‘Old Friendship & Regard’: The Joseph M. Hassett Donation, 2022 

In an interview with Dennis O’Driscoll, Seamus Heaney noted that ‘A friendship…is a field of force. There’s a mutuality, a happy shadowing and colouring of minds. You wake to different things in yourself and in the world, just by coming alive in the company of different friends.’ [1] A recent donation to UCD Special Collections celebrates both Heaney’s published works, and his friendship with Joseph M. Hassett.  

A selection of books from the Joseph M. Hassett Donation 2022

A lawyer, literary scholar and philanthropist, Hassett began his relationship with UCD as an undergraduate when he received a scholarship to attend a summer programme in literary studies. Later, he studied for and received an MA and then a PhD in English in UCD, specializing in the work of W. B. Yeats. He has published several works of important literary scholarship on Yeats and on Joyce’s Ulysses, although this is not his primary profession: a graduate of Harvard Law School, Hassett has had a distinguished legal career with Hogan Lovells Washington DC. In 2019, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from UCD and sponsors an MA scholarship in Irish literature named for Professor Gus Martin (1935–95) as well as other humanities-related activities.

In 2013, Hassett donated a significant collection of twentieth and twenty-first century Irish poetry publications and manuscripts to the UCD Library, via the American Ireland Fund. This collection consists of a series of first editions of publication by W. B. Yeats, including the extremely rare printing of ‘Easter, 1916’, as well as several important manuscripts relating to the women from whom Yeats drew inspiration. More recently, in 2022, Hassett made a further donation of books and other materials by or relating to Seamus Heaney. This collection includes Irish, British, and American editions of Heaney’s poetry, and several limited fine press editions and broadsides, revealing Heaney’s careful consideration of how his work was presented and his collaborations with artists and fine press publishers. This collection has now been catalogued and all of the items are available for consultation in the reading room. Additionally, the Hassett donation also includes a range of contemporary volumes by important Irish poets, including Peter Sirr, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Michael Longley, Dennis O’Driscoll, and Maeve McGuckian among many others.

Materials in the 2022 donation include Heaney’s first major published volume, Death of a Naturalist (1966), and its successors, Door into the Dark (1972), Wintering Out (1973), and North (1975), each showing eye-catching design and typography. 

Through the collection, Heaney’s connection to individual artists emerges, with a notable figure being Dimitri Hadzi (1921 – 2006), an American sculptor who had been professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard, where Heaney also taught for a period. Although slight in form, Keeping Going is a masterful publication, limited to an edition of 200 copies and printed by the Bow and Arrow Press in Concord, New Hampshire. The copy in the Hassett donation is number 55/200, and is signed at the colophon by Heaney, Hadzi, and the printer, Gino Lee. 

Heaney also had relationships with particular publishers, such as Peter Fallon at the Gallery Press. This is borne out in limited edition books such as The Riverbank Field and The Last Walk – both illustrated by Martin Gale – and more personal items, such as The Settle Bed, a pamphlet printed privately for the Heaney family by Fallon, which is illustrated with a drawing by Catherine Ann Heaney. 

Further personal and family connections abound in a particularly special item: a slim volume titled Midsummer Feast. Heaney bibliographers Rand Brandes and Michael J. Durkan note that this book was printed in an edition of 250 (of which this is number 51) and published to celebrate an extended family gathering at Cannwood House, Somerset. Volumes in this edition have various marbled paper boards and leather quarter spine, with this copy having a beautiful butter-coloured leather, and nonpareil pattern papers in soft colours.

Contributions by Seamus and Marie Heaney to ‘Midsummer Feast’

Marking this important donation, the current exhibition in the Special Collections reading room draws on this collection in Heaney & the Classics, focusing on the links between Heaney’s writing and classical texts. Selected by Joseph Hassett, the exhibition is accompanied by two new essays by Roy Foster (focusing on Heaney’s use of a classical framework in ‘Mycenae Lookout’) and Bernard O’Donoghue, reflecting on classical literature and Heaney’s craft.

Marie Heaney and Joseph M. Hassett at the launch of ‘Heaney & the Classics’ (Photograph: Mark Stedman Photography)

For those, however, more interested in visual culture and book craft than classical allusion, there is also much to see – including volumes illustrated by Wendy Artin and Claire van Vilet – or for those coming back to Heaney’s work after a long hiatus, familiar poems, such as ‘Digging’.

What emerges strongly from the exhibition however, is the close friendship between Heaney and Hassett. This is most clearly articulated in an inscription in Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes: Sophocles’ Antigone, published by Faber in 2004. On the title page, following a quotation from the play, Heaney has signed off ‘With old friendship & regard, Seamus, 4.V.’04 in Oxford.’  We at UCD Special Collections are enormously grateful our ongoing friendship of Joseph Hassett, and are delighted to now welcome visitors to this exhibition. With one academic year closing, and another on the horizon, we also look forward to seeing the Hassett collections being used for teaching and research in UCD and beyond. 

This post was written by Katy Milligan, Library Assistant, UCD Special Collections.

[1] Dennis O’Driscoll, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney (Faber & Faber, 2009),  187.

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