The Arts Interview: Derval O’Carroll

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

Derval O'Carroll, of the Chester Beatty Library

Born in Limerick, I was raised on the North Circular Road, and then moved to Dublin, in 1993.

I attended the Salesians, Fernbank, then Crescent College Comprehensive and completed a BA in European Studies at the University of Limerick (UL) in 1992, specialising in Social Research. I went on to do an MA in Local History at NUI, Maynooth, in 1999, as a part-time student.

Today, I live in Glasnevin with my family, close to where my Dad grew-up and where my grandparents lived until the 1960s.

In 1996, I joined the National Print Museum at Beggars Bush, in Dublin, as its manager, and then, moved to the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in the grounds of Dublin Castle, as its Operations Manager, in 2000. I was promoted to my current role, as Head of Operations and Administration in the CBL, in 2008.

Without doubt my love of history and culture was nurtured by my parents, Cian and Ann O’Carroll.

My Dad worked, for a significant portion of his career, as CEO of Shannon Heritage Ltd., and both my parents are still actively involved in the historical and cultural landscape of Limerick City. I often recall the childhood experience of taking the ‘long way home’ from holidays in Ireland, in order to visit another ‘pile of stones’, (as we children called them!), that we may have missed during our two week stay in the locality. Dad’s experiences of managing Shannon Heritage, and the visitor attractions under its remit, are very similar to my working-life today, and I still rely on his sage and sensible advice.

One of my greatest challenges lies in promoting the Library and its treasures to the widest possible audience.

We have been very successful in establishing the Library firmly on the tourist trail, and welcomed over 300,000 visitors in 2014, but there is always room for improvement. I, often, say that all we need to do is to ‘get the visitor over the threshold’, and then our exhibitions, and our collections, speak for themselves and continue to enthral and ‘wow’ our public. Sir Alfred Chester Beatty’s donation, to Ireland, of over 20,000 items of extraordinary beauty and rarity, must surely be considered to be one the greatest gifts ever given to the Irish people.

Museums and their collections can build bridges between cultures and religions.

Furthermore, they serve to remind us, that in essence, we are all the same, all of us striving for the same opportunities and aspiring to the same values. At Chester Beatty Library, we are the only Irish museum to provide a comprehensive intercultural learning programme and we do this by engaging the new, and existing communities in Dublin, through language tours, events, festivals and workshops. With the significant 1916 Centenary coming-up next year, rather than looking back, the Library will explore how its collections and public programmes reflect contemporary cultural diversity and identity. A thought-provoking, enjoyable visit to a museum or cultural centre, can benefit us far more than buying the most recent ‘must-have’ gadget or designer handbag. Museums are, also, ‘safe places’ to debate and discuss societal issues that affect us all.

Historical research is vital in today’s environment.

Indeed, I have always had a great love of history, especially social history, genealogy and art history, and have had great opportunities in my career and studies, to spend time researching in libraries and archives. These days, however, with a busy work and home life, opportunities to research do not often present themselves. Indeed, I sometimes look back with a slight sense of longing to an earlier time in my career, when I spent eighteen months as researcher and co-editor of ‘Hoggers, Lords and Railwaymen’, (1996) a book on the history of the Custom House Docks in Dublin. Research for my MA in Local History thesis involved oral history research with printers in Limerick and an extract from this work is due for publication in the Old Limerick Journal this 

I would like to think that I am the sort of person who sees challenges as opportunities.

Indeed, recent studies have shown that ‘positive experiences’ invoke far greater feelings of contentment than acquiring material things. As part of my own pursuit of positivity, I recently became a member of Córus, a Dublin-based (but expanding) choir, where singers of all abilities are taught a simple method of singing, harmony and movement. We sing at festivals and events throughout the year, with one large end-of-year concert for charity. There is a vibrant cultural scene in Limerick and I am always struck, when I return to the city, by the range of heritage and cultural events on offer. The Hunt Museum and Limerick Art Gallery are two of my favourite attractions, though King John’s Castle would be in the running too. Limerick City of Culture (2014) was wonderful, and while I recently enjoyed Culture Night in Dublin, I was encouraged to see that there was a myriad of events on offer in Limerick also. Museums and art centres need investment, however, in order to survive, and regional centres are often overlooked when the funding requests come to the table. However, they are often the ones in most need of funding, sometimes just to keep the doors open.

It is a testament to those arts and heritage centres in Limerick, and to the dedicated people who manage them, that they have survived through the ‘lean’ years.

In fact, I would be hopeful that they will now begin to thrive again. This depends, however, on the input and involvement of local communities’. So, get out there and explore, visit your museum, or your local arts or heritage centre, get involved. Finally, I would love to meet visitors from Limerick, at the Chester Beatty Library, whenever they are next in Dublin!

For more information about the Chester Beatty Library please see: