Cork Carnegie Free Library and its Ladies’ Reading Room 1905-1915

Helen McGonagle

Helen McGonagle

03 December 2015

Former Information and Library Studies postgraduate distance learning student, Helen McGonagle, recently published a book A Room of Their Own – Cork Carnegie Free Library and its Ladies’ Reading Room 1905-1915.

The book, based on her Master’s dissertation at Aberystwyth provides an insight into the lives of women in Cork during the transformational period 1905-1915, a time of great hope and excitement in Ireland with Irish Language, Nationalist, Suffrage and Labour movements all demanding social and political change.

Helen McGonagle said: “Having submitted my thesis and with the encouragement of the Cork City Librarian Liam Ronayne, I continued my research on Library Annual Reports and Ladies’ Reading Rooms. With the help of the Carnegie UK Trust I obtained access to their copies of the correspondence between the Lord Mayors of Cork and the Scottish philanthropist Dr. Andrew Carnegie, covering the period 1901-1905. 

“This fascinating file contained copies of letters, telegrams, building plans, speeches and newspaper reports from the time and together with the Annual Reports formed the basis of my book ‘A Room of their Own, Cork Carnegie Free Library and its Ladies Reading Room, 1905-1915.’

“The book outlines the development of the Carnegie Free Library from the first approach made by Lord Mayor Edward Fitzgerald to Andrew Carnegie for funding in October 1901 until the official opening of the building in September 1905.  At its heart is the discussion of the Ladies’ Reading Room at the library with details of the different women who used the library, how the library provided for those users and the type of material they read.”

Hugh Preston from the Department of Information Studies said:         

“The Department of Information Studies is delighted that one of its postgraduate students has taken forward her Master’s degree research to produce a monograph with significant impact on the understanding of women’s developing cultural presence in the early twentieth century. Helen’s enthusiasm for her studies demonstrates the breadth of interests that students typically bring to their postgraduate research at Aberystwyth.”

Liam Ronayne, Cork City Librarian added; “Helen McGonagle’s  A Room of their Own is a unique contribution to library history, Irish and international, and a very valuable contribution to the social and cultural history of the city of Cork, a place which would play such a pivotal role in Ireland’s struggle for independence, just a few years after the period which Helen McGonagle brings to life.   Cork City Libraries are delighted to publish Helen’s book, and we are all very proud that a member of our staff has such an achievement to her name.”

Helen McGonagle spent the first 10 years of her career working in London, initially as a legal secretary, prior to taking up a management role in the circulation department of music magazine publishers, Gramophone Publications. Following her return to Ireland in 1998, she spent the next nine years at home with her young family, also completing an MA in Women’s Studies in UCC prior to joining Cork City Libraries in 2007. During the past eight years she has worked in many of the departments and branches of the library, currently in the Lending Department of the Central Library.

The Department of Information Studies at Aberystwyth is a leading provider of postgraduate and undergraduate qualifications for the information profession. Next year we celebrate 30 years of distance learning provision.