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Glucksman Ireland House NYU at Twenty

Margaret Cardosi, a Master’s student in Irish and Irish-American Studies at NYU, reads the letters on display in the Bordeaux-Dublin Letters exhibit.

By Dr. Miriam Nyham
February / March 2014

2013 was an extraordinarily busy year at 1 Washington Mews. Starting last February, a plethora of activities has highlighted the range of this jewel in Greenwich Village: a memorable 20th Anniversary gala, conferences, exhibits, publications, concerts, workshops and all this on top of a range of classes offered to undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of Irish and Irish-American Studies. The current anniversary-related initiative is a stunning exhibit of eighteenth-century letters from Bordeaux’s Irish community, which draws on world-class collections of art and never-before-seen historical documents. “The Bordeaux-Dublin Letters, 1757: The Voice of an Irish Community Abroad” runs at the Mamdouha S. Bobst Gallery in NYU’s Bobst Library through April 1.

In 1757, in the middle of the Seven Years’ War, an Irish wine ship en route from Bordeaux to Dublin was captured by the British Navy. In 2011, the mailbag from the Dublin-based ship the Seven Sisters was discovered in the British National Archives by New York University professor Tom Truxes. The majority of the letters had never been opened. The 125 letters in this exhibit are located in the historical context of the first truly global war and explicate the role of the Irish diaspora in eighteenth-century Europe and America.

The letters take readers into a private and intimate world inhabited by ordinary men and women separated from their homeland by war. One of the most touching of letters was written by the wife of the ship’s captain. It contains expressions of longing and affection, along with the much more pragmatic concerns of bringing home olives and prunes. The following is an excerpt from “Mary Dennis, Dublin, to Mr Jon Dennis, Comander of the Too Sisters to be left at Mr Christopher Gernons, Merchant in Bordeaux, France:

My dear life, 

I take this opertunyty to let you know I am in good health & I hope this may find you din ye same it is ye greatest blessing I Desire if I cold hear you were safe & well I have bean very uneasey this past bad Wether but I trust in god for a happy Sight of you as there is as to reasons & paper fine & Corse & nuts & evry thing as befor ollivfs & peper if cheapan imbargo I think it Wold be proper to bring What you can to sell in ye shop or it is 2s per [ream] hear it is better have a Stock & you may Remit C munny for them at yr Return […]

My Dr I beg you will not omit Riting as it is ye onely Pleasure I Can have in yr ab-s tance I beg you may take care of your self & I beg of the Allmyty God to Preserve heare Continue in this filthy Castle […] on this Occeason You thought a Creditt 

you from all Eavill & grant me a hapy sight Wich is ye Fervent prayers of

YOUR LOVING AFFECTUNATE WIFE WHILLST 

MARY DENNIS

The themes are universal. There are students asking their parents for money, and fathers chastising their children for being disobedient or lazy. There are letters filled with petty gossip and letters expressing the frustrations of Irish prisoners of war languishing in French jails. As a time capsule of 1757, the Bordeaux-Dublin letters offer a uniquely candid glimpse into the lives of ordinary people who never imagined that anyone else would ever read them.

The exhibition is open to the public from 9:00am to 6:00pm daily on the ground floor of NYU’s Bobst Library at 70 Washington Square South. A photo ID is required to enter the Mamdouha S. Bobst Gallery.

To learn more about Glucksman Ireland House NYU and the book that accompanies this exhibit go to http://irelandhouse. fas.nyu.edu, or email [email protected]

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