Catherine de Burgh
   Hester Catherine Browne, Lady Sligo

The Lady Sligo Letters: Westport House and Ireland's Great Hunger Exhibition

On display through March 22, 2015

Ireland's Great Hunger Institute, in collaboration with the Arnold Bernhard Library, is delighted to present the historically significant collection of Hester Catherine Browne, Lady Sligo (1800-1878). This collection of more than 200 letters, which covers the period of the Great Hunger, adds an important new dimension to scholarly understanding of this mid-19th century tragedy.

The exhibition launches an annual program that will showcase the Great Hunger collection, according to Professor Christine Kinealy, the institute's founding director. The letters and related artifacts are displayed in the library's Lender Family Special Collection Room, a venue built in the form of a ship's hull to commemorate the mass emigration occasioned by the Great Hunger. The exhibition opened to the public on May 1, 2014.

Born into Anglo-Irish privilege, Lady Hester Catherine de Burgh married Howe Peter Browne, the Marquess of Sligo and owner of Westport House, in 1816. In the 1840s, when her husband suffered a debilitating stroke, she took over the day-to-day management of their estate. Lady Sligo is directly related to the Browne family, present owners of this historic property in County Mayo in the west of Ireland.

Lady Sligo's letters demonstrate a keen awareness of contemporary politics and her concern for the poor, especially as the Famine unfolded in County Mayo, a badly affected region. They also provide unique insights into Irish society in the mid-19th century, especially in regard to the role and influence of women in Irish society, the diverse response of the "big house" to poor tenants during a period of crisis, and the social and political difficulties faced by humane landlords during the Great Hunger.

The exhibition is open to the public weekly: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Please call 203-582-2634 for hours during the academic intercessions.

Read the remarks from Anne Anderson, ambassador of Ireland to the United States, delivered during her visit to campus on April, 30, 2014.

Excerpts from the Lady Sligo letter collection

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