Archivist and noted medieval historian

 

DR PHILOMENA CONNOLLY: Dr Philomena (Phil) Connolly, who died on June 12th aged 53, was an archivist at the National Archives for more than 30 years. She had a special interest in medieval and early modern government archives and had published a number of comprehensive English calendared versions to make these available to a wider audience.

The eldest of three children of Cornelius and Gabrielle (née Shelley) Connolly, she was born in Dublin on December 14th, 1948, and educated at Mount Anville National School and Sandymount High School before entering Trinity College Dublin in 1965 to study for a BA in history and political science.

Her classmates at that time have vivid memories of her sturdy defence of her own view in any historical debate, and her bubbling sense of fun.

She was always very conscious that the "faceless administrators" enrolling the Irish Chancery and Exchequer records in the Middle Ages were real men, with human weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, an approach which was later to inspire her article: "The proceedings against John de Burnham, Treasurer of Ireland 1343-49".

Even when preparing weekly tutorial essays as a sophister undergraduate, her zeal to unearth the truth in all its detail led her on occasion to consult manuscripts and early 16th-century incunabula in Trinity library.

It was fitting, therefore, that on graduating she went on to take a diploma in the study of records and the administration of archives at the University of Liverpool (awarded July 7th, 1970). She was appointed archivist on June 16th, 1971, in the Public Record Office of Ireland, then located in the Four Courts, though it was later transferred to Bishop Street, and became known from 1988 onwards as the National Archives.

She combined her work there in the early years with researching a major thesis on "Lionel of Clarence in Ireland, 1361-66" for which she was awarded a Ph.D by Trinity College in December 1978.

Her early appointment meant that in recent times she had become the longest-serving archivist in the National Archives, and had thus been the colleague, friend and mentor who guided a whole rising generation of archivists in Ireland, together with some now holding positions around Britain.

She had an unequalled knowledge of the holdings of the National Archives and its predecessor institutions, enabling her to bring to light and publish, principally in Analecta Hibernica, many neglected caches of medieval records which had survived the disastrous fire at the Four Courts in 1922.

While a specialist in medieval material, she also had a vast knowledge of the 19th-century administrative records in the National Archives and had recently been engaged in cataloguing the documents relating to the 1798 Rebellion.

Her energy and efficiency was not limited to records in the National Archives. In 1992, she collaborated with Geoffrey Martin to edit a complete text of The Dublin Guild Merchant Roll, c. 1190-1265 from the archives of Dublin Corporation, and in 1998 she published a two-volume calendar in English of Irish Exchequer Payments, 1270-1446, from rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, London.

For years she devoted an afternoon a week in term-time to giving lessons in palaeography and diplomatics to postgraduate students in the Medieval History Department in Trinity.

In May 2002, on the basis of this long teaching experience she brought out Medieval Record Sources, an invaluable guide to the nature, location and use of government, ecclesiastical and private medieval records for novice researchers.

The same month saw the publication of her edition of The Statute Rolls of the Irish Parliaments, Richard III-Henry VIII. She was currently working on an edition of the remaining unpublished calendars of the medieval Irish justiciary rolls, and was discussing a future calendar in English of the reconstructed records of the medieval Irish Chancery. The field of Irish medieval studies has suffered an irreparable loss.

There were other important dimensions to Phil Connolly's personality. She was an enthusiastic connoisseur of music, both medieval polyphony and the work of more recent composers, including Mahler and Wagner.

She was a proud and devoted aunt, a warm, loyal and selfless friend to many. She was enormously generous in sharing her knowledge and expertise with colleagues and students, and would go to endless trouble to find answers to the queries of fellow-researchers. She will be greatly missed by those whose lives she touched in such a positive way.

Phil Connolly is survived by her sister Christa and her brother Gerard.

Dr Philomena (Phil) Mary Connolly: born 1948 ; died, June 2002