Monday, April 25, 2022

Eoghan Ó’Tuairisc - The Archive of a Bilingual Writer


Born in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway in April 1919, Eoghan Ó’Tuairisc (Eugene Watters) was a bilingual writer, with a prolific output through both Irish and English, of poetry, stories, prose, novels and plays. He was educated at Garbally College in his home town of Ballinasloe before joining the army in 1939. His parents were Thomas Watters, a shoemaker, who had been wounded at the Battle of the Somme in France during the First World War, where he was a member of the Connacht Rangers. And his mother was Maud Watters (née Sproule), was a seamstress and clairvoyant.

Following his time in the army, Ó’Tuairisc enrolled in St. Patrick’s College where he trained to be a teacher. The college was run through Irish and which further extended his fluency. He qualified as a primary school teacher in 1939. He later undertook an M.A. at University College Dublin, graduating in 1947. Ó’Tuairisc married the artist Una McDonnell in 1945 but who died suddenly in 1965. Following a period of personal and artistic withdrawal, Ó’Tuairisc married the poet Rita Kelly in 1972. He was the recipient of numerous literary awards throughout his life for his bi-lingual writing and was also elected a member of Aosdána.

Ó’Tuairisc won the Hyde Memorial Award for his early novel, L’Attaque, in 1962. In 1964, his book of Irish poetry, Lux Aeterna again won the award. In 1966, Dé Luain won the American Cultural Award and a stage-play, Lá Fhéile Michíl won the Oireachtas prize. Ó’Tuairisc is associated with a number of theatres in Dublin and Galway, such Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, who staged his 1974 play, An Hairyfella in Ifrinn. He also won an Oireachtas prize for his play Aisling Mhic Artáin in 1977. As well as having works staged at An Damer theatre in Dublin, Ó’ Tuairisic also contributed to work at the Peacock stage and the main stage of the Abbey Theatre, such as Táinbocú, written by Ó’Tuairisc, Criostiór Ó Floinn and Gabriel Rosenstock (1979), and the political revue, A State Of Chassis (1970) with John D. Stewart and Tomas MacAnna.

The Ó’Tuairisc archive at NUI Galway Library comprises twenty-six boxes of materials which documents Ó’Tuairisc’s literary and personal life, including manuscripts, drafts of work, correspondence with family, correspondence with Irish writers, editors and publishers, posters and programmes, photographs and a range of other material from the literary life over a number of decades. Files of letters are present from the likes of David Marcus, a long-time editor of Ó’Tuarisc at the Irish Press and Poolbeg Press, Tomás MacAnna at the Abbey Theatre, and other publisher of his poems and plays, such as Mercier Press.

As well as letters from leading Irish writers, from Martín Ó’Direán to John McGahern, early manuscripts and drafts of novels, such as a memorandum book containing notes on characters and the order of chapters for a novel, which later became "An Lomnochtán" (recently translated by Mícheál Ó hAodha and published in English as “I am Lewy” by Bullaun Press), a commemorative work on the 1916 Rising, and numerous drafts, treatments, outlines, and research files, all capturing the literary process of Ó’Tuairisc. The archive is accessible at NUI Galway Library and the catalogue can be searched online here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Joyce's Masterpiece in Print - Ulysses: A Century Later


James Joyce's Ulysses
Shakespeare and Co., Paris.
Special Collections, NUI Galway Library

As Stephen Dedalus began his odyssey around Dublin with the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, on 2nd February 1922, so too began the story of the one of the most famous novels in all of English literature. Ulysses has captivated and confounded readers for a century since it was first published by Sylvia Beach in Paris and at her Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Within Special Collections of NUI Galway Library is a rare fourth printing of the novel.

Sylvia Beach’s first printing in February 1922 of the novel ran to 1,000 numbered copies. The second printing by Egoist Press took place in London in October 1922 and ran to 2,000 numbered copies, with 500 of those famously burned by U.S. Post Office authorities. Egoist Press ran a third printing of the book with a further 500 copies in January 1923, with all but one sole copy of these being seized by Customs.

