Irish Overseas Archive

The story of the Irish Diaspora forms a major part of the collection within the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library & Archive. The largest single body of material belonging to this collection is drawn from the Irish Overseas archive formerly held in University College Dublin and compiled largely by Micheline Kerney Walsh, one of the original trustees of CÓFLA. Her collected papers consisting of photographs, microfilm, typescripts, copies and original documents are drawn from several European archives and amount to approximately quarter of a million items. These relate to the history of Irish families in continental Europe from the sixteenth century and reflect the range of activity engaged in by the Irish diaspora. This includes religious and military service as well as trade and politics. The emphasis of the collection therefore is on individuals rather than historical events.

A large quantity of the material within this archive has been transcribed in French or Spanish but a significant body has also been translated into English. Much of the latter relates to the early seventeenth century and to the period before and immediately following the flight into exile of the Ulster Earls in 1607. A large proportion of the military items relate to the service of Irish soldiers- The Wild Geese- in the armies of France and Spain. These include military campaigns in Italy and in Mexico in the eighteenth century. There is a significant body of material relating to the O’Neills in Spain after the Flight of the Earls and on the fate of Hugh O’Neill, second Earl of Tyrone, before his death in Rome in 1616.

There is also a significant body of material on the St. Patrick’s Battalion which was drawn directly from Ireland and which fought in defence of the Papal States in the 1860s. Approximately 1,200 Irishmen enlisted to fight for Pope Pius IX against the forces of Cavour and Garibaldi during their campaign for Italian unification. Details of many of these can be found in the Irish Overseas archive.

In addition the collection provides a unique genealogical source for those of Irish decent across Europe. Many of the records have been arranged according to family name and contain a vast array of wills, legal papers, pension records and correspondence. Furthermore, many of these documents record marriages or deaths in various European countries at time when few records survive for Ireland. The collection also contains several pieces of research carried out using these archival sources.

The Irish colleges on the continent provided a strong religious link between Ireland and Europe from the seventeenth century. They also provided the opportunity to publish books and in particular religious items in the Irish language. The CÓFLA collections reflect this tradition and that of the missionary work of Irish priests and bishops. Some of the earliest works in the Irish language held at CÓFLA were, for example, published on the continent rather than in Ireland. The Kerney Walsh papers contain many documents relating to religious orders and institutions involving the Irish in Spain. However, this is augmented with the research notes of Róisín Ní Mheara who has chronicled the contribution of the early Irish saints in Europe making the archive truly European in its scope.

The library houses a large collection of histories of the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States of America and also has a wide range of books on Irish emigrant communities in north America, Australia along with some material in Argentina.