Plainchant – With or Without Organ Accompaniment

MA Student writes about Plainchant Accompaniment on Organ

by Fintan Farrelly

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In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Research Methods and Digital Skills module in Maynooth University, I undertook work placement in the Russell Library.  In mid-February I began working on a digitisation project that ended prematurely due to the Covid-19 governmental restrictions.

As organist in St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, I am interested in the use of the organ for plainchant accompaniment. Three books, in the Special Collections and Archives section of the library, of plainchant with organ accompaniment grabbed my interest. These manuscripts are meticulously transcribed by hand and bear the signature of Heinrich Bewerunge, the founding father of music at Maynooth. These editions would have been sent to Bewerunge in his capacity as editor of ‘Lyra Ecclesiastica’ by the editor/publisher of these chant accompaniments, probably in the hope he might endorse it and help sales!

Heinrich Bewerunge (1862-1923)   

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In this blog I will endeavour to remain neutral and not make judgments on the many theories that abound about whether or not you should accompany Gregorian chant in the liturgy.  The debate has raged for centuries among composers, musicologists and audiences and is still relevant today.

Gregorian Chant
Gregorian chant or plainchant is a single line of unaccompanied melody with a flexible rhythm sung in Latin by male voices. It is of the Roman Catholic Church going back to the 9th and 10th centuries.  Named after Pope Gregory 1 (590-604), legend credits him with its invention. Plainchant had its own special notation.

A 13th Century Cistercian gradual from the Abbey of San Stephano at Corno, Lodi, Italy

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In the sixteenth century the system of major and minor keys or ‘tonality’ came in vogue.  This new innovation adversely affected chant tradition, leading to editions by editors who enforced tonality on the melody and on the rhythm of the chant. Many composers and teachers have written treatises on methods of Gregorian chant accompaniment.

Louis Niedermeyer – founder of the École Niedermeyer  (1835)

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“For plainchant, we say: Saint Gregory, for sacred music: Palestrina; for the organ: J.S. Bach.”
Louis Niedermeyer.




Nineteenth Century
The French Revolution saw the demolishing of churches throughout France.  Despite the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in 1801, the early decades of the nineteenth century saw many churches and organs in disrepair.  Church music was slow to recover, and the standard was poor.  The Benedictine order began to work on plainchant reformation at the Solesmes monastery in France in the 1830s.  During the second half of the nineteenth century the standard of playing improved and new ideas on plainchant manifested themselves in liturgical composition.  The rest of the century was a period of great accomplishment with regard to church music.

Motu Proprio 1903                              Motu Proprio Pope Pius X
In 1903, Pope Pius X issued an edict detailing regulation for the performance of music in the Roman Catholic Church.  The pontiff criticised ‘the theatrical style that was so much in vogue during the last century’ as not being suitable for liturgical worship.  Sacred music must be holy, true art, and universal, qualities best found in Gregorian chant.

The editions published during his reign were more firmly rooted in the ancient modal system than the tonal relations that reigned for three centuries.  Modern music was also admitted but there was to be a clear distinction between the sacred and the secular.  He entrusted the preparation of the Vatican editions of chant to the monks of Solemnes in France, the ‘mecca’ of chant.  These are still the official editions of the Roman Catholic Church, unchanged since their publication.  Although the church doesn’t prescribe the singing of Gregorian chant, the Second Vatican Council (1967) restated motu proprio’s earlier assertion that chant is the best music for prayer in its Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Plainchant Accompaniment

  1. Laetare puerpera

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Charles-Marie Widor (1844 – 1937)

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Laetare Puerpura is a Christmas sequence, the first accompaniment in book 2 harmonised by Charles-Marie Widor. Widor brought the Lemmens methods of teaching and technique into the organ class at the Paris Conservatoire where he was Professor of Organ, 1890-1896.  He was critical of motu proprio because he believed that modern music had as much place in the liturgy as chant.

Considered forward looking in his approach, in the above example we see a note-for-note harmonisation with the chant on top, and a change of chord on every single note.  The chord changes are abrupt instead of fluid, with too few common tones and little sense of progression.  It sounds laboured and repetitious. This example of a pre-Solemnes chant accompaniment contributed to a dislike of chant and would be unthinkable nowadays!  It’s certainly a far cry from his most famous Toccata from his organ symphony No. 5, a ‘showstopper’ often played at wedding ceremonies.

