By Kevin O’Sullivan
It’s not all glamorous, you know. For the joys of the unexpected, earth-shattering, history-changing discoveries that lead to shrieks of ‘celebrity’ joy on Who Do You Think You Are: Azerbaijan, read piles of carbon-copied confidential reports and illegible hand-written memoranda. Professional historians are like figures from the nineteenth century American West: days spent panning fool’s gold rewarded by another small nugget to add to our hidden haul. Actually, there’s a metaphor that could go far: claims and counter-claims; years spent staking out territory; scraggly beards; wolves at the door; men and women, old beyond their years, growing ever more cantankerous and wisened in the wilderness.
So, since we’re in the midst of the summer archive rush, this post is a tribute to those who make our experience of Ireland’s archives and libraries all the more enjoyable. This month sees the retirement of Sally Corcoran, the remarkable custodian of UCD’s Development Studies Library, guardian of its unparalleled treasure trove of materials on aid in Ireland and beyond. And tomorrow, 23 July, marks the end of an era for those of us who spend days/weeks/months of every summer lost in the National Archives of Ireland. After years of putting up with the joys of cranky historians and wide-eyed ancestor-hunting tourists, Senan and Pat, the first friendly point of contact beyond the automatic doors at Bishop Street, take their leave of that august institution. No more Monday morning post-mortems on Louth’s latest defeat (yes, we’re still smarting over that), the weather, or the merits of the GAA’s qualifier system. No more ‘have you got your card’, ‘fill in the blue form’, ‘pencils only’, ‘leave your bags in the locker’, or ‘take the lift to the fifth floor and turn right to get your reader’s ticket’ (how many of them actually do?) Our lives will be all the poorer for it.