The Decameron: Florence to Maynooth via Louvain

By Darren Sturdy, Special Collections and Archives

Title-page from the Russell Library copy (1587).

Among the gems in the historic collections in Maynooth University Library are two editions of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375).  A 1602 edition, published in Venice, is held in the St. Canice’s Collection, in the John Paul II Library.   

The second one is a fourth edition, published in Florence in 1587 held in the Russell Library at Maynooth. The title pages use the word rassettatura, or ‘tidying’ by the philologist Lionardo Salviati (1540-1589), under the protection of Jacopo Buoncompagni (1548-1612), a son of Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), Pope from 1572.  

Signature of James Cowan, 1791.

The Russell Library copy is signed by the Franciscan Fr. James Cowan, 1791.  Fr. Cowan was connected to St. Anthony’s College in Louvain.   Louvain, the first of the Irish Franciscan continental colleges, became an active centre for Irish studies. The activities of the college were slightly curtailed under Emperor Joseph II in 1782. During the French Revolution, the seals of the Republic were attached to the door of the college in 1793. Over the next few years the guardian, Fr. James Cowan, endeavoured to keep the building in Irish hands. The college was finally sold in 1822. 

Decorative initial.

The Decameron was considered one of the most influential books in world literature and was inspirational to Chaucer and Shakespeare. It had a major impact on Renaissance literature throughout Europe. Composed between 1348 and 1353, the author sets the scene for the ten young protagonists (7 women and 3 men) who have fled plague stricken Florence in 1348. Each tell their stories, containing tragic and comic views of life, every night over ten nights. Each of the days, ends with a canzone (song) for dancing sung by one of the storytellers, and these canzoni include some of Boccaccio’s finest lyric poetry. The word Decameron comes from the Greek ‘déka’ (ten) and ‘hēméra’ (day). 

Salviati’s work on Boccaccio’s Decameron included an expurgated edition (1582) designed to bring the work back into print. In 1559, The Decameron was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list that the church compiled of forbidden books considered to be of dubious morality. The Church was offended by the portrayal of clergy in the original stories. However, it could not be suppressed as it was a highly regarded piece of literature and was also widely available. The clerical characters in the stories were changed to lay characters and professions.  

Statue of Giovanni Boccaccio, The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Boccaccio, an Italian poet and scholar, was the son of a merchant. His father hoped he would go into the family business. Boccaccio was more interested in writing prose and poetry. He was heavily influenced by Dante (1265-1321) and became great friends with the renowned poet Petrarch (1304-1374).  Together they laid the foundations for the humanism of the Renaissance and raised vernacular literature (1304-1374) to the level and status of the classics of antiquity. 

More information about the Decameron can be found on the Decameron Web, a project of the Italian Studies Department’s Virtual Humanities Lab at Brown University:

  Decameron Web | The Project (

The Abolitionists and After

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian, Maynooth University.

The Library at the University of Sierra Leone was a place of dark wooden furniture, portraits in gilt edged frames and a traditional collection of books that would have sat equally comfortably on the shelves of any British university in the 1950s.  The collection had mostly come from Britain, while the University was affiliated to Durham University, before Sierra Leone gained Independence in 1961. 

Back in 1990, after I finished my lectures, I often spent some time amongst the book stacks, coming across the occasional volume where the paper had been eaten away in a gorgonzola pattern by white ants, my rummaging disturbed only by the occasional termite that scuttled from a dusty book where he had probably languished comfortably for quite some time. In a small room off the ground floor, I discovered the Sierra Leone collection. This included a number of books and documents relating to the abolition of the slave trade, and the role that Freetown, now the country’s capital, played as a homeland for freed slaves.  

Ten years after I left Sierra Leone, I found myself in another old library; this time the Russell Library at Maynooth University, where I had taken up the post of  Deputy Librarian. Here I discovered a copy of the Report of the Committee of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions dating from 1824, with a committee membership that included William Wilberforce, a major player in the abolition movement, after whom a district in Freetown is named.  I was pleased to find this link between the Russell Library collection and my reading and experience in Freetown.

Report of the Committee of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions, 1824.

