60 Seconds With

“When we are younger and starting out, we want to achieve too much too soon” — 60 Seconds With Orlaith McBride of the National Archives

By Business & Finance
17 May 2022

Orlaith McBride is Director of the National Archives since April 2020. Prior to this she was Director of the Arts Council, the state agency for developing the Arts in Ireland from 2011. During her time as Director she successfully delivered the Arts Council’s significant commemorations programme in 2016, the national programme during Ireland’s presidency of the EU in 2013, and introduced a new strategy for the arts in Ireland, Making Great Art Work 2016-2025.

What was your first job? 

My first job was working in my aunt and uncle’s shop, Kennedy of Ardara, when I was sixteen. It was an Aran knitwear and tweed shop in Donegal which gave me a great respect for indigenous craft and skills. I have carried this with me throughout my life and even today will always have some Donegal tweed in my wardrobe. 

What pushed you to pursue a career in this field? 

I completed a postgraduate course in Arts Administration that brought me into the world of the arts and culture. I began my first job in youth theatre which opened up a whole new world of possibility. This became a passion of mine over many years culminating in producing several National Youth Theatre Productions at the Abbey Theatre before I became the Director of the Arts Council. My role as Director of the National Archives is a side step into the broader world of culture which is fascinating as we move through the Decade of Centenaries and the records relating to this period in our history which we hold in the National Archives.

What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date? 

I would say mounting The Treaty 1921 – Records from the Archives Exhibition. This is such a significant time in the life of the nation and to have the privilege to hold the precious records relating to the foundation of the Irish State and bring them to the public this year has been a huge honour.

Career wise, would you do anything differently? 

In hindsight, no, but at the time of making career decisions I was always anxious that I was making the right decision at the right time. I have never had grand future plans and have always gone with my instinct in terms of jobs and directions and so far my instinct has served me well.

In one sentence, how would you define success? 

Success to me is about hard work and dedication to something you love.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

Probably Festina Lente which translates as make haste slowly. Sometimes, particularly when we are younger and starting out, we want to achieve too much too soon. This phrase always reminds me to take my time!

How do you motivate yourself and your staff? 

Leading a staff is an important aspect of my role. The one thing I have learned over the years is to have a clear vision of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. This clear road map of where you want to go as an institution and this clarity of vision will bring people with you.

How do you handle adversity? 

I try to be pragmatic and step back from a situation. I also try to manage any difficult situation with a smile on my face!

How do you relax? 

I have learned that reading and walking are the most effective ways for me to ‘switch off’ and relax.

What are your aspirations for the future of the business? 

I hope to build on my current role in the National Archives by finding new and dynamic ways to present the precious records of the state in a form that captures the public imagination.