The Airfield Archive (1805 -2001) consists of the private papers of the extended Overend family and of Airfield farm in Dundrum, containing over 25,000 unique items, including 7,500 photographs. It also includes large collections of letters, diaries, notebooks, financial accounts, scrapbooks, postcards and maps, collected and retained by the Overend family.
In addition to the family papers, the collection also includes documents relating to the hobbies, interests and philanthropic works of the two Overend sisters, which make up a valuable piece of social history. Most notable are the records of the Irish War Hospital Supply Depot, the Woman’s National Health Association, the Saint John Ambulance Brigade and the Children’s Sunshine Home.
In 2010 the archival collection was transferred to the care of the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre at Castletown House, on long-term loan to the University.
The OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre at Castletown, was established to facilitate the care and study of archives and other sources dealing with the history of Irish estates, their houses and inhabitants and was launched by President Mary McAleese in November 2008. It also facilitates research in the decorative arts.
The Archive and Research Centre is located on the second floor of Castletown House in Celbridge, Co. Kildare. Built between 1722 and 1729 for William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the wealthiest commoner in Ireland, Castletown House is Ireland’s largest and earliest Palladian style house. After decades in the care of Desmond Guinness and the Castletown Foundation, it passed in 1994 to the ownership of the Irish State. The Office of Public Works has since refurbished Castletown, and in 2007 it reopened as a major cultural and community resource.
The collection has been carefully cleaned and has been packed in conservation standard materials (i.e. Acid-free boxes and tissue paper and mylar pockets) in order to ensure its long-term preservation. The collection has been fully catalogued, so that is can be made available for research. It is currently stored under environmental controlled and monitored conditions to ensure its preservation.
The Overend archive experience was developed as part of the recent refurbishment of Airfield. The challenge was to create an interactive experience out of the large collection of documents and photographs. The brief was to re-create the feel of a family home, rather than that of a museum. CMC Associates working with Studio SP were appointed following a tendering process.
Once the major themes were identified, the job of selecting the materials to support these began. Great discussion ensued amongst the curatorial team with each member having their own personal favourite story or photograph.
Using digital images and facsimiles enabled large amounts of materials to be displayed while memorabilia, clothing and objects belonging to the family helped create the atmosphere of the family home that we were after. Recently discovered film footage- shot by the sisters gives up a unique perspective into their world travels. Visitors are encouraged to go through drawers and letters to discover the family history as they wander through the rooms of Airfield House –journeying from Victorian times, through two world wars, up to the establishment of Airfield as an educational Trust in 1979 and to the present day.
The cataloguing and exhibiting of the archive collection gives us a glimpse into the lives of these wealthy but socially conscious women in an Ireland undergoing huge change. It also allows us to pay tribute to their foresight to establish Airfield as an educational trust.