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.


By Oliver O’Hanlon, PhD Student Department of French and School of History, University College Cork.

You never know what you might come across while researching in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Ireland. I have already written an Irishman’s Diary in the Irish Times (14 October 2013) about how I found a lock of hair in one particular collection. It was while examining the Art Ó Bríain (O’Brien) Papers (MSS 2141, 2154-2157, 5105, 8417-8461) that I stumbled upon this unexpected piece of personal history.

Lock of Mrs MacSwiney’s hair (MS 8447/11)


The envelope which contained the lock of hair was marked Mrs MacSwiney (MS 8447/11), and it was of course a memento of Muriel MacSwiney, the wife of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney. Appointed as a representative of the First Dáil in England in early January 1919, Art Ó Bríain played a key role in publicising MacSwiney’s hunger strike in England and around the world, which culminated in MacSwiney’s death in Brixton Prison on 25 October 1920. The collection list of the Art Ó Bríain Papers, available from the NLI Main Catalogue at, was compiled by Owen McGee in 2009 and it provides researchers with a very detailed description of what is contained in the collection.

The vast majority of the material, which comprises sixty-three boxes and six volumes of material, is paper based. This includes memoranda, letters, telegrams, postcards, photographs, reports and complete copies of newspapers, as well as newspaper cuttings. There is also a small amount of unusual or unexpected items, such as the lock of hair.

Even though he was born in London, Art Ó Bríain played an important role in Irish political and cultural affairs in Ireland and among the Diaspora in England during the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. His entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography lists the many Irish themed organisations of which he was a member. At various times, Ó Bríain belonged to the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. For a good number of years, he was president of Sinn Féin in England and Wales. He was also chairman of the Dáil London Loan Committee, as well as being a founding member of The Irish Self-Determination League in Great Britain.

Postcards sent to Art Ó Bríain following Terence MacSwiney’s death (MS 8447/11)


My interest in the Ó Bríain Papers developed from an attempt to assess the propaganda role played by Ó Bríain in London in the early 1920s. During the Irish War of Independence, Ó Bríain spearheaded the push for positive Irish publicity in England and further afield. As the Dáil’s London representative, he was in touch with a large number of domestic newspaper journalists and editors. He was also in frequent communication with members of the foreign press corps who were stationed in London. This group included journalists representing newspapers in many different countries in North and South America, Europe and Australia. Ó Bríain made it his business to meet these journalists to convince them that what was being said and written by the authorities in London and Dublin Castle about events in Ireland was often exaggerated or, in many cases, just wrong.

In this role, Ó Bríain often acted as a middle man, passing information and publicity material from Dáil ministers and departments directly to journalists, to other Dáil representatives based in Europe and to interested parties all around the world. We can see from the Art Ó Bríain Papers that both during and after the Terence MacSwiney hunger strike, Ó Bríain was one of the main sources of information to the outside world as to how the hunger strike was developing. As well as issuing correspondence on the worsening health condition of the Lord Mayor, Ó Bríain also received a good deal of correspondence from members of the public in England and in other countries. This included hand written letters, Mass cards, prayers and poems. Some of the messages were in sympathy for the Lord Mayor and his family and some were hostile and called into question why it was necessary to go through this ordeal and how his family could condone it. McSwiney’s hunger strike and death prompted an outpouring of emotion, which can be sensed in the various personal responses that are gathered in this collection. It is very interesting to find this deeply personal material among what is predominantly a political collection.

novena Item sent to Art Ó Bríain following Terence MacSwiney’s death (MS 8447/11)


Before he died in 1949, Ó Bríain sketched out some useful information for his biography (MS 8461/31), but unfortunately, neither he nor his sister ever managed to finish the project. Judging by the material that I have viewed in the Art Ó Bríain Papers, I can only say that it is a shame that his story has never been fully told.


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