Initially called Free Town, the settlement was established through the efforts of a group of people in England, who were concerned about the plight of  black people in Britain, many of whom had been brought from the Caribbean by English slave owners, when they returned from their plantations. The group acquired land in West Africa, and in April 1787, 411 people set out from Plymouth for Sierra Leone.  Five years later in 1792, those that had survived were joined by freed slaves from Nova Scotia, which was a British Colony. Four years later in 1796, Maroons, freed slaves from Jamaica, joined them.  A final group was to arrive.  This, the largest group, was the recaptives or liberated Africans. While slave trading had been declared illegal under the British Abolition Act of 1807, the practice continued. Ships carrying bales of cotton, tobacco and spirits trawled the West African waters, keen to trade their goods for people to work the rice plantations of the southern states of the U.S. and the sugar plantations in the Caribbean.  The British navy patrolled the coast, capturing Portuguese and other slaving vessels, and set the liberated people down in Free Town. Between 1807 and 1863, when the last shipload of freed slaves was put ashore at Free Town, about fifty thousand people found a new home in Sierra Leone.   By 1850 all four groups of former slaves were known as Krio (Creole).  A language called Krio, somewhat similar to English, developed. 

The freed slaves settled in the hills outside Free Town and villages developed.   The villages were given English sounding names – Gloucester, Leicester, Charlotte and Regent by missionaries, sent by the English Church Missionary Society (CMS) to set up a school and hospital.  The settlers were first taught how to read the bible in English. Their education and upkeep were often sponsored by an English person who paid the not insubstantial sum of five pounds per year to the CMS. Sometimes on baptism the freed slave adopted the name of this sponsor or the name of another prominent Freetown person. Many people adopted the name McCarthy, after Charles McCarthy the Irish/French governor of the time.

I lived in Leicester from 1989 to 1991. At the weekends I often walked to different villages, along dusty pink laterite roads, the paths the early settlers carved out in their new homeland.

Leicester Village, Sierra Leone.

Now, working in Maynooth University Library, it is good to be able to consult a written record of the this period in the abolition movement in the Russell Library, and know these records are being preserved, for future generations.

Russell Library Reading Room.

Lemons, Bad Lobster and Irish Weavers: The Travel Books of the Russell Library

By Adam Staunton, Special Collections & Archives

With vaccines rolling out across the world, international travel may soon be on the cards again. As we have travelled all over Europe in previous blogs, it’s time to set our sights on the United States.

Travel Map of the United States circa 1871

With no direct travel from Ireland, we’ll have to make our way from Liverpool. A rolling theme in this series has been the slight bias towards the UK. No matter where we have travelled, from Madrid to Maynooth, nothing has ever compared to the English countryside. I have been eager to see if the UK is still cream of the crop when being reviewed itself. H. Wilson starts his review in Picturesque Europe, Vol II by explaining “The homes of England! How the very name stirs the imagination!” I guess that answers that. Wilson recommends staying at Haddon Hall, only two hours from Liverpool. Built in 1452, it has a chapel, banqueting hall and courtyard which is the highlight of “the most magnificent castellated mansion of the sixteenth century.”

The Courtyard of Haddon Hall, with a very welcoming crowd

Well rested we’ll be taking the Cunard Line from Liverpool. For £26 you can have your choice of cabin on Tuesday or Saturday and travel to New York or Boston. Trips can take between nine and twelve days, luckily with privileges in the saloon to help pass the time. If you suffer from sea sickness, G. W. Bacon has put together some handy tips in Bacon’s Guide to America. You’ll want to eat regularly, “but without raising your head for a day or two,” Take some “mild laxative pills” your first night and if all else fails “Lemons will be found very useful in allaying sea sickness.” How fun does that sound?

Don’t forget to pack those Lemons

If you’re stopping in New York, you’ve plenty to look forward to. Bacon describes it as the most important state, “unsurpassed in soil, climate and beauty of its natural scenery.” 1880 New York boasts highlands for sheep farming in its North and Western lowlands adapted to all kinds of grain. Looking to shop? Liquors, timber and flour “are made here in greater amount that in any other state.” If you’re after a more relaxing trip, New Jersey is just a train ride away, with many natural attractions and “the sea coast is abounds in favourite bathing and sporting resorts.” If you don’t fancy the twelve day, lemon filled trip back to Liverpool, an acre of land in New York will only cost you £400.

Immigration arrival, Castle Garden, New York

Those of you heading to Boston have “the emporium of literature of the United States” to look forward to, as described by Maurice Hore in An Accurate Account of the United States of America. Thanks to its higher tax rate of 1$ per home, Boston is well maintained in both education and arts. Its restaurants have “every description of fish to be met with in Cork, particularly lobster and mackerel.” Although the lobster doesn’t seem to be everyone’s taste as Hore notes to be “surprised to see lobsters sent away from table(s) untouched.” Ten miles north via stage coach is the town of Lowell, home to eight thousand Irish weavers. Hore describes it as “the most picturesque I have seen in any part of the world”. From the harbour you’ll get a full view of the Atlantic Ocean at sunset to round off your trip. 

View of New York from Ward Island

Digital, not dusty – the role of digitised primary sources in our special collections

By Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections.

