A small team of volunteers has begun work on the production of a comprehensive digital catalogue for the O’Laverty Library.

Creating this catalogue will take 3 or 4 months. You can still make inquiries about books and we will do our best to find them if they are not undergoing conservation work.

Below is a short version of a guide to the St. Malachy’s College Archives. Any inquiries should be made to the

College Archivist.​


"The archives of St. Malachy’s College are a rather disparate set of records, books and artefacts; some items, such as roll-books, registers and photographs are hardly surprising while some, such as lecture notes, sermons and prayer books have a tenuous connection with the College. A small number have no clear provenance and it is not easy to see how they ended up here at all."

When Fr Noel Conway ‘rescued’ a ramshackle set of papers and books in the 1990s he recognised their significance and the need for greater security. Dr Eamon Phoenix who was then on the teaching staff collated and calendared these into lettered files and made them available to researchers. I have largely kept Dr Phoenix’s initial arrangement but have made a number of changes and additions.

Some categories have expanded considerably to include new items.  In anticipation of a promised digital catalogue I have listed and described them in this preliminary booklet. I have included a time line of sources and have appended a chart/plan of location and a colour-coded key for ease of access. The College Archives are held in the O’Laverty Library (Diocesan Library). For the most part the records of past students up to 1950 are to be found in the ‘stand-alone’ glass fronted cabinet (sometimes called the O’Laverty Cabinet) to the left of the entrance except A II (slim, square red books) which are in the central area of the lower cabinet. At the time of writing no conservation work has yet begun so that a number of volumes remain in a perilous state. It is imperative that they be handled with care and replaced in good order to avoid any further damage.

- Current Categories -

Category A I

There are 10 A I files in the form of nominal lists. Mostly they are large heavy registers, some in poor condition, containing lists of students who have attended the College. They cover the period c. 1856 – 1926, with two large gaps in the 1860s and 1892 – 95. According to the original list there were 11 so 1 still appears to be missing. The records are variable in quality; for some cases we have D.O.B., home address and academic achievement and for others just a name. In the middle part of the 19th century the scribe appears to be James O’Laverty, then 2 or 3 different writers contributed up to the time of Patrick Boyle, whose name appears on some files at the end of the century. In the 20th century one particularly interesting volume deals with students on the College rolls from 1904 to 1926 and is the meticulous work of Mgr James Clenaghan who was Dean and later President (1918-1924). Staff lists for each academic year, students listed according to grade, small obituaries and news of academic successes and distinctions make it a mine of information on academic life in the College in the early twentieth century. Si sic omnes! . . . as most archivists would say.

Category A II

There are 5 of these. They are large dark red board-covered official (Ministry of Education AL Series) registers dealing with the period 1914 – 1950 with biographical details and dates of school career and exams passed. These are more detailed and useful records with a clearer progression than A I. In the earlier period they duplicate some of the information in an A I volume (as in A I  9 and A I 10 ). The alphabetical index at the front gives the relevant page number. There are occasional observations on a student’s destination after SMC, particularly those destined for the priesthood. Some volumes are meticulously kept and others of variable standard. They have suffered from over-use and cellotape has been liberally applied. Nevertheless, in regard to past students in first half of 20th century these are probably the records of most value to the researcher of the period.


[After 1951 information on students was kept in a card catalogue and in individual folders and this method was maintained into 1990s when digital recording became standard. These more recent records are outside the scope of this survey.]
Category B

There are 27 of these, dating from 1880 to 1910. They can be divided into 2 categories – a small collection of official National School Rolls showing attendance at  the “Diocesan Seminary” during the period 1867 – 1883 and a larger set of small mainly black soft covered roll books 21 x 14cms covering the years 1883 – 1910. Some of these deal with the whole school enrolment while others are only concerned with a particular grade (Junior, Middle, University Class, etc) or even one class. I have noted where they have attendance, D.O.B., address, subjects, timetables, etc but in most there is merely a record of class attendance. Some do contain evidence of teacher in charge, holidays, ‘free’ days, retreats, etc with occasional remarks in the ‘observation’ column on illnesses or transfers to other schools, businesses or religious orders. Sometimes the back inside cover has been used for an individual teacher’s random memos, addresses, accounts, notes and marking calculations.


Occasionally the A and B files contain interesting fragments which have been preserved accidentally. The register for 1882-83 includes a short minute of a meeting held in the College and chaired by Bishop Dorrian on 7th August, 1883 regarding a proposed training school. The roll for 1890-93 has the teaching timetable of ‘Mr MacCormac’ appended, a Junior Grade student’s timetable and an invitation to a meeting of the Young Ireland Society on 25th February, 1890.  


Some of the B files help to fill in gaps in the A files (nominal lists) while many will duplicate information but they are nevertheless of considerable value to the researcher.

Category C

A third category C (Cash Registers) consists of a chronological series of 12 Cash Registers recording the income and expenditure of the College during the period 1844 – 1922. These volumes contain information on school finances and on the salaries of ‘professors’ and ancillary staff. They are useful in that they provide information, not only on the College curriculum but on the teaching staff before 1904 (the starting point for Fr. Clenaghan’s record) and can be cross-checked with the entries in the Irish Catholic Directory (now removed to Diocesan Archives).

