A Memorial to Michael O’Brien at the Dublin Book Festival

Michael O’Brien President Michael D.Higgins

It was a great honour to be asked to take part in the memorial tribute for my friend and publisher Michael O’Brien in Dublin Castle as part of The Dublin Book Festival. Friends and family and colleagues from the book world gathered in the Print Works to remember this extraordinary man who had done so much to grow and develop Irish publishing over the years. He was involved in setting up so many organizations that would encourage reading, writing and publishing.

O’Brien Press growing from the small beginnings of just two people working there to becoming one of Ireland’s foremost award winning publishers. Michael had huge energy and drive and a vision for Irish publishing that he lived to see fulfilled. His achievements in terms of publishing were enormous as found gaps in the Irish book market and set about filling them as well as regularly attending the huge book fairs and selling translation rights to so many books by Irish authors.

His son Ivan O’Brien and Editor Ide O’Laoghaire and designer Emma Byrne all shared their memories as a montage of  photographs of Michael’s rich life was shown on screen.

I told of my first meeting Michael in O’Brien Press in Rathgar in 1989, when he gave me the good news that he was going to publish my book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ This was the start of a long friendship which stretched over many years, with O’Brien due to publish my new children’s book Fairy Hill in spring 2023.

Playwright and author Frank McGuinness was a long -time friend of Michael’s but unfortunately at the last minute was unable to attend but Ivan read out his words about the high regard he had for Michael O’Brien.

President Michael D Higgins also spoke of their enduring friendship over many years and how he looked forward to meeting Michael and the lively discussions that ensued. Michael was always an innovator, full of ideas ready to try new things.

Michael O’Brien was huge figure in Irish publishing and will be missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him. However he has left an abiding legacy and O’Brien Press continues to thrive under the good care of his sons Ivan and Eoin O’Brien and all the publishing team there.

Dublin Castle with Ivan O’Brien and the wonderful Alice Leahy

                    Archives to Arts 

It is a real treat to be invited to return to Strokestown Park House and the National Famine Museum in Roscommon and to take part in  a very special event focused on Archives to Arts and Bringing the Strokestown Archive to life on Saturday 24th September.  

The Museum itself has only recently reopened with a new look after having a wonderful five million euro upgrade during the necessary Covid closedown, with an international panel of Famine experts overseeing the project.

To have an archive of over 50, 000 documents available that provide an insight into the parallel lives of tenants and the landlord is a real treasure for all of us with an interest in the past. As a writer having access to archives is invaluable and plays a huge part in the creation of my work and enriches it often sparking new ideas and stories and books that I simply have to write.

Among the panelists are singer and writer Declan O’Rourke and Anne-Marie O’ Sullivan of Enchanted Croi Theatre and there will be a screening of ‘Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive in the National Library’ presented by Professor Mark McGowan.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has closed in U.S

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum

It is desperately sad and disappointing to hear of the closure of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Quinnipiac in the U.S , which houses the world’s greatest collection of Great Irish Famine related art and artefacts and sculptures reflecting on the greatest tragedy in Ireland’s history.

Only three years ago that ‘Coming Home’- Art and the Great Hunger’ a part of this important collection, on loan from the Great Hunger Museum and Quinnipiac University, was exhibited in Ireland.

From March 2018-to March 2019, the ‘Coming Home’ exhibition visited Dublin Castle, Skibbereen and Derry. It attracted huge crowds who crowds flocked to see this amazing collection, moved by the memorable and inspirational works interpreting our history

I was involved in a few events as part of the exhibition and was often asked why this collection was in America and why we in Ireland did not have our own Great Irish Famine collection!

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum’s valuable collection was first created by the vision and generosity of Murray Lender and his brother Marvin and Quinnipiac’s former University President, the innovative John Lahey.  As the collection has grown and been added to over the years, Irelands’ Great Hunger Museum was opened to house and display it. However now with changes in the University’s management unfortunately The Great Hunger Museum‘s doors have finally been shut.

Robert Ballagh

The danger is that this collection will be broken up and sold, dispersed and scattered between other universities, galleries, museums and private collectors both in the U.S and across the world. A campaign to save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and the collection is under way.

My hope is that The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Tourism and the Irish Government   will have the good sense and offer a permanent home to Ireland’s Great Hunger Collection here in Ireland.  This historic collection could if necessary be rotated and shared between the US and Ireland.

 If not it is high time Ireland and her people began to gather a lasting Great Irish Famine collection of our own for all ages to visit.