One of the questions that curators often have to ask themselves is “what is a special collection?”. This question is next to impossible to answer definitively, as what is special to one group may not resonate with another.  So, while this was always a challenge, the rise of licensed digital primary sources adds an extra level of complexity – albeit in many ways a welcome one.

These resources are licensed, digital collections, typically consisting of text, image and audio-visual content.  Typically, they represent a digital version of an original analogue primary source, such as an archival collection.  Thus, although the original resource may well have been unique, the digital version is not – it can be subscribed to by any library. 

In some ways the great benefit of these collections is that they are far more accessible than the original, which may require a researcher to travel to a repository to view it.  Of course, being digital, there is powerful functionality available to help you search at scale and right down to the full text for example.

Given our longstanding traditions in the humanities, the library has worked to complement its print collections with access to as broad an array of digital sources as possible.  We offer access to a wealth of these resources such as State Papers Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Early English Books Online, the Irish Newspaper Archive and much more.

But the question remains – are these special collections?  If the original archival item was housed in our library, we would unquestionably consider it to be part of our special collections. However, what it is often argued with these collections is that they are simply surrogates and, in that sense they are no different from a microfilm of an archive for example.   Perhaps the key issue is not to impose a categorisation on them, but to appreciate that these digital primary sources have clear relationships to their physical equivalents in our care.  So, for example a resource such as UK Parliamentary Papers has strong links and provides additional primary context to many of our archives, such as the Littlehales Archive, the Marquis of Sligo Archive, the Sadlier Archive and more. With rare book databases such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online we can see other printings and editions of books which are held in our collections.  The ability to compare and contrast printings and editions is of inestimable value to bibliographic scholars and in some cases the digital surrogate will more than suffice.

These resources have continued to be available and used during the various lockdowns, when access to our special collections has been heavily curtailed.   But even beyond simple matters of access, they will continue to represent a critical part of our collections and an invaluable adjunct to our physical special collections – if not part of our special collections themselves.

Image from Parliamentary Paper showing record of John Sadlier’s attendance at committee.
Screenshot of the 1762 edition of Hume’s History of England which is an earlier edition to a copy residing in Special Collections.

The Creek People

By David Rinehart, Library Assistant, Special Collections and Archives

When I started working here in March of 2020, I had only been in Ireland for a little over a year and a half. I moved from my birthplace, the Sunshine State, home to Disney World (and a not-so-pleasant – to put it incredibly mildly – golf enthusiast and his golf resort) – Florida.

Photo of alligator in Paynes Prairie courtesy of Florida State Parks

I began my position as Library Assistant here at the Maynooth University Special Collections and Archives Department at the start of the first lockdown. I neither had the opportunity to finish my last day at my previous job nor begin my first day in person for my new job. Months later, after many virtual meetings and hundreds of emails, lockdown restrictions began to ease, and I finally had the opportunity to go physically into the workspace and to meet colleagues in person. I was thrilled to get out of the house and to finally step foot into the Russell Library .

I specifically recall a serendipitous exchange with Susan that forms the majority of the content for this blog post. She was showing me around the reading room, selecting extraordinary books with beautiful and vibrant images and fascinating content from many of the large wooden shelves. She laid out several books from topics such as gardening to a 15th century Book of Hours.

One book in particular caught my attention, History of the Indian Tribes of North America with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs. Background on the production of the book, the 50 portraits throughout the two volumes, and the author Thomas L. McKenney are depicted by Susan in her blog post.

Susan, seemingly excited to show her new American colleague a work depicting an important, yet deeply tragic element of American history, opened the book to a random location. The serendipity comes with the page that the book opened to. It was the image of the chief of the Creek Nation whose territory extended to the land from which I hail – Alachua County, Florida.

Image of Paynes Prairie, courtesy Florida State Parks, in Alachua County home to the Timucuan Civilization and later the Creek People.

The Creek nation lived on the lands of Georgia and Northern Florida. General McIntosh was a chief of the Creek nation in the early 19th century, born to a white Scottish father and a Creek mother.

This chapter on McIntosh details the malevolent ways in which the state of Georgia, and the nearly ambivalent attitude of the federal government under President Monroe, took every bit of land from the Creek people. They were soon pushed into the state of Alabama, where shortly after they were once again forced out. This violent thieving of land and indigenous peoples’ forced migration Westward is known as the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears is a story of genocide as many indigenous people died from the trek, disease, and slaughter.

The Secretary of War, Mr. Calhoun, [answered] that no treaty would be respected unless made with the chiefs of the nation…When the proposition was made by the commissioners, to purchase their country, that chief rose and said: “You asked us to sell you more lands at Broken Arrow; we told you we had none to spare. I told McIntosh then, that he knew no land could be sold except in full council, and by consent of the nation… We have met here at a very short notice – only a few chiefs are present from the upper towns and many are absent from the lower towns… that’s all the talk I have to make and I shall go home.”

