Library at the Irish American Heritage Center Opens

By: Martin J. Healy Jr. and Terence Geghegan

After many years of volunteer work and fundraising, the Library at the Irish American Heritage Center opened on Sunday, December 11, 2005, with hundreds in attendance.

The fundraising efforts began in 1994 with a small committee including Tom Boyle and John Fitzgerald. It spanned the supportive presidencies of John O’Malley, the late Nora Murphy, Mike Hamman, Chuck Kinney and Patrick Bloom.

It also spawned three major fundraising dinners with special performances by Phil Coulter and Irish Tenor, John McDermott. The galas were chaired and emceed by the Honorable Neil Hartigan, Assessor Jim Houlihan, Channel 7’s Joel Daly, Jim Sloan, Jerry Gleason and Bill Mitchell.

Just about every phase of the construction of the Library was advanced through the tireless efforts of volunteers at the Center, under the expert leadership of Ambrose Kelly. The Library will house the collective Irish knowledge from the past and make it available for generations into the future. It is truly an outstanding Irish Library. There are books on almost every Irish subject, fiction and non-fiction, an adult and a special children’s section, books on tape and videos. The Library also offers an opportunity to study ancient aspects of Irish history.


From an attorney’s viewpoint, an example of such a study could relate to one of the most interesting features of early Irish society, a remarkable system of societal self-regulation known as the Brehon Laws.

Research on Brehon Laws would indicate that long before the Viking, the Norman or the Anglo Saxon invaded its shores, Ireland had developed its own unique and well-defined way of life. Early Irish society laid great emphasis on distinctions of rank and profession. The application of the law was conditioned on one’s status.

The Brehon Laws derive their name from ‘brithem’ in old Gaelic or ‘breitheamh’ which means judge in the modern Irish legal system. Accordingly, the Brehon Laws are literally judge-made laws. The Brehon Law judges were divided into three grades. The lowest was allowed to decide cases pertaining to craftsmen. Next in line was the judge known to be competent in traditional law and poetry. The most esteemed of the judicial categories comprised those learned in the traditional law and poetry, and also canon law. Each tuath, or petty kingdom had its own breithem who was appointed by the king. The judges’ fees were, in some cases, calculated as one-twelfth of the amount at issue between the parties.

While the laws focused on protection of person and property, unusual offences, involving social mores of the time, included refusal of hospitality, violation of protection and satire. Satirical attacks might include mocking a person’s appearance or physical condition, and could result in a fine. Anyone interested in ancient Irish systems of law or other aspects of Irish antiquity will have an abundant source of materials at the Library.

And on non-law related subjects, Ireland also has such a colorful history. The new Library will provide the research tools to explore its interesting past, from ancient to modern, and all other things “Irish.”

The Library contains volumes by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, William B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, for those with an appetite for tackling these worldwide Irish literary giants.

Books have been donated by various individuals over the past twenty years including some rare volumes of Thomas Moore’s poetry and music from the late 19th Century, kindly donated by Tom Boyle. Chicago native, Finley Peter Dunne, is well represented for those interested in following the adventures of his famous protagonist Mr. Dooley. The above is a mere snap shot of the collection available at the Center, and librarian, Peg Reid, will be happy to assist you with your search for the hard-to-find volumes from our Celtic past.

On a personal note, I want to thank the Officers and Members of the Board of the Irish American Heritage Center for recognizing my parents, Martin Healy, Sr. of Swinford, County Mayo and Mary Henneghan Healy of Tourmakeady, County Mayo, in connection with the Library.

The Library will welcome visitors after the first of the year.