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About Us

Welcome to the blog of the Archives and Special Collections of University of Galway Library.

The Archives and Special Collections preserve and make accessible a range of materials which date from the 15th century to the present day. Collections are accessible on-site at the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room, located at the Hardiman Building, and also online through our Digitial Collections online repository.

As well as providing a service to students and staff of the University, Archives and Special Collections strengthen links between the University and the wider community through hosting and partnering in events such as exhibitions and public talks. By acquiring and preserving rare printed and archive material, the service supports scholarship, research, and discovery of our local, national, and international heritage and history.

This blog will give regular updates on the collections, new acquisitions, items of interest, newly digitised materials, as well as updates on access and upcoming special events.

Mon, 17 Jul 2023 15:47:00 +0000

The Galway International Arts Festival Archive - Out of the Western World

The Festival Big Top.

The last two weeks of July means that the Galway International Arts Festival is once again spilling through the streets of Galway. A programme of events of theatre, music, spectacle, visual arts, talks, and more brings together a collision of culture throughout the city. Since the festival was founded in 1978, leading local, national, and international artists have come to Galway, enthralling audiences and contributing to the Festival becoming one of the biggest festivals in Europe. 

The Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF) archive is part of the collections at University of Galway Library. Consisting of more than fifty boxes of materials, and hundreds of outsize posters and ephemera, the GIAF archive is treasure trove of festival memories. Comprising photographs, festival programmes, posters, flyers, press files, early administration and correspondence, the GIAF archive builds a record of the growth of the festival, as well as a record of the acts, artists and others who have captivated audiences for over four decades. 

The first festival took place at a different time of year - in April of 1978. That first festival featured acts, musicians, writers and artists such as De Danann, Team Theatre Company, John McGahern, Seamus Coleman, Gerry Dawe, Druid Theatre Company, among many others. The iconic Galway Arts Festival poster became a fixture from the beginning. The first festival poster was designed a food menu, offering 'starters', samplings and other delectables for audiences to try. As the Festival continued, posters were designed by artist Joe Boske, blending images in forms from collage to pop art and creating a unique poster design each year that became synonymous in people's memory as a festival memory in itself. 

Like the poster, the acts, and artists that drew audiences to the festival, new venues became established part of the Galway cultural landscape, The festival Big Top at Fisheries Field is for many one of the first signs the festival has arrived. Its canopy rises above Fisheries Field and can be seen from across Salmon Weir bridge. The earliest reference of a gig at the Big Top from the GIAF archive is from 28 July 1989 and a performance by El Gran Circo Theatro, from Chile, who presented 'La Negra Ester' at the Big Top. The earliest photos of acts at the Big Top include Mary Black in 1993 and visiting group, 'Circque Gosh', who performed in 1994. Photographs in the archive show the Big Top from across the cityscape of Galway. 

A reminder of the concerts and events can be seen in the archival ephemera, such as tickets, flyers and press cuttings, where photos of festival goers at various events provide a visual record of GIAF audiences, as well as the acts they are going to see. Exhibition catalogues from visual arts exhibitions also give an important record of past art exhibitions, which cannot be so easily re-encountered as much as a playscript can give the text of a play, or an album can allow you to listen to a band's music. 

Flyer from Footsbarn Theatre Company at GIAF

The GIAF archive is unique resource that allows access to years and decades of festival memories and objects which can remind us all of the first events we went to as Festival audiences, prompt memories of those we attended with and of our favourite acts. As another installment of the Galway International Arts Festival arrives, more events, acts, and memories will be add to over forty years of festival memories and to the archive of the festival and the archive of festival-going. 

Assorted Tickets from early GIAF events

The Festival Big Top viewable across Salmon Weir Bridge

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Fri, 14 Jul 2023 14:00:00 +0000

The First Galway Film Fleadh

Summer in Galway is never complete without a series of cultural festivals. From theatre to visual arts, music and more, streets and venues across the city become busy with festival goers enjoying the atmosphere and events. The Galway Film Fleadh has another packed programme, from shorts to feature films, new Irish documentaries and international offerings. For over three decades, the Film Fleadh has celebrated the best of film and brought many famous faces, local or otherwise, to the city. 

The first Galway Film Fleadh took place in 1989. Materials within the archives of Galway University Library show some of the original ephemera from that very first Film Fleadh. 

'Stop Press!' ran the headline of the press release announcing the screening of Venus Peter, the first screening by the Fleadh. Also the Irish premiere of the film, it was the last film to feature Ray McAnally. Set on the Orkney Islands, the film was directed by Ian Seller and also starred Sinéad Cusack and Peter Caffrey. 

Announcement of the first Galway Film Fleadh

Invitation to the Gala Irish Premiere of Venus Peter as part of the first Galway Film Fleadh. 1989

The Film Fleadh team consisted of Lelia Doolan, Miriam Allen, Bob Quinn, Joe McMahon, and Steve Woods, running from 19-24 July in association with the Galway Arts Festival. Venus Peter  was screened at the Claddgh Picture Palace. Speaking ahead of the opening of the Film Fleadh, Lelia Doolan stated that the Fleadh would feature a mix of Irish and European films, would focus on the issue of funding for film and would also include a first-time gathering of animators in Ireland, and a showing of their work. 

Press Release from the First Galway Film Fleadh. 1989. 

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Thu, 29 Jun 2023 09:41:00 +0000

JFK in Galway 1963 - Looking West from Galway to Boston

On the 19th June, 1963, the streets of Galway were filled with young and old making their way to Eyre Square. The occasion was a special one - the visit to Ireland and to Galway of President of the United States, John FitzGerald Kennedy. The descendent of Irish emigrants in the 19th century, the story of the Kennedy's ascent to the highest political office in the world, and as the first Catholic president of the United States, captivated Ireland and the world. The crowd assembled in Eyre Square had gathered in a jubilant atmosphere for a 'homecoming' of sorts for President Kennedy. 

Material from Special Collections marking JFK's visit to Galway, 1963

In his address to the crowd, President Kennedy spoke of Ireland's past and still recent history of emigration to the United States, as well as his personal links to Ireland, which had been to the fore along his journey, stating, "I must say that though other days may not be so bright, as we look toward the future, that the brightest days will continue to be those we spent with you here in Ireland."

He added "If the day was clear enough, and you went down to the bay, and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts. And if you did, you would see working down on the docks there some Doughtertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good."

To mark this anniversary, a selection of material relating to Kennedy's visit to Galway in 1963 has been selected by Marie Boran and is on display in the foyer of the Hardiman Building. There you will see photographs of the visit, later coverage and writings about the visit, as well as an original issue of Time magazine from June 1963, featuring a cover illustration of the Kennedys. 

Other sources of interest include the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston who has digitised photographs of the speech on Eyre Square online

A film in the IFI archives, made by the Columban Fathers in 1963, more details at
The Galway City Council commissioned documentary JFK: the three miles, will be screened at Galway City Museum, during Thursday 29 June, see
Tom Kenny did one of his Old Galway columns on the visit and it's available in the Advertiser archive at

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