UCD Library, UCD Archives, and the UCD Students’ Centre, are delighted to launch two wonderful and evocative collections, honouring one of Irish history’s young heroes. Kevin Barry, a medical student at University College Dublin, was executed for his part in an ambush which resulted in the deaths of three British Army officers in 1920. He was hanged on the 1st of November 1920, despite numerous appeals for his life to be spared. He was 18 years old.
The Kevin Barry Papers, held in UCD Archives, contain material associated with his days at Belvedere College, his year as a medical student in UCD, and his brief time in custody at Mountjoy Prison before execution. The majority of the collection is composed of material gathered by Kathy Barry Maloney, Barry’s sister, after his death.
The Papers of the Kevin Barry Memorial Committee, recently purchased by the UCD Students’ Centre and held in UCD Archives, comprise the papers and correspondence of the Kevin Barry Memorial Committee, which was formed to raise funds to create a memorial to Kevin Barry. The Committee commissioned Harry Clarke Stained Glass Limited to create a stained glass window dedicated to Kevin Barry. The window, designed by Richard King, was erected in Earlsfort Terrace and unveiled on 1st November 1934. In 2010, the window was conserved, restored and relocated in the Charles Institute at Belfield, the current campus of University College Dublin.
In a fitting tribute to the legacy of Kevin Barry, both collections were launched by UCD President Professor Andrew Deeks, UCD Librarian Dr John B. Howard, and historian Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, on Thursday 5th November 2015, in front of the Kevin Barry Memorial window. The launch was attended by the relatives of Kevin Barry, the staff involved in the creation of the digital collections, and distinguished guests.
Introducing the collections, Dr John Howard highlighted the fact that “the artefacts in this collection are the material reminder of the life of a young man, in fact a boy, who gave his life at the age of 18 as part of a patriotic cause. And we selected this week for this launch because it is now…95 years from the date of Kevin Barry’s execution”.
Professor Andrew Deeks commented on the appropriateness of the UCD Charles Institute for the launch event, saying “where better to launch such an exciting digitisation project than here at the magnificent window commemorating the life of Kevin Barry, which is a jewel in UCD collection”. Continuing, he stated “The names of Ireland’s historic past are deeply intertwined with UCD, but perhaps the most poignant name of them all is Kevin Barry, who lost his life at just 18 years of age, but whose short but prolific life and times we celebrate here this evening”. Professor Deeks then officially launched the collections.
Concluding the speeches was an illuminating address by eminent historian, Professor Diarmaid Ferriter. Giving context to the events of 1920, he described it as a “bloody awful year”. As well as the execution of Kevin Barry, 1920 was the year that saw the burning of Cork; the sack of Balbriggan; the murderous riots in Northern Ireland; the death of Terence MacSwiney; Bloody Sunday; and the Kilmichael Ambush. Exploring the reasons why Kevin Barry’s death had such an impact, in the midst of “this mayhem, this destruction, this killing”, Professor Ferriter referenced the fact that “Kevin Barry was a mere boy, and that was the description that was used at the time, and is still, of course, used today”. Emphasising the fact that “Kevin Barry faced his death with great courage and dignity”, Professor Ferriter stressed that “Kevin Barry’s killing secured his place in the pantheon of Nationalist heroes”.
His closing remarks were particularly important, where he stated that “The challenge for us as historians is to keep a focus on the history, and on the context, and on the layers, and on the nuance and, of course, on the sources, as opposed the being preoccupied with contrivance and politics and selectivity, because they are always par for the course of commemoration…You cannot understand the Revolutionary Period in Ireland unless you have some knowledge of the collections that exist in UCD Library and UCD Archives…What we have here tonight is not, of course, voluminous – how could it be? The archive of a mere boy of 18, but that makes it all the more precious. That what we have, we showcase; that what we have, we digitise”.
Both collections are now publicly available at digital.ucd.ie
Read a short biography of Kevin Barry by Prof. Ferriter, illustrated with items from the two collections.
A set of exhibition panels which accompanied the launch will be available to view at various locations: to November 15 2015 they are at the Charles Institute alongside the Kevin Barry Window and from 16th – 27th they should be outside the James Joyce Library.
All photos in this feature: Jason Clarke.