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October 2013

October 2013

YWCA Ireland Papers Catalogued:
A treasure trove for social, charitable and cultural history

To view the complete catalogue list please click here.
Clicking on images below will open in a larger window

Motto of the YWCA for Ireland, for the year 1913, from RCB Library Ms 624/7/1/

The records of the Young Women’s Christian Association Ireland covering the period 1885–2007 were transferred to the RCB Library – initially in 1998 from a temporary office in Bray, County Wicklow, and again in 2012 when a larger tranche of materials (including minute books and related papers of individual houses established and run by the organisation throughout the island) were transferred from the YWCA’s Ireland headquarters in Baggot Street, Dublin. 

Members of the Jubilee Committee, 1905, RCB Library Ms 624/3.1

In Ireland, the YWCA was not exclusively a Church of Ireland organisation, but many of its founding members and hard–working volunteers belonged to that Church, so the decision was made to transfer this extensive collection to its custody where it has now been arranged into 13 main record groups, and catalogued as Ms 624.

With the exception of recent minutes or records relating to personnel that fall within the 40–year closure rule, the bulk of its contents are now available for consultation at the Library. (Note that for access to those items that remain closed, the permission of the Board of YWCA Ireland must be obtained by bona fide researchers, by writing to Mrs Karen Mawhinney, Administrator, YWCA Ireland, 64 Lwr. Baggot Street, Dublin 2).

The wide and varied nature of the materials in this collection is likely to provide invaluable and unusual resources for documenting many unusual aspects of the social, charitable and cultural life of late–19th and 20th century, as well those engaged in the specific focus of women’s history.

Selection of early minutes from the first minute book of the Executive Committee, RCB Library Ms 624/1.1
Selection of early minutes from the first minute book of the Executive Committee, RCB Library Ms 624/1.1

The first record group into which the collection has been organised is the minutes of the central administration which initially evolved as a branch of the Executive Council of the YWCA in England and Wales (established in 1855) and which initially kept a close watchful eye on Irish activities. The minutes commence in 1885 and continue for over 100 years to the late 1990s. At first the central administrative authority was the Irish Executive Council, which evolved from 1907 into the Irish Divisional Council, which had a Standing Committee (covered by minutes in section 1.4 from 1907 to 1984) as well as various sub–committees (covered in section 3 below).

RCB Library Ms 624/2.1
RCB Library Ms 624/2.1

The next record group 2/ is linked to the minutes, being miscellaneous loose papers extracted from the minute books from 1907 onwards. These are mostly agenda papers and annual accounts, and the early items reveal close Irish YWCA links with their British counterparts.

The next group (please note this is numbered section 2A/ as it was integrated after many of the other materials) covers files of correspondence on specific topics, mostly being inward correspondence received by the Executive or Irish Divisional Council, for the period 1900–1967. This run provides a particularly fascinating insight to the evolving independence of the fledgling Irish organisation through changing times.

There are official letters and telegrams, mostly from Buckingham Palace, acknowledging good wishes on royal births and marriages, and condolences on royal deaths sent by the Irish Divisional Council on behalf of the organisation in Ireland, including those correctly conveyed through the Irish Department of External Affairs from 1935 onwards. The earliest one in 1900 acknowledges the good wishes of Queen Victoria on the occasion of her visit to Ireland in 1900, whilst the file concludes with a letter from Mrs Rita Childers, following the death of President Childers in 1974.

RCB Library Ms 624/2a.1
RCB Library Ms 624/2a.1

Independence of the Irish organisation was to manifest itself in an unusual manner during 1916. This occurred not as a result of the prevailing wave of political change in Ireland, but was the outcome of a theological–based dispute linked to the staging of a fund–raising matinee at Drury Lane Theatre in London, which aimed to raise £25,000 ‘in order to erect hostels, canteens and rest–rooms for munitions and other woman war workers’, held in March 1916.

RCB Library Ms 624/2a.2
RCB Library Ms 624/2a.2

Members of the Irish Council were against this because they viewed support of a play on the stage as being opposed to the biblical teaching and evangelical basis of the organisation, and a ‘worldly’ activity. As the extensive correspondence from individual members surviving on the file makes clear, many were genuinely horrified by the decision of their English counterparts ‘turning for help to the stage to enable us to carry out the primary aim of the Association viz. soul winning’.

RCB Library Ms 624/2a.2
RCB Library Ms 624/2a.2

Arising from the protracted discussion the Irish council made the decision to break away from the BNC and form an independent association – the YMCA Ireland, by May 1917.

RCB Library Ms 624/3.1

The next group /3 consists of the minutes are related papers of various sub–committees, arranged in chronological order. These commence with materials relating to the Deaconess and Missionary Training Home, located at Mount Pleasant Square in Ranelagh, which operated between 1891 and 1899 to train potential candidates for mission overseas. This group includes a volume covering individual candidates and their suitability for work overseas, and a minute book.

Selection of memorabilia from RCB Library Ms 624/3.8 and 3.17 ABOVE HERE
Selection of memorabilia from RCB Library Ms 624/3.8 and 3.17

An array of other volumes cover the spectrum of YWCA activities and outreach in Ireland, from the Jubilee celebrations of 1905 (marking its original origins from the UK Association founded in 1855) to the specifically–Irish context of Members’ rallies, central clubs, camps, training homes and the work of the Evangelisation and Extension Committee, which was in operation between 1928 and 1935.