Plainchant Accompaniment

  1. Media Vita

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Alexandre Guilmant (1837 – 1911)

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Guilmant was an influential figure in the development of the French organ school in the second half of the nineteenth century.  He was the best- known organist in the world at that time, setting up his own organ school in New York.  His teaching, like Widor, was grounded in the Lemmens method and he succeeded him at the Paris Conservatoire as Professor of Organ, 1896-1911.  The chant, Media Vita, was often sung during Lent as a hymn asking God for support in times of need and sometimes even as a curse!  Guilmant’s offering still shows for the most part an outdated note-for-note harmonisation with the melody on top.  There are some small improvements.  Chords on the main notes are held for longer note values, pointing to a slight shift from Widor’s accompaniment.

Plainchant Accompaniment

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Eugène Gigout (1837 – 1911)

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Gigout was a teacher of chant before becoming Professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire from 1911-1925.  He was organist at La Trinité in Paris for thirty years.  Louis Niedermeyer’s method of organ playing had a strong impact on him.  He opened his own organ school with emphasis on improvisation and chant accompaniment.  An expert in the new method of chant accompaniment, you can see its emergence in homo quidam for the feast of Corpus Christi.  It doesn’t contain the outdated note-for-note harmonisation.  It is modal and in a broader style.  The plainchant melody is not played on top (or at all), and chords are reserved only for the main notes.  This type of accompaniment serves as the basis for chant accompaniment today, allowing the plainsong the freedom it needs.

Should plainchant be accompanied on the organ?
It all depends on what side of the chant versus tonality debate you come down on.  Some say it shouldn’t because it wasn’t accompanied originally.  The act of accompanying means imposing harmony on the melody, two distinct elements destroying one by the other.  Most churches have an organ installed, often on a gallery, and it has become accepted practice to have harmonised accompanied plainchant. It supports the singer and, if played well, the organ accompaniment can provide a solid foundation that encourages singing and keeps the congregation in tune and in time.  Even the monks at Solesmes sing to organ accompaniment but their recordings are unaccompanied, no doubt to satisfy the critics!  Many organists are skillful improvisers, making up their own accompaniment on the spot which is not written down.  The three composers I have discussed whose harmonisations are found in the manuscripts were renowned for their improvisations, conjuring up musical magic on themes presented to them and drawing large crowds to hear them.  Unaccompanied chant or chant accompanied on organ? Both are beautiful.  Listen to these two short samples and you can decide for yourself.

Example 1 unaccompanied plainchant:

Example 2 unaccompanied plainchant:

Plainchant Today
For centuries church musicians have grappled with the issue of defining appropriate church music and it continues today.  In nineteenth-century France the criticism revolved around the overlapping of sacred and secular allusions with jigs and excerpts from operas often included in the liturgy.  There is no doubting the allure plainchant, composed by anonymous monks long before chords and harmonies were known, has today.  Why else have composers for at least 500 years felt the need to incorporate these ancient melodies into their organ compositions and other media?

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Towards the end of the twentieth century, plainchant came back into vogue as music for meditation.  Reluctant monks in secluded monasteries singing chant as part of daily worship ignited a chant ‘mania’ which catapulted them to international recording stardom featuring on Billboard charts, nestled among the likes of Sinéad O’Connor and Aerosmith.  As the French composer and organist, Saint Saëns, famously once said:

‘There is good music and there is bad music; for the rest, it is a matter of fashion, of convention, and nothing else.’

I wish to thank the staff of the Russell Library’s Special Collections and Archives: Barbara McCormack, Librarian, Susan Durack, Senior Library Assistant and Audrey Kinch, Library Assistant, for their courtesy and help in allowing me to access these rare manuscripts.  I would also like to extend my gratitude to Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections & Content, for uploading this blog on the library’s website, to Professor Lorraine Byrne Bodley and to Stephanie Ford from Maynooth University who facilitated and organised the work placement.


Links to the digitised Gregorian Chant Accompaniments

1. Melodies de Chant Gregorien 1eme Livraison

2. Melodies de Chant Gregorien 2eme Livraison

3. Melodies de Chant Gregorien 3eme Livraison

Master’s Degree in Musicology module: Work place experience in the Russell Library, Maynooth University

by Frank Charles O’Donnell B.Mus. (Hons.)(NUI) – Musicologist, Organist, Conductor

