With the new year fast approaching, many of us will have already started to ponder over the new hobbies we plan to take up come January. Ideas begin to spring to mind, knitting, cooking, dancing, maybe even learning to play a new instrument, the list is truly endless. But for those struggling to find inspiration, today’s #ExploreYourArchive theme has come at a perfect time. 

PP/AIR/3213 Photograph of Letitia and Naomi Overend with their Rolls Royce at Airfield. (1969), Image Courtesy of Airfield, Dundrum and OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre

Early Years on the Airfield Estate 

The story of Airfield Estate as we know it today began in 1894 with Trevor Overend, a successful Dublin-based solicitor. Husband to Elizabeth (Lily) Butler and father of two daughters, Letitia and Constance, Overend lived with his family in a building at 12 Ely Place that doubled as both their home and the office of his legal practice. Deciding the city was no place for his family during the summer months, Overend purchased his wife and daughters a nineteenth-century home sitting on eight acres of land located in the heart of the suburban village of Dundrum. Sadly, six months following their first move to the country estate in March 1895, Trevor and Lily Overend’s youngest daughter, Constance, fell ill with meningitis and passed away five days before her first birthday. Five years on from the tragic event, the Overend’s welcomed a third daughter into the world, Naomi, completing their family.

Well raised by their mother, both daughters proudly dedicated much of their lives to charitable causes and public duties. Letitia was largely involved in charity work, partaking in fundraising events for the Blind Asylum, Children’s Sunshine Home, and training in first aid with the Saint John Ambulance Brigade. Her involvement in the brigade led to her stationing at the Irish War Hospital Supply Depot based on Merrion Square during the First World War, later becoming both the Chief Superintendent of the Nursing Division and Dame of Justice of the Order of Saint John. Naomi, although not as extroverted as Letitia, followed in her mother and sister’s footsteps organising a number of fundraising events on the family estate, becoming a member of the Children’s League of Pity, and later the president of the Dundrum branch of the Women’s National Health Association. Despite their twenty-year age difference, Letitia and Naomi remained close. Many pictures can be found within the Airfield Archive of the sisters posing together on family holidays and events. 

Ownership of the estate was passed through the family, from Trevor to Lily upon his death in 1919, and Lily to their daughter’s when she passed in 1945. Both Letitia and Naomi, neither married, lived the remainder of their lives in their Airfield home. 

PP/AIR/3327 Luggage tags for Letitia Overend’s belongings on her outbound and return journey to Melbourne as part of the British Medical Association world tour. (July 1935) Image Courtesy of Airfield, Dundrum and OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

In addition to their academic and professional achievements, the Overend sisters were no strangers to a good time, taking advantage of all opportunities to explore their hobbies and interests, one of which was travel. The extended Overend family were spread across the world, some living in exotic locations including India, Australia, and New Zealand, giving the sisters ample reason to book their tickets and pack their bags. 

Although there are many items in the archive relating to Letitia Overend’s involvement in the British Medical Association’s world tour, Naomi stands out as the ultimate adventurer. Once a year, Naomi waved goodbye to the family estate and embarked on a ski trip with her friends to the snowy slopes of Kitzbuhel, Austria. While the photographs and tales from these trips are always a pleasure to see, her 1938 journey was by far the most eventful, witnessing the arrival of Nazi German troops in the town during the Anschluss. Always armed with her camera, Naomi captured images of the unfurling of Nazi flags on the streets of Kitzbuhel. However, she did not let this event deter her from seeing the world, resuming her travels after the end of the Second World War, travelling as far as the South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand, always opting for first-class when available. 

At home, the Overend sisters preferred to stick to travel by car, and taking after their father, both actively participated in car rallies across Ireland. Letitia proudly held membership of the Irish Vintage and Veteran Car Club, and her passion has been preserved most notably through her 1927 Rolls Royce that can still be found on the Airfield Estate to this day. Naomi joined in her sister’s grá, purchasing her own 1936 Austin Tuckford. For Letitia and Naomi, cars were not simply a pastime, but a symbol of their independence as proudly unmarried, self-reliant women. Both attended the Rolls Royce School of Instruction to learn how to maintain their vehicles, and neither ever hired a chauffeur. 

PP/AIR/3292 Naomi Overend on a skiing holiday with friends in Kitzbuhel, Austria (c.1934) Image Courtesy of Airfield, Dundrum and OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre

The Airfield Archive

The Airfield Archive was transferred to the care of the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre from the Airfield Trust in 2010, bringing with it over 25,000 items. From registers and financial accounts to diaries and love letters, the Overend family collected a wide range of material from their ancestors and personal lives, covering a remarkable period from 1802 to 2004. Included in the 25,000 items is approximately 7,500 for which the family’s story can be told. A number of the items from the archive can also be viewed on permanent display in Airfield House.

Róisín Costello, Records Manager

With special thanks to the Airfield Trust and OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre for the use of images from the Airfield Archive. 

Bibliography

“Document of the Day – Home is Where the Heart is at Airfield”, MU Library Treasures, November 2020.

“Lives Less Ordinary: the Women of Airfield” The Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, Maynooth University, August 2015.

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