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An invaluable collection of rare books in the care of the University of Ulster has provided young college students with a prize-winning glimpse into life here 400 years ago.

Pupils at Foyle and Londonderry College and St Columb’s College won the Elizabeth Keyes Cup for Post Primary History at Feis Doire Cholmclle (Derry Feis) for a joint Ulster Plantation project that utilised research gathered through the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library Project.

An international team of specialists attached to the University of Ulster’s Magee campus is involved in conserving some 5,000 volumes from the historic Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library in a project funded chiefly by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Mary Delargy, Learning and Outreach Officer with the Project who has been working closely with the students, says “an important aim of the Project is to bring the collection alive again by extending the knowledge in these wonderful books to a wider public.”

She explained: “The students have been studying the Plantation of Ulster at school and through the Project, too, have been learning about their shared history.  In particular, they have been able to study at first hand all about Derry as a Plantation city, the role of rare volumes in the spread of literacy in the 17th and 18th centuries and the importance of libraries such as those of Bishops Eziekiel Hopkins and William King which were the nucleus of the Derry and Raphoe collection.”

The feis entry of the Foyle and Londonderry girls and St Columb’s boys comprised written and graphic material, and an oral presentation to the adjudicator

History teacher Jim Mc Bride of Foyle and Londonderry College said: “'It was a great opportunity for the pupils to learn about other traditions and cultures.” Tom Costigan of St Columb’s College said: “The pupils learnt new skills and were able to set everything in its historical context.”

The Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Collection has been given on long-term loan to the University and is housed in a purpose built Rare Books Room at Magee.  The conservation work is conducted in a studio facility at Shantallow Library.

Mary Delargy added: “We are delighted that the schools’ entry was successful. It is a tribute to the enthusiasm of the young students, who were extremely attentive and interested in their subject, and to their teachers who guided them. I am keen to hear from other schools who might be interested in linking in similar ways with the Project.”