Regardless of this powerful dissent of the proposal, General McIntosh, Tustennuggee and several lower ranked leaders agreed and made the deal to sell the land to the state of Georgia.

Though McIntosh had attended the meeting to sell the country, he is said, at this point, to have wavered. He looked round among the Indians, but saw no chief of influence, except Etomie Tustennuggee… The [Georgia] commissioners, however, intent upon the treaty, calmed the fears of McIntosh by a promise of protection from the United States. The treaty which had been prepared was read and signed by the commissioners, by “William McIntosh, head chief of the Conetas” – next by Etomie Tustennuggee, by his X, and thirteen others, who, though chiefs, were of inferior rank…

This treaty was executed at the Indian Springs, on the 12th of February, 1825, and on the 2d of March following, reached Washington. The very speed by which it had been transmitted indicated the fears entertained by the commissioners, and by Georgia, that the nation would protest against it, and cause its rejection.

The Creek people did indeed protest the treaty and, having failed to stop the treaty from passing the senate, sought vengeance against those who had betrayed them.

The house was fired; the two victims [Tustennuggee and McIntosh], forced by the flames, appeared at the door, where they were received by a shower of bullets, and instantly killed… Menawa was careful to give out that the white people should not be molested; that the Creek nation meant only to punish those who had violated their law.

This is a history of my neck of the woods that I, embarrassingly, knew little about. It is unfortunately common for this history across the United States to be white washed and purposefully forgotten. It is increasingly important for this history to be brought to the forefront. Further, Western Civilization must face its past, learn from and atone for its mistakes, and recognize how this history has influenced the present.

Photo of bison grazing at Paynes Prairie, outside of my hometown of Gainesville, Florida. Photo credit to Nichter Photography Plus

The Irish in America

By Sarah Larkin, All Hallows Archivist

All Hallows College was established as a missionary college in 1842. Its motto, ‘Go Teach All Nations’, reflects its worldwide missionary aims. However, with the onset of the Irish Famine in 1845, its focus adapted to ministering to the Irish diaspora.

The Mission Collection within the All Hallows College Archive is a large collection of published books dating from the early nineteenth century up to the twenty-first century, which made up part of the College’s library. These books would have prepared the trainee priests for the lives they would lead in the missions. One of these books is John Francis Maguire’s ‘The Irish in America’ published in 1868. This work documents the social, political, financial, and religious positions of the Irish community in North America.

The Irish people described in Maguire’s book would have for the most part emigrated to escape the harshness of the Irish Famine:

‘The mass came because they had no option but to come, because hunger and want were at their heels, and flight was their only chance of safety. Thus the majority landed from the emigrant ship with little beyond a box or bundle of clothes, and the means of procuring a week’s or a month’s provisions – very many with still less.’ (Maguire, p.4)

Maguire describes the main motive for the Irish emigrant as being the desire ‘of improving his condition, of obtaining the certain means of a decent livelihood – in a word, of making a home and a future for himself and his children.’ (Maguire, p.4)

This sentiment is reflected in a letter in the All Hallows College archive. In 1849, Fr Henry Lennon wrote a letter to Dr Bartholomew Woodlock, Vice-President of All Hallows College. In his letter he described the conditions of the Irish people in the town of Newburyport, Massachusetts:

‘There is not in the town nor within the whole range of the mission one Irishman or Catholic who is not utterly dependant for his support on his day’s wages or who owns land, keeps shop, or anything of the kind. Many cannot even find employment owing to the crowds that there come from Ireland this year and many of the latter arrive in such a needy, helpless, utterly destitute state that it requires the utmost effort which their friends or countrymen can make to keep them from starving even in this land of reputed plenty.’

Letter from Fr Henry Lennon to Dr Bartholomew Woodlock, 22 October 1849

Fr Lennon’s letter does not paint an optimistic picture for those emigrating from Ireland in the hope of a better life in America. However, later in his letter he states that he believes that time ‘will improve the temporal condition’ of the people. Fr Lennon’s hope can be seen manifest to some degree in Maguire’s book, written two decades later. While describing the dire circumstances of Irish people’s arrival in North America, he notes how many of these people settled and eventually thrived in all areas of society. Maguire describes accounts of successful Irish people, ‘all illustrative of the manly vigour of the Irish race, and of what great things they are capable when they have a fair field for their energies.’ (Maguire, p.127)

Studying with Electronic Resources; A Mature Student Experience in Literature Online

By Audrey Kinch, Library Assistant, Collections and Content

I returned to education somewhat later in life to fulfil a long-held ambition to study for a BA in Humanities which I have been undertaking part-time through distance learning – writing assignments, attending tutorials and submitting content to class forums online.  In study sessions, I mostly opt for reading physical books and enjoy the dual experience of studying online and reading print material. 

