Celebrating 800 Years of Dominican Life in Ireland

The historic Dominican Convent Library at the University of Galway

This month of April, the Dominicans in Galway are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the arrival of the Dominican Order in Ireland. In 1224, Dominican friars from Oxford and London established communities in Dublin and Drogheda, having sailed up the Liffey and the Boyne rivers. In 1241, they set up house in Athenry and in 1488 they took over a ruined abbey on the banks of the Corrib.

The Dominican Sisters established a convent in Galway city in 1644 in New Tower Street, now known as St Augustine Street. In 2018, the Dominican Convent in Taylor’s Hill, Galway donated its library of more than 2,000 volumes, built up over five centuries, to University of Galway. Spanning almost five centuries, the library contains a selection of significant religious publications from the 17th Century onwards and was almost lost due to a convent building demolition.

The University worked closely with the Dominican Convent to secure the long-term future of the historic library as a major research resource for the local community, academic staff and students on campus and visiting scholars worldwide.

At the time, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President of University of Galway, welcomed the donation: “The Dominican Convent Library is one of Ireland’s historic treasures and will be an invaluable resource for teaching and research, engaging a range of audiences not just locally but internationally. The insights it provides into the education of women are especially significant. We also get a great sense of what life was like in the convent over four centuries and how the Dominican community connected with Europe and the wider world.”
The Dominican Convent Library represents the oldest continuously used library in Galway City today. It not only illustrates the place of study in the life of nuns (or women religious) from 1644 onwards, but it also gives testimony to the history of the education of women through the variety of books contained, ranging from dictionaries to theological and language studies. The collection provides insights into female education in Ireland across several centuries and the history of Irish religious, also capturing something of Galway’s history, and that of its academic institutions.

Dominican Library Highlights
There are many highlights in the Dominican Convent Library. It contains a selection of significant 17th Century religious publications including a 1617 edition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summae Theologicae and a 1616 edition of the life of St. Teresa of Avila – one of the bestsellers in all languages in the early modern period. Not surprisingly there are many works relating to the Dominican order dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries. An interesting example is The manner of receiving devout ladies in the Holy Order of St. Dominick, originating in the Dominican Convent in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

Along with religious instruction, the first prospectus for the Boarding School which opened in 1859 includes French and French literature, English, German, Italian, History, Geography and the study of globes, Music and Arithmetic. The variety of languages represented in the library is especially noteworthy and is well represented in the 19th Century Welply Collection, donated by Kate Welply, an aunt of one of the sisters resident in the Convent, which contains titles in French, German and Italian. As befitting an educational institution there are volumes on a wide selection of subjects, ranging from astronomy to travel, from natural science to literature.

From the 1640s, many of the women who joined the Galway Dominican community of nuns came from families belonging to the ‘Tribes’ of Galway. Local interest is therefore well represented, particularly by a set of Martin J. Blake’s Blake Family Records (1905).The library also includes volumes of important 19th Century art periodicals such as the Art Journal.

Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan, Discipline of English, commented: “The sheer timespan of the coverage here is remarkable. Teresa of Avila’s Life, for example, was translated across Europe and used as a model by men and women, of all faiths, down through the centuries. It is a landmark in the history of autobiography and to have such an early edition here brings the entire genre to life for our students.’

The Dominican Convent Library is an important addition to the University of Galway Library’s printed Special Collections and joins a subset of local religious libraries within its collections, including that of St. Anthony’s Franciscan College, Newcastle, and the Henry Library, from St. Mary’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Tuam, Co. Galway. Details of titles from all three libraries can be viewed on the University of Galway Library’s catalogue.

A series of talks celebrating 800 years of Dominican Life in Ireland will take place on Tuesdays over April in 2024 in St Mary’s Church, The Claddagh, Galway.  The sessions are available Online via https://claddaghdominicans.ie/