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Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, visited the John Rylands Library on 23 November, accompanied by his wife Sabina, the Irish Ambassador, and members of the Embassy staff, in order to view a selection of items from our wealth of Irish literary archives and manuscripts.

A published writer and poet as well as a former Minister for the Arts, Michael D. Higgins had expressed a particular interest in seeing our archive material relating to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, during his official visit to Manchester. The theatre on Lower Abbey Street opened in 1904 as the home of the Irish National Theatre Society and it rapidly gained an international reputation, producing plays by W.B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory and J.M. Synge. The enterprise was funded by Miss Annie Horniman, but she later fell out with the theatre’s management because of its nationalist leanings, and she turned her attention to Manchester, where she founded the pioneering Gaiety Theatre. In 1918 Miss Horniman donated to the John Rylands Library ten cuttings books relating to the early years of the Abbey Theatre. Her archive also contains substantial quantities of correspondence relating to Yeats and other leading figures connected with the Irish literary revival.

There is other Abbey Theatre and Yeats material in the papers of Katharine Tynan and Hugh Hunt. The President and Mrs Higgins also viewed two manuscript volumes of Gaelic songs and poems; a rare Private Press publication of the Cuala Press, Yeat’s Poems Written in Discouragement (1913); material from the Carcanet Press relating to contemporary Irish poetry; and by way of contrast the 9th-century Trier Psalter, which shows clear Insular influences in its striking illumination.

While signing our visitors’ book the President was delighted to see the signature of his distinguished predecessor, Mary Robinson, who visited the Library in 1994.