In July 2020, my assignment for a literature module ‘Literatures of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ was in progress.  Previously I had consulted articles, biographies and dictionaries online to support my studies however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent limitations accessing university libraries and restrictions on travel meant my hand was somewhat forced to solely use electronic resources for the assignment. 

Figure 1 connected to MU Library A-Z databases remotely

My reading list recommended a specific book required for my assignment, an 18th century text, that was available to access from a database called Literature Online which is available through the MU Library website.  The database contains ‘more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, biographies, bibliographies, key criticism and reference resources.’ I located the e-book version and downloaded a PDF copy to my laptop.  As I read through the e-book I highlighted paragraphs of interest and used the draw feature to add brief annotations.  I could also switch to and from specific page numbers to check passages, adjust the page view from one to two pages, search by keyword and expand the page size to fit the screen.  There were also additional features  such as, the text-to-speech option ‘read aloud’ and to print (sections).  Other databases I accessed to support my learning included the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Oxford English Dictionary, Early Eighteenth Century Collections Online and Irish Newspaper Archive.

Figure 2 partial group of pre-1850 books, Russell Library, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

The Literature Online database is only one of the vast MU Library collection of 332 databases, 100,000 e-journals and over 700,000 e-books, all accessible from the Maynooth University Library homepage  (just remember to login with your MU credentials when off campus). 

It is possible to also access the A-Z of Databases within the Collections tab on the library homepage. Click on Collections, scroll down and on the left click Electronic

Figure 3 Electronic Resources, MU Library

Another option is to scroll down the library homepage and click on A-Z of Databases (on the left under Quicklinks).

Figure 4 ‘Quicklinks’, MU Library

There you will find 332 electronic databases across all subjects and information on newly acquired and trial databases which are evaluated for potential subscription.  

To search and discover all of MU Library’s electronic and print resources, go to the Maynooth University Library catalogue called LibrarySearch where you can search for books, journals, articles and databases – all from one location.

You can learn and develop your knowledge about using electronic resources from Maynooth University Library, the library website is great for information and guidance in these areas.  The LIST (Library and Information Skills Tutorials) sessions were developed to support learning and cover a wide range of skills and topics to assist students. These sessions can be accessed from the Guides and Tutorials bar on the MU Library homepage.  Specifically, LIST Online is a suite of interactive tutorials which can be accessed both on and off campus.  Check out this brief video about using eBooks:

Figure 5 Library & Information Skills Tutorials, MU Library

At present my MU Library colleague Helen Farrell, Academic Engagement Librarian is delivering short online training sessions until the 29th of July about using MU Library resources.  Booking is now open and a session ‘Maximising the use of Library e-resources in online learning’ will take place online on Monday 24 May 2021 from 11:00am – 11:45am.  You can register to attend this and other sessions under ‘Our Events’ direct from the MU Library homepage.

Figure 6 Using MU Library Resources event, MU Library

So, although I was previously familiar with electronic content, I typically chose to read a print copy of a book instead of an electronic version.  The experience of studying more with electronic resources certainly broadened the learning experience for me.  I am motivated to continue to explore electronic books and databases and to access the online guides available through the MU Library website.  Overall, I gained more confidence using electronic resources and I look forward to discovering more as my course continues!

A tome of controversy: Richard Twiss’ A Tour of Ireland, 1775

Nicola Kelly, Archivist, OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre

The OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre recently acquired a copy of Richard Twiss’ “A Tour in Ireland in 1775”, published in the following year, which was one of the most controversial books of its period. The book is bound in fine morocco, all edges gilt, and contains the full printed text, the folding map of Ireland and the plate facing page 94 illustrating the salmon leap at Ballyshannon. It was based on his experiences of a five-month stay in the country, however, it enraged the Irish public through its unflattering representation of Ireland and inhabitants. Since its publication it has been widely quoted as a contemporary source for Irish life, though generally cited in a negative context.

Figure 1 Richard Twiss’ A Tour in Ireland in 1775, in a morocco binding with gilt edges.

Richard Twiss (1747-1821) was a highly experienced traveller when he set out from London in May 1775 to make a tour of Ireland. The son of an English merchant who left him an ample fortune, he was sufficiently well-off to be in a position to indulge his enthusiasm for travel, and following a successful visit to Scotland, he then journeyed through Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and Bohemia, in a series of tours that involved fifteen sea voyages and numerous journeys over land totalling more than twenty-seven thousand miles by the mid-1770s. Twiss’ major expedition prior to his visit to Ireland was to Iberia, arising out of which he wrote an account of his experiences that was published as Travels through Portugal and Spain in 1772 and 1773 in London in 1775.