This article is in part-fulfilment of a module that I undertook as part of my Master’s Degree in Musicology at the Department of Music, Maynooth University. This was a new module at the music department in order to give master’s students an opportunity to work with an organisation and gain experience in the world of music outside of a strict academic setting. I chose the Russell Library for my work placement as it compliments my own research interests and professional activities as an organist and performer of sacred music, particularly the music of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Russell Library boasts an extensive collection of manuscripts of sacred music, particularly organ scores and plainchant manuscripts. Owing to the rich heritage of St Patrick’s College, where the Russell Library is based, it is no wonder that the National Seminary for Ireland rightly preserves its musical legacy. My attraction to the collections at the Russell Library was inspired by an interest in the work of Professor Heinrich Bewerunge (1862-1923), who was Professor of Church Chant and Organ at Maynooth College. During his time at Maynooth, he worked tirelessly in promoting plainchant. Plainchant or Plainsong is commonly associated with monks and singing the daily office of the church. The daily office (morning and evening prayer etc.) is an integral part of seminary formation and was thus, very important. There is a rich tradition of plainchant performance to this day at Maynooth College owing to Drs John O’Keeffe and Darina McCarthy, who are both authorities on the music of Bewerunge and plainchant performance.

My work placement at the Russell Library focused on manuscripts that contained plainchant melodies and organ accompaniment, belonging to Bewerunge himself. I was interested in digitising these precious documents in order to preserve them and indeed, make them more accessible to a wider audience via the library’s online database of manuscripts and collections. Having completed a precursory digitisation course through the Department of Computer Science at Maynooth University, I felt equipped to undertake this task. I must admit that this was completely new territory for me, and it gave me great insight into archival work and preserving precious manuscripts. There were challenges involved in this process. One must handle these old documents, most of which were at least 100 years old, with great care. The process of digitisation was relatively straightforward. In collaborating with the staff of the Russell Library, who were most accommodating in the process, I used an on-site camera to digitise the material. The apparatus; camera, stand and scale were all generously supplied by the Russell Library, and I extend my thanks to them in this regard.

Having studied plainchant performance under Dr John O’Keeffe at Maynooth University, my interest in one of the church’s richest traditions – plainchant – was undoubtedly evoked. During this time, the primary texts of reference were the Graduale Triplex containing plainchant notation and Gregorian Semiology by Dom Eugene Cardine as an interpretive aid. This anthology of chant, presents chant in a very different way to that of the manuscripts I digitised. As can be seen below, the first document presented is a page from a manuscript digitised from the Russell Library archive, the other is a score from the Graduale Triplex, an anthology of plainchant.

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Even though the manuscripts are not presenting the same chant setting, it is interesting to note the similarities and differences in plainchant representation and scoring. The score from the Graduale Triplex has no organ accompaniment and contains much more detail in relation to how the piece should be performed by the singer. In stark contrast, the digitised manuscript represents plainchant simply with standardised neume notation, like that of the Graduale Triplex, but it does not contain performance instructions and/or an organ accompaniment as seen above. Simply, neume notation refers to the lines and squares/dotes on the plainchant stave. Please find below a clear example of neume notation represented in modern day standardised notation.

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(See Sister Mary Demetria, B.V.M., Basic Gregorian Chant an Sight Reading, 1960)

As can be seen from the above example, the neume notation can be represented in a more modern day G Clef or Treble Clef notation. Neume notion is used in both examples above, with the added standardised notation for the organist’s accompaniment from the Russell Library’s manuscript,  Melodies de Chant Gregorien. Similarly, one notices an absence of the red lines found below the neume notation in the Graduale Triplex. These red lines are known as semiology, and they act as performance aids. They each represent different things such as; phrasing – fast or slow, emphatic or gentle, urgent or calm etc. Cardine points out that, ‘Something was lost in the Vatican notation which is only capable of expressing the most material element of the music – the melodic relation of the notes between themselves.’ He goes on to talk about representing and conveying the proper emphases and stresses in the melody which is not represented by neumes alone, like in Melodies de Chant Gregorien and Vatican notation as a whole. Cardine asserts that, ‘the term plainchant which so often designates Gregorian chant today, should be discarded because it is based on a false premise’. Cardine clearly believes that chant should be sung with fervour and expression; semiology helps the performer add expression to the neumes on the stave. Cardine argues, therefore, that plainchant should be presented with both forms of notation to give a convincing, and in his opinion, more accurate performance.

