Circus Owner’s ‘Exquisite Collection’ Bequeathed to University

An extensive collection of books belonging to circus owner Henry Ringling North, of the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has been bequeathed to the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway. Pictured at a special event to mark the bequest were (l-r): John Cox, University Librarian at NUI Galway; Ondine de la Feld, Henry Ringling North’s niece, with her husband Maurizio; and Shirley North, Henry Ringling North’s daughter-in-law.
Jun 17 2014 Posted: 11:26 IST

1,200 volumes will contribute to current and future teaching and research programmes

An extensive collection of books belonging to circus owner Henry Ringling North, of the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has been bequeathed to the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway. The collection, from the private library of Henry Ringling North (1909-1993), totals 1,200 volumes.

A special event to mark the bequest was held recently at the University, and attended by members of Henry Ringling North’s family.

Henry ran and managed “The Greatest Show on Earth” with his brother John from 1936 to 1967. They introduced many innovations to revive the circus, enabling it to compete with the cinema and television. Henry wrote of his experiences in The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story, published originally in 1960 and republished in 2008. He took up Irish citizenship in the 1960s, purchasing Northbrook, a large working farm at Kilconnell, County Galway, where his son John now lives.

Henry Ringling North was a bibliophile and built his library through his lifetime, drawing on catalogues from all over Europe. Prior to the transfer of 1,200 volumes to Galway, the library had been housed in beautiful book cases at the family home in Begnins, Switzerland, and before that in Rome where they had been made by Italian craftsmen in the 1950s. A particular feature of the collection is the magnificent binding of many of the volumes. Notable in this regard are the large folio volumes, bound in crimson morocco, of David Roberts’ The Holy Land, with gilt armorial coat of arms embossed on both covers. In 1998, John North donated 137 of his father’s books to the University and the entire collection will now be combined.

Several disciplines are represented in the collection but it is clear that Henry Ringling North had a particular interest in Art History, Archaeology and the Classical World. Travel is a prominent theme throughout, while his interest in Ireland is demonstrated by a fine collection of 18th and 19th century volumes on history and literature.

Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway, said: “We are truly honoured to become the keepers of such an exquisite collection. In addition to its quality, historical value and the insights it provides into the life of Henry Ringling North, this is an excellent resource for teaching and research programmes at NUI Galway. The University is extremely grateful for, and honoured by, this wonderful bequest which will be valued by the scholars of today and of future generations. It will hold a special place here on campus in our newly opened Hardiman Research Building.”

The Hardiman Research Building, recently named the 2014 Irish Building & Design Architectural Project of the Year, is situated at the heart of NUI Galway’s campus, adjacent to the James Hardiman Library. It is home to NUI Galway’s unique collection of more than 350 literary, theatrical, political and historical archives, dating from 1485 to the present.

At a special event on 6 June to mark the bequest, volumes from the Ringling North Library were on display. There was also commentary on some of the subjects in the collection by experts including NUI Galway’s: Professor Daniel Carey of the Moore Institute, Professor Padraig Lenihan from History, and emeritus Professor Catherine O’Brien from Italian, alongside Mary Hawkes Greene, President of the Burren College of Art.

Speaking about the event, University Librarian John Cox said: “The value the University places on this magnificent collection is evident from expert presentations at the event which highlighted the different ways in which it will contribute to our current and future teaching and research programmes.”


Marketing and Communications Office