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Tribute to Sligo historian, author and librarian John C McTernan – ‘a privilege to have known him’


Tributes have been paid to the renowned former County Sligo librarian, historian author and genealogist, John C. McTernan, who died suddenly at Sligo University Hospital last Wednesday.


r McTernan, formerly of Ard na Veigh, Sligo and Conway’s Cross, was a well-known figure in Riverstown, Sligo and in several publications he documented the history of Sligo over several centuries.

At Monday’s meeting of the Borough District of Sligo, Councilor Declan Bree described John as a ‘wonderful and unique librarian’ and an important Sligo historian.

Cllr Bree said, “I would like to offer my sympathies to the sister, extended family and many friends of John C. McTernan, historian and former County Librarian of Sligo, who passed away last week.”

“A native of Conway’s Cross, John McTernan began his career as a librarian when he was employed as a Library Assistant at Sligo County Library in 1950.


“In 1958, he was appointed assistant librarian at Cork City Library and in 1969 he became chief librarian at Kilkenny County Library.

“Following the retirement of another wonderful and unique librarian, the late Nora Niland in 1979, John returned to Sligo to become County Librarian, a position he retained until his retirement in 1995.

“Like his predecessor Nora Niland, John succeeded in building the library and museum despite a significant lack of resources and funds allocated to his budget.


“In addition to his extraordinary work as a librarian, John McTernan was a noted historian.

“I remember when I first got involved in politics as a teenager, the library had access to John McTernan’s “Historical Sligo”, which he had compiled while working in Cork.

“It provided me with an extraordinary introduction to many printed works, manuscripts, pictorial and graphic records, which sparked an interest in local history that remains with me today.


“Certainly “Historic Sligo” was the first of many extraordinary and wonderful books by John McTernan, copies of which proudly sit on bookshelves and many more throughout Sligo.

“Growing up in Sligo I was always aware of the importance and significance of O’Rourke and Wood-Martin and to a lesser extent the work of Tadhg Kilgannon in recording the history of our town and county.

“John McTernan has joined those pioneers and has well earned his place as a leading historian of Sligo’s history and heritage.

“Thanks to his meticulous research, he was able to build up an impressive collection of works and has generously shared his vast knowledge of Sligo’s history with this and future generations.

“His voluntary work over the decades as a member and officer of Sligo Field Club and as a director of the County Sligo Heritage and Genealogical Society has been widely acknowledged.

“Apart from his interest in history, he had a lifelong interest in Gaelic sports. The unique and special volume celebrating the centenary of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Sligo, which he edited, is testament to that interest

“I first met John when he took up employment with this council and became County Librarian in Sligo in 1979 following the retirement of Nora Niland.

“In the intervening decades, like all who knew him, I can say that John was always extremely helpful and forthcoming with his extensive knowledge of our history and heritage.

“He has left a wonderful legacy to the people of Sligo and Ireland. I feel privileged to have known him. Ar dhis de go raibh anam.”

Sligo Library is deeply saddened by the passing of its former colleague and extends its condolences to his family and friends.

“For his tireless work in documenting the history of Sligo and its people, and his generosity in helping other historians, he will be fondly remembered as a great colleague,” it said.

In March 2002, John was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree at a ceremony at St. Angela’s College, the first time the university had bestowed such an honor on a St. Angela’s student.

Mr McTiernan grew up in Drumlahn, Rivertown and went to Glen National School in the early 1930s and was described as a very studious student. At age 13, John attended Carmelite College, Castlemartyr, County Cork. history was his favorite subject

In 1950, she secured the role of Library Assistant at Sligo County Library, working under the watchful tutelage of the late Nora Niland. He would remain in the library service for the rest of his working life.

John received a Diploma and Fellowship from the Library Association of Ireland, and it was his thesis, a bibliography of printed and manuscript sources relating to County Sligo, that led to his later publications and lifelong interest in cataloging the county’s rich history. gave birth to passion.

