News: Professor FX Martin’s personal papers handed over to the National Library

Mary Robinson former President of Ireland and former legal advisor to Rev Professor FX Martin’s 1970s Save Wood Quay campaign, recently officiated at the handing over of the handing over of the late Professor Martin’s personal papers to the National Library of Ireland.

On Tuesday 1 June 2010, the National Library of Ireland acquired the personal papers of the late Professor FX Martin, historian, leader of the Save Wood Quay campaign, member of the Augustinian Order in Ireland and one of the most prominent figures in Irish academic and cultural life from the early 1960s to the late 1980s.

The archive dates mainly from 1960s onwards and includes a significant amount of material relating to Professor FX Martin’s work as an historian. A particularly noteworthy feature is the material relating to his work on the nine-volume publication, A New History of Ireland, which became a standard work of reference on all periods of Irish history. Other noteworthy materials include those covering his work on Giraldus Cambrensis, as well as papers relating to the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland. The archive also contains a small amount of primary source material relating to Wood Quay, including letters of support from international figures and prominent Irish citizens, including then Senator Mary Robinson.

As is the case with many Irish cultural institutions which hold related materials, both the National Museum of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland share Wood Quay and Professor FX Martin papers in common. The bulk of Professor Martin’s archives relating to the Wood Quay campaign are held in the National Museum of Ireland.

The National Library-acquired archive was donated by the Augustinian Order in Ireland, whose Provincial, Fr Gerry Horan, attended the ceremony, along with some of the leading activists from the 1970s campaign. Those who were active included the distinguished historians, Dr Margaret MacCurtain and Professor Kevin B Nowlan; Dr Anngret Simms, former Professor of Geography UCD; Alexis FitzGerald, former Lord Mayor of Dublin; Dr Pat Wallace, Director, National Museum of Ireland; Gemma Hussey, former Minister for Education; Donal Nevin, former trade union leader; Michael O’Brien, publisher and founder of O¹Brien Press; John Gallagher, currently Chairman of Dublin City Council¹s South Central Area Committee; Bride Rosney, former Special Advisor to President Mary Robinson and more recently RTE’s Director of Communications; Dr George Eogan, former Professor of Archaeology, UCD; Frank McDonald, Irish Times Environment Editor; historian Dr Clare O’Reilly; Carmencita Hederman, former Lord Mayor of Dublin.

An exhibition of selected Wood Quay campaign-related materials, together with television footage of the 1978 protest march addressed by the then Senator Mary Robinson, goes on display in the Library’s Main Hall from today for a 12-week period. Also on display are flyers and posters relating to fundraising concerts; media releases relating to the 1978 and 1979 protest marches; photographs and documents relating to the peaceful Occupation of the site by campaigners; copies of international media coverage, as well as letters of support from members of the Irish public and prominent citizens.

The Wood Quay campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s was not merely of interest to Irish people, it also generated huge interest from leading international scholars who were appalled by the decision to destroy the archaeological remains of what was regarded as one of the most important Viking sites in Europe. The excavations of the Wood Quay site revealed new evidence about the Viking and later medieval settlements in Dublin. This evidence included the Viking earthen defences, wattle-and-daub houses, and part of the city’s medieval stone wall. Also revealed was evidence of land reclamation and successive waterfronts from the 10th to 13th centuries.

Among the artifacts found were jewellery including pendants of Baltic amber and glass, objects of carved Walrus ivory, an antler comb case, gaming counters, and worked leather items ­ all providing evidence of Viking craftsmanship. Another key find was a 13th century pewter pilgrim’s flask in the shape of a ship.

The exhibition chronicles the campaign to save this important site from destruction. It will be of particular interest to schoolchildren; teachers
are being encouraged to bring groups of children to the Library to visit the exhibition, which continues until the end of June 2010.

Rev Professor Francis Xavier (FX) Martin (1922-2000), a native of Ballylongford, Co Kerry, was educated at Belvedere College Dublin,
University College Dublin and at Cambridge University, where he completed his doctoral thesis. In 1959 he joined UCD’s History Department, where he quickly established a glowing reputation among his students for the clarity and wit of his lectures and his warmth and accessibility as a person. In 1963 he was appointed head of UCD’s Department of Medieval History. In 1966 he organised a series of television lectures which were subsequently published as The course of Irish history, probably the most widely read popular history of the country. In 1976 he was elected chairman of the Friends of Medieval Dublin, and this led him into the campaign for which he is best remembered: Save Wood Quay.

Wood Quay was the proposed location for the erection of civic offices by Dublin Corporation, but also a crucially important archaeological site for the exploration of Viking settlements in Dublin. Professor Martin led the campaign to preserve the site. Ultimately he failed to prevent the erection of the Civic Offices, despite appeals to both the courts and public opinion, but he did gain an invaluable delay, which allowed excavations on the site to be concluded.

Professor Martin was Chairman of the Council of Trustees of the National Library of Ireland from 1977 to 1981.

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