Printing run and previous editions. 
4th Printing

This fourth printing returns the story of Ulysses back to where it began, in Paris, and at Shakespeare and Company. The edition still contains the original packing slip from Beach’s shop, advertising it as a “Bookshop and Lending Library – Modern English and American Literature”. It was priced at 60 francs. At the end of the novel is a list of “Additional Corrections” with changes and edits made to the text. It was printed in Paris in January 1924, just before the book’s second anniversary.

Original packing slip from Shakespeare and Company bookshop, Paris, run by Sylvia Beach.

The book’s impact on reading, readership, language, and literature is unquantifiable. The edition is in excellent condition and a reminder of the power of words and reading to bring readers together to celebrate a novel a century after it was first published. The 4th printing of Ulysses is currently on display at the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room, Hardiman Building.

Front Cover, Ulysses, 4th printing
NUI Galway Library

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Letters on Bloody Sunday - The International Response - From the Kevin Boyle Archive


As the news reached international media of the killings of thirteen (and soon to be fourteen) civil rights marchers in Derry on Bloody Sunday, 30th January 1972, by British parachute regiment forces, international response and condemnation would follow from many quarters. As an Executive Council member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), many figures wrote to Kevin Boyle in the weeks and months that followed, and also in a direct personal capacity, offering sympathy to Boyle on the killings, and in condemning the atrocity that happened.

Murray Sayle, an Australian journalist and foreign correspond with the Sunday Times, wrote to Kevin in June 1972 thanking him for a piece he had written. Sayle adds that “I suppose one day we will learn what really happened on B[loody] Sunday. However, it certainly takes its place with Amritsar, Sharpville, etc. as a turning point”. Sayle, originally from Sydney, Australia, was foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times in the 1960s and early 1970s. Through his career he reported on wars and conflict in Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

Letter from Murray Sayle to Kevin Boyle, 2 June 1972. 
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway Library

Sayle travelled to Derry on the night of the 30th January 1972 and reported directly from the scene in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday killings, reporting that the soldiers were not fired upon first, as they had reported. The Sunday Times refused to print Sayle's report. The journalist quit the paper later in 1972 in protest to this editorial decision. The letter to Boyle, on Sunday Times headed paper, brings an international dimension to the Bloody Sunday to other colonial-era massacres, such as at Amritsar, India, where over one thousand peaceful protesters were killed by British army forces in 1919, and Sharpville, South Africa, where sixty-nine black marchers were killed by police officers while peacefully protesting the Pass Law system. (Boyle later reported on the Pass Law system in South Africa in the 1980s for Amnesty International, having researcher and lectured extensively on the human rights and legal failings of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.)

On February 12th, less than two weeks after Bloody Sunday, Friedel Malter, wrote to Edwina Stewart, Secretary of the NICRA, from Berlin, expressing condemnation of the killings in her capacity as Chair of the GDR Human Rights Committee:

“On behalf of the citizens of the German Democratic Republic, the Committee for Human Rights condemns the cruel terror of the British Army against the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland which found its most brutal expression so far in the assassination of 13 civil rights marchers in Derry”.

Telegram from Friedel Malter to Kevin Boyle
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway Library

Malter continues in her telegram to state that “we follow with great interest and deep sympathy the struggle of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland for attaining their political, social, and national rights”. Malter concludes the letter by lending demands for “the immediate release of all civil rights fighters detailed in concentration camps [in Northern Ireland]. Malter was an anti-fascist activist, communist, and trades unionist who had been detailed in German concentration camps during the Second World War.

