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Visit of President Joe Biden to Ireland

The 2023 visit of President Joe Biden to Ireland offered us the opportunity to highlight the many ways our collections illustrate the long and varied history of cultural, social, and political exchange between our two nations. The University also has strong links with President Biden’s ancestral hometown of Ballina in Co. Mayo, due to its partnership with the Mary Robinson Centre.


IMIRCE | The Kerby A. Miller Colllection

The IMIRCE digital collection makes thousands of Irish emigrant letters and memoirs from North America available to researchers and the public alike.

Visit the IMIRCE site to search the collection

Mary Robinson Archive

The archive of the former President of Ireland, who was the first Irish President to make a state visit to the United States while in office, is housed with the University and is currently being catalogued.

We also hold a number of extraordinarily rich collections of music and song, that highlight how vibrant those traditions were among Irish communities in the United States. There were an estimated 400,000 Irish speakers in 1890s America and the over 1,100 songs, poems and stories collected by Rev Daniel Murphy between 1870s and 1930s from Irish men and women all around Philadelphia and President Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania are testament to that.  

Conradh na Gaeilge Archive

While Mary Robinson was the first President of Ireland to visit the United States while in office, Douglas Hyde visited prior to becoming Ireland's very first President. In 1906 he visited, while president of Conradh na Gaeilge to help raise funds for their work in reviving and promoting Irish language and culture.

The organisation donated their incredibly rich archive to us on the occasion of their 125th anniversary in 2018, and material includes that relating to several branches in America and fund raising events which took place there. 

George Pickow Archive

In 1952/3 George Pickow visited Ireland with his wife, noted folk-singer and collector Jean Ritchie, and took over 2000 photographs.

These photographs included many of the singers and musicians that Jean recorded as part of a project to trace the roots of many of the songs and tunes she would have grown up with in the Southern Appalachians. While in Ireland George photographed other aspects of Irish life, where many traditions remained, but which was also on the cusp of great change.   

Joe Burke Archive

In a period of increasing prosperity in the early 20th Century in America the Irish in America were keen to connect back to the culture and traditions of Ireland, bringing the community together and ensuring the preservation and continuation of their traditions in their adopted homeland. Musical activity in the United States also found its way into homes back in Ireland.

This period of forced emigration and nation building coincided with the dawn of the recording era. Access to recording equipment in the US resulted in technology becoming quite necessary for the continuation of the oral tradition. Music recorded there by musicians such as Michael Coleman, Patsy Tuohy and James Morrison influenced a generation of Irish musicians back home. In the 1960s, Galway accordion player Joe Burke spent some time in the United States with the next generation of Irish musicians, and we are fortunate enough to hold Burke’s archive which includes photographs recordings of the Irish music scene in the United States in the 1960s.  

Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy Archive

A graduate of Queen’s College Galway he emigrated to California shortly after graduating, where he embarked on a prolific career in Civil Engineering. The first half of his career was in private practice on railroads, land development, and irrigation projects in both California and the Hawaiian sugar plantations.

In 1912, he was appointed the City Engineer of San Francisco, where his legacy was to oversee the city’s municipal streetcar system, upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems, and carry out feasibility work on the San Francisco Bay Bridges (Dumbarton, Golden Gate, and San Francisco-Oakland Bay). He is best remembered for the construction of the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir system, which to this day provides water for over 2 million residents of the San Francisco Bay region. Collections such as the Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy archive demonstrate the enormous impact one of our own graduates had on the engineering landscape of California and Hawaii in particular. 

Repositories and Digital Exhibitions

Digital Archive - Jean Ritchie and George Pickow (selected images from this archive are in our shared folder, mostly focussed on music.)
The Kerby Miller Archive (an ongoing digital humanities project to make available thousands of emigrant letters sent between the US and Ireland between the late 1600s and the 1950s. This archive is not yet available, but hear more about this rich collection from this 2022 webinar, 'Sources and Voices: Archives, Writing and the Irish Diaspora', specifically from about 1 hour 40 minutes in.) 
Catalogue for The Reverend Murphy archive (relating to the folklore gathering of Fr Murphy, based in Philadephia.)
Catalogue for Conradh na Gaeilge archive (sub-series on Branches Abroad, and Fundraising of note in this context.)

Presidents Robinson, Biden and the Ballina connection

The visit of President Joe Biden to Ireland has understandably brought great excitement, nowhere more so than Ballina, County Mayo, his ancestral home in the West. The town has not one, but two presidential claims to fame – it is also where Mary Robinson, President of Ireland from 1990-1997, was born and raised. The University of Galway, also on the West coast, is proud to house the Mary Robinson archive, and to have a strong link with Ballina through its partnership with the Mary Robinson Centre. Her recently restored and extended childhood home, beautifully situated on the River Moy, the Centre is due to open within a year and through this partnership plans to use her archive as a catalyst to inspire others to address the causes she has championed in her career.

Read more on the University of Galway Archives & Special Collections Blog.

Learn more about the connections between
Ireland and the United States in our Archives

Videos from Historians and Archivists

Irish-American Archives
Head of Heritage Collections and Digitisation, Catriona Cannon 

Old Ireland in Colour - President Biden's Irish Heritage
Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley

Mary Robinson - President of the Irish Diaspora
Archivist Niamh Ní Charra

Music and the Diaspoa
Archivist Kieran Hoare

The Scrapbook of President Douglas Hyde
Archivist Kieran Hoare