Donegal County Council Logo
Home > Culture > Archives > News

Report on conservation of both books by Ox Bindery

NEWS..... Conservation of Gweedore Hotel Visitors’ Books

A Creative Ireland funded project 2017


Gweedore Hotel Conservation Report


Conservation and rebinding of two leather-bound Gweedore Hotel visitors’ registers dating from 1842 – 1874


The Gweedore Hotel is famous in County Donegal’s history. Owned by controversial landowner Lord George Hill during the 19th century, the hotel was hugely popular with wealthy tourists from Ireland and abroad.  Hill acquired much land in the north west of Donegal  and was regarded by some people as a good reforming landlord, though there was plenty of local opposition to his reforms.


Both hotel books were donated to Donegal County Archives a number of years ago and were digitised and the digitised images placed online on the Donegal County Council Cultural Services Archives website. The two visitors’ books are unlike most visitors’ books you will encounter. They are an extremely significant source for social, economic and political history. They contain vivid handwritten comments by visitors on all the controversies of the day. There are stories, poems, treatises, sketches, opinion pieces and drawings relating to the hotel itself and to life in rural Gweedore, including relating to Lord George Hill’s dealings with his tenants. Themes include poverty and the Great Famine, farming, the rundale system, land reform, tenant rights,  landscape, emigration, politics, illegal distillation of whiskey, and tourism. Visitors include the rich and famous of the time, such as Robert William Wilde, Sir James Dombrain, Thomas Carlyle, John Mitchel, Thomas Emerson Headlam and the Marchioness of Londonderry. 


Donegal County Archives holds two hotel visitors’ books, covering the above dates. The books were both in extremely fragile physical condition, with almost all the pages torn or damaged and the spines broken. Both bound volumes could not be handled by the public, and needed urgent conservation work to the covers, binding and to the pages themselves. The Ox Bindery in Co. Sligo ( has done a wonderful job of painstakingly repairing the bound volumes. This was a huge undertaking and included manual repair of pages,  ‘leafcasting’ (filling in missing parts of pages), trimming, sewing textblock, adding spine lining, adding new cloth endpaper joint and new flyleaves, reattaching boards, creating a leather tone to match with the original, new leather re-back, pasting back the original leather, corner repairs, reshaping warped boards and creating a custom made phase box for storage. Some of this extensive work can be seen from the images.


 This project comes under Pillar 2 Enabling Creativity in every Community, and promotes the preservation and conservation of and access to our cultural heritage. The conservation work was funded by Creative Ireland and Donegal County Council.

This now completes all archival work necessary on the two Gweedore Hotel Visitors' books, which have now been listed, digitised for conservation and public access, placed online, and fully conserved.

To read the two books online please see the Archives pages of the Council website, under Collections or follow the link at









A Trek through Time Exhibition on display

A Trek through Time: Images from Donegal County Archives

Turas tríd an stair : Íomhánna as Cartlann Contae Dhún na nGall


Donegal County Archives  (The Archives Service of Donegal County Council) is currently touring its major new exhibition, which focuses on images and stories from Co. Donegal’s history, as reflected in some of its major Archives collections.


The exhibition consists of twelve panels, each highlighting one of the Archives’ myriad collections or a theme strongly represented in the collections. These are: Arts & the Archives; Donegal Grand Jury; The Railways of Co. Donegal; Schools & Schooling in Co. Donegal; The Joseph Murray Collection; The Workhouses of Donegal; The GAA in Co. Donegal; Exotic and Eccentric Donegal; Donegal Archives of Emigration; Maps of Donegal; Elections & the Electorate; Ladies of Donegal.

The exhibition explores many of the historical events and themes of the past 250 years in County Donegal through original archives such as photographs, letters, posters, official documents, public notices, flyers, maps, diaries, plans, memos and drawings, all from the Donegal County Archives Collection.

The purpose of the exhibition is to showcase the variety of interesting and attractive archival collections held and to introduce archival material to as wide an audience as possible, including historical researchers, heritage and history groups, teachers and students and visitors to the county. It aims to increase awareness of local archives and local history and demonstrate their inherent value.

It is important to note that the twelve panels of the exhibition do not represent all of the themes reflected in the collections of Donegal County Archives. The panels are however indicative of many of those themes that are historically important and of widespread interest today in the study of the county’s history and culture.