Figure 2 Title page including a fold out illustration of ‘The Salmon Leap at Ballyshannon’.

Twiss travelled to Ireland with stereotypical images and impressions, he was predisposed to praise scenery and caricature Irish mores. He acknowledges early in his narrative that in ‘his opinion that the inhabitants were addicted to drinking, given to hospitality and apt to blunder’. However, since by his own definition of what constituted high culture, fine art and music were little cultivated he concluded that nothing is to be expected in making the tour of Ireland, writing ‘The outskirts of Dublin consist chiefly of huts, which are termed cabins; they are made of mud dried, and mostly without either chimney or window; and in these miserable dwellings, far the greater part of the inhabitants of Ireland linger out a wretched existence.’

Figure 3 A fold out map of Ireland which includes illustrations of various sites mentioned by Twiss.

He observed that, outside of what was to be found in some aristocratic homes in Dublin, there was no painting of quality ‘in the whole island’; he maintained that the standard of Irish artists was ‘detestable‘; he deemed the orthography of shop and street signs ‘faulty‘; and frowned upon the standard of table etiquette. His observations that the people of Connaught were ‘savages’, and that from the perspective of ‘natural history…the Irish species…are only remarkable for the thickness of their legs, especially those of the plebian females’ were crass as well as quasi-racist.

Twiss included some (albeit scarce) positive descriptions of Lough Erne, the Lakes of Killarney, writing of the salmon leap at Ballyshannon; ‘The next day I arrived in Ballyshannon and was so pleased by its beautiful situation that I remained there four days. It is a small town situated near the sea with a bridge of fourteen arches, over a river, which a little lower falls down a ridge of rocks, about twelve feet, and at low water forms the most picturesque cascades I ever saw. It is rendered still more singular and interesting by being the principle Salmon Leap in Ireland” and a selection of Ireland’s country houses most notably his description of Castletown House, Celbridge; ‘The grand stair-case is magnificent, and is ornamented with brass ballustrades. This, I believe, the only house in Ireland to which the term palace can be applied.’

Figure 4 Twiss describes many of Ireland’s country houses, including Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare.

However, his conclusion that the Giant’s Causeway was not worth the long journey necessary to visit it, that the Irish were a people of little learning and that everything worth seeing could be experienced in a month made it abundantly clear that in Twiss’s judgement Ireland had little to offer the experienced and cultured traveller. Twiss’s controversial and ill-informed views ensured his narrative sold well, but it also generated a degree of animosity that the author neither anticipated nor welcomed. Much of the critical comment that was forthcoming was carried in the regular press, Lady Ann Clare ‑ one of many contemporaries who wrote an anti-Twiss squib which made use of the rhyme:

Here you may behold a liar
Well deserving of hell-fire:
Every one who likes may p—
Upon the learned Doctor T—-

The future Lady Clare was referring to the many chamber pots manufactured during the anti Twiss fervour and which featured a likeness of him on the inside. Irish opinion retained a sharp memory of the man and of the insults he had perpetrated for many years after he had departed the country. One visitor to Ireland some years later wrote that he was frequently presented “with a picture of the late tourist at the bottom of the chamber pots, with his mouth and eyes open ready to receive the libation” and as late as 1811 a dictionary of the “vulgar tongue” gave Twiss as a slang term for chamber pot.


Richard Twiss, A Tour in Ireland in 1775, (Dublin, 1776)

Martyn Powell, Piss-pots, Printers and Public Opinion in Eighteenth-century Dublin : Richard Twiss’s Tour of Ireland (Dublin, 2009)

Rachel Finnegan (Ed.) A tour in Ireland in 1775 by Richard Twiss, (Dublin, 2008).

Lockdown, Lord Westport and Leather Pantaloons

Listing the Marquess of Sligo letters during a pandemic 

Ciara Joyce, Archivist, Special Collections & Archives

How, as an archivist, do you work from home? Reports, meetings, e-mail and all aside, how do you continue listing your collections without having them with you? In short the answer is, with some difficulty and with a lot of help from technology.

Howe Peter Browne, Marquess of Sligo (1778-1845)

Howe Peter Browne (1778-1845) 2nd Marquess of Sligo. Source: Wikipedia

When lockdown was announced in March 2020, I had just begun work on a fascinating new collection of letters from Howe Peter Browne, Lord Westport, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, to his mother the Marchioness of Sligo. This collection of 126 letters covers a period from 1809-1811 when Sligo was enjoying his Grand Tour and plundering Greek antiquities and a later period from 1813-1814 as a tourist on the fringes of the battlefields of the Napoleonic war and as a witness to the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in Paris.

