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THE ARCHIVES AT MAYNOOTH UNIVERSITY

MAYNOOTH UNIVERSITY (formerly National University of Ireland Maynooth) is located 20 kilo­metres west of Dublin in Ireland’s only university town. Irish universities are small by international standards, and the University has approximately 8,500 students and 26 academic Departments. There are two main library buildings—the John Paul II Library and the Russell Library (which holds the rare book and manuscript collections). The campus has recently under­gone a major phase of expansion in research, teaching and service facilities. This expansion includes a major extension to the John Paul II Library, completed in 2013.

With a dedicated team of librarians, archivists and conservators, Maynooth University is ideally positioned to preserve, conserve and make available archives and special collections. The major extension to the Library means there is now custom-made space for the accommodation, consultation and exhibition of important archival collections, which conforms to best inter­national standards. The conservation unit has attracted visitors nationally and internationally to view the conservation processes and to gain insights into best practice. Archival work on various collections has generated a great deal of interest in the holdings of the Library and the research oppor­tunities that they offer. By cataloguing and preserving important archival collections, both print and electronic, researchers are now able to access material that had previously very limited availability. Collections are promoted via the library website; through a range of social media includ­ing Facebook, Flickr and the Russell Library blog and an ambitious pro­gramme of exhibitions. Many of the library exhibitions are open to the public and the University has a strong ethos of community engagement.

Both the John Paul II and Russell Libraries are shared with St. Patrick’s College which was founded in 1795 (with the abolition of anti-Catholic penal legislation) as the headquarters of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy and its leading seminary. This makes Maynooth’s libraries a key resource for the history of religion in Ireland in particular. Collections in the Russell Library span ten centuries and include medieval manuscripts, early printed books (the earliest printed in 1468) and works published by leading schol­ars across Europe from the 16th to the mid-19th century, providing a superb treasury for scholarly research. The Maynooth University Library also has a cen­tral role in the Office of Public Works (OPW)-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre at nearby Castletown House, Ireland’s largest Palladian style house. This centre was established to facilitate the preservation and study of archives and other sources dealing with the history of Irish estates, their houses and inhabitants.

Recent significant archives donated to the Library include a selection of letters from Irish writer Seán Ó Faoláin to Brazilian academic Munira Hamud Mutran over a fourteen-year period; the literary papers of Teresa Deevy, one of the most prolific writers for the Irish Abbey Theatre in the 1930s. An exhibition of her work hosted by the Library in 2013 and the digitisation of the collection will go some way to re-establish Deevy alongside world-renowned Irish dramatists such as Sean O’Casey and J.M. Synge.

It is against this rich background that the letters of Ken Saro-Wiwa to Sister Majella McCarron join the holdings of Maynooth University. This is a par­ticularly appropriate donation because of Maynooth University’s long involve­ment with social movements in Ireland and abroad. St Patrick’s College, for its part, has been central to the history of Irish missionary activity abroad. Like Sister Majella, many Irish missionaries worked in solidarity with local movements, or acted as development workers, particularly in health and education. It is to be hoped that this archive will be the first of many dona­tions reflecting and recording this history.

To discuss donating archival material to the Library, please contact the University Librarian Cathal McCauley at Cathal.mccauley@mu.ie

More information about the Library can be found at https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/library.

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