News and Views

UCC acquires archives of female leaders in Ireland’s Civil War

17 Jun 2022
Kathleen Boland Portrait Photo. (Kathleen Boland Collection Copyright UCC)

University College Cork (UCC) has acquired two significant historical archives which give the perspective of female leaders during Ireland’s Civil War and the formation of the Irish State. 

Spanning 100 years the private papers of Kathleen Boland have been donated to UCC, and they give a unique insight into a family connected in many ways with the foundation of the Irish State.   

The collection is comprised of material collected by Kathleen Boland, including a number of items associated with her late brother, the senior republican political leader, Harry Boland.

Kathleen Boland was an important republican activist in her own right. She joined an anti-Treaty women’s speaking tour of the United States in 1922-23 with Hannah Sheehy Skeffington and Linda Kearns.  There is a fascinating letter in the collection from her former Irish-American colleague, Mary McWhorter criticising Sheehy Skeffington for her opposition to De Valera in the 1930s, which helps informs the post-revolution diasporic networks of Fianna Fail.  Civil War correspondence between Kathleen and her imprisoned brother Gerald are also noteworthy, as is Kathleen’s description of her brother Harry’s death as ‘murder’.  

Famed escape of Éamon De Valera 

 The Boland Collection also contains material relating to the famed escape of Éamon De Valera from Lincoln Jail in 1919, which was organized by Harry Boland and Michael Collins. The collection includes what appears to be secret correspondence between Boland and De Valera in the run-up to the escape.  There is a fascinating interaction between Kathleen Boland and Peter Mangan over possession of the copied cell door key used in the famous escape. In addition, there are copies of love letters from Harry Boland to Kitty Kiernan. Social history material includes teaching qualification diplomas, a Sinn Fein Loan Society book, assorted historical postcards from Ireland and the USA, an arm-band from the 1966 Easter Rising centenary, and a rare programme from the reburial of O’Donovan Rossa in 1915. Some of the early documents paint a picture of life in various British and Irish jails and elucidate some of De Valera’s and Sinn Fein’s strategy at the time.   

According to Dr. John Borgonovo of the School of History, UCC, “This is an original and valuable collection.  Not only does it illuminate the life of Harry Boland, one of the primary architects of the independence movement, but also the revolutionary world of his sister Kathleen, whose life and activities are also of great interest.” 

Tadhg Crowley, grand-nephew of Kathleen Boland and member of the Kathleen Boland Trust commented:

The Kathleen Boland Trust is delighted to donate to University College Cork our Archive of papers and documents associated with Harry and Kathleen Boland which passed down through the family over the past 100 years. Harry Boland was architect of the Pact Election of 1922, a genuine and creative attempt to avoid the calamity which ensued. We are also delighted that our guest speaker at our handover event in UCC will be Dr Martin Mansergh who contributed so much to our more recent peace process.

At the beginning of the 20th century, just four women on the island of Ireland taught history at university level 

UCC has also acquired The Pauline Henley (1883-1973) Archive. At the beginning of the 20th century, just four women on the island of Ireland taught history at university level, and Cork woman Pauline Henley was one of them.  She was also involved in the Gaelic League in Cork and that is where she made the acquaintance of Terence MacSwiney and his sisters.  The UCC collection is comprised of correspondence between Henley, MacSwiney and his sisters including letters during MacSwiney’s period on hunger strike.  

A sepia-coloured photo of a man in military uniform

Pauline Henley was born in Cork in 1883.  She attended school at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford and received her BA from UCC in 1913.  She worked in Stranmillis Training College in Belfast for a period, before returning to Cork to complete her MA in history at UCC.  From the late 1920s she taught at the University College Cork, firstly in the Department of Education, and later as an assistant lecturer in the History Department.  She retired in 1948. 

Both of these archives will be launched by Dr. Martin Mansergh and Prof.  Lindsey Earner-Byrne (UCC) on Friday 17th June from 12.45pm in the Aula Maxima, UCC. 

Both collections will be on public view in UCC Library from 2-4pm on Friday 17TH June and then open for research and public consultation from Monday 20 June. 

University College Cork is hosting a national conference to mark the centenary of the Irish Civil War. Supported with funding from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, the four-day conference runs until Saturday 18th June and is one of the key events in the State’s Decade of Centenaries Programme for 2022.

Image: Terence MacSwiney in Uniform. Pauline Henley Collection Copyright UCC

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