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers also contacted Boyle with days of Bloody Sunday. Writing to Boyle at the Law Faculty, Queen’s University, Belfast, the organisation updated that after “the tragedy of Londonderry” they had issued a press statement demanding “immediate measures to prevent further escalation in repression and breaches of civil rights [in Northern Ireland]”. Later the next week, the American Congress on Irish Freedom, through its Chair, James Heaney, sent a letter on behalf of the ACIF to “all United Nations Delegations”, and urged the UN to intervene “to end the senseless slaughter” in the wake of Bloody Sunday.

Letter from Joe Nordmann, International Association of Democratic Lawers
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Letter from James C. Heaney, American Congress on Irish Freedom to Kevin Boyle
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

The letters that feature here are a sample from wider files within the archive of Kevin Boyle at NUI Galway Library that show the international response by a variety of groups and individuals to Bloody Sunday. Within his role as PRO for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, Boyle was at the forefront of formulating a response in the midst of the grief and outrage at the killings. Boyle own response to the Widgery Report (published in April 1972 to investigate the events of Bloody Sunday) would come later that year in the form of his paper: “Widgery: A Critique”. The paper takes a legal and human rights perspective on dismissing and dismantling Widgery’s findings. Boyle opens the paper by defining what ‘a whitewash’ is. He undermines Widgery by critiquing the findings on three avenues of investigation: “What was the British Army’s plan for dealing with the N.I.C.R.A. march on 30th January in Derry? [2] What were the consequences of implementing that plan? [3] Was the plan justified?”.

"Widgery: A Critique" by Kevin Boyle, 1972
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Extract from "Widgery: A Critique" by Kevin Boyle (NICRA)
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Boyle's paper was published by the NICRA and a copy is within one of the thousands of files within over 120 boxes of manuscripts and papers which form his archive at NUI Galway. The papers which relate to Northern Ireland and the Civil Rights Movement are a hugely detailed record of not just Boyle’s perspective but also those of his many colleagues and fellow activists from the NICRA, PD, and many regional civil rights branches across Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. The catalogue of the papers can be searched online here.

For more on Boyle’s life and career, the biography “Are You With Me - Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement” is written by Mike Chinoy and published by Lilliput Press.

For previous posts in this series, see: 

Remembering Bloody Sunday: Kevin Boyle and the lead up to 'the Derry march', January 1972

Local Responses to Bloody Sunday - Material from the Boyle Archive

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Local Responses to Bloody Sunday - Material from the Boyle Archive

 In the wake the killing of fourteen unarmed civilians by British paratrooper regiment in Derry, January 30th 1972, local and international reaction is captured in a range of material within the Kevin Boyle archive. Regional civil rights associations across Northern Ireland met and discussed responses following the shootings. This flyer, from the Newry Civil Rights Association, Co. Down (Boyle was born in Newry in 1943) advertises a march its association organised in response to the Bloody Sunday Killings. 

Flyer for march in Newry, Co. Down, 1972. 
Kevin Boyle Archive NUI Galway

The marchers are instructed that the march will take place "in total silence in honour of the Derry dead", with further instructions that "Silence and discipline will be our watch-words". The organisers make clear all is intended as a peaceful march and not seeking to initiate or provoke any response or confrontation with the British Army. 

On the 9th March 1972, the South Derry Civil Rights Association held its Annual General Meeting in Bellaghy, Derry. Coming less than six weeks after Bloody Sunday, reaction to the killings was high on the agenda. A copy of the minutes of that AGM meeting was kept by Boyle and is present within his archive. Boyle attended the meeting and addressed the audience in his capacity as a member of the NICRA Executive Committee. As is recorded in the minutes, two days' mourning was observed on 1st and 2nd of February "for the victims of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry". The minutes offer a detailed account of the CRA activities in Derry. Bellaghy, as venue for the AGM was one of the new CRA branches established, along with Castledawson, Maghera, Lavery, among other locations. Updates on the impacts of the Rent and Rates strike were given at the meeting, with notices that tenants in a number of locations who refused to pay rent as part of the strike were served with eviction notices. Protests erupted outside the courthouse where the tenant's cases were heard. 

