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November 13, 2008

President McAleese Launches New OPW-NUI Maynooth Archive Centre

President Mary McAleese today officially accepted the deposit of the Strokestown Estate Archive at the opening of the new OPW-NUI Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown House, Celbridge. The new research centre will facilitate the storage, conservation and study of a range of historical records with a special emphasis on Irish landed estates and their inhabitants, and the decorative arts.

The Strokestown Estate Archive, previously housed at the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, consists of approximately 6,000 documents and provides a unique glimpse into the Anglo-Irish lifestyle of the Pakenham Mahon family in County Roscommon, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Incorporating both family and estate papers the documents include correspondence, photographs, farm accounts and other financial material, estate maps, property deeds, architectural drawings, labour returns, pamphlets, and press cuttings.

The paper archive reflects both the private and public lives of various members of the Pakenham Mahon family, addressing a variety of different subjects, including marriage and family life, war, estate management, rent collection, evictions and emigration, agrarian outrages, and local education.

Of particular importance, however, are documents dating from the period of the Great Irish Famine (1845- 1850). These papers were recovered from the estate office at Strokestown Park House, and provide a truly moving account of Ireland’s greatest social disaster on record, whilst offering a voice to its many victims.

The collection includes many haunting pleas from starving tenants on the estate and documents the responses they received. One of the records discovered contains a request from one of President McAleese’s ancestors, Mary Lenahan of Elphin Street in Strokestown, who applied for food relief during the Famine. Her name appears on a list of individuals who received meal on Strokestown Estate in 1846, as part of the Archive.

Speaking at the opening, President McAleese said, “Thanks to Desmond Guinness, to the OPW and to NUI Maynooth, this big House now has a very big heart and a culture of respectful care for the source materials which bring our past to life in the present.”

The OPW-NUI Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown house is the product of a unique and ongoing collaboration between the OPW and NUI Maynooth. The location of the centre at Castletown House was an essential part the project. The house is Ireland’s largest and earliest Palladian style house built between 1722 and 1729 for William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the wealthiest commoner in Ireland. After decades in the care of Desmond Guinness and the Castletown Foundation, it passed into State ownership in 1994. The Office of Public Works has since refurbished Castletown, and in 2007 reopened it as a major cultural and community resource and is the perfect location and surroundings for the research centre. The centre will occupy a suite of rooms in Castletown House and will open to scholars in the summer of 2009 once the professional work on the archives has been completed.

Speaking at the opening, Professor John Hughes, President of NUI Maynooth said, “Today’s event is a landmark in collaboration between our University and the wider community. We are very honoured to accept this important archive to our new Archive and Research Centre. The collection that we welcome to our Centre today is an important part of our national inheritance. Our University now has a serious responsibility to maintain and catalogue these documents for future generations”