There seems to be some disagreement in relation to performing and interpreting plainchant. The contrast between how plainchant is notated in the three books I digitised; Melodies de Chant Gregorien I, II, III, and the Graduale Triplex is palpable. From a practical point of view, it could be asserted that the notation found in the Russell Library is much more accessible to those who may have a very limited or indeed, a working knowledge of plainchant. Heinrich Bewerunge may have chosen these plainchant scores for their accessibility and simplicity in an attempt to instil a love of plainchant into his clerical students.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), promulgated by St Pope John XXIII, spoke candidly about reform in every aspect of the Catholic Liturgy, of which sacred music is an integral part. In Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), a document released by the Second Vatican Council, ‘The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place (principem locum obtineat) in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action…”.[1] This affirms that, even in the midst of major ecclesiastical reform, plainchant and the liturgies and offices of the Roman Catholic Church are intimately intertwined. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the work of Heinrich Bewerunge and his love for plainchant was not in vain. I hope to continue to digitise important manuscripts such as these, in an effort to disseminate Gregorian Chant. In my professional capacity as an organist and choir master, I hope to give chant principem locum obtineat in liturgical services. My expressed thanks to all the staff of the Russell Library and Department of Music at Maynooth University, for facilitating my research.

Frank Charles O’Donnell B.Mus.(Hons.)(NUI) May, 2020

Maynooth University’s PPE donation to Tallaght Hospital.

By Louise Walsworth-Bell, Paper Conservator

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Gretchen Allen, Conservator, at work welding poly-pockets. Sweat from our fingers can abrade the archival polyester and photograph within; therefore gloves are a must wear when handling these materials

I have often felt that conservation is akin to being a doctor for inanimate objects. We assess our ‘patients’, reading their tell-tale history of construction, usage and decline, outline recommended treatments and watch as our intervention improves their condition. We are brought items of great value; be it monetary or emotional and we in turn take on that duty of care, working with the tools of our trade; tweezers, scalpel, seekers (sharp, proddy things), needle and thread, often with an almost surgical approach.

Like medical staff, both conservators and archivists, working intimately with collections, are themselves at risk and need protection from the very things we are addressing: dirt; dust; mould spores; insect, rodent and avian damage, often accompanied by their poo! Cleaning disperses airborne particles and those of us who handle archival collections on a regular basis are therefore exposed to high levels of dust and mould spores from these items. While particulates may be ‘inactive’ when we inhale them, they not only block our breathing capacity but our oesophagus and lungs provide the perfect incubatory home for mould growth and prolonged exposure can lead to library lung. This condition reduces respiratory capacity, makes us prone to colds and flu-like symptoms and over time can raise the risk of cancer. Other irritants can lead to skin complaints such as contact dermatitis and exacerbate eczema and psoriasis.  For these very reasons, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is familiar to all conservators and archivists and is worn for a multitude of reasons, from the basics of donning a lab-coat or apron to mind our clothes to the physical need to protect ourselves.

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Gretchen Allen surface cleaning pages. Here the gloves and overall protect us from dirt contamination. Brushing away from the body reduces the risk of inhaling particulate dirt

Probably the most ubiquitous item in our arsenal are gloves. Latex gloves are no longer recommended as they are often ‘powdered’ to help putting them on and this powder can irritate the skin. They always proved very sweaty to wear for any length of time and as an added extra, discolour to a tobacco yellow which is neither attractive nor good for the wearer as soon after yellowing they give up the ghost and split. Nitrile gloves replaced latex and initially came in blue, now purple, although there is a deluxe dark green version which are flock-lined! This makes them gentler on the skin and the gloves themselves are much more durable so they can be worn on and off for days, reducing our environmental footprint. All nitrile gloves protect not only against dry components such as dust, dirt and mould but also provide a barrier against aqueous solutions such as baths… while we may put the object into a bath of clean water, it is far from clean when we remove it. Alkaline solutions such as calcium carbonate are extremely drying to the skin and ammonia is a defatting agent. Therefore nitrile gloves are an absolute staple in our work.

Masks are another key item. In our prolonged work with collections, there is no use wearing the paper-thin dust masks available at hardware shops with the external metal nose-pinch. We need robust protection with filters and face seals to ensure that particles are unable to gain access. The most durable of these are single user items and last a career. While they make us look and sound like Darth Vader they
are vital for our long term exposure and the filters can be replaced or exchanged; some filters protect against dust, others against organic vapours, depending on your task. For short-term work there are a mid-range mask which are more robust than the flimsy ones and have a notable, in-built filter. These can be worn for a couple of days before exhausting their protective qualities but are more forgiving than the Darth-mask, particularly in hot weather.

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Gretchen Allen in the front-line battle against dirt

When Maynooth University liaised with Tallaght Hospital during this covid-19 pandemic, we initially offered our sleep pods to the staff, but as PPE became an increasingly difficult commodity to acquire, Maynooth University Library has been able to share what we have in stock with the committed and brave front-line workers whose health is so vital to so many. Along with our gloves and masks we donated foam book supports which can be cut up to cushion face shields and if our supplies can go any way to helping resolve our fight for public health then it is with great pleasure that we can play our part in the battle.