Excerpt from minutes of AGM of South Derry Civil Rights Association, 9 March 1972
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Also recorded in the minutes is an report on "Attitudes to Military": "We asked that security forces be ostracised by the people of south Derry. There are numerous instances of harassment, intimidation, and callousness by members of the British Army, U.D.R., and R.U.C." Further details of the firing of rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters at Swatragh, Derry, were recorded. 

The minutes conclude in stating gratitude "to all those who have helped us in our efforts to expose and eliminate injustices and who have supported our struggle for a free and just society" 

All these items and other files relating to Bloody Sunday, and the wider Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland are available in the Kevin Boyle Archive

Excerpt from minutes of AGM of South Derry Civil Rights Association, 9 March 1972
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Remembering Bloody Sunday: Kevin Boyle and the lead up to 'the Derry march', January 1972

Professor Kevin Boyle

The civil rights march in Derry on 30th January 1972 and which would ultimately become known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ was first suggested by Kevin Boyle, an executive member and press officer for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). Born in Newry, Co. Down, in May 1943, Boyle was a central figure and witness to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland. Boyle’s biographer, Mike Chinoy, also positions Boyle at the centre of the rise of the human rights movement, not just in Ireland but internationally. A skilled orator, lecturer, barrister and academic, Boyle was the first full-time Professor of Law at NUI Galway (then UCG), in 1977, before becoming the founding director of the international NGO, ‘Article 19’, working on Freedom of Expression in the mid-1980s.

Boyle held numerous roles through the 1980s and 1990s, reporting on human rights abuses for Amnesty international, from South Africa, to Somalia, and the Gambia, as well as taking many cases to the European Court for Human Rights at Strasbourg. Later Professor and director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, Boyle’s (who died in 2010) vast archive is located at NUI Galway Library. Within it, are records not just of the NICRA (main executive committee and regional branches), People’s Democracy, and files of personal correspondence from the years and months through the late 1960s and 1970s, all which documents Northern Ireland political and social history from Boyle’s direct viewpoint and experiences.

Hugh Logue has written:

At the outset of 1972 a programme of events, including marches, was drawn up by NICRA. It was Boyle’s idea to hold a march in Derry on the last Sunday of January 1972. North Derry Civil Rights, of which I was vice-chairman, would organise, one week before the Derry event, a march on the Magilligan internment camp. Since access by road was banned, the march went along Magilligan beach, where John Hume, who was to be our main speaker, confronted the British army commander on the beach near the camp. Those British soldiers were members of the infamous parachute regiment that would wreak such havoc in the Bogside eight days later Bloody Sunday.

Boyle was not present on the day of the march in Derry on 30th January 1972. In his statement to the Saville Enquiry Boyle outlined his memories of the lead up to the march. Boyle’s archive provides a remarkable insight into Boyle’s own role but also his memories of the events leading up to Bloody Sunday in 1972.

The inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association took place in 1967. Boyle became active in the group in the following year. “ . . . after the march in Dungannon on 5th October 1968 . . . After that, the People’s Democracy (“PD”) was established by the students (of Queens University, where Boyle was then a lecturer) and I made the conscientious decision to join. PD was essentially an alliance of student socialists and the unaligned.” In the period following this and up to 1972, Boyle recounts “a polarisation” in public opinion. Boyle took a more public role and spoke at demonstrations, such as in Armagh. Becoming more disassociated with PD following the Apprentice Boy’s march in August 1969, Boyle took greater interest in the NICRA from the middle of 1970. (Boyle had previously been elected to the NICRA Executive in 1969 at the NICRA AGM held at St. Mary’s Hall, Belfast).

Photograph of undated Civil Rights, Northern Ireland. 
From Professor Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway.

