by Fiona Hughes, NLI Archival Student

Annie O’Farrelly (or Áine Ní Fhaircheallaigh) is typical of many figures in Irish history and the revolutionary period.  Neither a household name nor a familiar face, she was, nevertheless, immersed in Republican activity in the early twentieth century.  This is demonstrable in her papers which can be accessed at the National Library here:

Born in Dublin in 1901, O’Farrelly came from a Republican background.  Her grandfather Peter Boylan was a Fenian and her mother opened the family home to members of the IRA.  A member of Cumann na mBan along with her sisters, O’Farrelly collected on behalf of the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents Fund in the War of Independence, 1919-1921, and, during the Irish Civil War, 1922-1923, she worked in the office of the Adjutant General, IRA.

Photograph of Annie O'Farrelly (MS 47,647/1/6) Photograph of Annie O’Farrelly (MS 47,647/1/6)


Following the outbreak of Civil War in June 1922, Annie was arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison, Kilmainham Jail and North Dublin Union with her sister, Rita.  Her involvement with the Republican movement continued after release and she worked at Republican newspaper ‘An Phoblacht’ and was a member of the Cumann na mBan Executive and Clan na Gael in the 1930s.

Previously available on microfilm only, the Annie O’Farrelly Papers is a single-box, paper-based collection that includes news cuttings, letters and photographs. Dating approximately from 1915 to the 1950s, the collection largely relates to O’Farrelly’s involvement with Cumann na mBan and the IRA.

One of the collection’s most remarkable features is a unique series of letters by O’Farrelly to family members while she was imprisoned during the Civil War. This personal correspondence brims with enquiry about family, friends and the ‘outside world’ and is permeated with humour and defiance.  Written from a female prisoner’s perspective, the letters counter-balance male voices, such as Peadar O’Donnell and Ernie O’Malley, that have formed the dominant Civil War narrative.

O’Farrelly’s letters convey the tumult of prison life.  She refers to the refusal by the Catholic clergy to grant women prisoners absolution, to escape attempts and discovery of tunnels, to hunger strikes, to the stoppage of parcels and to the dire conditions in prison.  According to Annie, ‘B’ wing in Kilmainham Gaol was “a dreadful part of the prison which has been condemned”.  Indeed, the harsh reality of prison life is apparent.  On 22 April 1923, she wrote simply that “Some of the men were shot in our exercise yard”.

Letter to her mother, Annie Farrelly, dated 2nd July 1923 (MS 47,640/22)


Despite imprisonment, the good-humouredness evident in O’Farrelly’s letters would probably have consoled her mother, who was named Annie Farrelly (she did not use the ‘O’Farrelly’ adopted by her daughters).  O’Farrelly wrote reassuringly that she and Rita “are both feeling splendid in spite of our splendid isolation from the outside world” and they were “taking [our] holidays as best we can”.  Letters signed “Your loving child” highlight O’Farrelly’s tender age: by 1923, she was only 22 years of age.

Annie’s demands from the outside world were simple: stamps, toothpaste, tea and sugar, for example.  She mentions prisoner activities, such as making clothes and various amusements, that would have tempered the ennui of prison life.  “We were at a party to-night in ‘Blarney Castle’ with some of the Cork girls and had great fun”, she informed her mother.

O’Farrelly’s stalwart Republican convictions transpire through the letters.  In early 1923, Annie and Rita undertook a seven-day hunger strike and, upon commencement, she wrote, “Both Rita and I are feeling very fit after it but indeed we were hungry for 7 days”.  She proudly informed her mother, “The Staters have done everything they can to try and break us but no use”.

In another letter, O’Farrelly provided an in-depth account of a conflict between female prisoners and prison and military authorities in Kilmainham Gaol.  Her aversion to these authority figures caused her to declare “such awful looking creatures you never saw in your life”.  Indeed, Annie appears to have relished being somewhat of a burden to the fledgling Free State.  “Its [sic] some satisfaction to know we are being kept at the expense of the “Free” State…288 women is costing them a good penny not to talk of 16,000 men throughout jails in Ireland”, she remarked.  Letters written later in life shows her Republican beliefs were undiminished.  In the 1940s, she encouraged others in what she considered was “obviously their duty if they still hold on to old Republican faith”.

When the Civil War concluded in May 1923, O’Farrelly remained a prisoner.  Surviving letters in the collection confirm that her imprisonment began in at least November 1922 (an autographed letter from Mountjoy Jail Military Governor Philip Cosgrave to O’Farrelly’s mother evinces this).  She was eventually released by October 1923.

Other Civil War items in the collection include a notice for missing jewellery lost during the “Big Battle”, a set of rules governing prisoner conduct at North Dublin Union and a small prison diary dated August 1922.

