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O'Kelly Collection: Home

Offprints and serials, ex libris MJ O'Kelly.

About the Collection

The collection comprises c.1870 pamphlets and offprints.

Biographical History

MJ O'Kelly (1915-1982) was born in Abbeyfeale in Co Limerick and received his secondary education in Rockwell College. He studied archaeology at UCC and received a BA with 1st Class Honours in 1940. In 1941 received MA in Archaeology, 1st Class Honours for a thesis “A Survey of the Antiquities of the Barony of Small County, Co Limerick.” In 1941 O’Kelly won a NUI Travelling Scholarship in Archaeology however because of World War II he was unable to go abroad. O'Kelly participated in many archaeological excavations with or Seán P. Ó Ríordáin at Lough Gur and at Garryduff, Clonmult, Co Cork. In 1943 O’Kelly was appointed Director of the Archaeological and Topographical Survey undertaken by the Irish Tourist Association.

From 1944-1963 O’Kelly was curator of Cork Public Museum. In 1947 O’Kelly was appointed to the Chair of Archaeology at UCC.  In 1962 he lectured at the Universities of Lund, Upsala, Copenhagen and Stockholm. In 1963 he gave the Munro Lecture in the University of Edinburgh and in the same year he was awarded the degree of D.Litt. on the foot of published works which include regional surveys, excavations, theoretical analyses and technological studies published in various journals. In 1946 Cork University Press published his handbook The Collegiate Chapel, Cork. In 1982 O’Kelly died unexpectedly in Cork.

O’Kelly is best known for conducting from 1962–1975 the first systematic excavations, combined with conservation and restoration, of the megalithic passage tomb and ancillary monuments at Newgrange, Co. Meath. He identified the roof-box over the passage entrance situated to allow the light of the rising sun at the winter solstice to pass through a narrow gap in the stones and penetrate the full length of the passage and illuminate the chamber as a feature unique in the megalithic architecture of western Europe. O’Kelly conducted the first reliable Carbon 14 dating for the construction of the cairn (set at 3200 BC) thus establishing Newgrange as the oldest known celestially aligned structure in the world. O'Kelly's definitive report on the excavations Newgrange: archaeology, art, and legend was published several weeks after his death.

O’Kelly lectured widely across Ireland and Europe. He was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Vice-chairman of the National Monuments Advisory Council; Member of the Archaeological Exploration Committee of the Royal Irish Academy; Vice-President of the Society of Antiquaries of Ireland; Editor of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal; Member of the Conseil Permanent of the International Congress for Pre- and Protohistoric Sciences.


The collection was donated by his wife, Clare in 1995.

Collection Highlights

A selection of the bound items in the O'Kelly Pamphlet Collection

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