Shakespeare Miniatures: A generous donation and a conservators delight

Louise Walworth-Bell, Paper Conservator

The mystery suitcase


A peep inside

In 2019 Maynooth University Library received a very generous donation of 30 miniature volumes of Shakespeare’s works.  Measuring 5 x 3.5cms these tight back, limp bindings have black buckram covers, decorative endpapers and titles printed on their spines, some of which are necessarily abbreviated due to lack of space! 

They arrived in the library in a small suitcase which will be returned to the donor and in time the works came to Conservation seeking some tender loving care and a much needed housing solution.

The original collection would have numbered 40 [39 volumes contained plays, the final volume being composed of a short bibliography and Glossary] and were published by Allied Newspapers Ltd with a title address of 200 Gray’s Inn Road, London, W.C. 1.  Issued in 1932 the books would have been accompanied by a small wooden book shelf and were available either in leather or buckram.  The donation came through a representative of a family who have long standing connections with the library and university.

At an initial glance the covers are curling somewhat dramatically and numerous volumes exhibit creasing across their ‘limp’ buckram binding… and yet all are intact with minimal fraying of the book cloth.  Similarly the text blocks are largely in excellent condition although outer pages are often dog-eared as a result of exposure; where curling covers no longer offer their protection.  With minor surface dirt present the books are chemically stable with no evidence of biological damage and so this is an unusual, quirky collection in sound condition which will nicely complement our modern printed works.

 It has been decided to undertake minimal intervention on these works and to house them as simply as possible allowing the collection to speak for itself. 

Initial cataloguing was undertaken in Special Collections before the volumes were transferred to conservation for treatment.

Books on the bench during treatment
..with a small pile of bondina sheets, pressing boards and hardware clamp, ready to undertake treatments









To date, a light surface cleaning has been undertaken to remove surface dirt from all covers.  Text block cleaning was hampered by the curl of the covers so it was decided that addressing this first would aid future work, at which stage pressing was undertaken. As all the books have their own individual thicknesses it is important to choose a simple, effective, individual method for pressing. 

After cleaning the covers have been lightly humidified by wiping them with a clean, damp sponge.  The cover is then immediately placed onto a small sheet of bondina which is wrapped around the fore edge, covering the entire book.  This prevents any adhesion between the cover and the pressing boards.  These boards are cut from archival folding box board as it is rigid, readily cut and chemically inert.  For each volume, two pre-cut boards are placed either side, this ‘sandwich’ inserted into hardware sprung clamps to apply the necessary pressure.  This proves to be a very successful treatment although oftimes a repeat pressing is required as the cover curl has a strong historical memory that requires time and assertion to unfurl.

To date half the works have been partially or fully flattened and as soon as we return work from our splendid isolation we can resume treatment and work out housing solutions.  We will update you as the work progresses!

work carried out to date: books in the suitcase during treatment and two ‘in process’



Etherington and Roberts, Bookbinding and the Conservation of books:  A dictionary of descriptive terminology [online resource]

National Library of Scotland Blog, with reference to their own collection of these works

The natural world of 1849: Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

Susan Durack, Special Collections and Archives

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Birdwing Butterfly: Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

One of our treasures from the historic collections in the Russell Library at Maynooth, a multi-volume work which we like to show to our many visitors to the library, is the  Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle published in Paris in 1849. Those interested in botany, natural history, science, zoology and pictorial works take note. 

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Hippoptamus (Mammifreres): Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

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Title page: Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

The publication was edited by Charles Henry Dessalines d’Orbigny (1806-1876) a French botanist, entomologist, geologist and naturalist. Born in Coueron (Loire-Atlantique), he was one of seven children and was the younger brother of French naturalist and South American explorer Alcide d’Orbigny.  Charles’ specialty was the Tertiary of France. In Paris, d’Orbigny identified many flowering plant species returned to France from his brother’s natural history collecting journey through South America. Three taxo names are authored by him namely Alpinieae, Ceropegieae and Victoria Cruziana.

Charles d’Orbigny died on 14 February 1876 and is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Dolphin (Dauphin ordinaire): Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle
Giraffe (Giraffa Camelopardalis): Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle
Camellia japonica: Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

The many contributors to this work are listed on the title page and include naturalists with expertise in entomology, herpetology, ornithology, malacology, explorers, historians and illustrators and represent the prominent academics of natural science in France at that time. Jean Victor Audouin (1797-1841) and Anais Bazin (1797-1850) are among those mentioned.

