The archive of Conradh na Gaeilge, Ireland’s oldest Irish language organisation, has been launched by NUI Galway. The archive, which extends to 600,000 pages of documents, books, photos, and ephemera collected throughout the organisation’s nearly 130-year history, has been fully catalogued and is now available to researchers.
The documents cover more than a century of Conradh’s existence, including its campaigning and achievements, and provide an unparalleled insight into linguistic, cultural, social, and political aspects of Irish history.
In 2018, following discussions instigated and led by Dr John Walsh, the university’s library became the custodian of the archives.
It consisted of more than 600 boxes of material and over 600,000 pages, making it one of the largest collections ever deposited with NUI Galway.
Now catalogued by archivist Niamh Ní Charra, the Conradh na Gaeilge Archive at NUI Galway gives researchers, students, and the public unique access to primary sources about the development of Irish language policy.
Every decade is represented in the archive, from the founding of Conradh na Gaeilge in 1893 to the deposition of the collection with NUI Galway in 2018.
Throughout its history Conradh na Gaeilge has been actively involved in promoting, observing, and documenting the use of Irish across all aspects of everyday life. Highlights in the archive include Republican prisoners’ messages on cigarette papers, smuggled out of the Maze prison in the 1980s, and correspondence between Conradh na Gaeilge and HM Prison Service on the ban on visits in Irish.
The archive also includes a 1904 Guth na nGaedheal programme featuring tenor John McCormack’s possible first performance outside of Ireland, at the age of 20.
There are cheques to, and endorsed by, Patrick Pearse and Terence MacSwiney in 1912 and 1920, along with letters from both Brendan Behan and Seán O’Casey relating to productions of their work in Irish.
An oversized leather-bound book listing Conradh na Gaeilge branches and covering the period from 1904 to 1918 shows the strength of the organisation at the beginning of the 20th century. There are also minutes and programmes from the annual Ard-Fheis from 1894 to 2008, showing the democracy and creativity in the organisation.
Another highlight of the archive is a handwritten personal dictionary from the late 18th century which was gifted to solicitor, book collector, and Irish language enthusiast Ernest Reginald McClintock Dix in 1909, and subsequently given to Conradh na Gaeilge library.
The extensive collection includes photographs of demonstrations protesting both the lack of Irish language programming on TV and radio, and the arrest of people who refused to pay their television licences as a result. Other items include posters from GAA club championships in the late 1950s, a press release from 1976 calling for the end to the death penalty in Ireland, a flyer relating to an anti-Vietnam war protest outside the American embassy in 1972, and samples of multilingual packaging including an Aer Lingus peanuts wrapper.
President of NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, said: “Our university is committed to the Irish language through our Straitéis don Ghaeilge. We are here for the public good and to sustain the communities which we serve. Now that the archive has been catalogued, it will be widely available for use as a significant resource for teaching and research.”
Dr Niall Comer, president of Conradh na Gaeilge, added: “The professionalism and dedication of the staff show that we made the correct decision to locate our valuable archive in NUI Galway, and I would also like to thank the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, and Media for their continued funding and support for this project.”
Music and sport
The archive includes material relating to music, sport, drama, religion, politics, and events such as the annual Seachtain na Gaeilge campaign and Oireachtas competitions, which celebrate their 120th and 125th anniversaries respectively this year.
It also features reports of Conradh’s timirí (organisers ), which provide detailed information on changes in Irish society mainly during the 1960s and 1970s, along with some reports from the 1920s.
Dr John Walsh, associate professor of Irish at NUI Galway who led the acquisition of the archive, noted its significance to the research community. “This collection is a very valuable resource for researchers because it illustrates Conradh na Gaeilge’s pioneering work in various areas, for instance the campaigns for radio and television services, all-Irish schools, a democratic Gaeltacht authority, the status of Irish in the EU, and language rights on both sides of the border,” he said.
John Cox, university librarian, said: “Promoting and supporting the Irish language is a priority for the university and library. Our engagement in cataloguing and making available for teaching and research an archive of such scale and significance is a source of great pride and represents the fruition of an excellent partnership with Conradh na Gaeilge.”
The archive is open for consultation by researchers in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room of the NUI Galway Library.
NUI Galway has an extensive collection of almost 400 archives, managed by its library. Collection strengths include theatre, film, and the performing arts, literature, history, and politics, with a particular focus on material in the Irish language.
Collections of note include the archives of Conradh na Gaeilge and Mary Robinson, the literary papers of John McGahern and Thomas Kilroy, the archives of a range of theatre companies, including the Abbey, Gate, and Druid, the Tim Robinson Collection detailing the geography and topography of Connemara, as well as the archives of several Connacht landed estates and a number of papers relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles. There is a strong focus on publishing archives online as part of an ongoing digitisation programme.
For more information about the archives and special collections at NUI Galway visit library.nuigalway.ie/collections/archives
Researchers can browse the contents of the collection in advance of accessing it in the library by visiting exhibitions.library.nuigalway.ie/s/cnag/page/home