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Mary Robinson Centre a boost for Ballina

Mary Robinson Centre will create cultural and tourism boost for Ballina

Áine Ryan

BROADCASTER Olivia O’Leary was sworn to silence about the proposed new Mary Robinson Centre for Ballina but as she confirmed the news on the stage of the town’s state-of-the-art Arts Centre at the launch of the former president’s book last week, word about the exciting development had already filtered through the large gathering.
The Mary Robinson Centre, will be located at her birthplace, Victoria House, on the banks of the River Moy. It will comprise both a Visitor Centre and an academic research centre, focussing on scholarly research and education in the fields of Human Rights and Women’s Leadership. The centre will be supported by NUI Galway and owes its genesis to an approach made by Mayo County Council and Ballina Town Council to the Robinson family about formalising a way to acknowledge Mary Robinson’s many national and international achievements.  Mary Robinson responded positively to the idea and generously offered to make her complete archive available to the centre.
The centre is expected to be open to the public by 2014 and will provide a unique cultural tourism resource for Mayo about the former president and UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s early life and her work at home and abroad.
The project will involve the refurbishment of Victoria House, a protected 19th century Georgian house, together with the construction of an annexe. Parts of the house will be recreated to its original condition at the time of Mary Robinson’s birth in 1944. Victoria House is owned by Mary’s brother, Adrian Bourke, a local solicitor, and will be leased in perpetuity. Its research and educational centre will focus on the fields of Human Rights and Women’s Leadership.
Mary Robinson’s archive will be the centrepiece of the educational facility, and as academic partner to the project, NUI Galway, will bring researchers and students from all over the world to Ballina to engage with the archive. NUI Galway is internationally recognised as a leader in the field of Human Rights and Gender research, and offers undergraduate degrees and Masters programmes in the area. The university will also advise on cataloguing and  the making available of the extensive archive which is valued at over €2.5 million.
Speaking about the project, Mary Robinson said: “The people of Mayo and the West have taught me over the years the true meaning and spirit of Meitheal, and have always been hugely supportive of my journey. So I am delighted to respond to this initiative to ensure that my archive benefits Ballina and future generations.”
The vast and illuminating archive includes a library of books periodicals and  personal diaries, as well as working files and detailed records of her career as a champion of human rights and women’s equality. There are also numerous recordings and manuscripts from her time as Uachtarán na hÉireann.

Expressing his delight at the project’s potential, President Jim Browne of NUI Galway said: “NUI Galway is delighted to be associated with this exciting development. Mary Robinson’s archive is a rich resource for scholars working in the fields of human rights and women’s leadership. Through the university’s internationally recognised Irish Centre for Human Rights and through our Global Women’s Studies Research Cluster, we will use this opportunity to draw in students from around the world to engage with this important archive.”
The tourism and academic potential of the centre is expected to significantly boost the local economy of the north Mayo capital. The cathaoirleach and mayor of the county and town council, Cyril Burke and Willie Nolan have both responded positively the establishment of the centre
County Manager, Mr Peter Hynes said: “Mayo County Council and Ballina Town Council are delighted to be associated with the Mary Robinson Centre in Ballina. The development presents a fantastic opportunity for Mayo to create a Centre of national and international importance in Mary Robinson’s home town of Ballina.”
Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin observed that Mary Robinson was Ireland’s best-known citizen internationally.
“The establishment of this centre means that she will be carrying the flag of recognition to the highest mountain for Ballina.”

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