Sligo was everything a wealthy young aristocrat of the period was expected to be. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he moved within Royal circles and counted Lord Byron as one of his friends. He led a carefree, hedonistic existence and was a terribly extravagant spendthrift. His time abroad was initially seen as a way for him to live less extravagantly but his interest in socialising, clothes and living well continued throughout his travels. He even convinced his mother to hire him a brig and crew so he and his entourage could travel at their ease while also occasionally engaging in chasing down pirates in the Mediterranean.

As with all antiquarians of the period, Sligo’s attitude to the acquisition of the classical world’s treasures was that they were there for the taking. He writes on the 17th of June 1810 that he is ‘up to his eyes in delight’ and although the Parthenon has already been excavated by Lord Elgin, he hopes to ‘prize for myself’ the remains of a bas relief on the temple. He also hopes to

carry away with me one or two of the Caryatides from the Pandroseum, a bit of the Cornice, a hollow stone that is in the Temple of Theseus covered with a Greek inscription and a few other little curiosities I have fixed my eyes upon’.

He complains of his fellow traveller Lord Byron who has been there for three months,

‘kicking up the Devils delight doing nothing on earth but riding full gallop and firing pistols. He has not scarcely been once to see the antiquities. In short you never heard of such a system of folly as they have been carrying on here’.

Lord Byron in Albanian Dress, by Thomas Phillips, 1813. Source: Wikipedia

His letters also contain matters of business regarding his Irish estate, his financial affairs and long lists of clothes he wants sent out including; silk cravats, uniforms and on more than one occasion his ‘leather pantaloons’.

His later letters are no less interesting. Covering a period during 1813-1814 they include details of the final stages of the campaign against Napoleon and give unique and detailed descriptions of the atmosphere in Paris at the time of his defeat. Regarding his arrival in Paris, Sligo writes

never did any revolution take place so completely good humouredly and with such universal consent….The substitution of the white for the tricoloured cockade and perhaps an extraordinary number wearing the former in their hats are they only symptoms of this most wonderful change’ (11 April 1814)

Sligo thinks that he has arrived in Paris at the most interesting time in twenty years and perhaps ever. He writes that France has returned to what it was after twenty-four years of ‘continual bloodshed’ and that it is a good lesson for other nations.

Processing the Collection

Listing of this collection recommenced in October 2020. With limited access to the physical documents, making surrogates was really the only practical option. Luckily this is a small collection with only one document type – a standard sized letter. The collection is also clean and in relatively good condition. The documents were photographed in the reading room using a Canon camera, without any attempt to arrange or organise the material. They were imaged just as they appear in their original folders. The images were then transferred to a laptop as JPEGs and were given a temporary number for identification.

The Pros and Cons

Letter from the Marquess of Sligo, At Sea off Gibraltar to his mother the Marchioness of Sligo, London. 2 February 1810 MU/PP/33

Having a digital image of handwritten 19th century letters is certainly useful for zooming in on Sligo’s problematic handwriting. A number of the pages are a little dogeared and with Sligo’s tendency to write to the very edge of the page, the occasional word is obscured or missing altogether, but this should be easily remedied when back in the presence of the original documents. Having to go to and from digital image to word document or database and back again was tedious, especially when quoting passages, so I resorted to taking some handwritten notes while looking at the images. This made the process a little longer but will hopefully assure its accuracy. Each description will be checked against the original document when restrictions are lifted and we return to site. The collection will then have to be cleaned, arranged, numbered and boxed and the finishing touches added to the finding aid.

Other difficulties of working from home during a global pandemic are not unique to archivists or other library professionals. They generally consisted of constant interruptions with questions like, ‘Can I help you with your letters Mammy?’ while you try to carefully transcribe names like Hieronymus von Colloredo-Mansfeld from a 19th century document and ‘Can I press that button?’, while sticky pudgy fingers were held over a brand new laptop keyboard. Again difficulties that will soon ease with the opening up of society again.

Work on the collection continues and when finished it will be available to researchers in the Special Collections and Archives reading room in the John Paul II Library at MU.

For more information please contact

Further reading:

Chambers, Anne. The Great Leviathan, The Life of Howe Peter Browne 2nd Marquess of Sligo (1788-1845), New Island Books (2017)

Chambers, Anne. “‘CHAMPION OF THE SLAVES’—: Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo (1788–1845).” History Ireland, vol. 26, no. 1, 2018, pp. 22–24.

