Without Fear or Favor: Belfast's Linen Hall Library; Partisan Views Find Neutral Ground in the Attic of Belfast's Oldest Library

By Lieberman, Mark | American Libraries, April 1991 | Go to article overview

Without Fear or Favor: Belfast's Linen Hall Library; Partisan Views Find Neutral Ground in the Attic of Belfast's Oldest Library


Lieberman, Mark, American Libraries


Without fear or favor: Belfast's Linen Hall Library

In connection with the November 1989 publication of Northern Ireland Political Literature--Catalogue and Indexes, Phase 1: Periodicals 1966-1987, the Linen Hall Library asked 100 of the province's leading decision makers to comment on the library's Political Collection, a unique archive of the present "Troubles" just turned 20 and the source from which the catalog and indexes had been created.

Without exception--and regardless of the political affiliation of the "reviewer"-- the collection received what can only be called raves:

"A vast history book..."--Gerry Adams, MP and president of the Sinn Fein party.

"Indispensable..."--The Rev. Ian Paisley, MP and one of Northern Ireland's most influential political figures.

"The most precious single source of documentary material on the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'..."--Andy Pollak, journalist.

"One of the great assets of Ireland..." --J. Bowyer Bell, author.

Indeed, it can be said without exaggeration that the Political Collection is the only thing about which Rev. Paisley--a vitriolic Protestant Unionist--and Mr. Adams--the leading spokesperson for the Irish Republican Army--can be said to share an opinion. In this deeply--and perhaps permanently--divided society, the collection is "a pillar of civilization in the midst of chaos," according to author Ian Adamson.

Nor is it too much to say that in a country where author Denis Barritt has said there is "a problem to every solution," the Linen Hall probably the only venue in which information is dispassionately collected every day with the intention of using it for the common good. As such, it is a noble symbol of freedom of thought in a heavily censored, extremely circumspect society.

Since 1985, I myself have used the collection daily during four working trips in this country. Fortunately for researchers unable to spend time "on the ground" here, a goodly portion of its riches are now available on microfiche.

The 1989 publication of Phase 1 of the catalogue--the largest document produced by the Linen Hall in the 20th century--represents the culmination of a scrupulous effort to record completely the political turmoil that has been endemic to the Six Counties since the first British troops arrived in August 1969.

In fact, according to John Gray, who has been Linen Hall librarian since 1981, the effort began even before the British marched into Northern Ireland. Gray credits one of his predecessors, librarian Jimmy Vitty, with having the foresight to realize that the written record of the conflict had to be preserved--and that the Linen Hall was the only place in all of Ireland suited to the task. Belfast's oldest library, Linen Hall celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1988, and is one of the last remaining examples of the 18th-century European subscription-library movement. It was "established by radicals," according to a bicentennial history, men who "held in common an enthusiasm for books, ideas and discussion."

As Gray tells the story, Vitty continued the tradition when, during the first days of the current armed struggle, he came upon a leaflet--on a barroom floor, as it happens--entitled "Barricades Bulletin." He picked it up, brought it back to the Linen Hall, and instructed Deputy Librarian Jim Gracey to "go out and collect everything he could find relating to those first murmurings of our present troubles."

Surely few people involved in those "murmurings" thought that the conflict would still be raging more than 20 years--and nearly 3,000 deaths--later, nor that the Political Collection would grow from that single humble leaflet into its present vast archive. Comprising some 35,000 items, the collection includes everything from spent bullets to the latest slick press release from the Northern Ireland Office.

Committed librarianship

It is not too much to say that all the people of Northern Ireland--and not just the scholars--are in the debt of Jimmy Vitty and of his successors who maintain the collection.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Without Fear or Favor: Belfast's Linen Hall Library; Partisan Views Find Neutral Ground in the Attic of Belfast's Oldest Library
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.