David Bracken

Limerick Diocesan Archivist who fuels our desire to uncover the past

David Bracken

David Bracken Limerick Diocesan Archivist

MY father is from Dublin, and worked as a vet in a rural practice that straddled the Co Tyrone border, however, the family moved to Limerick during the ‘Troubles’.

For my education, I spent four years with the Salesian Sisters in Fernbank which was a very special place to start your schooling. Later, I attended the John F. Kennedy Memorial School and St Clement’s Redemptorist College. Growing-up our house was full of books, mostly belonging to my grandfather, and I always loved reading, but in truth with my head in a book, I was somewhat of a ‘black sheep’. Like many Limerick families there was a lot of rugby talk around our dinner table.

Today, there are two sources of inspiration in my life, namely; Christian faith and family.

With lots of small people around, there isn’t much spare time, but when I can, I pick-up the fiddle and knock out a tune or two. I am, also, associated with ‘Focolare’, an international movement founded in the wake of World War II by a young Italian student, Chiara Lubich. The movement, though grounded in the Catholic Church, is open to those of all faiths and none.

The Limerick Diocesan Archives are rooted in the history of the city and diocese of Limerick.

The Fourteenth Century ‘Black Book of Limerick’, which is housed in the archive, includes copies of documents that take us all the way back to the Twelfth Century. Even today, the pages speak to you. The book is extraordinary in an Irish context and one of the greatest treasures in the city. The best part of the collection, however, dates from the end of the Nineteenth Century. My role is to preserve the historic papers of the diocese and to catalogue the resulting collections.

I came to be an archivist in a roundabout way - it was not something that I always wanted to do. I studied in Maynooth University and St Patrick’s College, receiving a BA in History and French, followed by Theology, respectively.

Finally, I was ordained a priest for Limerick (2002), serving in St Nicholas’ parish in Corbally-Athlunkard. St Nicholas’ was a great ‘school of life’. I had wonderful teachers in the parishioners, the staff and students in Scoil ĺde, and especially in the parish priest, Fr John Daly. While life has taken me in a very different direction, being now married with four children, I still carry that time always in my heart. A chance conversation led me back to the History Department in Maynooth to undertake an MA in Historical Archives (2012). This was followed by a work placement in the Limerick Diocesan Archives where I still remain.

Very little work had been done on the historic archives of the diocese and practically nothing published in terms of catalogues or other finding aids.

Initially, I have concentrated on some of our earlier collections, including the papers of two late eighteenth-century bishops of Limerick, Dr Denis Conway, (1722-96), and Dr John Young, (1746-1813). Both catalogues have recently been published in ‘Archivium Hibernicum’, with a forthcoming introductory piece on the history of the Limerick diocesan collections. More generally, as part of the diocesan contribution to the 1916 centenary celebrations, I edited a short volume on the leaders of the Rising entitled, ‘The End of All Things Earthly: Faith Profiles of the 1916 Leaders’. Many archivists working with Irish church archives contributed to this work.

Today, I am a member of the Association for Church Archives of Ireland and am constantly inspired by the work of fellow members, many of them quite elderly volunteers.

Dublin Diocesan Archives, under the astute management of archivist, Noelle Dowling, are particularly impressive and its collections are widely accessed by historians. For anyone, with an interest in local history, there is no shortage of research avenues and points of contact, in Limerick. Limerick Museum and Archives is an invaluable resource. For example, the series of publications celebrating the industrial heritage of the city, including the most recent volume, ‘Pigtown’, and the history of Mount St Lawrence, itself the result of a collaboration with Mary Immaculate College (MIC). The Local Studies facility in the Granary, under Mike Maguire, has been supporting researchers for as long as I can remember. It has, also, made a rich body of material available online. Thomond Archaeological Society and dynamic local historians, like Sharon Slater, are brilliant.

For archivists there is plenty of room for introspection while working quietly on a collection.

By way of contrast, lots of researchers with a passion for their subject, come knocking on our door. In recent years, particularly with regard to certain historical legacy issues that have arisen in Ireland, the work of the archivist has become crucial. For example, in creating an archival culture where records are properly cared for, preserved and catalogued. Indeed, organisations must know what records they hold, allowing them to respond to research requests. This enables the researchers, in turn, to find answers. Archival work is slow but it teaches you that progress in all things is incremental. It is all the better for that!

The Diocese of Limerick, in partnership with MIC’s History Department, is organising a conference entitled; ‘The World of Edward Thomas O’Dwyer of Limerick (1886–1917)’, to mark the centenary of Bishop O’Dwyer’s death, on October 13. For more information please contact: david@ldo.ie

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