By December 1971, Boyle recounts the NICRA plans to hold more marches but also while recognising the risks that such events would bring. “It was clear the Rent and Rates Strike was not having the desired effect, and that we needed to do something more . . . the question of marching was mooted”. Boyle clarified that while some disquiet among the NICRA Executive as to where the marches would be held, “the decision that we took in December 1971 was taken reluctantly against an increasing background of violence. However we felt the pressure against the authorities needed to be stepped up”.

A meeting of the NICRA Executive was held on 14th January 1972, where plans for the Derry march were discussed. A date of 16th January was first discussed for the march before it being eventually postponed until 30th January. Boyle discusses the early planning of the March in more detail, from its stewarding to its route and rerouting through the city of Derry, being aware of risks from Unionist protesters against the Civil Rights march. “We would have been concerned that sectarian violence would result from the confrontation and this is probably why we chose to ensure that the march went to Free Derry Corner and not to Guildhall Square”. As Boyle further clarified, despite being central to the early planning of the march, and on wider matters of civil disobedience and peaceful protest during his time with the NICRA, what would unfold on ‘Bloody Sunday’ was not within the expectations of the Executive, nor did Boyle travel to Derry for the march:

At the time, no one had a sense that something major was going to happen at the march in Derry. For example, I was not present at the march, having stayed in Belfast to catch up with some academic work that weekend.

“At the time”, Boyle concluded: “We had no sense of a premonition of serious trouble at the march". When later pressed about his 'conscience' as regards the events on Bloody Sunday, Boyle responded in a considered manner, that: 

What my conscience, how my conscience responds is, is something I'll have to decide for myself, it's a very complicated question. The point I would like to make is that twenty thousand people came to the streets of Derry yesterday. It wasn't three or four hundred people, determined militants who have no sympathy in or with the people. The whole of the Bogside and Creggan communities were on the streets in Derry, they wanted to be on the streets. That seems to me the best answer to those who say that it was irresponsible to organise demonstrations. The people themselves responded and they are the people that we in the end of the day feel responsible to.

In Hugh Logue’s article about Kevin Boyle, he reminds us of the findings and conclusions of Lord Saville and the enquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday and regarding those involved in organising the march:

Lord Saville’s verdict could not have been starker: “The firing by Soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of thirteen people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” And, he was equally clear: “No blame was placed on the organisers of the march, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

Boyle’s archive provides a remarkable window into the tragic history and memory of the killings of the civil rights marchers by members of the British parachute regiment. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday’, a series of blog posts will examine the material held within Kevin Boyle’s archive, and which offers new insights into the lead up to and response in the wake of Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972.



Thursday, January 20, 2022

Strand House and The Treaty - Story of a Photograph

Back Row L to R: Mary Rynne, Michael Rynne, Eamon De Valera,
Richard Mulcahy
Front Row L to R: Stephen O'Meara, Cathal Brugha.
Rynne Family Archive, NUI Galway Library Archives

The Strand Hotel in Limerick city, near the river Shannon, was the site of a significant moment at the heart of the Treaty negotiations of 1921. Then known as Strand House, home of the O’Meara's, a prominent political and business family in the city, a photograph was taken of a group of visitors to the house who would all play prominent roles in the lead up to and in the aftermath of the signing of the Treaty in December 1921.

As the Treaty negotiations were drawing to a close, and on the night the Treaty was being signed in London, Eamon De Valera was at Strand House in Limerick. Along with De Valera, Richard Mulcahy and Cathal Brugha also stayed at Strand House on the night of the 5th  and 6th of December as guests of Stephen O’Meara and family.

A phone call from the Irish delegation in London reached Strand House so as to inform De Valera on the outcome of the negotiations. The phone call updated De Valera that the Treaty had been signed in London in the early hours of 6th December 1921.

The photograph is included as part of the recently opened “The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archives” exhibition, located at Dublin Castle and led by the National Archives of Ireland. The photograph is part of the Rynne Family archive at NUI Galway Library Archives. Comprising records of various members of the family, including playwright Mary Rynne, diplomat Michael Rynne, and later archaeologist and professor at NUI Galway, Etienne Rynne (grandson of Michael Rynne).

