In great, baronial Gaston Hall at Georgetown University, the distinguished guests gathered under heroic murals, room-encircling coats of arms and painted, gilded rafters to honor Rose Maguire Saul Zalles.

Zalles, the Washington woman revered by the people and government of Ireland, has fortified her "Irish sainthood" with the presentation of the Celtic Cultural Program she is instituting at the Jesuit school.

Using a nucleus of an inheritance of a library on Celtic history, Zalles has enlarged the collection to over 6,000 books, most of them ancient. She is presenting them as the Maguire Celtic Book Collection to the Georgetown University's Lauinger Memorial Library.

She describes that history as "literally stretching across the belly of Europe, from one end to the other, and going back to 8,000 years before Christ. Archeologists are still finding Celtic artifacts in France and Germany, all the way up to the border of China."

Dr. Francis X. Gannon of Georgetown's Celtic studies program was master of ceremonies at last night's inauguration. He invoked a Thomas Carlyle quote which is on the National Archives building, "The past is prologue," to tell how Rose Zalles "has applied Carlyle to this century in preserving the culture of the Celts."

He then introduced Zalles' cousin and "actors actor" Hurd Maguire Hatfield, describing Hatfield's acting career in Ireland, England and and America.

"I just came from Ireland," the actor said, "where I live in a 400-year-old house, and I love Irish writing, as everyone must. It was difficult to choose among the Irish writings, so I simply imagined I was sitting by the fire and choosing things to share with you that I love."

He is sandy-haired, lithe and lean and he bounded gracefully onto the stage. He spoke with perfect cadence, very nearly unaccented. He told of Ireland having received religion and literature from St. Patrick and after a humorous poem or two, he recited in dirge-like tones an Irish poem about a long-ago warrior, Hugh Maguire, whose life was given in battle with the English. He went on to Sir Thomas More and William Butler Yeats, ending with recitations from George Bernard Shaw, whose work he pioneered on television.

The remaining program was "Irish Airs," played by concert violinist Geraldine O'Grady, in silver lace. She brought her concert to a close with the most Irish song of all, "Danny Boy."

A reception followed the program, complete with Irish pipers and Irish coffee.