RCB Library Ms 624/4.2 RCB Library Ms 624/4.2
RCB Library Ms 624/4.2

Whilst the Deaconess and Missionary Training Home closed in 1899, it was replaced by a new ‘Foreign Department’ from 1908, and the minute books and related volumes of this which make up the next group 4/ provide colourful insight to those who received God’s call for mission in the wider world during the early decades of the 20th century.

RCB Library Ms 624/5.1 and 5.3
RCB Library Ms 624/5.1 and 5.3

A specific group of records 5/ is devoted to two particular forms of outreach and fund–raising undertaken by the Irish organisation. These were the National Conference and the Annual Sale of Work the later incorporating an egg sale at which producers and buyers gathered to purchase this essential domestic food. From the opening notebook of the National Conference Executive Committee which commences in February 1913, we learn that it had been directed by Council to explore: RCB Library Ms 624/5.1 ‘the best way of making the subject “the true place of women in God’s purpose for the world” a national study through the Association’, and so devised the concept of conferences for the committee members, but also ‘smaller conferences for girls in different towns and districts’. In this endeavour the committee was mindful of the YWCA’s resolution about involvement in political issues: to ‘take no side in political controversy’ but to reserve ‘a right to intervene when questions directly affecting the moral and physical welfare of women and girls arose’.

RCB Library Ms 624/6.3
RCB Library Ms 624/7.1

During the 1940s, another project was the foundation of a Dublin Bible College, which appears to have run from 1943 to the early 1950s. The minutes, annual reports and printed materials used in this learning centre, located at both 44 Leeson Street and later at 42 Dawson Street are covered in the next group /6

RCB Library Ms 624/7.3
RCB Library Ms 624/7.3

RCB Library Ms 624/7.3

Miscellaneous printed materials follow next as group 7/ beginning with a colourful volume containing the annual motto, originally hand–painted and then mass printed for circulation at YWCA events, through its homes, hostels and central administration. The themes of each motto capture prevailing circumstances as well as theological outlook.

In addition to the mottos, there is an almost complete run of the organisation’s annual report, commencing in 1887 (just two years after its inception) and all the way up to recent years, which will allow the researcher to narrate the YWCA story year by year. There are also yearly almanacs, containing daily bible readings, with a complete run from 1903 to 1966, as well as a range of other printed literature.

RCB Library Ms 624/8.3

Group /8 is devoted to the organisation’s history of itself, with various early typescripts and printed leaflets, as well as the more extensive and definitive effort of C. Elaine Graham’s For Such a Time as This published by the YWCA in 2004.

Group 9/ is the miscellaneous section into which various office files, including such things as the constitution, the printing block, miscellaneous orders of service has been gathered. In addition, a more unusual item in this run includes a file of papers relating to YWCA Guide Companies in Ireland, which gives a rare snapshot view of the status of these companies, their numbers, officers and activities, during the period from 1913 to 1935.

RCB Library Ms 624/9.2
RCB Library Ms 624/9.2

RCB Library Ms 624/10.2

Group 10/ deals with the business side of the operation, being the papers and related accounts of the YWCA Trust Corporation. Modelled on its British counterpart, the Trust for Ireland was set up in 1895, and was responsible for managing the income derived from shareholders, legacies to the organisation, and which held the various properties in trust – boarding hostels and homes for workers throughout the island.

The final two record groups cover the day to day administration of these properties from a central perspective. Group 11/ deals with central administration of camps and other activities for women and girls, and how they were promoted.

RCB Library Ms 624/11.2
RCB Library Ms 624/11.2

Group 12/ which is organised chronologically by individual house or branch covers each individual one, commencing with Harcourt Street, Dublin which opened in 1890, from which we see here an early list of members.

RCB Library Ms 624/12A.2
RCB Library Ms 624/12A.2

RCB Library MS 624/12B.3


This was followed shortly afterwards by the Cork House, which was originally situated at Sydney Place, and opened its doors in 1898, with the beautifully located Glenada Holiday Home in Newcastle, County Down, coming two years later in 1900.

Selection of literature about Glenada House from RCB Library Ms 624/12C and photograph of the home from MS 624/11.9
Selection of literature about Glenada House from RCB Library Ms 624/12C and photograph of the home from MS 624/11.9

The records of a number of other houses and hostels throughout Ireland, ranging from the Baggot Street Hostel and Radcliff Hall, in Sandymount in Dublin, to the Borrisokane branch in County Tipperary, The Cliff Home above Tramore, County Waterford, Coolnariena, at Greystones, County Wicklow and the Londonderry branch active between 1940 and the 1970s complete this significant collection, and are a lasting testament to the significant commitment of this organisation to the welfare of young women in Ireland from the late 19th century to the present. For further information about YWCA Ireland see their website:

Baggot Street Hostel in the early 1960s, and Queen Mary's House, Fitzwilliam Street Belfast. Images from album of photographs RCB Library Ms 624/11.9
Baggot Street Hostel in the early 1960s, and Queen Mary’s House, Fitzwilliam Street Belfast. Images from album of photographs RCB Library Ms 624/11.9



For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
RCB Library
Braemor Park
Dublin 14
Tel: 01–4923979
Fax: 01–4924770
E–mail: susan.hood@rcbdub.org