Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Did a Hollywood star come to campus in 1928? Douglas Fairbanks & the QCG Visitor Book #Explorearchives

The visitor book of Queens College Galway/University College Galway is a record of all guests and notable visitors to campus for the years 1877 - 1928. A simple volume like this was in use when the campus comprised only the Quadrangle building we know today but carries huge significance within the hundreds of signatures within its pages. The book covers a span of years that was revolutionary, in many senses, in Ireland and for the University with its place within the network of 'Queen's Colleges' of Ireland and the U.K.

Through the years the book was in use, it witnessed the growth of the University, the rise and fall of Charles Stewart Parnell, the reign and later death of Queen Victoria, the 1916 Rising which had ripple effects across the west, the first world war which saw staff and students of the college enlist and also die on the battlefields of Europe, the 1918 Election, and other major events through the Revolutionary period in Ireland, through to the late 1920s.

The book has been on display in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room for much of this year as a centre-piece of the exhibition, "A University in War and Revolution: 1913 - 1919". A truly unique occurrence happens in August 1899 when both Pearse brothers, Padraig and William, sign the register as visitors to campus. It is a rare occasion in history where both brothers' signatures are signed side-by side.

Signatures of the Pearse brothers, QCG, 1899


However, another curiosity occurs at the very last entry in the book. Dated 1928 is the signature of 'Douglas Fairbanks', Hollywood, Cal[ifornia]." There is no available information as to why Fairbanks, one of the most celebrated actors of his generation at the time was at UCG. Fairbanks was married to actress Mary Pickford at the time, who had Irish roots. Was he here as a guest of the President of the University or an academic? Was he on holidays in the region at the time? Or was the signature a prank by a student of the day?! Any film buffs out there who might have any clues, do let us know.
Signature of Douglas Fairbanks, UCG, 1928

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