The Inaugural Pearse Hutchinson Conference: ‘Opening the Archive: A Door into Light’

By Ciara Joyce, Archivist, Special Collections & Archives

Maynooth University Library recently hosted the inaugural Pearse Hutchinson Conference entitled ‘Opening the Archive: A Door into Light’. The Library acquired the Pearse Hutchinson Archive in 2013 and work has been ongoing for the past year to catalogue the extensive collection.

Last week’s conference was the first of many, focusing on the work of multi-lingual writer and broadcaster Hutchinson, who died in 2012, after an international career spanning over sixty years. The event was a great success and well attended. Speakers and attendees included a mix of Irish and international scholars, library and archives professionals, writers and publishers and friends of the late Pearse Hutchinson.

Proceedings were kicked off by Maynooth University President Professor Philip Nolan, who spoke about his interest in Hutchinson and his delight that the archive had come to Maynooth. Macdara Woods, the distinguished poet and friend of Hutchinson then gave a frank and witty introduction to the day’s proceedings by sharing his memories of Hutchinson.

The next paper was delivered by Dr Philip Coleman of the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, who spoke about the contrast of light and dark in Hutchinson’s poetry, focusing on Hutchinson’s early work. This was followed by a presentation by Professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, also of Trinity College Dublin, who spoke about Hutchinson’s Irish language poetry.

MU President Professor Philip Nolan with Dr Philip Coleman, TCD
MU President Professor Philip Nolan with Dr Philip Coleman, TCD

After we were refreshed with tea and coffee the conference continued with a talk by Maynooth University PhD candidate Fiona Gault, who spoke on nomadic theory and transconnectedness in Hutchinson’s poetry.

This was followed by a short presentation by myself and my colleague Hugh Murphy, on the archival collection here at Maynooth, covering both the libraries rational for acquiring the collection and the work that has been completed on the collection to date. There was then an opportunity to view a selection of material from the archive, which was displayed in the Special Collections and Archives reading room.

University Librarian, Cathal McCauley introduces speakers at the inaugural Pearse Hutchinson Conference
University Librarian, Cathal McCauley introduces speakers at the inaugural Pearse Hutchinson Conference

The afternoon session began with ‘Two young men: Identity and belonging in Pearse Hutchinson’s Poetry’, which was presented by Dr Moynagh Sullivan from Maynooth University’s Department of English, Media and Theatre Studies, on behalf of Dr Ed Madden from the University of South Carolina. Dr Madden focused in Hutchinson’s poem Two Young Men (Collected Poems, 2002), but also spoke about material he had uncovered in the archive, while researching at Maynooth the previous week.

Dr Lucy Collins of the Department of English, University College Dublin, then spoke about nature in Hutchinson’s later poetry, focusing on the poems Snowdrop, April, Crucifixion and Black Tide, all published in At Least For a While (2008). She also spoke about ‘compassion toward the marginalised’, as a recurring theme in Hutchinson’s work.

The final scheduled talk of the day was an informal interview of writer P.J. Kavanagh by Irish writer and broadcaster Vincent Woods. Kavanagh read a delightful description of Hutchinson from his memoir The Perfect Stranger. In the passage he described Hutchinson’s writing process as ‘he scribbled his poems in bars and at bus stops and seldom changed them. The result was always exciting, I’d try to get him to correct a verse and he’d agree, but never did, instead he wrote another poem’[1]

Conference delegates viewing material from the Pearse Hutchinson Archive
Conference delegates viewing material from the Pearse Hutchinson Archive

The day’s proceedings were brought to a close with a panel discussion on the day’s talks, with memories and anecdotes about Hutchinson from his former colleagues and friends.

All in all the day was very enjoyable and informative, and will hopefully be the first of many Hutchinson conferences that will be held in Maynooth.

[1] Kavanagh, P.J, The Perfect Stranger, London: Chatto and Windus, 1966

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