Edna O'Brien and Minister Catherine Martin.

National Library acquires Edna O'Brien papers

Second collection of literary and personal records of Irish author

The National Library of Ireland has acquired the Papers of renowned Irish author, Edna O’Brien, covering the period 2009 to 2021. These will now be added to a collection of her papers for the period 2000-2009 that are already held by the National Library of Ireland. The archive comprises literary and personal papers, including notebooks, drafts and revisions, and correspondence with other well-known literary figures.

With its acquisition by the National Library of Ireland, this most recent archive of Edna O’Brien “comes home to Ireland”. It represents an important moment for the collection of work by Ireland’s women writers, and was made possible by a special allocation of funding from Minister for Culture, Catherine Martin.

Edna O’Brien was born in County Clare in 1930. Her first book, The Country Girls, published in 1960, was banned in Ireland for its frank portrayal of female sexuality. Today, her work enjoys enduring popularity and critical success, with O’Brien renowned for her skill as a novelist and the centring of women’s experiences in her work. She received the prestigious French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in May 2021. Other writers who have received this accolade include TS Eliot, Ray Bradbury and Seamus Heaney. Her recent novels, including Girl, published in 2019, are among her most highly praised, and at 90 years of age, Edna O’Brien continues to write. She is currently working on a play about James Joyce, ahead of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses in 2022.

Minister Martin stated: “I am delighted that the National Library of Ireland has acquired this most invaluable collection of papers from Edna O’Brien. Her place in the literary canon both nationally and internationally is assured and her importance as a novelist and a chronicler of Ireland is unique. That Edna O’Brien’s work is so widely regarded throughout the world speaks of the universal nature of her themes, and most especially that of the lived experience of women.

"Edna O’Brien’s writing shines a spotlight on women and their agency and autonomy. She has recounted women’s stories unflinchingly, doing so when the stakes were high and it was unbecoming to speak about women’s lives with such frankness and honesty.”

Director of the National Library of Ireland, Dr Sandra Collins added: “As Ireland’s memory-keeper, the Library is charged with collecting and safeguarding the story of Ireland. The experiences of women are an inextricable part of this narrative. The acquisition of Edna O’Brien’s archive is a momentous occasion for the National Library. It is a celebration of a writer who has contributed, indelibly and with brilliant style, to our understanding of Irish society and the lived experience of women.

"It is my hope that all those who view and study this archive will glean deep insight into Edna’s practice, and feel inspired, not only by her work, but by her trailblazing, tenacious spirit. This is a proud day for the National Library of Ireland.”

Edna O’Brien said: “I am thrilled and honoured that the National Library has acquired my archive. It has always been my wish for my papers to reside in Ireland, the country of my birth – my home. My works are stories of place as much as people, and Ireland has long featured as a central character. It is only right that my most recent archive should find its lasting home there.”