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Sebastian Barry:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Barry, Sebastian, 1955-
Title: Sebastian Barry Papers
Dates: 1939-2004, undated
Extent: 68 document boxes (28.56 linear feet), 4 oversize folders (osf), 5 serial boxes, 2 oversize boxes (osb), and 82 electronic files (811 MB)
Abstract: The Sebastian Barry papers consist of the personal and professional papers of Irish poet, novelist, and playwright Sebastian Barry. The papers document Barry's diverse writing career and range of creative output which includes drawings, poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and scripts.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-04878
Language: English, Arabic, French, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, and Romanian
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days’ notice for access in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material: To request access to electronic files, please email Reference.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchase, 2001-2005 (R14839, R15350)
Processed by: Hope Rider, Gabriela Redwine, Amy E. Armstrong, 2013 Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Chance Adams and Brenna Edwards, 2015-2022.

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Sebastian Barry was born on July 5, 1955, in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Francis, was an architect by profession but also a poet who published poems in literary journals such as Icarus and Broadsheet. His mother, Joan O'Hara, was an actress who frequently performed on stage at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and in later years appeared on British television. Barry has a younger sister, Siuban, and brother, Guy.
As a child, Barry's grandfather taught him to draw and paint, but his interests shifted toward writing poetry and fiction in his late teens, and the Irish Times published Barry's first poem when he was nineteen years old. Barry read Latin and English at Trinity College, Dublin, and served as editor for the 1977 edition of the Trinity College literary journal Icarus. After he received a B.A. (Mod.) in 1977, Barry lived at various times in Paris, Switzerland, and Greece while publishing poems in literary journals such as Cyphers, Hibernia, Broadsheet, and Paris Voices. Barry turned to writing longer works and published his first novel, Macker's Garden (Co-op Books) in 1982, quickly followed in 1983 by a book of poems, The Water-Colourist (Dolmen Press). Also in 1983, Barry published Time Out of Mind and Strappado Square, two novellas that were jointly released by Wolfhound Press but then withdrawn due to a libel suit.
In 1984, Barry was a Fellow at the International Writing Program at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The following year, he published a young adult novel based on stories he told his younger brother, Guy, called Elsewhere: The Adventures of Belemus (Brogeen Books, 1985).
In addition to The Water-Colourist, Barry has published three books of poetry: The Rhetorical Town (Dolmen Press, 1985), Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (Raven Arts Press, 1989), and The Pinkening Boy: New Poems (New Island Books, 2004), and edited one collection of Irish poetry, The Inherited Boundaries: Younger Poets of the Republic of Ireland (Dolmen Press, 1986).
In the late 1980s, Barry began exploring Irish history and using it, along with his ancestral heritage, as themes in his writings. His first play, Boss Grady's Boys, appropriately debuted on the Peacock stage at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1988 and earned Barry the first BBC/Stewart Parker Award. In 1990, Barry became the Ansbacher Writer-in-Association at the Abbey and later that year premiered his next play, Prayers of Sherkin, starring his mother Joan O'Hara and his future wife, Alison Deegan, whom he married in 1992. Barry achieved prominence with his 1995 play, The Steward of Christendom starring Irish actor Donal McCann. The play opened on the upstairs stage at the Royal Court Theatre in London, then traveled to the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and later returned to the main stage at the Royal Court Theatre, in addition to tours abroad. The play was nominated for two 1996 Laurence Olivier Awards and received several awards including 1996 Lloyds Playwright of the Year and Best Play 1996 by the Critics Circle-London.
Barry's other plays include Andersen's English (2010), Dallas Sweetman (2008), Hinterland (2002), The Only True History of Lizzie Finn (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998), The Pentagonal Dream (1986), The Pride of Parnell Street (2007), Tales of Ballycumber (2009), White Woman Street (1992), and an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's play The House of Bernarda Alba (2003), as well as a series of monologues written by multiple playwrights called She Was Wearing… (2005). Most of Barry's plays have been published either by Methuen or Faber and Faber.
In 1998, Barry published the first in a series of interconnected novels inspired by his Irish ancestors. His first novel since The Engine of Owl-Light (1987), The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), was loosely inspired by a distant great uncle, Charles O'Hara. Liam Fay of the Sunday Times wrote of it, "ablaze with vivid imagery and lyrical prose, Barry's novel is one of the most compelling to come out of Ireland in the past decade."
Barry's next novels introduced character threads taken from some of Barry's previous works, particularly minor and major characters introduced in his play The Steward of Christendom. For example, Annie Dunne (2002), based on Barry's great aunt, features the daughter of disgraced ex-officer and prior character, Thomas Dunne. Similarly, his novel A Long Long Way (2005) features Willie Dunne, teenaged brother of character Annie Dunne. A Long Long Way was shortlisted for 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
The Secret Scripture (2008) was inspired by a story Barry's mother told of a distant relative. It also ties in with a previous novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty. The main character, Roseanne McNulty, was married to Thomas McNulty, brother of Eneas McNulty. The novel received many awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the 2008 Costa Book of the Year award, both the Novel of the Year and the Choice Award at the Irish Book Awards, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
On Canaan's Side (2011) is about Lily Bere, the sister of the character Willie Dunne from A Long Long Way and the daughter of the character Thomas Dunne from The Steward of Christendom. The novel was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and won the 2012 Walter Scott Prize.


