Shifting focus from yesterday’s post which delved into the largest collections and contributors in the Irish Archives Resource, day four of ARA’s #ExploreYourArchive week has inspired us to uncover some of the smallest collections that have been added to our site over the years. 

Item (The smallest intellectually indivisible archival unit, e.g., a letter, memorandum, report, photograph, sound recording).

Seasoned users of the IAR will be very familiar with the definition of an item, found in the identity statement at the beginning of many of our collections. Items can take various forms, such as a letter, memorandum, report, photograph, video and audio recordings. Describing individual records at an item level is a key component of archival cataloguing, allowing us to identify specific components within a larger archival collection and aiding researchers in understanding the record’s historical significance. However, for some collections, one item is all they are comprised of. Despite this, these collections often hold immense historical value, offering at times unique insights into wider historical events.

This post will explore three of our favourite single-item collections that can be found on the IAR. 

IE BL/PC/EMN The Eoin MacNeill Collection, Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service


Letters are one of the most commonly found items within an archive, offering a uniquely personal primary account of historical events. One example of this is the Eoin MacNeill Collection, comprising one handwritten cover letter addressed from the nationalist politician to Mrs McKean on 19 April 1916, five days before the outbreak of the 1916 Rising. Written on the headed notepaper of Ógláic na hÉireann, MacNeill warned McKean of the plans of the British Government to disarm Irish Volunteers, including that plans were being made by the British to imprison Archbishop Walsh (1841-1921) in his own home. Although the letter is only one page long, it was a significant precursor to the publication of ‘The Castle Document’, the official document released to the public alleging the plans of British authorities in Dublin to stage a number of arrests and raids on homes and public buildings. 


Following the theme of collections documenting twentieth-century Irish politics, Sir Edward Carson’s scrapbook housed in Linen Hall Library is an excellent example of a stand-alone item that possesses a wealth of historical information and perspective. Compiled during a short period between 1911 and September 1912, Carson’s scrapbook is a unique record of his participation in the Anti-Home Rule campaign, with the majority of the paste-ins relating to Ulster Day 1912 and the signing of the Ulster Solemn League of Covenant on 28 September 1912. Press clippings, cartoon illustrations, seating arrangements, dinner menus, and anti-Home Rule rally posters feature heavily across its pages. While it is not known whether Carson compiled the scrapbook himself, or assigned it as the responsibility of a secretary, several of the newspaper clippings have portions underlined in pen, shining a light on some of the valued personal opinions of the compiler of the scrapbook. 

IE BL/SC/EC Earl of Cork Bound Volume, Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service

Bound Volumes

Similar to scrapbooks, in that they contain a wealth of information, a number of singular bound volumes have also been uploaded to the IAR. The Earl of Cork’s Bound Volume, held by UCC Library Archives Service is just one example of this. Found in the library of Dromona House, County Waterford, the 199 page volume is divided into three distinct parts, all of which were completed by Reverend Harrys Oldfiend, the Clergyman and Vicar of the Diocese of Lismore in 1975. First is a transcription of rental information for Richard Boyle, Second Earl of Cork (1612-1698), recording the “Chief Rents” in the lands of Waterford, Cork, Dublin and Kilkenny as well as smaller areas of land in Connaught and “Lower Ormonde” in County Tipperary. Recorded in the transcriptions are place names, the name of the tenant, location and type of property, the start year of the rental agreement, and the sum of the yearly rent due to be paid by the tenant. The following two sections contain a catalogue of both the books held in the library in which the volume was found in addition to a second catalogue of the books owned by Reverend Oldfiend himself. All neatly bound into one volume, Oldfiend’s transcription provides an invaluable source of information for local historians with an interest in the use and management of land in the seventeenth century, as well as for genealogists tracing back their ancestors to Irish country lands. 

The significance of an archival collection should never be judged solely by its size, and today’s #ExploreYourArchive theme served as a reminder that both big and small collections play equally important roles in preserving and understanding our history. We will be back tomorrow to discuss how each of these treasures contributed to the IAR have helped us to create a unique space for archival research in Ireland. 

Róisín Costello, Records Manager 

With special thanks to UCC Library Archives Service for the use of images from the Earl of Cork Bound Volume and Eoin MacNeill Collection for this post.

Similar Posts