Boxes within Boxes

Two recently processed collections at the archives of the James Hardiman Library, NUIG, were interesting regarding principles of provenance and original order - namely the papers of Proinsias Mac an Bheatha, and a set of estate papers belonging to the Lucases of Co. Offaly. While box-listing, it is quite normal to find seemingly disparate "collections within the collection" - our reaction being to keep it all together so that connected functions are not obscured. However, with the first collection we extracted two small collections out of a larger whole, counteracting as it might seem all best practice. In the other instance there was a typical jigsaw puzzle of at first sight completely unconnected collections that did eventually fit together to a certain extent. With the following I would mostly like to flag the availability of these two interesting collections.

From Mac an Bheatha Papers (G40/5): Minute book of Craobh na hAiséirghe with signature by the radical Irish activist Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin (October 1940)

Proinsias Mac an Bheatha (1910-1990) was an Irish language activist and publicist born in Belfast but educated in Dublin, where he lived all his life. A customs official, he spent most of his spare time (﴾besides having a family of five)﴿ on the Irish language cause. The 1940s witnessed a second language revival, and Mac an Bheatha at first joined the movement Craobh na hAiséirghe (under the Gaelic League﴿ to then later co-found an independent group, Glúin na Bua, whose newspaper Inniu ran for a long time, from 1943 to 1984. He wrote for the national press, as well as publishing nine now largely-forgotten books in Irish - including well-researched biographies of James Connolly, and of Jemmy Hope of the United Irishmen of '98. The difficulty with the collection arose because of his friendship with, firstly, the Rannafast writer Seosamh Mac Grianna, and secondly, the radical socialist George Gilmore, co-founder of the 1934- Republican Congress. Mac Grianna disappeared from Dublin suddenly, in 1957, and Mac an Bheatha found a couple of notebooks in his house and kept them. George Gilmore died in 1984 and Mac an Bheatha looked into the deserted house, also finding a bundle of papers and a prayer book. These sets of papers were given to us as part of Mac an Bheatha's paper legacy. 

We might have decided other than separating the three collections, if Mac an Bheatha's collection did not in itself illustrate his involvement with both men: correspondence with Gilmore, and letters written on Mac Grianna's behalf, remain in the main collection. In this decision we were informed by the essentially differing provenance of both smaller sets of papers, and then also by questions of use: somebody interested in the socialist members of the I.R.A. during the 1920s and 1930s would probably not look into the papers of an Irish language activist - of course, online lists do now solve that problem (see

Image 2

 From Mac an Bheatha Papers (G40/632): letter from popular Irish writer An Seabhac (alias Pádraig Ó Siochradha), giving support to the destitute Seosamh Mac Grianna (October 1955)

 In the other instance, the Lucas Papers (﴾short title)﴿ reached us from an anonymous depositor. This one-box collection might as well have run into ten or more for the confusion it brought - a typical archives scenario of course. The accrual of the papers looks now to have run like this: during the 1690s, Englishman Francis Drew became the land agent of the 2nd Earl of Cork on his Lismore estate, and came in possession of his predecessors' working papers dating back as far as 1602. The family papers of his own line, the Drews of Drewscourt, Co. Limerick, were then added to that first lot, bringing us to the 20th century. The Drews intermarried in the late 19th century with the Ryans of Ballymackeogh, Co. Tipperary, and when the line of the Drews ended the Ryans seemingly inherited all papers. To really confuse matters, a third family, the Lucases of Mountlucas, Co. Offaly, acquired the Ryans' papers maybe only as late as the 1980s in circumstances so far unknown; their own few documents were added to the rest. The anonymous depositor reportedly knows nothing useful of the papers - this left us with the unwieldy title Papers of the Lucas family, County Offaly (including papers of the Drews of Drewscourt, Counties Waterford and Limerick, and the Ryans of Ballymackeogh, County Tipperary). It does not give the Earls of Cork and the very interesting early half of the collection their due, but online searchability via EAD (see http:// LE37﴿ - also via the on-going development of the Irish Archives Resource - will lead researchers of 17th century Munster plantations to the collection.

Image 3

From Lucas Papers (LE37/10): letter and reply from Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earlof Inchiquin, to Richard Boyle, 1st Earlof Cork0 (November 1642)

Vera Orschel

Special Collections, James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway 

Share & Follow Us