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Special Collections & Archives: Rare Books

Rare books are the cherished objects of early printing. 'Rareness' can be distinguished by a multitude of features, for example, early print dates, scarcity of copies, special characteristics of an edition or binding, or historical interest.

Special Collections has an extensive collection of rare books which can serve as a teaching tool for those interested in book history. The collections provide examples of parchment, vellum, paper, inks, handwriting, typography, bindings, printing methods, illustration processes, and more.


Stop by the Reading Room and ask for more information about our holdings, or take a look at this page for more information on the strengths of the collections.

Finding resources in Rare Books

With some exceptions, the rare book collections, along with journals, newspapers, pamphlets and other rare published works, can be searched via the Library Catalogue. Use the filters to narrow your search results by selecting Special Collections under 'Library'.

Key in search terms: authors, titles, subject words or phrases, and be as specific as you can.

For a phrase search, enclose terms in double quotation marks/inverted commas. For example, the query “Earl of Dunraven” will find results with that exact phrase.

Searches can also be performed using the wildcards “?” and “*”. The question mark (?) will match any one character and can be used to find, for example, “realise” or “realize” by searching for “reali?e”. The asterisk (*) will match multiple characters within a word or at the end of a word. For example, a search for histor* will find history, histories, historic, etc.

Finding and Accessing Early Printed Books

The full text of the majority of books published in English before 1800 are available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).  The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) lists most books published in this period.

Early English Books Online (EEBO)

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC)


New Books for Special Collections

Rare Books Subject Strengths

Rare Books at Special Collections comprise a number of distinct libraries. Named for donor or subject, they contain many unusual or unique items such as early imprints, first editions, fine bindings, and beautifully illustrated books. General subject strengths of the collections include Irish history, culture, travel, economics and politics, with particular strengths in Limerick history and literature.

CiarĂ¡n McAnally Travel Collection

The Ciarán McAnally Travel Collection is a library dedicated to Irish travel literature. It comprises over 5,000 items dating from the seventeenth-century to present day, and includes a number of unique manuscript travel accounts. The narratives contained in the collection are a distinct kind of primary source with unique importance as historical evidence; their descriptions offer fresh perspectives on any kind or combination of a writer's interests, be they political, social, economic or cultural. The McAnally Collection is a valuable source for the study of the nature of travel accounts, their meaning as expressions of their times, and the difficulties they raise as evidential sources.

Gilsenan Yeats Collection

The Gilsenan Yeats Collection holds printed works by William Butler Yeats. It features editions of all of Yeats’ works, such as The Tower, The Winding Stair, Wind Among the Reeds, and Plays for an Irish Theatre. With many rare first editions, including examples from the Dun Emer Press, it is one of the richest collections of W.B. Yeats in Ireland.

Fr John Leonard Limerick Collection

The Fr John Leonard Limerick Collection is the definitive collection on Limerick. It holds works by many writers associated with the city and county, including Michael Collins, Dorothea Conyers, Michael Curtin, Aubrey de Vere, Gerald Griffin, Michael Hartnett, Jim Kemmy, Bryan Merryman, Lola Montez, Kate O’Brien, Desmond O’Grady, Gabriel Rosenstock, Eithne Strong, and Frank McCourt, amongst many others.

The collection also contains full sets of a number of rare Limerick journals, including The North Munster Antiquarian Journal, and The Old Limerick Journal; historical works by leading Limerick antiquarians, including the Knight of Glin, the Earls of Dunraven, PW Joyce, TJ Westropp, Mainchin Seoighe and Michael J O’Kelly; and an abundance of ephemeral materials including postcards, prints, photographs, pamphlets and programmes. 

Eamon Norton Collection

The Eamon Norton Collection comprises books, manuscripts, maps, charts, prints, photographs, postcards and much ephemera. The collection is largely of Irish interest, and some highlights include early maps and atlases by Mercator, Speed, Petty and Janson; a full range of county histories; over 15,000 postcards originating from every county in Ireland; and a superb collection of Irish guide, travel and topographical books.

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Special Collections & Archives,
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University of Limerick
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