Turning Down the Volume: Writing a Paper on the Teresa Deevy Archive during Lockdown

By Róisín Berry, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

Active Speech Seminar Call for Papers

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a paper for an upcoming seminar on Waterford playwright, Teresa Deevy (1894-1963), entitled Active Speech: Sharing Scholarship on Teresa Deevy. The seminar will take place on 12 and 19 February 2021, and will be a virtual event. Its aim is to focus on Deevy’s work and provide a forum to bring together ongoing scholarship examining her work. The conference is being hosted by Waterford Institute of Technology, with the support of Maynooth University Library. It is the first conference of its kind and will take place twenty-five years after the silver jubilee issue of the Irish University Review  ‘Teresa Deevy and Irish Women Playwrights’, and on foot of a great revival of interest in her work. The event was supposed to take place in June 2020 but like many other cultural events, it had to be postponed due to Covid restrictions.

Photograph of playwright Teresa Deevy

I was fortunate enough to catalogue the Teresa Deevy Archive in 2012, and still remember my excitement as I trawled through the documents for the very first time. The archive was donated to Maynooth University Library by the playwright’s grand-niece, Jacqui Deevy in 2011, with the assistance of Deevy scholar Professor Christopher Morash. This important collection had been residing in a suitcase under a bed in Teresa Deevy’s family home in Waterford, for many years, before being transferred to its new home in Maynooth. Consisting of letters, scripts, short stories, essays, articles, theatre programmes and newspaper cuttings, it is a treasure trove for any literary scholar. Its move to Maynooth University Library’s Special Collections & Archives Department ensured the long-term preservation of this fascinating body of material for future generations to come.

Ordinarily, I would thoroughly enjoy the challenge of putting together a presentation, particularly when it addresses a collection that I have worked on. However, throw a Pandemic and its accompanying restrictions into the mix and you have a very different situation. In normal circumstances, I would pour over the original documents in the comfort of my office without a second thought. This is currently not an option as staff are being asked to work from home due to the ongoing restrictions. Without access to the collection, I have had to become a little more creative. Working with scanned images, a copy of the catalogue for the Deevy archive and an extensive collection of reference material, the fog is beginning to lift. It is not ideal, especially if you want to examine a selection of documents simultaneously, however, a great deal of information can still be gleaned.

Selection of Documents from the Teresa Deevy Archive at MU Library

One thing that I have noticed is that due to the current constraints, I am less concerned about what others have written about Deevy and more focussed on my own experience of the archive, how I approached cataloguing it, what documents stood out for me, and how the collection continues to resonate with me both personally and professionally nearly ten years later. This experience is something that I hope to capture in my presentation, the intimate journey that an archivist undertakes when working on a literary collection and how powerful than can be.

Sometimes it takes a Pandemic to make you turn down the volume and enjoy the stillness of your own thoughts and experiences, even in your professional life.

For further information on the Teresa Deevy Archive please contact: library.specialcollections@mu.ie

Details on the online Active Speech (free) seminar can be found on Facebook: Active Speech: Sharing Scholarship on Teresa Deevy 2021

2 thoughts on “Turning Down the Volume: Writing a Paper on the Teresa Deevy Archive during Lockdown

  1. reginawr January 25, 2021 / 8:46 pm

    Hi Róisín, Interesting what you say about your personal experience with the Archive, and being less concerned with what has been written about Deevy. I feel it has been the case that an archivist is not supposed to talk about their personal ‘intimate journey’ with a particular archive. But I think it is a good thing have an opportunity to talk about this aspect. Good luck with your paper! (P.s. there is a typo in the article “pour over” instead of “pore over). Regina R.


    • Special Collections January 26, 2021 / 11:06 am

      Thanks for your comments Regina. In relation to the ‘intimate journey’ of the archivist, this will be discussed only in general terms. When you work on the private papers of an individual you are essentially living their lives with them, you know every private detail of their daily lives and that is one of the great privileges of being an archivist. However, our role is always to be objective and to support the research community in their work. Research is a significant part of our job, but in this paper I have been asked to give a more personal account of how a paricular private collection has resonated with me as an archivist. Thanks for mentioning the typo, that has already been amended. Best wishes, Roisin.

      Liked by 1 person

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