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The special relationship between Liverpool and the Basque Country: The Manuel Irujo Chair at the University of Liverpool

05/20/2019

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Donostia-San Sebastian. The Basque Country has enjoyed a special relationship with Liverpool for a long time being both coastal areas, regarding emigration to America... In the world of academia, the first classes in Basque studies in the United Kingdom were offered in Liverpool and the University of Liverpool was pioneer in teaching Basque in the 1970s. The relationship grew even closer in 2013, when the granddaughters of a renowned Basque politician, Manuel Irujo, decided to donate the material from their grandfather’s library to the University of Liverpool. This collection gives us a comprehensive picture of 20th-century Basque history and culture, and insight into how Irujo felt about his homeland.

As the Etxepare Basque Institute reminds us, gradually collecting and cataloging the books that Manuel Irujo kept in his Paris and London homes, his granddaughter Ane Button Irujo managed to accumulate a collection of great value. The collections contain nearly 400 books and pamphlets, and 117 periodicals, mostly collected during Irujo’s years in exile in France and the United Kingdom. After considering different options, ultimately the University of Liverpool put in charge of creating and managing the Manuel Irujo Collection.

In the words of Xabier Irujo, director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, "When Spanish police entered Manuel Irujo’s grandfather’s home to loot in 1938, the official police report read ‘There is nothing of value; only books...’ That is how the Irujo library was preserved after five long wars and four dictatorships. The University of Liverpool has now become the home of this historical heritage and has the potential to become the focus of Basque Studies in Europe.”

The collections contain texts of all kinds: history books, novels, letters, dictionaries, song books, maps ... written in the 20th century in Basque, Spanish, French, English and Catalan. Among them are many curious titles. Several events cited in Paul Preston’s book "The Spanish Holocaust", such as the barbarities that took place during the Civil War, have been clarified thanks to Irujo´s letters. There are also many articles written by Irujo himself, such as the ones published in the newspaper "Euzko Deya de Méjico" or in the journal "Iberia", as well as letters to directors of English newspapers or to other politicians, plus minutes of several meetings, among others.

Noteworthy are the many first-hand stories of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Among the most important is the testimony of Pilar Fidalgo, which tells of inhumane conditions of women’s prisons of that time. There are also testimonies of several exiles such as the judge Antonio Ruiz Vilaplana, the priest and social activist Iñaki de Aberrigoyen (Don Iñaki Azpiazu) and Dr Manuel Gabarain, who tells how under General Franco, the fascists were ordered to carry out executions and murders in San Sebastian.

There are several books and letters dedicated to Manuel Irujo by well-known figures, including renowned Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, American journalist and enemy of the Franco regime Herbert Southworth, Catalan archaeologist and lawyer Pere Bosch-Gimpera, and opera singer Isidoro de Fagoaga. This shows the important political activity and network of contacts of an exiled politician of the time.

Manuel Irujo was a politician and lawyer born in Estella-Lizarra (Navarre) in 1891. Involved in politics since he was young, Irujo became one of the greatest promoters of Basque nationalism and served as Minister of Justice in the Spanish Government in times of war, before going into exile. After living in Paris and London for decades, he returned to the Basque Country in 1977 and was a member of the Parliament of Navarre until his death in 1981. He compiled an extensive library including his own work and writing by other authors. In 2015 the Etxepare Basque Institute created the Manuel Irujo Chair at the University of Liverpool and since then topics such as exile, history and politics are explored every year.



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