In addition to material found within the Sebastian Barry papers, the following sources were used:
"Sebastian Barry." British Council, (accessed 3 July 2013).
"Sebastian Barry."Contemporary Authors Online, Gale Literary Databases, (accessed 3 July 2013).
"Sebastian Barry." PLAYOGRAPHYIreland, Irish Theatre Institute, (accessed June 2013).

Scope and Contents

The Sebastian Barry papers consist of drafts of published and unpublished works, illustrations, personal and professional correspondence, notebooks, photographs, personal papers, and clippings belonging to Irish poet, novelist, and playwright Sebastian Barry. The professional and personal papers document Barry's diverse writing career and range of creative output and include drawings, poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and scripts. The papers are organized into seven series: I. Works, 1973-2004, undated; and II. Correspondence, 1976-2004, undated; III. Career, 1958-2004, undated; IV. Juvenilia and School, 1964-1983, undated; V. Family and Personal, 1939-2004, undated; VI. Works by Others, 1976-2002, undated; and VII. Serials and Publications, 1945-2001.
Series I. Works makes up the bulk of the papers and includes materials associated with Barry's writings. It is arranged into two subseries: A. Prose, 1973-2004, undated; and B. Poetry, 1973-2004, undated. Materials in each of these subseries are arranged in alphabetical order by title, and within each title the material generally follows the chronological order of literary production, from research and notes to publication drafts. When applicable, related material such as book dust jackets, reviews, publicity material, and/or adaptations follow the drafts.
Subseries A. Prose represents most of Barry's published and unpublished stories, play scripts, radio scripts, novels, essays, book reviews, op-ed pieces, and eulogies; however, his most recent novels and plays are not represented. The material in this subseries provides an opportunity to follow the trajectory of Barry's writing career, beginning with his earliest works such as the children's story, "Hamnesia and the Planet Igg" through to his award-winning novels and plays. The multiple working drafts allow a study of Barry's writing process, as each subsequent draft is heavily revised and indicates a constant re-working of the text. This is no less true for even relatively minor works as Barry works diligently crafting the words into a satisfactory final draft.
The segments of material related to Barry's plays includes notes, rehearsal schedules, casting documents, programs, publicity material, and reviews associated with the play's various productions. In addition, as most of Barry's plays have been published, editorial correspondence, edited proofs, book jacket proofs, and publicity material is often also included. The play The Steward of Christendom is particularly well-documented and includes multiple drafts of the script, as well as production material related to the opening and touring productions, congratulatory notes, translations, and publication proofs. The script for Boss Grady's Boys in box 3 folder 4 received conservation treatment to remove cellophane tape.
Subseries B. Poetry includes individual poems and material associated with published poetry collections. The subseries is arranged alphabetically first by poetry collection title, then by individual poem title. When Barry's materials arrived at the Ransom Center, they included large groups of poetry drafts that were in no discernible order. These drafts were arranged together according to similar language and imagery, and then alphabetized by the most dominant title. The typed and handwritten individual poems are heavily revised and many (beginning in box 33) are illustrated. Some poems are accompanied by notes from literary magazines indicating they are returned submissions. Individual poems are listed by title or first line, if untitled, in the Index of Poems located at the end of this finding aid.
