Archive, Alive-O!


The internet is great for research. As a sports fan and history nut, I love it. But there is another way, as I found when I began researching the history of football in our area.

I discovered the Dublin City Sports Archive. A jewel within a gem, stored in a palace, this archive is hidden until you look for it in the Research Library in Pearse Street Public Library.

Located in the heart of the city, the library building is stunning. Completed in 1904 and fronted with Donegal stone, it is a true Irish building, constructed by local men from Ringsend. They built the grand steps, flanked by columns and arched windows, which welcome in the visitor. From the din of the capital’s streets, you ascend into a calm temple of knowledge.


Then, one floor up from the public library, the level of studious energy rises as you enter the Research Library reading room. The Sports Archive resides within and if you want to get close to the people’s history of Dublin, this is the place for you. Here are real Dubliners, not two dimensional extras in the background of documentaries.

I have always wondered about the nameless, those who didn’t merit headlines in yesterday’s newspapers. Their lives were as real as those of the famous, who hold the spotlight and dominate the records of the times they inhabited.

The Sports Archive fills in some of the blank spaces within that record; it is a social and a sporting archive. Compiled by the library and the Council, and consisting of material contributed by the public, it could be said to be a history of the people, by the people.

The items contained in the archive are tangible and real. It is history that can be looked at from close up; it can be felt both physically and emotionally. To hold old books in your hand, and flick through the faded and yellowed pages – to leaf through a scrapbook that was carefully put together decades ago – that is magic!

As you sit in the viewing room you are surrounded by more real history. Look up, and there is Nelson himself! The huge, battered head of his statue stands in the corner, watching the room, watching history march on.

The statue was at the top of Nelson’s Column, which stood on O’Connell Street until 1966. In its time it was a main landmark of the city, like the Spire is today. It was said that no true Dubliner ever went up the pillar, it was only country people who struggled up the steps to the summit.

But that is no longer the case. Now any Dub can see Nelson in the library and say “All right, head?”, and by consulting the general archive, you can find out how he ended up here.

In the Sport Archive, there are many, many stories contributed by both players and supporters who collected the newspaper clippings and photos, the scrapbooks, club registers, documents and letters. These are the people who made, and continue to make, the Archive into the living and flourishing record it is.

The invaluable documents in the archive are complemented by other, fascinating pieces online, such as the extensive audio recordings of interviews with Shelbourne supporters, from the club’s glorious history as the south city’s oldest senior club.

Some items of memorabilia present are of huge international sporting significance. In 2011, Dublin hosted the country’s first major international football final, the deciding match in the 2010-11 Europa League. UEFA then presented to the archive the official match ball, signed by former European Footballer of the Year, French legend Michel Platini.

Last year, the Olympic Torch from the London Games of 2012 was presented to the Lord Mayor of Dublin by the Olympic Council.

This was as a thank you to Dublin City Council for hosting the relay of the torch in the run-up to the Games. That occasion was the first time the torch had travelled outside of the host country and Greece, the home of the Games. Subsequently, the torch was added to the archive and remains here for everyone to enjoy.

The archive is constantly growing, and the curators are always seeking to add to it. All sporting material is welcomed and wanted. Football, GAA, cycling, golf and hockey already have their places, and there is room for them to grow and be joined by others. Any contributions from individuals, clubs, and organisations are always keenly solicited and gratefully welcomed.

The archive is a wonderful adornment to the city. It can be accessed by anybody in the Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room in Pearse St Public Library from 10am to 8pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, excepting holidays.

To contact the archivists regarding any contributions to the collection, call 01 674 4997 or e-mail:

Special thanks to Assistant Archivist Ellen Murphy for her help.

Clockwise from top: Ellen Murphy Senior Archivist and Dr Mary Clarke City Archivist hold the 2012 London Games Olympic torch.
The Football signed by UEFA president Michel Platini.
Pearse Street Library.
The Head from Nelson’s Pillar.

By Gavan Bergin