Letitia Dunbar-Harrison (4 February 1906 – 1994) was an Irish librarian who became the subject of a controversy over her appointment. She was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. She was the subject of a 2009 book, The Curious Case of the Mayo Librarian, by Pat Walsh, an RTÉ documentary of the same name and year.
Mayo County Librarian Controversy
In 1930 a vacancy for Mayo county librarian arose and Letitia Dunbar-Harrison was recommended for the role by the Local Appointments Commission. The Library Committee of Mayo County Council refused to endorse the recommendation to Mayo County Council, claiming her grasp of Irish was inadequate. The County Council accordingly did not sanction her nomination. In response, the government dissolved the County Council and replaced it with a Commissioner who appointed Dunbar-Harrison to the role of county librarian. In December 1931, Letitia Dunbar-Harrison was transferred from Castlebar to work for the Department of Defence in Dublin.
Debate about motives for non-appointment
The reason given by the County Council for not appointing her as librarian was her insufficient grasp of Irish:
|“||A certain advertisement was issued by the Local Appointments Commissioners. I am speaking from recollection, as I have not the necessary data at hand, but I am sure that the Minister will be in a position to put me right. The advertisement stipulated that a competent knowledge of Irish was necessary for the position. The resolution refusing to appoint Miss Dunbar as librarian was passed first by the Library Committee. It dealt only with her knowledge of Irish. That resolution subsequently came before the County Council, and was ratified by that body. The resolution dealt with one question only, and that was that Miss Dunbar did not possess a competent knowledge of Irish.||”|
—Michael Davis (Irish politician) Dáil Éireann - Volume 39–17 June 1931
J. J. Lee suggested that the resentment of local people towards the Local Appointments Commission for appointing someone with little or no local connections may also have been a factor, but argued that sectarianism was also involved:
|“||Even local resentment at what was perceived as metropolitan intrusion was not the core of the problem. It was rather than Miss Dunbar-Harrison suffered from the dual stigma of being a Protestant and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin.||”|
—J. J. Lee Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society
He cited one J.T. Morahan who was:
|“||opposed to the appointment of a product of Trinity to the position of Librarian in this County. Trinity culture is not the culture of the Gael; rather it is poison gas to the kindly Celtic people.||”|
—J.T. Morahan Connaught Telegraph, 3 January 1931
|“||I refer to the case of Miss Dunbar Harrison in Mayo who was appointed by the Local Appointments Commission as a librarian. When she had opted to work in Mayo she was told that 24 out of the 26 members of the library committee would not have her. She was a Protestant and a Trinity graduate. Later someone said that it would be all right if she was handing out books but that she might recommend a book to somebody and no less a person than Mr. de Valera suggested that Mayo people were entitled to have someone they wanted handing books out to children.||”|
—Michael D. Higgins Seanad Éireann Debate, 8 July 1986
|“||The Taoiseach drew up Mr. de Valera's attitude to the appointment of a librarian in County Mayo. It might be noted for the record that the reason why his political opposite number — I think it was General Mulcahy who was the appropriate Minister at that time — in Cumann na nGaedheal wanted to keep Miss Letitia Dunbar Harrison in office was not because he was somehow inflamed with non-sectarian zeal but because he did not like the action of the Mayo County Council in suspending her. It was a government versus local government dispute rather than anything else.||”|
—Prof John A. Murphy Seanad Éireann Debate, 9 October 1981
The government resolved the situation by offering her a post in the Military Library in Dublin, which she accepted.
Life after Mayo Controversy
She had met a Methodist Minister, Rev. Robert Crawford while in Castlebar and they married a few months after she started work in the Military Library and became known as Aileen Crawford. Because of the marriage bar she had to resign her post.
- Dáil Éireann - Vol. 39 - 17 June 1931 - Orders of the Day - Local Government Bill, 1931 - Second State
- Scannal - The Curious Case of the Mayo Librarian, RTÉ Television, retrieved 22 January 2010
- John Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society
- Dáil Éireann- Vol. 36 - 11 December 1930, Private Notice Question. - Co. Mayo Librarianship
- Dáil Éireann - Vol. 50 - 29 November 1933, Ceisteanna.—Questions. Oral Answers. - Appointments to the Civil Service.
- Seanad Éireann - Vol. 113 - 8 July 1986 - Adjournment Matter - Teachers in Catholic Schools
- Seanad Éireann - Vol 96. - 9 October 1981 - Constitutional and Legislative Review: Motion (Resumed)