One would not perhaps necessarily associate the Archives with the world of art and literature.  Yet the Arts and the Archives and Ladies of Donegal panels include beautiful and imaginative works of art, from a handwritten 19th Valentine’s Day poem, original annotated sheet music (some of it over 150 years old),  comic verse, poems by famous writers including Patrick MacGill, cartoons, nature studies, and ‘drawing room’ sketches.

Significant moments in our national and local  history are marked in some of the panels. The 1804 map of St Patrick’s Purgatory reflects Donegal’s history as a place of pilgrimage (Maps of Donegal).  The sketch of Fr James McFadden’s trial for the murder of  Constable William Martin in 1889 brings this fascinating true story from west Donegal’s past to life  (Exotic & Eccentric Donegal). A photo taken in 1899 of the last Donegal Grand Jury outside County House in Lifford is symbolic of a historic shift in power as the more democratically elected local authorities replaced a body comprising wealthy landowners that year (Donegal Grand Jury). An image of soldiers training in Finner Camp as World War I commences in 1914 reminds us of a more recent landmark historic period. The panel Elections & the Electorate displays the names of some of the first women allowed to vote. Joseph Murray attained the rank of Vice-Brigadier of the Fourth Brigade, South East Donegal, First Northern Division, during the War of Independence. The Joseph Murray panel includes correspondence such as a letter from a political prisoner in Finner Camp in 1922. A 1922 ‘Border Pass’ document  allowing the Boyd ladies access from Strabane to Lifford seems especially significant to the border county of Donegal today. A. M. Davies’ striking black and white photographs of the last years of the Donegal Railways bear testimony to the widespread reach and importance of the county’s rail network over the course of a century and to the sadness with which their decline and eventual demise was met.

The social and economic history of the county is well represented in this exhibition in several panels. An 1834 Marriage Settlement of Miss Mary Susanna Young in 1834 is symbolic of both the privileged status and restricted rights of  19th century women from the landowning classes (Ladies of Co. Donegal).  The professionally taken portraits of the ‘ladies’ of Convoy and Castlegrove can be contrasted with the early 20th century photographs of school children and of the ‘Master’ and children outside Letterkenny workhouse -  stark reminders of the poverty prevalent in the county at this time (Schools and The Workhouses of Donegal).  On the other hand, items such as an 1887 Stranorlar public health inspection report, 1908 labourers’ cottages plans and the 1920 Vaccination Notice are reminders of ongoing valiant efforts to improve the lives of the working and labouring classes. An important part of social and cultural history is sport. The GAA in Co. Donegal photographs of county matches and a 2012 ticket for Donegal’s historic All-Ireland Championship football  victory reflect the extent and ‌significance of our sporting heritage.


Trek through Time exhibition Gweedore 1

Above: Leabharlann Phobail Ghoath Dobhair


The poignancy of archives relating to personal lives is evident in several panels.  Included is a moving request for a blanket from a former inmate of Letterkenny workhouse, Peter Crosley, in 1865. He asserts that he had worked very hard while resident in the workhouse and states : ‘I have nothing to cover me at night’, His request is ‘disallowed’ by Letterkenny Board of Guardians. The Donegal Archives of Emigration panel includes a mid 19th century letter from a homesick emigrant.  ‘I am very lonely and I would like to see you all’, was James Clarke’s simple but heartbreaking message to his mother.  Joseph Murray’s personal testimonies and his teaching and military service certificates indicate how one person’s life can be a rich tapestry of diverse stories, sometimes heroic moments and life changing events. The photograph of the Harbison family tourists  in 1892 suggests the growing attraction of Donegal as a tourist destination towards the turn of the century, while demonstrating the increasing modernisation of society as men and women toured together on bicycles.

The exhibition is available in both languages to community groups, heritage centres, libraries and public service centres.

For more information on the content of the exhibition please contact

Niamh Brennan, Archivist,
Archives Service, Donegal County Council,
Three Rivers Centre, Lifford,  County Donegal
Tel: +353 74 9172490


Rate this Page

Select an option below


Map Services

Map Portal

  • Rennet Image
  • NPPR Logo
  • Donegal Gathering Logo
  • Donegal Tourism Logo
  • Donegal Diaspora Logo
  • Public Art logo
  • Regional Cultural Centre logo
  • Spaceial logo
  • IrishWater
  • LEO