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13/11/17 Conservation of Gweedore Hotel Visitor’ Books 1842-1874

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Two unique Gweedore Hotel Visitors’ books which are an extremely significant source for social, economic and political history in Donegal have been conserved, digitised and are now available online.


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. 


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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.


The digitised versions of the Gweedore Hotel books along with the Conservation work of The Ox Bindery can now be accessed at Donegal County Council’s Website.


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


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