He obtained a Diploma in Social and Economic Sciences from the then University College Galway in 1957. All lectures for this three-year course were given at the Old Technical School, Quay St, Sligo.

In 1969, John was appointed Chief Librarian of Kilkenny City and County, where he spent a pleasant ten years.

Although exiled from his native Sligo, the county, its traditions and its people were never far from his thoughts. His first publication, in 1965, ‘Historic Sligo’ was a bibliographic introduction to a variety of historically significant references, including ‘Notable Persons of County Sligo’.

Mr McTernan had an interest in chronicling the people of Sligo which can be seen in his later work: ‘Here to Their Memory – Profiles of Distinguished Sligonians of Bygone Days.’

In 1979, following the retirement of Nora Niland, Mr McTernan returned to his native Sligo as County Librarian, where he remained until his retirement in 1995.

Sligo’s historical past continued to occupy his work and culminated with his influential and invaluable trilogy of historical publications, ‘Old Sligo’, ‘In Sligo Long Ago’ and ‘Sligo Miscellany’.

John took an active interest in the County Sligo Heritage and Genealogical Society, of which he became secretary in 1966.

His lifelong interest in Gaelic sports would be put to use at Coolera GAA club and county levels, along with his administrative and library skills.

Mr McTernan was an honorary member of Sligo Field Club, of which he was president from 1992 to 1994, and made a significant contribution to the Diocesan History of Elphin, published in 2000.

Sligo Past Publishing by Martin A. Timney said:

“There is a saying, when a man dies a library is lost. In the case of John C. McTernan, who died last week at the age of 93, he left us a library, a library in two senses.

“Over the decades he published more than a dozen books and wrote many articles. All of these can be consulted at Sligo Library Local Studies in Bridge Street

Some are still in print, but most are collectors’ items. His first book was Historic Sligo, which came out in 1965, based on his Librarian Fellowship. However, John expanded the collection extensively over the years.

“He not only found obscure works but he obtained copies of them for us to research, all leading to a greater understanding of Sligo’s past.

“For many of us, since the late 1960s, that historic Sligo was a key, a key that opened a new world to us.

Not only did he contribute to print, but he lectured and researched to individuals. The Sligo Genealogical Society, the Sligo History Society and the Sligo Field Club, of which he was an honorary life member, all benefited from his energy.

“May he continue to guide us from above to look at the right places to improve our understanding of this county.”

In a tribute, Sligo GAA said: “With the passing of John C McTernan, Sligo has lost another great man. John made a significant contribution that came not on the field of play but in the realm of history where he played a vital role in the life of the association.” helped to be remembered for generations.

“John was a native of half the parish of the Glen in East Sligo, which today covers the hinterland of both Shamrock Gaels and St Michael’s.

He began his working life in Sligo County Library in 1950. He remained in the library service until his retirement in 1995, a career which included spells in Cork and Kilkenny before spending 16 years, until his retirement, as Sligo County Librarian in the form of.

“He had a keen interest in bringing the past alive and published his first book ‘Historic Sligo’ in 1965, which was followed by ‘Here to Their Memory – Profiles of Distinguished Sligonians of Bygone Days.’

He complied, published and then updated the list “Sligo: sources of local history” to guide and assist other historians and scholars.

He subsequently published an influential trilogy of historical publications, ‘Old Sligo’, ‘In Sligo Long Ago’ and ‘Sligo Miscellany’ as well as a two-volume work on the Houses and Families of Sligo.

His lifelong interest in Gaelic sports – he was a member of Coolara Strandhill GAA Club – led him to combine his passions to edit “Sligo GAA: A Centenary History 1884–1984”, as the association celebrated its 100th year. Celebrated birthdays and also contributed. Another update of that history in 2010.

Mr McTernan was preceded in death by his parents Martin and Mary Helena, brothers Kevin and Jim, nephew Kevin and grandfather Ben.

He is survived by his sister, Sr. Dolores (Mercy Convent, Sligo).

Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated at 11:30am on Saturday, 21 January in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, followed by burial in the Coraig Cemetery, Geewagh.


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