Service of the Month : Archives and Special Collections

Service of the Month - Special Collections

What material is in Special Collections?

Special Collections is the section of the Library which looks after old and rare printed books as well as material in different formats such as maps and newspapers. These collections are accessed in the Archives & Special Collections Reading Room (alongside the Archives Service - see below). 

None of the material in Special Collections is available for loan but it can be requested in advance through the Library Catalogue or by emailing
Full details of the reading room service, including opening hours, are available here.

Some frequently asked questions about Special Collections

What is the oldest book you have in the Library?

It’s a toss-up between two religious publications! Prima pars Lyre is a bible commentary by Nicholas of Lyre, printed by the same printer who produced the Nuremberg Chronicles, Anton Koberger, who lived 1440-1513, so clearly this copy was printed before that date. It is part of our St. Anthony’s College collection, purchased from the Franciscans in 1990, as part of the acquisition of the St.Anthony’s College building.
The other is a portion of an edition of the Confessions of St. Augustine, published around 1470. This volume was purchased in the early 1970s, as part of the King’s Inns collection.
Both of these items are known as incunabula, books printed before 1500. See a nice blog post by one of our former colleagues, on some of these early printings here.

Why are some recently printed books held in Special Collections?

Usually for one of two reasons. They may be part of a donated collection, where we keep the books together as representing the collection of an individual or organisation, or they may be part of a very limited print run, which will go out of print very quickly and very difficult to acquire in a short time. By placing the book in Special Collections a copy should always be available for readers. We do this, for example, with University staff publications. 

What’s your favourite book in Special Collections?

It’s very difficult to choose, there are so many wonderful items but the tremendously illustrated botanical works from the later 19th century are particularly attractive. This page is from the 1812 Pomona Britannica, a marvellously illustrated volume on fruit then growing in Britain. Illustrated works were especially important in the nineteenth century library, before the advent of photography. 

Which elements of the collections get the most use? 

Our Irish Local Studies collection would be one of the well-used elements. The more recently published volumes are held in the Reference shelves in the Archives and Special Collections room so are easily accessed provided you have booked a reading slot in the room. Bear in mind that there are many more items relevant to local studies in our stores. These will all be listed on the Library Catalogue.
An online and printed booklet on the wide range of subjects in Special Collections, together with information on the history of our collections can be found here.

The staff in Special Collections love to assist students and researchers with their work and advise on relevant materials which we may have. The best way to contact us is by emailing where you can also book a visit.

Service of the Month – Archives

Figure 1 Liber A - Galway Corporation, 1686.

What Material is in the Archives?

Archives are unique materials, usually unpublished, and created by an individual or organisation, in the course of their work, life, and activities. Archives are preserved in physical and digital formats and offer evidential value and research interest and insights into a variety of past events and people. At NUI Galway, archive collections reflect a number of themes and research strengths, including the Irish language and culture, geography and landscape, human rights and politics, theatre, music and literature, landed estates, business, as well as a range of individual lives and histories, from Galway, Ireland, and internationally. The archive collections range from the 15th century to the present day. For more on the archive collections held by the Library, click here.

Finding Material to Consult and Booking Your Seat

All catalogued archive material is fully searchable online through the Archives Catalogue. By searching any range of keywords and terms you can discover what archive collections might support your research. You can search the catalogue online here. Please submit all file references numbers that you need by email at least one day in advance to You will receive a confirmation email when all items are confirmed for you. 


Figure 2 The Archives and Special Collections Reading Room, Ground Floor, Hardiman Building

Where We Are – Finding the Reading Room

The Archives service of the Library is located on the ground floor of the Hardiman Building. Follow the corridor to the right of the main foyer and you will find the Reading Room. 

Using the Reading Room and Conditions of Access

As archive material is unique and often fragile, certain conditions of access are required. Archive material is not loanable and must be viewed within the Reading Room. All readers must sign in at the front desk on arrival. Pencil, paper, and laptops are only allowed in the read with each reader. Coats, bags, water, food, etc. can be securely stored in lockers freely provided outside the room. Photography is permitted on certain collections for the purpose of private study and research. Please consult the Archivist on Duty regarding permissions for archive material to be photocopied. A copyright declaration form can be viewed online here. Publication or broadcast of material will need permission and guidance on correct accreditation. Photocopying of archive material is not permitted. 


Figure 3 Children on Inis Mór, 1896. Balfour Album

Online and Digital Archive Access

A number of archive collections and online exhibitions make archive material freely available online. A range of selected online digital archives includes material of Northern Ireland conflict mediator, Brendan Duddy; photographs of late 19th century Galway and Connemara; Galway Revolutionary period family history, Minute Books of the Abbey Theatre, publications from Muintir na Tíre, among many others. 

Digital exhibitions offer online access and a range of learning materials, contextual writings, and further information on digital collections. Online exhibitions can be explored for cartographer of the west of Ireland, Tim Robinson, theatre and opera designer Joe Vanek, among others. 

Who Can Use the Service?

We cater for users of NUI Galway (staff and students) and also external readers and members of the public. All new users of the service need to sign in and register on arrival at the Reading Room. All are welcome to consult material from the Archive collections. 


Figure 4 Poster from the Galway International Arts Festival, 1995. GIAF Archive

Teaching and Engagement

Academics and those teaching on campus who may wish to use our Archive collections within course work and teaching are very welcome to get in touch. We welcome all teaching and engagement with and using the Archives. A dedicated teaching room is located next door to the Reading Room and can be booked and used for small-group teaching sessions. Archive staff can also deliverer tailored information sessions and lectures on particular archives. Contact the Archives for more information by emailing 

News and Updates

You can follow and find out more about the Archives, new collections, upcoming exhibitions, events, and other collections news by reading the NUI Galway Archives Blog and following on social media

Highlighted collections

One of our larger collections relates to Conradh na Gaeilge. It was founded in 1893 to promote the Irish language in Ireland and abroad and the collection encompasses material from this period through to 2018 when it was accessioned. The main body of material comprises records generated by Conradh na Gaeilge headquarters, although it also includes material returned to them by various branches in Ireland and abroad, most notably the London branch. A range of other Irish language collections also relate to the Irish language revival. Details of what is available can be found here.

Figure 5 Cover of Programme for Connacht Feis, 1902

Figure 6 Flyer advertising “Cré na Cille” by Máirtín Ó Cadhain