Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

Some New Additions to Maynooth University Library’s Troubles Collection Northern Ireland 

by Dr Ruth O’Hara, Assistant Librarian, MU Library 

Since 2018, Maynooth University Library (MUL) has been actively growing a unique archive of material dedicated to the period commonly referred to as the Northern Ireland Troubles. Our ‘troubles’ collection contains a diverse mix of literature, political ephemera, journalism, and secondary source material dating from the 1970s up to and beyond the Good Friday Agreement. It is a remarkably comprehensive archive that represents and documents the various ‘sides’ of Northern Irish society, including marginal groups and those on the fringes within the various strands of unionism, republicanism and beyond, as well as the main political groups. 

Ulster Says No! Vote Paisley; Democratic Unionist – Ulster says No. Ulster Democratic Unionist Party: ephemera

Some recent additions to the collection provide further valuable insight into Northern Ireland’s complex journey to becoming a post-conflict society. Ephemera, like an election leaflet for Ian Paisley in the 1986 North Antrim by-election, or evocative advertisements in the Ulster Defence Association produced periodical Ulster are redolent reminders of the debates from the 1980s and 1990s that still have echoes in more recent political campaigns.

Ulster, July/August 1986
Sinn Féin (1995). Towards a lasting peace in Ireland. [Dublin]: Sinn Féin

A shift in the narrative in the 1990s is, however, evident in many of the pieces in this part of the archive. For example, there is a 1995 reprint of Sinn Féin’s Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland, a document that has been described as a “watershed in the history” of the Republican movement.

We have also continued to add to the voices of those outside Northern Ireland which often provide an alternative view to events in the region. This pamphlet, edited by the Committee for Withdrawal from Ireland, and published in London, includes interviews with a British Labour MP, a Russian politician, as well as trade unionists from across the UK and Ireland.

Committee for Withdrawal from Ireland (1980). Ireland: Voices for Withdrawal.
London: Committee for Withdrawal from Ireland

However, it is the ephemera of everyday life contained in this archive that makes it such an important resource for researchers interested in understanding the impact of the ‘troubles’ on all aspects of Northern Irish society. Amongst many items, a door sign from the community-based project Cúnamh is a physical reminder of the ongoing toll political conflict can have. Cúnamh was established in 1997 and was funded by the Peace and Reconciliation Programme. Following the Saville Inquiry into the events surrounding Bloody Sunday, a counselling and support centre was established by Cúnamh at the request of the relatives of those killed and wounded in Derry in 1972.

Cúnamh. Bloody Sunday Counselling & Support Service: ephemera

These items provide a brief snapshot of MUL’s comprehensive and growing archive dedicated to the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. For more information or to access this collection please contact library.specialcollections@mu.ie


McInnes, C and Kennedy-Pipe, C. (2001) “The British Army and the Peace Process in Ireland”. Journal of Conflict Studies, 21 (1). Available at: https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JCS/article/view/4291 (Accessed: 16 November 2022).

Cúnamh, Information Leaflet, [Derry]: Cúnamh: a lifeline for change.

Document of the Day – Ephemera in the Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

By Dr Ruth O’Hara, Library Assistant, Maynooth University Library

Religious ephemera from the Church and Nation Committee
– Tony Keane Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

A large proportion of the 600 items currently in our Troubles Collection are ephemera. These pieces, that include election flyers, newspaper clippings, Christmas cards and posters, were often produced for a specific purpose and were not meant to be kept. Cataloguing and conserving ephemera alongside more traditional sources necessarily has implications in terms of staff resources, expertise and appropriate storage space.

A collection that includes a substantial amount of ephemera does not always lend itself easily to the familiar conventions of classification, storage and cataloguing. The diversity and the fragility of these pieces means they require meticulous treatment. Working closely with colleagues in our conservation department, repair work was carried out where needed and bespoke housing solutions were created to ensure that each item of ephemera was protected from ageing and damage due to handling while remaining accessible to readers. So, for example, most items were placed in mylar conservation pockets and housed in specially made conservation box files or paper folders in a closed access storage area allowing for easy consultation and maximum protection.

Republican Christmas card: ephemera – Tony Keane Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

The creation of exact and unbiased metadata records is also essential when seeking to stay the endangerment of the cultural memory captured in this assortment of items. Our approach was to provide a high level of access, but as cataloguing time is limited, keep the amount of detail down to a sensible amount. When working with ephemera, cataloguers often face the problem of information absence. Many of our pieces had no obvious title, discernible publisher or provenance information. So, while the normal cataloguing rules were applied and used in the same way as with books, note fields in our records were very important in order to provide full descriptions about the physical nature and unique characteristics of the items, including, for example, the numerous instances of added annotations that occur on many of the pieces. In this way the collection was allowed speak for itself without the imposition of the cataloguers conscious or unconscious bias.

Finally, one of the most challenging aspects associated with working with this type of ephemera is of course the fact that some victims and perpetrators of these events, or their families, may still be alive. While this has ramification for issues such as copyright and data protection, it also means that we still have access to the unique stories behind many of the pieces in our collection. An important example of this is a piece of ephemera seeking information in relation to the murder of three members of the British security forces in 1973. Thanks to the foresight of our donor, we know the full background to the circumstances of this poster being erected and its retrieval for posterity.

Despite the challenges of working with such diverse pieces of ephemera their inclusion in our Troubles Collection allows unique access to multiple voices that could otherwise have faced endangerment because of environmental, political, infrastructural, and related risks.