Cataloguing the Troubles

By Ruth O’Hara, Special Collections and Archives, Maynooth University Library

Figure 1: Selection of items from the MUL Tony Keane Troubles collection Northern Ireland

Maynooth University Library (MUL) is the custodian of a unique collection of books, pamphlets, periodicals and ephemera relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles. Dating mainly from the 1970s and early 1980s, these items provide a vivid insight into the lives of all parts of a society in conflict. We have over 600 items, ranging from political flyers and posters to newspapers, prayer leaflets and romance novels, that encompass all shades of opinion. Many of the pieces in this collection were never meant to be kept or they are the only copies of short-run prints, making it unique in terms of our library holdings but also in the Republic of Ireland more generally.

It is such an interesting time, one hundred years after the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and in the midst of ongoing Brexit negotiations, to be working with a collection which, in the main, was produced in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles by groups and individuals from all backgrounds. As librarians working in a publicly funded institution, we have an ongoing responsibility to actively capture the spectrum of memories of such a contested era. It is our obligation to preserve and protect the sources and objects not only of our “official history” or “memory” but also of those periods and groups we might want to forget, which don’t reflect well on us or which represent a viewpoint we may not agree with or even have never considered before.

Figure 2: Catholic Church relief committees: ephemera (LY (SP TCNI(E) 12/1-2)

Perhaps the most vivid evidence of life lived in a society in conflict is captured by the ephemeral items in the collection. Beside numerous election leaflets, there are many pieces produced by paramilitary and pressure groups who had limited access to the media for propaganda purposes and so cheap print publications were how they got their message across. However, it is objects like the church circular providing information on relief services for communities facing food and electricity shortages that bring home the reality of what life was really like at that time.

Figure 3: Danger. Keep out. Stay away from derelict buildings…they may be booby-trapped. Great Britain. Northern Ireland Office. LY (SP TCNI (LF) 6)

Our Troubles collection also includes several posters whose striking imagery is a visual testament to the events and controversies of the period. There is, for example, a poster issued by the Northern Ireland Office warning the public not to approach derelict buildings that might be boobytrapped. The posters in the collection are highly emotive with some even being collected from the gateposts of houses in the immediate aftermath of a horrific incident.

The events of this period impacted every aspect of society as in evident in the newspapers, pamphlets and even the romance novels that we have also preserved. This growing collection offers a bridge to those interested in finding out what happened and what was really written and produced during this turbulent period of history.

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