Henry James was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th century literary realism, with his most famous works including Portrait Of A Lady, The Bostonians, The American and Washington Square. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James.
Henry James left America for England, where he was later granted citizenship, but the James family had roots in Ireland, Henry's grandfather, William, having moved to America from Bailieborough, where William had grown up on a farm in Curkish.
It was a connection that Henry James took little pride in; being more impressed with England and its traditions, his references to Ireland were mostly disparaging.
The James family's connection with Bailieborough couldn't be denied, however, try as Henry James might.
Robert James, who died in 1932, was the last of the family to live in Bailieborough. Robert's son and daughter, Henry and Muriel had the James family window installed in the Church of Ireland in memory to their ancestry there. It wasn't until 1931 that the last James family owned land in Bailieborough was sold.
Just last month, on the evening of Tuesday, June 22, Colm Tóibín formally unveiled a new plaque at the James family ancestral home on Main Street, before delivering a lecture, 'Henry James - The Shadow Of Bailieborough', at the Church of Ireland in Bailieborough.
Prior to the lecture, Rev. Joyce Rankin, rector of the Church Of Ireland in Bailieborough, took Colm Tóibín and members of the committee on a tour of the church and cemetery, where they saw the headstones for Henry James's great great grandparents, William James and his wife, who are interred in the old church, as well as the stained glass window that was commissioned in the mid 20th century by the surviving members of the James family in memory of their ancestors.
Music for the gathering in the church was provided by Michael Treganna and David Rutherford.
Tóibín's lecture was a comprehensive and informative insight into the life of the novelist, Henry James. Extending the subject to the James family, the Bailieborough connection was well covered.
Colm Tóibín was the obvious choice of celebrity for the Henry James events on the Bailieborough 400 calendar. Peadar Reynolds from the steering committee spoke afterwards of the committee's delight with how the evening unfolded.
"Colm Tóibín would be the leading Irish expert on Henry James and is known internationally as a James scholar. I felt he gave a clear picture of the James family," said Peadar, who said Tóibín was particularly pleased with the fact that members of the extended James family were there on the night, including Emily Eakin (nee McCartney), Mary West (nee McCartney), Robin Simmons and John McCartney were among them.
Peadar believes that the celebration of Henry James and the James family is important despite the novelist's apparent disregard for his Irish background.
"It is true that he tried to deny his Irish roots," says Peadar. "But his grandfather, William James, who went to The States, was very clear on where he came from. The fact that Henry James is a world renowned literary figure, it is important to recognise him and where his ancestors came from."
"I think it's really essential for us to recognise Ulster's Presbyterian heritage as a part of Irish culture and Irish history. The Jameses were part of that first wave of Irish emigration to the States, and it is really important for Bailieborough to put itself on the map as the place where this great family originated," said the author of The Master.
"It was fascinating to see the graveyard so well kept, and the new plaque on the building in the Main Street, and so many people in Bailieborough interested in this part of their heritage," he told The Anglo-Celt after his visit.
The Henry James events were organised by a cross-community group, headed by Lil McCormack, as a sub-committee of the steering group for Bailieborough Development Association's Forward 400 project to commemorate the foundation of Bailieborough, and celebrating its people, history and different traditions.
On behalf of the committee, Peadar expressed his appreciation to Rev. Rankin and the congregation of the Church of Ireland in Bailieborough for the facilities they provided.
All of the Forward 400 projects have been funded by Peace III in association with Cavan County Council under the Reconciling Communities initiative.
• See bailieborough.com