Dahalia: Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

The final three volumes published under the title Atlas de Planches gravees sur acier represntant plus de 1200 sujets are a treasure in themselves and speak to the importance of pictorial images for readers in learning about the natural world.  Vol.1 contains Humaines, Mammifreres & Oiseaux; Vol.2 Reptiles, Poissons & Insects and Vol.3 Botanique.

The images are beautifully realised engravings and the images in the Russell Library copy are vibrant and colourful. In the present time of Covid-19 when libraries are closed it is heartening to know that volumes are available electronically and can be found with a simple title search on the web. Many of the images are also available on the web. Please check copyright details. These images will lift the spirits and inspire as we cocoon ourselves during challenging times.

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Trogon Pavonius: Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle
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Lemon (Citrus Limonium): Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle
Coq (Rooster): Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle

Glass Plate Negatives in the Hutchinson Archive

Ciara Joyce, Archivist

Working my way through the many boxes of the Pearse Hutchinson Archive here at Maynooth University Library, I was surprised to see what looked like a muslin cloth among the boxes of family papers.

On closer inspection the cloth concealed a number of glass plate negatives, which had been carefully wrapped in sections of the cloth to protect them from breakage. This archive includes a large collection of photographs but these appear to be the earliest in the collection.

Glass Plate Negatives from the Pearse Hutchinson Archive

While the negatives had been thoroughly wrapped they had not always been shown this level of care as all are quite dirty, one is chipped at the corner and one negative is broken in three pieces.

What are glass plate negatives?

The earliest photographic processes were developed in the 1820s and 1830s. The first glass plate negative was invented in 1851 by British inventor Fredrick Scott Archer. Early photographs were made of three parts; a base or support, made of glass, an emulsion used to bind the image to the support and the image made of silver or colour dyes. Glass plates were generally used between 1851 and the 1890s. Their popularity began to decline with the invention of cellulose nitrate film in 1903 and they were replaced by gelatin silver paper negatives by the 1920s.

Being made of glass, the negatives are naturally fragile and require careful handling and storage. The quality of the glass used depended on the materials and skills available in their production and varied significantly from place to place. The emulsions used are also susceptible to degradation over time, especially those made by more experimental photographers, and emulsions can suffer from chipping or flaking. Plates were often recycled and put to other uses, so their survival was precarious at best.  

Digitisation and producing a positive image:

In order to identify the images on the glass plates, they were scanned on a flat bed scanner, using a setting designed for black and white negatives. The glass plates were scanned at a high resolution to also create a preservation copy.

So who is in the photographs?

Holding the negatives up to the light gives a clear outline of the image captured on the glass but it is only when the plate is scanned that you see the image in all its detail. They appear to be family portraits, of groups, pairs and individuals. They are likely members of the extended McElhinney family of Cowcaddens and Uddingston in Glasgow.

Members of the extended McElhinney Family

The McElhinneys were originally from County Donegal. William McElhinney from Findrum and Jeanie Heron from Saint Johnstown, met as teenagers on the boat to Scotland. They were married on the 11th of September 1884, in Saint Johnstown, County Donegal. William became a successful merchant and the family prospered. Their daughter Caitlín (Kathleen) McElhinney is pictured as a young woman in a number of the plates, as is her husband Henry Warren Hutchinson. Cailtín and Henry were Pearse Hutchinson’s parents

Conservation of the glass plates

The glass plate negatives have been temporarily rehoused in a purpose made conservation standard box. They will be moved to our conservation department for cleaning to ensure their long- term preservation.

Enclosure for storage of glass plate negatives

For more information about the Pearse Hutchinson Archive please contact Special Collections and Archives.

All Hallows College Literary Society Minute Book

Aaron John King, Student in MA in Historical Archives

Founded in 1881, the ‘Literary Society of All Hallows College’ open their minute book with the quote ‘Unity unto perfection’. This minute book, as with any similar society, is central to understanding their aims and motivations. Lightly worn on the outside, the navy cover has visible damage where many hands touched it to open the book. Inside we can see that this was no standard blank minute book but was specially printed for the society by Joseph Dollard, a printer on Dame Street. Where other societies would get a blank minute book and write the name of their association and the names of their committee members on the first page, the Literary Society of All Hallows’ College decided to get some of their meeting book professionally printed.  There are two ‘title pages’ so to speak. The first with the aforementioned ‘Unity Unto Perfection’ quote with the name of the society and their president underneath. The second title page contains much more detail. This title page gives another, longer, name for the society. ‘The All Hallows’ Society of Lectures, Extempore Speaking and Elocution’ is printed in red ink in a gothic type. This page also details the structure of the society with the president, vice president and two levels of the committee.

