ACIS Logo Literacy and Legacy: A Transatlantic Manuscript in the Burns Library

My paper will discuss the Gallagher family Commonplace book in the context of Irish language literature, migration to the US in the pre-Famine era, and literacy in the Irish language in North America. This fascinating manuscript was obtained by Boston College in 2012, and by all internal evidence appears to have been commenced in Donegal in the second half of the 18th century, with further additions made in New York City across several generations of the Gallagher family. The manuscript is predominantly written in the Irish language, but there are also passages in Latin and entries in English. The main scribe is a Charles Gallagher, a medical doctor, but there are also other active scribes from around Ballyshannon in Donegal, and later New York, where the manuscript contains births and deaths in the extended Gallagher family, and information on properties obtained in Manhattan in the 19th century.

While I will discuss the contents of the manuscript (prose tales, devotional texts related to European affairs, satires, poetry, songs, etc.), what also interests me is what the manuscript represents. It is evident from this, and from other manuscripts in Boston College, Harvard, the Boston Athenaeum, etc., that estimations of the literacy of the Irish who emigrated were often misguided, as there are thousands of pages of Irish language literature now housed in various repositories in the USA. This needs to be restated and revisited, and I propose to take here the Gallagher Manuscript as a case study.