, but to construct the social, political, and national identities of the individuals they represent. The power of the media to radically create and recreate public, political selves can be traced back to the explosion of the nineteenth-century newspaper and, in this case, to the massive influx of Irish labourers to industrial English cities.

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Truth or Dare: Martina Devlin shares the introduction of her new book

Truth & Dare cover imageLeaders. Rebels. Pioneers. Short stories about some of Ireland’s trailblazing women by award-winning writer Martina Devlin.

In this collection we encounter Countess Markievicz back from the dead to cast a disapproving eye over modern Ireland, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington on hunger strike in jail, and Somerville and Ross discussing book business with their London agent Mr Pinker.

Other we meet include a range of activists – Anna Parnell in a pawnshop, Belfast’s Mary Ann McCracken walking her brother to the scaffold, and Dr Kathleen Lynn locking horns with an archbishop.

Authentic and poignant, witty and revealing, Truth & Dare draws on true events to breathe life into an extraordinary cast of women.

Their times were out of step with them – now their time has come

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The Mystery of the Disappeared Drishane Archive

By Julie Anne Stevens

Research recalls detective work. The scholar follows clues to solve unanswered questions or to reveal forgotten or overlooked information. The archive gives opportunity to track clues, and while one of scholarship’s pleasures lies in this search, one of its compulsions may arise when a repository’s mysterious unknown does not immediately deliver information. Nonetheless, just like the fictional detective, the researcher expects to discover eventually some central source of knowledge if she or he looks carefully enough and with the right eyes.

Yet with research, revelation does not always happen – especially when the archive goes missing.

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