The earliest item covers the period 1844 – 1853 and is of interest as it relates to the period of the Great Famine and of the Cholera outbreak in Belfast. From the point of view of the College the most significant volume in this category is that dealing with 1856 – 69 (C4) which includes a list of contributors to the new Diocesan Seminary on the ‘Vicinage’ site. This is prefaced by an historical introduction by Mgr James O’Laverty, then Dean of the College and later renowned ecclesiastical historian of Down and Connor. There are 2 photographs, dated 1866 of Vicinage House from front and rear views. Another part of this register records the students at the College during 1856 – 69.

Category D

A fourth category contains a short series of account books dealing with the purchase of text books by students. They relate to the period 1886-1915 and have lists of students with books and equipment purchased and prices. Probably not intended for permanent record they are of limited value to the researcher.


After 1922 there is a large gap in the College financial records until the post-war period when the 1947 Education Act brought a huge increase in the roll and teaching staff. New regulations then required detailed administrative and financial recording. I have arranged these large volumes into Files C 13 to C 16 and D 8 to D 12 but not subjected them to any detailed scrutiny as information on students and staff can be gleaned from other sources.

Category E

This section of the archives has been reserved for memoirs, diaries etc relating to the College. It includes: The Cosslett Diaries, The Diary of Edward Keys, The Diaries of Patrick Boyle, The War Chronicle of Patrick Rogers, the Memoir of Daniel Cummings CSSR and some notebooks

Category M

This category consists of a number of discrete items, only a few relating directly to St. Malachy’s College. They include a subscription book for the new Catholic Church on the Falls Road, Belfast (the present St. Peter’s Cathedral), a detailed estimate for a major alteration to a wing of St. Malachy’s College, a large scrap-book of letters and invoices from companies and merchants in relation to orders from St Malachy’s College, an 1890s receipt book of the College and two notebooks (holograph copies) on Theology, Metaphysics and Astronomy. 

Category N

A separate category has been set aside for a unique set of three large books of newspaper extracts – the O’Neill Newscuttings Books. As the front cover inscriptions show these books belonged to Laurence O’Neill (1874-1943). He was Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1918 to 1924. O’Neill played a prominent role not only in municipal affairs but in national politics. He was involved in the anti-conscription campaign of 1918, prisoners’ rights and the relief of victims of sectarian violence in Belfast. It is not entirely clear how these volumes came to be in the SMC Archives.

Category P

This category includes photographs, letters, press cuttings and artefacts relating to the life of the College. Photographs are intended for display and many can be found on walls of the school corridors. Some originals (McCaughan Collection, Conway Collection) are stored in boxes but most are on CD Roms which have been calendared and catalogued by Mr Sean Corrigan.


 I have also used the P category for odd items of memorabilia which might of interest in a display such as the boarders’ ‘Washing Book’ of c. 1900 or Cardinal Daly’s gold medal (1934).

Category Q

Part of an archivist’s job is to answer questions. This minor category originally contained records of queries which had been dealt with but then was expanded to include research notes, papers, historical articles and academic theses presented to the College.

Category S

Sport, Music and Drama contribute greatly to the life of any school. These departments keep their own records. Annual reports in the Collegian magazine provide a detailed record of key events but some older programmes are preserved in the archives in 3 S files while photographs of teams etc are mostly retained in category P.

The Collegian Magazine

Essential to the record of College life since 1926 these annual magazines are considered to be part of the Archives. Although some incomplete sets are available in other parts of the school (e.g. A4) the calendared set of individual copies are held in the cabinet beneath the bronze bust of Cardinal Daly. [Individual copies missing at the time of writing are: 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1934]. There are however two bound volumes containing each edition from 1926 to 1970. 


Here also are the Sesquicentennial Collegian and the Glory From Within [2009  Belfast] book of College history edited by Mr Sean Corrigan which surveys the contribution made by St. Malachy’s College to public life over 175 years.

Minute Books of St. Malachy's College Old Boys' Association

These are 5 bound (green with gold lettering) volumes of hand-written minutes, the proceedings of the Association from its foundation in October, 1926 until April 1978. The assistance of S.M.C.O.B. has been an important factor in the history of the College. These attractive books were recently rescued from a bin. With its careful accounts of meetings and resolutions, plans for events, lists of council officers and members, attendance figures and famous personalities this is an invaluable record of the prestigious association.  

The O'Laverty Manuscripts

A unique and priceless collection of 16 original Gaelic manuscripts collected by Monsignor James O’Laverty (1828-1906), these are the most valuable items in the Library. They were originally described and catalogued by Professor Eoin MacNeill, possibly St. Malachy’s most famous old boy, in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge. For a full description and appreciation see Cathair O’Dochartaigh, The O’Laverty Manuscripts in The Collegian, Sesquicentennial Edition, 1983. p48. It is hoped that a digital catalogue of the manuscripts will soon be completed as part of the proposed library project.