Hayes, Richard James (1902–76), librarian, was born 26 June 1902 in Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick, son of Richard James Hayes, bank manager, and Katherine Hayes (née Whelan). His early childhood and youth were spent in Claremorris, Co. Mayo. He was a student at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare (1917–20), where he achieved academic distinction. He entered TCD in 1920, and graduated in 1924 with three honours BA (Mod.) degrees, in Celtic studies, modern languages, and philosophy, respectively. In 1936 he obtained the degrees of BL and DL successively from Dublin University. In 1924 he was appointed assistant librarian in the National Library of Ireland. He succeeded Richard Irvine Best (qv) as the fifth director (or librarian) of the Library in 1940, being the youngest person to have been appointed to the post since the foundation of the Library (1877). His book Comparative idiom: an introduction to the study of modern languages was published in Dublin in 1927. He was co-editor, with Bríd Ní Dhonnchadha, of a bibliography of modern literature in Irish in three volumes, Clár litridheacht na Nua-Ghaedhilge (Dublin, 1938). This work provides an index to poetry and prose that appeared in the multitude of periodicals associated with the revival of Irish.
Soon after the outbreak of the second world war, he was seconded from his post as head of the National Library to work as code-breaker with the Irish army. His skills in linguistics, combined with his highly organised mind and fine memory, led to considerable successes in this field, which included the foiling of an attempt by the German agent Hermann Goertz (qv) to establish a power base in Ireland. Although deeply involved in intelligence work (and also, during this period, carrying out scientific experiments on the culture of plants), Hayes continued to administer the Library. In 1943 the Office of Arms in Dublin Castle, founded in the sixteenth century, was transferred to the National Library, together with its records, and was renamed the Genealogical Office, with responsibility for the issuing of grants and confirmations of arms, and for the registration of civilian flags.
Among the important acquisitions of these years were the Ormonde archive from Kilkenny Castle, the 60,000 Lawrence photographic negatives covering Ireland in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and an early thirteenth-century manuscript of the ‘Description of Ireland’ and the Norman conquest, by Gerald of Wales (qv). In 1945 George Bernard Shaw (qv) responded generously to Hayes's succinct invitation to present his manuscripts to the National Library, when he donated the manuscripts of his novels (according to the author, the only drafts of his literary work that he had chosen to preserve).
Being aware that so many of the archives and manuscripts relating to Ireland and its history are held abroad, Hayes embarked in 1945 on a major project of obtaining microfilm of these records for the National Library. Over 5,000 reels of microfilm were acquired by the Library from archives and libraries throughout the world. By the 1950s, the Library's department of manuscripts had greatly expanded, mainly through the accession of huge collections of estate and family papers. The preliminary cataloguing of this newly acquired material, both original manuscripts and microfilms, was achieved by Hayes's eleven-volume catalogue Manuscript sources for the history of Irish civilisation (Boston, 1965), which contains descriptions of archives and manuscripts in a total of 678 repositories situated in 30 countries. This major bibliographical work brought Hayes honorary doctorates in 1967 from both Dublin University and the NUI.
During his years as director of the National Library, Hayes was acutely aware of the need for a new building, which would provide increased storage and reader space, together with improved facilities in general. The library of TCD dates from the sixteenth century and enjoys the privilege of receiving copies of all printed works first published in the UK. The National Library, on the other hand, was founded in the late nineteenth century. In 1959 Hayes submitted a plan to the government for a cooperative scheme with TCD, which would result in a new National Library being built within the college grounds. Although the library of Trinity and the National Library were to retain their independence, they would work closely together. The government decided not to adopt this plan.
Hayes became an adviser and close friend of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (qv), and when Beatty presented his huge collection of oriental and western manuscripts, books, and artefacts to the Irish state, he appointed Hayes as his honorary librarian. Hayes retired from the National Library in August 1967, being succeeded as director by his long-time lieutenant Patrick Henchy (1913–2001), the keeper of printed books. From then on, he devoted most of his time to the administration of the Chester Beatty Library. His last major published work was the nine-volume Sources for the history of Irish civilisation: articles in periodicals (1970). Over 150 Irish periodicals (covering the humanities and sciences) are indexed in this work. His last public appearance was at the opening of an extension to the Chester Beatty Library by President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (qv) in June 1975.
A member of a committee of cultural experts of the Council of Europe, during the Cold War years he proposed the large-scale microfilming of Europe's printed and manuscript treasures to prevent their destruction in the event of a nuclear attack. He was a member of the RIA, and served on the board of the Abbey Theatre, the Arts Council, the Cultural Relations Committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish Manuscripts Commission, and the council of the Library Association of Ireland. He was an enthusiastic supporter of rugby football, and was also interested in motor sport. His manner was reserved, although he had a keen sense of humour. He died on 21 January 1976.
He married first (20 February 1928) Claire Columba (d. 1969), daughter of Christopher Keogh; they had two daughters and three sons. He married secondly (11 September 1969) Margaret Mary (‘Maura’; d. 1996), daughter of Thomas Deignan and Margaret Deignan (neé Nolan).