Saibhreas Gaeltachta: Cartlann Ráth Chairn

le Liam Mac Cóil, Cartlann Ráth Chairn

Áras Fiontraíochta agus Leabharlann Phoiblí Ráth Chairn áit a bhfuil an Chartlann

Tá Gaeltacht Ráth Chairn 5km soir ó dheas ó Bhaile Átha Buí i gContae na Mí agus 10km ó thuaidh ó Bhaile Átha Troim. Tá sé 38km ó Mhaigh Nuad. Bunaíodh an Ghaeltacht nua nuair a tháinig 27 teaghlach as Conamara chun cónaí i Ráth Chairn, ar dtús, in 1935 faoi scéim de chuid Coimisiún na Talún.Sa bhliain 1967 aithníodh Ráth Chairn ina Ghaeltacht oifigiúil. Sa bhliain 1972 rinneadh ionchorprú ar Chomharchumann Ráth Chairn.

Cóip de phóstaer Choimisiún na Talún ag fógairt scéim an aistrithe, 1935


Bhreathnaigh an Comharchumann i ndiaidh cúraimí agus riachtanais mhuintir na háiste. B’institiúid ann féin í, lárionad aitheanta a labhair thar ceann phobal na Gaeltachta agus a raibh caidreamh leanúnach aici le hiomad eagraíochtaí agus institiúidí eile, Ollscoil Mhá Nuad agus Comhairle Contae na Mí san áireamh.

Ghin an obair an Chomharchumainn go leor páipéarachais: comhfhreagras (cúrsaí airgid, dlí, soláthar seirbhísí, cúrsaí Gaeilge), páipéir pholasaí, pleananna, cuntais airgid, miontuairiscí cruinnithe, dialanna coinní, billí, admhálacha, foirmeacha, bróisiúir, póstaeir, teastais, cártaí ballraíochta, ticéid crannchuir –  doiciméid de gach saghas agus de gach cineál. Chomh maith leis sin bhí roinnt téipeanna fuaime ann agus dlúthdhioscaí chomh maith le grianghraif.  

Teastas a ghnóthaigh Ráth Chairn in 1975 i Scéim de chuid Gaeltarra Éireann
Póstaer faoi thógáil éanlaithe clóis, 1945

Tá an t-ádh linn gur shocraigh an chéad Bhainisteoir, Pádraic Mac Donncha, formhór mór na ndoiciméad sin a choinneáil. Nuair a bhíodh comhadchaibinéad lán thugtaí amach as an oifig é agus chuirtí ar stóras é. Doiciméid nach raibh aon ghá leo in obair reatha an Chomharchumainn, chuirtí in ionad stórais iad. Saibhreas mór Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta atá iontu sin anois.

Cuireadh leis an gCartlann, go háirithe ón mbliain 2015: doiciméid a bhain le Bunscoil Ráth Chairn ó tógadh í i 1936; ábhar idir dhoiciméid agus fhíseáin a bhain leis an gcomhlacht teilifíse Scun Scan; lámhscríbhinn a bhain le haistriúchán an Bhíobla; cuid de pháipéir an Athar Fiachra (Donnchadh Ó Corcara OFM), ina measc clóscríbhinn an leabhair fealsúnachta, ‘An Bheatha Phoiblí,’ a bhí le teacht i ndiaidh An Bheatha Phléísiúrtha (1955) ach nár foilsíodh riamh.

Leathanaigh tosaigh ‘An Bheatha Phoiblí’ leis an Athair Fiachra

Go dtí 2015 is i seomra san áiléar os cionn an stáitse sa halla mór a bhí na caibinéid agus na boscaí á gcoinneáil. Tosaíodh ag cur cuid den ábhar isteach i mboscaí gan aigéad. Tamall ina dhiaidh sin tugadh an stóras ar fad go dtí seomra beag in aice le Leabharlann Phoiblí Ráth Chairn agus cuireadh na doiciméid ar fad i mboscaí gan aigéad. Bhí an chéad dá chéim in obair na cartlannaíocht tógtha: bhí an t-abhar curtha ar thaobh sábhála. Tá beagnach dhá chéad bosca stóráilte ar sheilfeanna miotail i seomra na Cartlainne anois.

Le cúnamh ó Éire Ildánach agus Chomhairle Contae na Mí agus le comhairle ó Leabharlann Ollscoile Mhá Nuad agus daoine eile tosaíodh ar an dara mórchéim i bpróiseas na Cartlannaíochta: an obair ghlantacháin. Faraor ghearr Covid-19 trasna ar an obair sin; agus de bharr na srianta níorbh fhéidir teacht ar an gCartlann. Tá súil againn nuair a bheidh an ghéarchéim thart agus an t-airgead ar fáil go mbeimid in ann tosú ar an obair sin arís.

Cóipleabhar Dalta i mBunscoil Uí Ghramhnaigh, Ráth Chairn