From this minute book we can see what the content of the society’s events was like. On the 27 February for example a lecture on Chaucer was held in which the speaker, a Rev. Madden, spoke about the impact that Chaucer had on the English language. The person writing in the minute book writes ‘’Mankind has always paid particular honour to the men who benefited their country in any way, whether in the manner of a Columbus, a Watt or a Napoleon. Now one of the greatest benefits which could be conferred on a country was a good language’. In another meeting on the 30 October the subject of the lecture was Hugh O’Neill, the ‘chieftain of the North’ as the minute keeper describes him. The argument put forward in this meeting was that O’Neill was a ‘unswerving defender of Ireland’s civil and religious liberty.’

Lectures such as this show that the discussion topics of the lectures went beyond what we might expect a literary society might cover. These two meetings in particular also reveal an interesting contrast as in the meeting discussing Chaucer the point was made that Chaucer had polished the English Language ‘until it became fit to be the language of a civilised land’ while the lecture on Hugh O’Neill is dripping in Irish nationalism with the minute keeper writing ‘The Battle of the Yellow Ford forms one of the brightest pictures of Irish valour.’

From the minutes kept of these two lectures we can see that the Literary Society of All Hallows College held lectures on a wide range of topics extending beyond the typical appreciation and examination of literature, moving beyond this into history and politics.

Ken Saro-Wiwa School Poetry Prize Winner

By Helen Fallon, Deputy Librarian, Maynooth University Library

The Maynooth University Library Ken Saro-Wiwa School Poetry Prize 2019 was won by Herajean Vergara, a transition year student at Maynooth Education Campus, for her poem “Humans’ Greatest Sin.”

Jessica Traynor and Herajean Vergara

Humans’ Greatest Sin

Mother! Father! My little child said,

As she rushed into my bedroom and leaped onto my bed

With a look of excitement and wonder

“What are these creatures?” she pondered

Images of creatures, which existed long ago

Rushed into extinction from the damage humans did so

We invaded their homes, and took their resources

If they fought back our way we would force in

We’ve famished our Earth, our greatest sin

“But Mother, Father surely we humans have done great!

“Humans are Perfect” said in Christian Faith

A lie it is, it’s far from the truth

Does the destruction we’ve done make us absolute?

Not a single patch of nature seen in our cities

Our plan of action is only feeling pity

Our Buildings and factories standing in nature’s way

Nowhere to expand, left to decline and fade away

The air we respirate, is corrupted and twisted

There was once a time it wasn’t as misted

Now with every breath, feels like you’re choking

Without a cigarette, you’re basically smoking

Disappear if we would, life would thrive

Stay if we would, life would die

With the look of excitement no longer on her face

She bitterly said “What is wrong with the Human Race?”

Commenting on the poem Jessica Traynor, poet and competition judge said:

This is an ambitious piece that manages to encompass a large and complex narrative. A child addresses its legacy by interrogating its parents about what humans have done to the planet – a topical dialogue which reflects the anger and anxiety felt by many young people around what the future might hold for our environment. The imagery of the extinct animals is moving, evoking a universal sense of loss. The rhyme scheme creates movement and momentum throughout.

For more information on the Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection at Maynooth University

Classics in the Russell Library

Ruth O’Hara, Collections and Content

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Study of the classical world has been a staple of this University for centuries. The Russell Library’s classic’s collection, which was amassed largely by the early professors of St. Patrick’s College, is eclectic covering all areas of the ancient world and indeed it transcends disciplines. So, besides Homer and Virgil, for example, sit the poems of Catullus, the theological tracts of Ambrose of Milan, and the philosophical musings of Aristotle. One blog can’t hope to capture the extent and range of such a collection so, instead, I just want to look at some of the ways that we in the Russell Library continue to foster interest in this diverse subject area by integrating it into the research, teaching and life of the University.

We have found our classics collection to be a really useful resource for postgraduate students, for example, who engage with primary source material from a research perspective. One source we have used in this context is a copy of the Notitia Dignitatum, an administrative list which delineates the leading imperial offices, both civil and military, in the eastern and western empire of the later fourth and fifth centuries CE. The Russell Library holds three copies of this text dating from 1623, 1665 and 1729. It is a unique source, with nothing like it surviving from this period and, therefore, study of it raises many questions which permit few sure answers. For that reason, we emphasise that, like most texts here in the Russell Library, the Notitia Dignitatum needs to be considered as whole and studied alongside other sources which offer a view of the late Roman bureaucracy. Thanks to the breadth of our classics collection, the Russell Library offers researchers a unique opportunity to attain a varied and more rounded view of what was a complex period of history.