Michael Rynne (1899–1981) was a legal scholar, civil servant and diplomat. He was born on 12 September 1899 in Hampshire, England, before moving to Limerick in 1907. He studied at University College Dublin before joining the Volunteers in 1917. In 1921, Rynne was in charge of the flying column of Blessington, Co. Wicklow. He later served as ADC to Richard Mulcahy. A close associate of Michael Collins, Rynne was later appointed officer in charge of the military training camp at Dunboyne, Co. Meath, of which detailed records of training and drilling regimes devised by Rynne are present within his papers.

Rynne received his doctorate in legal studies from the University of Munich in 1929. In 1936, he was appointed legal advisor to the Department of External Affairs, soon becoming head of the department's League of Nations section from 1936 to 1940, part of a small group of close advisors to Eamon De Valera. In 1955, Rynne was appointed Irish Ambassador to Spain, before later retiring from the civil service in 1961. Rynne died in Dublin on the 8th February 1981.

For the full catalogue of papers from the Rynne Family Archive, including the Michael Rynne papers, click on this link

For more information on “The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archive” exhibition see the National Archives for details.

Michael Rynne
Rynne Family Archive, NUI Galway Library Archives

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Mary Robinson Archive: Phase 1

In January 2020 the task of processing the Mary Robinson archive in NUI Galway began. As project archivist, I am privileged to have this honour, and despite Covid_19 restrictions adding to the challenges, work continues apace. At almost 750 bankers boxes of material spanning over six decades, this immensely rich collection covers many different aspects of the former President of Ireland’s work, including her time as barrister, senator, professor, President of Ireland, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, chair of the Elders, founder of Realizing Rights (the Ethical Globalization Initiative), and culminating in the setting up of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice. As I near the end of the first phase it seemed a fitting time to introduce you all to the work of the archivist behind the scenes before a collection can be made available, to update you all on the progress and to give you a sneak peek.

Postcard sent to Senator Mary Robinson
Statement by Sen Mary Robinson at press reception to launch Directory of Services in Ireland for Unmarried Parents and their Children, 1977

The Phases 

The interest which greeted the announcement that work had commenced was fantastic but also led to my inbox unsurprisingly being inundated with queries! Because the job of the archivist is often misunderstood, it is easy to assume that all that was required of me once the material had been transferred to NUIG was to hand it out as requested. I have therefore chosen to detail the process involved to shine a light on the painstaking work that goes on behind the scenes, and hopefully to delay those queries for a little longer until I am further down the road. There are several stages to processing a collection before it can be made available and essentially they can be listed as follows: know what you have, make it safe, appraise it, decide on an arrangement, catalogue it, consider what should be made accessible (for example is it too frail, are there data protection issues etc.) and then release it. Separate to these are decisions on digitising where possible and appropriate. It can be daunting to know where to start when faced with hundreds of boxes of material but keeping these points in mind and having a plan is key. It is also important to familiarise yourself with the background of the collection, in this case getting a feel for the various areas in which Mary Robinson was/is involved. (The answer is LOTS!) 


Flyer protesting destruction of Wood Quay, 1979

Due to the sheer vastness of this collection it was decided to divide the overall project into three sections.

  • Phase 1The First Pass: this is the process whereby the contents of every box are removed, examined, listed and re-housed in special archive boxes which are then stored in secure climate-conditioned storerooms. It encompasses the first three stages listed above: know what you have, make it safe, appraise it.
  • Phase 2Arrangement: in order to get intellectual control over a collection, give it structure, and lay the ground work for making items easily discoverable to researchers down the road, a clear logical arrangement must be decided on by the archivist (unless one already exists). 
  • Phase 3Cataloguing and Release: this phase predominantly involves the painstaking work of cataloguing the collection, box by box, series by series, file by file, and in some cases item by item. During this phase items are also considered for digitising, and decisions made on accessibility which take issues such as GDPR into account.  

