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Joyce letter among the highlights of Sean Lester’s diaries in DCU Library
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Joyce letter among the highlights of Sean Lester’s diaries in DCU Library

A letter from James Joyce to Sean Lester when he was based in Geneva is among the highlights of the collection of diaries and papers belonging to the former Secretary General of the League of Nations, that is now available to scholars and researchers in the DCU Library.  Today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the League of Nations.

The Seán Lester diaries were donated to Dublin City University by Patricia Kilroy and Ann Gorski, daughters of Seán Lester. The diaries have made a remarkable journey to DCU, having been buried in a metal case (which also forms part of the collection) next to a bench in the Palais des Nations, the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva in 1942.  After the war ended, Lester dug up the case and returned with them to Ireland.

One of the most notable entries in the diaries is Lester's extensive account of his meeting with James Joyce and his family in Geneva in December 1940. The Joyce family had fled their home in Paris the previous May and sought Lester's help in obtaining a visa for their daughter Lucia; the Nazis had refused to issue her with a visa and she remained in a mental health clinic in German-occupied France. A related letter from Joyce to Lester prior to this meeting is also included in the diaries, as is correspondence between Lester and members of the Joyce family and friends following the death of James Joyce in Zurich less than a month later.

The collection

The collection consists of eleven diaries written by Seán Lester from 1935-1942 when he was High Commissioner of the League of Nations in Danzig, then Deputy and subsequently General Secretary of the League of Nations in Geneva.

The diaries provide an insight into some of the most significant historical events during this period, including the rise of the Nazis in Danzig, the increasing persecution of Jews, the failed attempts to appease Hitler in the run-up to war, and the eventual outbreak of the Second World War.

They also chart Lester's career in the League of Nations as it developed in tandem with these events: the increasing pressure and intimidation he faced as High Commissioner in Danzig from the Nazis as they undermined the authority of the League, his promotion in late 1936 to Deputy Secretary General in Geneva, and his assuming the role of Acting Secretary General of the League.

John McDonagh, University Librarian, DCU, said:

"Although much, but not all of the Lester diaries, has already been transcribed in Geneva, the sense of immediacy jumps off the original handwritten and typed entries in the original notebooks held in DCU Library archives. These diaries are extensive, and provide explicit, fascinating insights into the historic narratives of a particularly turbulent era.

The Library has already created digital surrogates for preservation purposes, and will be rolling out public access in the course of this centenary year of the League of Nations."