Dominican Convent donates historic library to NUI Galway

Sister Alberta Lally, Dominican Convent, Taylor’s Hill, and John Cox, NUI Galway James Hardiman Library.Sister Alberta Lally, Dominican Convent, Taylor’s Hill, and John Cox, NUI Galway James Hardiman Library. 
Photo by Aengus McMahon.

Sister Alberta Lally, Dominican Convent, Taylor’s Hill, and John Cox, NUI Galway James Hardiman Library.Sister Alberta Lally, Dominican Convent, Taylor’s Hill, and John Cox, NUI Galway James Hardiman Library. Photo by Aengus McMahon.

The Dominican Convent in Taylor’s Hill, Galway has donated its library of more than 2,000 volumes, built up over five centuries, to NUI Galway at an event in the University Library.

At one stage it looked like this valuable library, a vital part of Galway’s heritage, might be lost to the region due to lack of storage when the Convent building in which it was located had to be demolished. The University worked closely with the Dominican Convent to secure the long-term future of the historic library as a major research resource for the local community, academic staff and students on campus and visiting scholars worldwide.

Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President of NUI Galway, welcomed the donation, saying the Dominican Convent Library is one of Ireland’s historic treasures.

“This will be an invaluable resource for teaching and research, engaging a range of audiences not just locally but internationally. The insights it provides into the education of women are especially significant.

“We also get a great sense of what life was like in the convent over four centuries and how the Dominican community connected with Europe and the wider world,” he said.

The Dominican Convent Library represents the oldest continuously-used library in Galway City today. It not only illustrates the place of study in the life of nuns (or women religious ) from 1644 onwards, but it also gives testimony to the history of the education of women through the variety of books contained, ranging from dictionaries to theological and language studies.

The collection provides insights into female education in Ireland across several centuries and the history of Irish religious, also capturing something of Galway’s history, and that of its academic institutions.

Highlights

There are many highlights in the Dominican Convent Library. It contains a selection of significant 17th Century religious publications including a 1617 edition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summae Theologicae and a 1616 edition of the life of St. Teresa of Avila – one of the bestsellers in all languages in the early modern period.

Not surprisingly there are many works relating to the Dominican order dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries. An interesting example is The manner of receiving devout ladies in the Holy Order of St.Dominick, originating in the Dominican Convent in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

Along with religious instruction, the first prospectus for the Boarding School which opened in 1859 includes French and French literature, English, German, Italian, History, Geography and the study of globes, Music and Arithmetic. The variety of languages represented in the library is especially noteworthy and is well represented in the 19th Century Welply Collection, donated by Kate Welply, an aunt of one of the sisters resident in the Convent, which contains titles in French, German and Italian.

As befitting an educational institution there are volumes on a wide selection of subjects, ranging from astronomy to travel, from natural science to literature. From the 1640s, many of the women who joined the Galway Dominican community of nuns came from families belonging to the ‘Tribes’ of Galway. Local interest is therefore well represented, particularly by a set of Martin J. Blake’s Blake Family Records (1905 ).The library also includes volumes of important 19th Century art periodicals such as the Art Journal. Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan, Discipline of English, commented: “The sheer timespan of the coverage here is remarkable. Teresa of Avila’s Life, for example, was translated across Europe and used as a model by men and women, of all faiths, down through the centuries.

It is a landmark in the history of autobiography and to have such an early edition here brings the entire genre to life for our students. I’m particularly delighted the archive is being launched in time for the annual conference on women religious, coming up on 7-8 June. This conference was first held here ten years ago; we’re planning a special preview of collection highlights for our delegates, who will be travelling from the USA, Japan, the UK, Belgium and Portugal, as well as Ireland.”The Dominican Convent Library is an important addition to the James Hardiman Library’s printed Special Collections and joins a subset of local religious libraries within its collections, including that of St. Anthony’s Franciscan College, Newcastle, and the Henry Library, from St. Mary’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Tuam, Co. Galway. Details of titles from all three libraries can be viewed on the James Hardiman Library’s catalogue at www.library.nuigalway.ie

John Cox, University Librarian, noted that: “We are delighted that the University was able to provide an appropriate home for this great Library at a time when the Dominican Convent needed our support. The region would otherwise have suffered a very significant loss but the future of the collection is now secure. The investment the University has made in excellent facilities for special collections continues to be repaid.”The University’s Moore Institute will host the annual conference of the History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland on 7 and 8 June. The conference programme is at https://tinyurl.com/yd5n4v7g and includes a paper by Sr. Alberta Lally from the Dominican Convent.

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