Curious Case of the Mayo Librarian: Social conflict in 1930s Ireland


The selection of the Mayo county librarian in 1930 should have been uneventful. It was hardly a crucial post and should have been a routine appointment, yet the choice led to a conflict that had national consequences. It set church against state, county council against government department and even members of the same political party against each other. In July 1930, Letitia Dunbar Harrison was chosen by an interview panel for the post of Mayo county librarian. However, Mayo County Council refused to endorse her appointment, defying a specific instruction from the Local Government Department. Such was the heat generated by the dispute that it almost brought down the Cumann na nGaedheal government. Why would such a seemingly minor appointment drive a government to the brink and set church and state against each other so heavily? Letitia was a Protestant and a Trinity graduate, and thus considered unsuitable for a public post in a large Catholic county.

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