Niland, Nora (1912–88), Sligo county librarian and founder of the Sligo municipal art collection, was born 21 March 1912 in Galway, eighth child among six sons and three daughters of John Niland, of Ballinastack, Tuam, Co. Galway, railway worker and small farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Seamus Loughlin, farmer. She was educated at Ballinderry national school and the Mercy Convent, Tuam, Co. Galway, after which she became a librarian with the Galway county library. During her time there she continued her studies at night and graduated BA (1943) from UCG. In 1945 she moved to Sligo to become county librarian (1945–79). She initially worked on updating the collections and improving library services, which were based in a room at the former Model Art School. In 1950 she convinced Sligo county officials to purchase the congregational church complex on Stephen's St., which consisted of three buildings, as a new headquarters for the library. Five years later (1955) she established the Sligo county museum in the Manse, the smallest building on the site. She realised that the connections of the Yeats family with Sligo offered the potential to make Sligo the cultural capital of western Ireland. Having acquired a number of manuscripts and first editions of the works of William Butler Yeats (qv), she extended the museum to include the Yeats Memorial Collection in 1957.
Although originally envisaged as a collection devoted to W. B. Yeats's works she came to develop an interest in the entire Yeats family and in 1958 formed the Yeats Society with six others. The following year (1959) she founded the Yeats Room within the museum to hold the memorial collection and a number of sketches in pencil by John Butler Yeats (qv). In 1960 she presided over the inaugural Yeats summer school, for which she borrowed two oil paintings and two watercolours by Jack B. Yeats (qv). On loan from the Capuchin Annual in Dublin, the oils were ‘An island funeral; the funeral of Harry Boland’ and ‘Communicating with prisoners’. Realising the historical significance of Jack B. Yeats's work she convinced the Capuchin Annual to sell the paintings for £3,000, which was raised through her own efforts. Her growing passion for his works led her to borrow sixty of his paintings for an exhibition in 1961. It was the largest exhibition of his work in Sligo since 1945. In 1963 the ground floor of the Manse building was refurbished to provide a permanent space for the Yeats Room.
Niland continued to work tirelessly to secure donations of money and paintings to bring the work of the Yeats family to Sligo. Her efforts bore fruit in the form of James Healy, an Irish-American stockbroker from New York, who had donated many of the manuscripts and first editions in the memorial collection. In 1965 he donated seventeen works by modern Irish artists, including numerous works by John B. Yeats and Jack B. Yeats. The following year (1966) he donated three oil paintings one of which was a portrait of the young W. B. Yeats by George Russell (qv) (Æ). The extent of Niland's work was evident in 1971 when she organised an exhibition dedicated to Jack B. Yeats and his family. Containing more than 450 items, which included paintings, books, and manuscripts, the exhibit was Sligo's contribution to the international Rosc exhibition. With the expansion of the art collection she decided (1973) to dedicate the Yeats room solely to the literary collection, and the artwork was housed in a gallery above the library. Two years later (1975), James Healy donated thirty-five more paintings to the collection. This donation transformed the collection into one of international importance because it included works by artists such as Paul Henry (qv), Nano Reid (qv), Sean Keating (qv), and Louis Le Brocquy. Niland retired in 1979.
During her years as Sligo librarian she lived in the town. When she retired she returned to live in her home town, Ballinastack, Tuam, Co. Galway. She never married and died 29 December 1988 at St James's Hospital in Dublin. The year after her death the gallery that she founded was dedicated to her and a plaque was erected noting the occasion. On the tenth anniversary of her death (1998) the gallery was renamed the Niland Gallery and moved to what had been the Model School on the Mall, Sligo.