Civil War material aside, the collection happily boasts a substantial amount of O’Farrelly’s correspondence.  A plethora of recognisable names including Richard Mulcahy (one of his letters is addressed ‘Fernside’, a War of Independence Republican haunt), Ernie O’Malley, Sighle Humphreys, Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan are featured and indicate the level of O’Farrelly’s Republican connection.

Letter from Ernie O'Malley (MS 47,640/41) Letter from Ernie O’Malley (MS 47,640/41)


Letters concerning ‘An Phoblacht’ and a large number of IRA communiqués and Cumann na mBan documents dating from the 1920s and 1930s also feature.  Some documents are cryptically signed with initials or amusing aliases such as “Mr. Lightside” and “Mr. Heaviside”.  Indeed, touches of light-hearted humour contrast with official documentation present in the papers.  An unsigned letter to O’Farrelly regarding her “celery” (salary) and containing a rhyme with words ending in “-ski” illustrates this.  Personal effects in the collection also contrast with official documents; for example, an intimate letter expressing sorrow on the death of O’Farrelly’s sister Mollie in 1921.

Other personal paraphernalia in the papers adds to our picture of O’Farrelly.  Minutes of meetings for Irish language group, An Grágaire, of which she was a member, as well as an Irish-German Society membership card dated 1951 – 52 are included.  O’Farrelly’s Defence of the Realm Permit Book (1918) is a fascinating item situated within the wider political framework that contains Annie’s personal details as well as her photograph (always good to put a face to the name!)  It is one of two photographs of O’Farrelly in the collection: the other shows her standing outside the office of ‘An Phoblacht’.

Indeed, photographs add an absorbing dimension to the collection.  An abundant visual black and white feast, they document the Republican movement and commemorations in the 1930s.  This includes photographs of the annual Bodenstown pilgrimage featuring Cumann na mBan, IRA and Fianna Éireann.  Also featured is a profound and poignant photograph of the body of Tony D’Arcy, who died on hunger strike in 1940.  These items confirm that Republican activity continued post-Civil War.  Further illustrating this point are agenda for Cumann na mBan conventions in 1925 and 1927, an IRA Constitution for 1925 and two beautifully coloured cards from IRA detainees at the Curragh internment camp in 1944 that are contained in the collection.

1930's commemoration photo /Cumann na mban-graveside (MS 47,547/3/6 1930′s commemoration photo, Cumann na mBan graveside (MS 47,647/3/6)


Biographical accounts and contemporary newspaper cuttings concerning IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, who died in 1940, feature heavily.  A close friend of O’Farrelly, the collection contains a wedding invitation addressed to both as guests as well as a cheque signed by Russell.  Also in the collection is typed evidence provided at the inquest in to the death of Harry Boland and a confession by former IRA Chief of Staff and alleged informer Stephen Hayes.

An enthralling and pertinent collection since we are in the throes of celebrating the Decade of Centenaries, the Annie O’Farrelly Papers offer a tangible glimpse into recent Irish history, with particular focus on the Republican movement.  The collection demonstrates how diverse and wonderful archival material can be and the papers threw up items as varied as an IRA timesheet to a glove pattern.  Furthermore, it highlights the often neglected, yet pivotal, role played by women in the Irish revolutionary period and reference made throughout the papers to various known and unknown individuals shows how the fabric of Irish history was woven by ordinary men and women as well as more celebrated figures.  The Annie O’Farrelly Papers are a must-see for students of twentieth-century Ireland and are a valuable asset to the National Library of Ireland’s collections.



by Yvette Campbell, Cataloguer, Joseph Holloway Collection

As I was working away cataloguing the NLI’s wonderful Joseph Holloway Collection with its focus on the theatre scene in Ireland and England during the 19th and early 20th century, I stumbled upon a little gem of social interest for all the romantics out there to get you feeling all fuzzy inside this Valentine’s Day.

A beautiful handwritten note in pencil addressed to a certain “John” was discovered on the back cover of ‘Romances of Crime; or, the Disclosures of a Detective’ by James M’Levy.  (NLI Call No. 15A 1027)

The book was published in approximately 1860 and belonged to a “W. John Gorman”.  Could this be the same “John” who the love note was intended for? The note is signed – “Annie [Bourke?]  It reads:

“Dear John, you will not think my wishes cold for all your future welfare true,

You will not think that others hold that place reserved for you”



The book is filled with a variety of marginalia that is quite difficult to read, but this note was written very clearly and stood out among them.

Perhaps the mystery of who these two lovers were adds to the romantic aspect of the story. Perhaps it’s our innate desire to create stories, and items such as this are just empty stories that we can fill in. It’s a wonderful feeling to discover a love note written in secret nearly 150 years ago and you can’t help but wonder who wrote it, where they came from, and whatever happened to them, or was it reciprocated.

As a fellow librarian has said of such delights; “You can create a story that connects you to these unknown people or you can create a story that distances you from them, but in either case, you get to be the storyteller”.

 Happy Valentines Day!