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Notitia dignitatum, vtriusque imperii orientis scilicet et occidentis vltra arcadij honoriíque tempora. Genevae: Excudebat Stephanus Gamonetus, M. DC. XXIII (1623). (ANT 1 13/2 (RUSSELL).

Exploring the provenance of our classics collection, who may have owned the books and why and when they were brought to Maynooth, is another interesting way to better understand our collection. I have included here a 1533 edition of Nicolai Perotti’s interpretation of Horace’s Odes. Horace was a Latin lyric poet who wrote during the time of the Emperor Augustus (63 BCE-14 CE). I like this text for its marginalia and the stamp and bookplate noting that it came to the Russell Library as part of the bequest of Cardinal J. F. D’Alton. John Francis D’Alton taught Ancient Classics and Ancient Greek in St Patrick’s College and served as its President from 1936. He was later made Primate of All Ireland. By continuing to provide such information in our catalogue records we aim to help researches in their interrogation and understanding of our classics material.

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Horace Q. Horatii Flacci Odarvm sive Carminvm libri qvatvor; Epodon liber vnus: cum annotati[un]culis [quarum] antea auctioribus in margine adiectis, quae breuis co[m]me[n]tarii vice esse possint. Nicolai Perotti libellus non infrugifer de metris Odarum Horatianarum. Parisiis : Apud Simonem Colinaeum, 1533. (CL L 3 117 (RUSSELL).

The fact that works from the classical past still inspire researchers and visitors alike is testament dynamism of the subject and the nature of our collection. We look forward to continuing to help our users shed light on our ancient texts and what they can tell us about our past as well as our present.

Palaeography in Practice

Miriam van der Molen, Archivist

In April 2019, Special Collections & Archives acquired three medieval German legal manuscripts. I have chosen these three manuscripts to show the challenges to the archivist, and what skills are needed, in working with deciphering palaeography, on these types of documents. The documents are from 1344, 1370 and 1371. All of the documents are written in a cursive script, with those from 1344 and 1371 being as good as identical in the letter forms used.

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Legal Document from 22 May 1344

The oldest document, from 22 May 1344, follows a formula common for German legal documents of the time, opening with ‘Kundich by allen Luden dey dyssen breyf seyt ofte horet lesen dat ich Hinrich van Haidenberghe bekenne […]’, which can be loosely translated as ‘I inform all people that see or hear this document read out, that I, Hinrich van Haidenberghe attest […]’. He later mentions a churchyard at ‘Welynkhouen’ and people ‘Johan van Bachem’ and ‘Wenember van Bachem’.

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Legal Document from 19 February 1371

The document from 19 February 1371 also follows the same opening formula: ‘Kundich by allen Luden dey dyssen breyf seyt ofte horet lesen dat ich Ludcke van den Hoynhus […]’. Interestingly, this document also mentions Wenemer van Bachem, this time without a ‘b’ in the first name, which is typical of the lack of consistency in spelling at this time. Another typical inconsistency is in the use of upper and lower case letters, such as in that first line: in the 1344 document, ‘horet’ is spelt with a lower case ‘h’, whereas it is written with an upper case ‘H’ in the 1371 document.

There appears to be a mix of secretary and legal hand usage in the documents as well, and here there is also no consistency: the 1371 document uses a two-compartment ‘a’ in the third word ‘allen’, which is typical of a legal hand, but a single-compartment ‘a’ later on in that line for ‘dat’, but reverts to the earlier ‘a’ again in ‘van’ near the end of the first line.

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Legal Document from 24 June 1370

The third document, from 1370, is a little different. The script is different, as is the way in which the document text is structured. One can note the slightly more rounded letter forms. In additional, while the 1344 and 1371 documents use two different types of ‘r’ (compare ‘breyf’ and ‘horet’), the 1370 seems to stick to one type, namely that to be seen in ‘breyf’ in the other two documents. The ‘r’ that looks like a ‘2’ would be that used in a legal hand, while the one the other one is more typical of secretary hand. An example of this in the 1370 document is in ‘openbare’, the twelfth word on the first line. As an unrelated item of interest, you can also see that somebody sewed together a large tear which occurred at the bottom of this document.

Deciphering palaeography is very interesting, but also difficult and takes a lot of time and getting used to the letter forms. It is especially hard if one does not speak the language of the text. As I speak modern German, this helped, but it is still hard, as it is when trying to read fourteenth century English, which can be quite different to modern English.

The documents will be on display in the glass cabinet outside the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room for the month of December.