Daniel Corkery


The Papers of Daniel Corkery (Donal Ó Corcora) held in the Boole Library, University College Cork.
Carol C. Quinn. B.A., D.A.A.
Boole Library

To many Irish people the name Daniel Corkery  (1878-1964) is synonymous with the title of his most well known book The Hidden Ireland, a seminal work in which Corkery put forward the case for the wealth and depth of the native Irish literary tradition. In it he argued that modern Irish writers should try to emulate their forbears, rather than take on the genres of English authors. It is as a cultural nationalist that Corkery is widely remembered today a sometimes stern opponent of those writers (Frank O'Connor and Sean O'Faolian to name two prominent examples) who strayed as his saw it from the true path of Irish literary tradition. However there were many facets to this remarkable man who in his youth studied French and German so he might read influential authors without translation. He was also a master of the art of the short story, and his collections The Hounds of Banba and The Stormy Hills contain many wonderful vignettes of contemporary rural and urban life in Cork city and county. He was an accomplished watercolourist, a dramatist and co-founder in 1908 of  the Cork Dramatic Society. He was an inspiring teacher for many years and of course he was an avid supporter and member of the Gaelic League and worked for many years as one of their roving teachers giving Irish classes throughout Cork county. This part of his life is commemorated each year in Inchigeela where the Daniel Corkery Summer School is run every year and in Ballingeary (where he came early in the century to Colaiste Na Mumhan). A friend of both Tomas MacCurtain and more especially Terence MacSwiney, Corkery was a Nationalist who saw his role post Independence as promoting the native Irish language and its literary tradition.

Preserved in the Boole Library, UCC are Daniel Corkery's papers as donated after his death by his nephew Bill Corkery.  This collection of letters, diaries, notebooks, drafts of publications and lectures provide a unique resource for the student of modern Ireland in the era pre and post Independence. The collection especially provides an in depth account of the undercurrents in the organisation of the Gaelic League in that period, and lays bare the formation of the mind of one of that organisations most illustrious supporters. The surviving papers span those years of Corkery's life devoted to Arts and Literature, with nothing surviving from his childhood or the era pre 1900 and only a few items reflecting his career as a teacher and educationalist. The bulk of the collection is formed by various drafts of his books, short stories, essays and notes from his voracious reading. Very little remains from his early days with the Gaelic League but an account of those years can be found in the manuscript of a lecture 'Corcaigh le linn m'oige'

What can be best gleaned from the early records however is an insight into the mindset of Corkery, the young man, and his hopes and aspirations for himself at that time. Between the period July 1907 and August 1910 Corkery kept a somewhat sporadic diary, recording conversations and literary discussions with friends, comments on and quotes from books he was reading, impressions of sights and people he encountered during the day and his hopes and fears for his literary endeavours.
In his diary Corkery rarely referred to his working life and his role as a National School teacher, a role at which he was considered gifted, but considered himself to be drudgery. On the 12th August 1907 he remarks ruefully "A teachers is one of the most melancholy lives." On occasions his job included looking for truant children and on the 20th August 1907 he records a visit to Paul Street, then a notorious slum in the centre of Cork, where everywhere he encountered "an ashamed look in the faces of those who opened the door for me; their faces always unwashed, with hair hanging, and effort made to draw the clothes over the breast, half naked children running around….it is such lanes as these turn out soldiers".

In November 1908 Corkery became a founder member of the Cork Dramatic Society, which had their headquarters at 'An Dún' in Father Matthew Street, Cork. It was here that he came into close contact with Terence MacSwiney amongst others, and in 1911 the CDS put on a production of 'The Epilogue ' by Corkery together with 'Holocaust' by MacSwiney and 'The Lesson of his Life ' by Lennox Robinson. Although never very active in the Republican movement Corkery was a Nationalist and sympathetic to the aims of MacSwiney and MacCurtain. In 1952 he wrote to many of his old contemporaries asking them to record their memories of Easter 1916 in Cork, some of the replies to which are still extant.

After 1916 Corkery channelled his patriotism into working within the Gaelic League to promote cultural nationalism. By 1921 he was travelling throughout West Cork organising Irish classes, recording as he went stories of the War of Independence told to him . This association remained one of the touchstones of Corkery's life until his death in 1964.This is reflected in the Corkery papers by the large volume of correspondence stretching over almost 30 years between Corkery and his friend the prominent Gaelic Leaguer Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh. These letters are probably the heart of the Corkery collection. Invariably these two men discussed most often in their letters the subject that lay closest to their hearts; the Gaelic League and the struggle for an ongoing literary tradition in Irish. Cut off somewhat in Cork from the cut and thrust of the movement in Dublin, Corkery relied on Ó Muircheartaigh to keep him informed about activities within the League and to keep him up to date with the comings and goings of various friends and acquaintances. It is revealed also through this correspondence that Ó Muircheartaigh also provided a vital support for Corkery in proof reading and advising him on his works written in Irish. Although devoted to the Irish language Corkery never achieved the easy fluency of the native speaker and it was one of the great regrets and ironies of his life that he felt he never mastered the language enough to write novels or stories in it. The letters paint a vivid insight into the internal wrangling of the Gaelic League throughout the 1940's and 1950's, and give a revealing insight into the fears and hopes of two of the last 'Irish Irelanders'. Often lenient in print Corkery could be cutting in private about authors who failed to follow his dictums and whose dedication to the Gaelic tradition was less than his. A friendly rivalry or game playing is also revealed in the letters where Corkery and Ó Muircheartaigh (a native of Kerry) would try to best each other at coming up with archaic or local Irish phrases each hoped would be unknown to the other.

In 1931 in recognition of his contribution to Irish Literature Corkery was appointed Professor of English at UCC, a post he held until his retirement in 1947. One of the other candidates he beat for the position was his one time acolyte Sean O'Faolain. It was one of Corkery's regrets that throughout his life he always had to work to support his family and so could never devote himself to writing full time in the manner O'Faolain and O'Connor did. Although he never married, Corkery was responsible for the care of his widowed mother until her death after which he lived with his sister who acted as housekeeper. The surviving letters and statements between Corkery and his publishers show just how little he earned during his lifetime from royalties and reveal quite starkly how with his family responsibilities he would never have been able to support himself if he gave up teaching. In 1917 with his first collection of short stories A Munster Twilight and his novel The Threshold of Quiet both in print he earned less than £50 in royalties for the year. In 1925 he received just under £2.

Since their deposit in the Boole Library the Corkery papers have been cleaned, sorted and listed. A full Descriptive List of the content of the collection is available at the staff desk in Q-1, the basement floor in the library. The Archives Service is open from 9.30 -4.30 (closed 12.45 - 2.15) Monday to Friday. Researchers who are not students or members of UCC staff can consult the collection once that have a valid research reason. The collection cannot be accessed for casual browsing. Unfortunately given limitations of space school groups on not at this point be catered for. Anyone wishing to enquire about the Corkery collection can ring 021- 903180 or e.-mail c.quinn@ucc.ie