By Grace Kiernan, DIT NPA Internship, Sept-Dec 2013

In September 2013 I was offered the opportunity to do an internship as part of DIT’s Archiving in Context third year, semester-long module, which is run in conjunction with the National Photographic Archive (NPA). I was keen to put what I had learned about the more theoretical aspects of photographic archiving during my second year into practice by working with the NPA.

The introduction to the internship began with a meeting between Elizabeth Kirwan, Curator at the NPA and NPA Project Supervisor, Matthew Cains, Conservator at the NLI, and Keith Murphy, NPA Reading Room Supervisor.  I chose to work on the Denis Tynan Collection, which consists of 1,334 black and white negatives and 127 glass plate negatives from 1950-1989.  After training in basic photographic preservation, we agreed the project work: the appraisal and re-housing of the Tynan Collection; the listing of the Collection; and finally the input of that data into Virtua, the National Library’s Library Management  System.

Fishing in Donegal Bay / Denis Tynan (1971) Fishing in Donegal Bay / Denis Tynan (1971)


The photographer, Denis Tynan (1923-2010), was from Abbeyleix Co Laois but moved to Donegal in 1949. His work covers from 1950 to 1989, and pertains to the everyday lives of the people of Co Donegal, predominantly in the area around the Glenties and Killybegs. Three years after moving to the Glenties, Tynan and his wife Sarah Ward, took over management of St Dominic’s Hall and cinema where they also ran a successful commercial photography business. The Tynan photography company originally focused on weddings, First Communions, Confirmations and class photographs for local schools. Their solid reputation eventually guaranteed them business and corporate clients – evidence of which can be seen within the collection.

What was of particular interest was Tynan’s documentation of the fishing industry in Donegal. These photographs appear to be a mixture of both commissioned and personal works – the most consistent subject matter being photographs of fishermen and fishing competitions, covered in a range of modes from formal portraits of the fishermen and women posing with trophies or their catch, to photographs of fishing and competitions underway. Additionally, a large portion of the collection is dedicated to local events – from sport to religious processions – providing an excellent insight into social rites in Irish rural society during that time.

From the Denis Tynan Collection From the Denis Tynan Collection


I discovered an online newsletter for the Glenties region in County Donegal which had published Denis Tynan’s obituary in 2010.  I then contacted a niece of Tynan, Bridie Boyce, to learn more about her uncle and the collection. Tynan’s work on the fishing industry and fishing culture had been undertaken due to his own singular interest in that community in Donegal.

I worked on an album of negatives and a box of negatives ‘organised’ into small cardboard negative sleeves. There was a single sheet of information accompanying the items.  I inspected each negative individually and compiled an initial index with a description of the contents of each cardboard and Mylar sleeve: the number of individual negatives per sheet or sleeve, the content of each individual negative and any accompanying information. This assisted in the organisation of the negatives when rehousing them.

Most of the information on the individual cardboard sleeves holding the loose negatives lists dates, place names and subjects but is handwritten and often difficult to decipher. These sleeves were sourced from the company Quirke Lynch Ltd., a photographic processing lab in Dublin established in 1978. I contacted the company owners but they had no records of past customers. Tynan was known for his “various experimentations with various methods in developing photographic negatives”.

I established that 37 out of the 67 cardboard sleeves had what appears to be code written on them, such as ‘FW(2)’, ‘GQ(2)’ and ‘HR’. The information there regarding place names, subject matter etc., matched the information on specific negatives, leading me to conclude that this information was written by Tynan himself. However, the handwriting of the ‘code’ was different.  Most of these sleeves had “By D. Tynan, Glenties Co. Donegal, For All Photographic Work” stamped on them which suggested that the cardboard holders that had been used to hold the negatives preceded the collection’s accession into the NPA.

Six groups of negatives displayed blue stains and orange spotting, but the negatives which had already been housed in Mylar sleeves had not been affected. I alerted Elizabeth Kirwan to this, and NLI Conservator Matthew Cains tested for the presence of Vinegar Syndrome.  Vinegar Syndrome occurs within Cellulose Acetate Film, or ‘Safety Film’, which was produced in the 20th Century to replace unstable and flammable nitrate film. Vinegar Syndrome is the decomposition of the acetate film, accelerated by historically poor storage conditions. The acetate film turns blue or pink, cracks, and secretes acetic acid (vinegar) that dissolves the film entirely. The process is rendered dormant by freezing the acetates.  Fortunately, the staining was not a case of Vinegar Syndrome and the discolouration seems to be chemical staining arising from Tynan’s photographic processing practices.

A number of the negatives and a small glass plate negative, which I discovered amongst the cardboard sleeves, required rehousing in custom-made containers, made by Matthew Cains. The cardboard sleeves that had been storing the loose negatives were transferred to a separate housing.

The opportunity to work with professional archivists and conservators at the NPA in addition to being able concentrate on a hands-on project and undertake related research while learning preservation skills was an invaluable experience for me.