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Sources for Irish Women’s History

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New online Directory of Sources for Irish Women’s History _

By Maria Luddy

The original ‘Directory of Sources for Irish Women’s History’ was made available on CD-Rom in 1999.  With the advances made in technology the CD has now become obsolete and can no longer be read on more recent computers.  In mid-2022 we asked the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the Mná 100 unit of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to support transferring the contents of the CD to a website which would be freely and publicly available.  Their support has made the creation of the website possible and has allowed us to update much of the information contained in the original ‘Directory of Sources’.

The aim of the update was to enable the database to be searched by topic, archival institution, region, date and key words. We also wanted to ensure that the addresses and contact details of repositories were accurate, and a number did need updating.

Over the last twenty years there has been an enormous advance in technology that allows researchers greater access to archival material.  A number of the national repositories, such as the National Library of Ireland for instance, have digitised many of their catalogues, which is a great boon to researchers.  Some repositories have digitised collections of documents which allow researchers to access material from anywhere in the world.  For instance, the National Archives of Ireland have placed the Irish 1901 and 1911 censuses online.  Similarly, the Military Archives have digitised thousands of pages from the Bureau of Military History which has deepened and broadened research in the period 1913-1923.  Tipperary Studies in Thurles has an excellent website and provides access to a whole host of digitised local records.  In other repositories a number of private or family papers have also been digitised since 2000 such as the correspondence of the writer Edith Somerville and Ethel Smyth available online through the Special Collections Library in Queen’s University Belfast.  The  Resource List provided on the new website contains further information and links to many repositories that have digitised a whole range of additional sources that can be investigated for the study of Irish women’s history.

Over the past twenty years, several of the archives listed here have developed websites, but most repositories still rely on general and brief descriptions of their collections.  This website provides more detailed information on potential sources for the history of women, information that could otherwise only be gleaned from visiting the archive.  When local or national archives have listed material in their custody online, they do not always  direct attention to their value for women’s history. Part of the function of this website is to do so.  The focus for many archival institutions and libraries in recent years has been on the ‘decade of centenaries’, 1912-1922, but online manuscript resources relating to women for the period before 1900 are still relatively rare.  We have added new material to this website dating to the pre-1900 period.  In addition, our Resource List will direct researchers to the location of other online material.

This website also provides useful guidance to researchers of collections that have been listed in detail since the original Directory was created.  For instance, the Directory noted the existence of Kathleen Clarke’s letters in the Daly Papers Collection at Limerick University Archives.  This collection has now been catalogued.  However, the information contained in the ‘Sources’ website relating to these papers is still valuable for the researcher.  It can be searched by keyword and a search for women in politics will bring up not just the Daly Papers but also other relevant archives.  In other words, this website enables users to identify the existence of multiple collections on similar themes or individuals.

There is considerable information available on this website relating to archives in the  county of Tipperary.  For instance, a search for my home town of Clonmel turns up 195 individual records which include a number of documents relating to the employment of a resident physician in the Clonmel Lunatic Asylum in 1867. There are also numerous collections of letters from and to individuals in the Quaker community in the town dating from the eighteenth century.

This website remains the only detailed all-island listing of archival-based documents relating to the history of women in Ireland.  It has not been superseded by any online or hard copy catalogue of sources; web-based guides to sources for women’s history on an all-Ireland basis do not exist.  The range of material listed demonstrates that all archival repositories have documents of relevance for women’s history even if they were not recognised as such.

The update has resulted in this website which contains 20,790 records and 2,413 collections from 221 repositories around the country. The website can be located at


The website can also be accessed by going to the Irish Manuscripts Commission website,

Click digital resources on the toolbar at the top of the page and you will find the Sources for Irish Women’s History

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