Series II. Correspondence consists primarily of incoming letters, with occasional drafts of outgoing letters. The series is arranged alphabetically and for the most part, individual letters have not been further arranged within folders. Major correspondents include friends, family, writers, editors, theater directors and producers, and publishers such as: agent Leah Schmidt of The Agency, Arts Council/Aosdána, Curtis Brown, Eilís Dillon, Paul Engle, Jennifer Johnston, Peter Hall, James Liddy, Donal McCann, Frank McGuiness, Methuen, National Theatre Society, Joan O'Hara, Jean-Pierre Richard, Jean Kennedy Smith, Max Stafford-Clark, and Matthew Sweeney. Other correspondence includes fan mail, requests for appearances, greeting cards, and business and legal communications. Correspondent names are listed in the Index of Correspondents located at the end of this finding aid.
Series III. Career comprises papers and documents related to Barry's writing career. Included in this series are awards, collected business cards, contracts, programs, publicity clippings, publisher catalogs, reading and workshop materials, royalty statements, teaching material, and travel files.
Series IV. Juvenilia and School contains papers and documents related to Barry's childhood and enrollment at Trinity College, Dublin. Of note are Barry's early drawings, sketches, and paintings, as well as early poems. Of particular interest are the submissions and correspondence related to the 1977 issue of Icarus edited by Barry. His mother contributed a review under the name "J. O'H," and his father contributed several poems using the pseudonym Francis Craig.
Series V. Family and Personal contains papers and documents related to Barry's family life. Personal records, identification cards, lists, photographs, and works created by his wife, Alison Deegan; mother, Joan O'Hara; and children are represented in this series.
Series VI. Works by Others contains materials written or composed by other authors. Many of the works were sent to Barry from associates, others are essays related to Barry or his work. A small segment is unidentified, and the authors are unknown.
Series VII. Serials and Publications consist of entire issues and segments of periodicals and literary journals containing works written by Barry and other notable Irish writers. Many of the journals date from the early 1940s to the 1970s and originally belonged to Barry's father, Francis. Several of these poetry journals, such as Broadsheet, Poetry Ireland, and Cyphers, include poems written by Francis Barry. Arrangement is alphabetical by serial title.

Related Material

The Mel Gussow Collection at the Ransom Center contains additional material related to Sebastian Barry.

Separated Material

Bound volumes were transferred to the Ransom Center Library. Four 5.25-inch and one 3.5-inch computer disks were transferred to the Ransom Center Electronic Records Collection. Four unpublished, non-commercial audiocassette tapes were transferred to the Ransom Center Sound Recordings Collection. A lock of hair was transferred to the Ransom Center Personal Effects Collection.

Index Terms


Barry, Francis.
Deegan, Alison.
O'Hara, Joan.


Abbey Theatre (Dublin, Ireland).
Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland).


Authors, Irish--20th century.
Authors, Irish--21st century.
Dramatists, Irish.
Poets, Irish.



Document Types

Drawings (visual works).
Electronic documents.
Scripts (documents).
Theater programs.

Container List

Oversize boxes Container 74-75   
Request entire Container 74-75