Phase 1 


Each one of the 750 boxes has to be opened and its contents examined before I know what is in the collection. This is the first pass and due to the size of the collection I decided to combine a few additional stages while conducting it: 

While examining the contents of each box, I am also checking their condition for problems such as mould that might spread. Contents are then removed from the current boxes and placed in specially designed archive boxes and folders that help preserve them. These boxes are then placed in secure storage in climate controlled storerooms. The material is now both secure from further deterioration, and from theft. It is also protected from environmental hazards such as fire and flood. During this process, I list the contents of each box (known as a box-list) and note what format the items are in (paper, photograph, CD etc.). This box-list not only summarises what is in the collection, it will also aid in deciding on an arrangement for the collection once the first pass is complete. 

Archive boxes safely stored on shelves, with unprocessed bankers boxes in background


Not everything in a collection should necessarily be kept – it may not be relevant or unique to that collection. There can also often be duplication of material and in some cases it may not be possible to suitably store an item due to its format, size or other practical considerations. For that reason the collection needs to be appraised. Appraisal is an important function of archivists and what separates them from colleagues in other related professions. 

An unwelcome visitor to any archive!

At the end of what I’ve termed The First Pass the entire collection has been made safe from the elements, we know what’s in it (to a basic level), and we know roughly where to find it. However, none of the items are stored in any particular order. The collection is safe from the elements and from theft but is not considered 100% safe yet from an archival point of view until an arrangement has been put in place, the material structured under that, and reference IDs assigned. That’s the next phase. 

What’s Next 

The arrangement stage, Phase 2, will commence in January 2022. Once that has been completed it is then time to catalogue the collection (Phase 3). Until the cataloguing has been completed it is still not possible for the researcher to browse through a finding aid to know what can be viewed from the collection. The good news is that because it is so vast, rather than waiting until the entire collection is described fully, parts of the collection will instead be released in tranches, as they are completed. 

Sneak Peek 

Under normal circumstances access is never given to a collection before it is processed. This is not because archivists are power-hungry gatekeepers! Rather it is because we simply don’t know what we have, where it is, what condition it is in, and what its context is until we have processed the collection.

However, many of you may already have heard mention of this fantastic collection in national press in recent weeks. That is because of the recent publication The Presidents’ Letters, which came out late October and which features over 60 images from this archive. In an unusual move, author Flor MacCarthy was given permission by the donor of the collection to NUIG, Mary Robinson, to access the collection before it was released, and I was asked to facilitate any way I could. 

Former President Mary Robinson launching Flor MacCarthy's book "The Presidents' Letters", October 2021

An exception such as this is rare, but it made complete sense that a book covering the correspondence of all 9 Presidents of Ireland would include those of our first female president, who redefined the role. While Flor had access to a few processed boxes in early 2020, due to Covid restrictions the bulk of the material was selected by me as I continued to process the boxes. These selections were based on the topics and themes of Flor’s book which she had shared in advance, and digital copies were sent to Flor for her to browse. 

Some children's drawings from the Mary Robinson archive, reproduced with their permission in Flor's book.

It was a challenging but fun exercise that has resulted in an excellent representation of Robinson and her presidency in the book, but until the rest of the phases are complete, it will have to do for now! In the meantime here is a sneak peak of material from other areas of her work, to whet your appetites further.

letter from the Dalai Lama congratulating Mary Robinson on the setting up of the Ethical Globalization Initiative

letter of congratulations and thanks from Senator Edward Kennedy following success of Lawrence v Texas, a "well-deserved victory for gay rights...".

Mary Robinson with Bishop Desmond Tutu

I hope this blog gives you an insight into the painstaking but incredibly rewarding work that goes on behind the scenes and I look forward to sharing this amazing collection with you all when the time comes.

Beir bua / Take care 

Christmas card from Áras an Uachtaráin with pencil drawing of the Áras by John Nankivell