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.


Web archives as resources to find archived treasures


Sharon Healy, PhD Student and IRC Scholar in DH at Maynooth University

To celebrate #ExploreYourArchive week, I thought it would be useful to discuss the potential of using a web archive as a resource to find a wealth of archived web-born treasures. In doing so, I briefly look at the birth of the Web; the rationale for web archiving and provide an example of Irish LGBT history as a point in case for using a web archive for research.

There is no doubt that Irish LGBT history will be studied and researched in depth for many years to come. To this end, it was with great foresight that LGBT organisations and activists in Ireland were mindful in preserving materials which would later serve to document their histories. This foresight also resulted in the organisation of the Irish Queer Archive and the Cork LGBT Archive. However, there is very little literature which examines how Irish LGBT organisations and activists used the medium of the Web from the 1990s.

The concept of the World Wide Web (or simply the ‘Web’) was first introduced in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, while working at CERN, in a proposal based on the principles of sharing information between scientists. By late 1990, Berners-Lee developed the founding technologies which constitute the Web (HTML, HTTP and URI); and in 1993, Berners-Lee and CERN offered the invention of the Web to the public domain. Since then, much has been written on the use of the Web for research. Attention has also been given to the ephemeral nature of content on the web due to link rot, content change and content drift.

The common 404 message, indicating that information can no longer be found on a website

Due to concerns of the transience of web content, an array of heritage institutions initiated web archiving programmes with the first being the Internet Archive in 1996 (see for example: web archiving initiatives). According to the International Internet Preservation Consortium, ‘Web archiving is the process of collecting portions of the World Wide Web, preserving the collections in an archival format, and then serving the archives for access and use’ (IIPC). Many countries now have national web archiving programmes in terms of voluntary thematic collections, and some countries introduced digital legal deposit legislation to allow for the web archiving of their national domains.

In Ireland, the National Library of Ireland began a web archiving initiative in 2011 to coincide with the 2011 General Election. Since then, the NLI Web Archive has progressed to secure a voluntary thematic web archiving programme for the capture of Irish web-born social, cultural and political heritage. Of considerable importance in the NLI Web Archive is the collection of websites captured to coincide with the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum.

Why is this Important?

The #MarriageRef was a momentous affair in the history of the Irish state, whereby Ireland became the: ‘first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in its written constitution’ (Murphy, 2016: 315). Indeed, it is also historic because it was the first time that we witnessed a serious investment in political web campaigning for a referendum, with both the Yes and No sides organising designated websites and social media accounts.

The Marriage Referendum, with campaigns on both sides having a significant online presence

And while the Yes and No sides may have disagreed about the right to same-sex marriage in May 2015 – in November 2019 many of them have one thing in common – their campaign websites can no longer be found or retrieved from the Live Web. This leaves a big hole for the future in Irish social, cultural, political and human rights history. Thankfully, the National Library of Ireland had the foresight to save a collection of #MarriageRef campaign websites in the NLI Web Archive.

But what about the earlier LGBT campaigns – what kind of presence was on the Web?

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is another web archive which presents an opportunity to find early websites that reflect many of the challenges facing LGBT citizens in Ireland. It also offers an opportunity to study LGBT organisations over time. For example, the Gay & Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) was founded in 1988, to secure equality and inclusion for Ireland’s LGBT citizens through legislative changes and social policy. For many years, the GLEN website ( provided an access point to obtain information, and keep citizens updated on active campaigns for equal rights. Today the GLEN website can no longer be found on the Live Web, but by entering the URL in the Wayback Machine we can track their homepage from November 2004-September 2017.
The Wayback Machine archives websites periodically over time, preserving society’s evolvement


To conclude, websites of Irish LGBT organisations have undergone many transformations from the late 1990s not merely due to technology, but in terms of discourse and content, as a result of changes achieved in the social and legal landscape. Web archives provide us with archived sources for the study of such web histories, and provide a wealth of archived treasures for the future study of Irish history and beyond.

Upstairs, downstairs or in my Lady’s chamber?


Patricia Doran, MA / P. Grad. Dip. in Historical Archives

Plate Book Castletown
Plate Book Castletown. Image © OPW- Maynooth University Archive & Research Centre

Nowadays, if the cutlery is missing, the first place you’d look would be in the dishwasher, but that’s hardly a likely place to find an 18th century silver meat skewer[1] or any other piece of silver to be honest. In a house the size of Castletown House, there are many possible hiding places and hundreds of pieces of silver to account for. That’s where the plate book comes in. The plate book for Castletown House lists over 250 pieces of silverware, the majority of them presumed to be mid to late 18th century pieces.

When I visit a house like Castletown, I usually imagine that I’d be more comfortable in the servants’ quarters than above stairs, and the list of silver in the plate book gives you an idea why. Think about the formality of eating your dinner from silver plates, with silver bread baskets and silver rimmed glasses, and peering around a silver epergne to see the people on the other side of the table.  I’d rather eat in the kitchen.

But the book itself is fascinating. As well as being a very useful catalogue of the plate, it gives an insight into how people lived in a great estate house, and Castletown was one of the greatest of the great houses in Ireland. It was built originally by William Conolly (1662 to 1729) who, from humble beginnings as the son of a publican, became a politician and Speaker of the (pre-Union) Irish House of Commons in 1715.[2]

It was his great-nephew Tom Conolly, also a politician, and his wife Lady Louisa Conolly who bought many of the pieces listed in the book. Lady Louisa was one of the four Lennox sisters, whose sister Emily was married to James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare and later 1st Duke of Leinster and whose Dublin town house was Leinster House, on Kildare Street. The two houses are laid out on a similar plan, not surprising as Lady Louisa was heavily influenced by her brother-in-law James Fitzgerald when renovating Castletown.

There’s no indication in the plate book of whether or not he influenced the selection of the silver plate, but whoever selected it made a contemporaneous record, because the book is dated 1865, during the lifetime of Thomas Conolly (1823 – 1876), and that’s an archivist’s dream. ‘Explore your archive’ looks back at history, and that’s why we keep an archive, but every archivist lives in hope that record creators will look forward and think of the archives of the future when they’re making their records in the present.

[1] Castletown Decorative Arts, p 238, Cat. No. FB278, Description: Meat skewer, English/Irish, c. 1780, A George III silver meat skewer, unmarked. Silver, 24 cm (9.5 in) long

[2] Anne Crookshank, the Knight of Glin and James Peill, ‘The finest Ireland ever saw – Castletown and its Contents’ in Castletown Decorative Arts (2011), p 17

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Henry Bedford’s notebook detailing a trip to Belgium


Rebecca O’Neill, Student, MA in Historical Archives

Henry Bedford, born in 1816, was an Englishman who travelled through Europe and lived in England and Ireland through the 19th century. Raised in London and educated at Cambridge, Bedford had obtained an MA in Arts and Science. He went on subsequently to train as a priest, training in Christchurch as a curate. One significant decision by Bedford came in 1851, when he converted to Catholicism and subsequently moved to Ireland where he began lecturing at All Hallows College in Dublin.

All Hallows College, founded in 1842, was an institution for the educating and training of priests. Bedford apparently lectured as a Professor of Natural Science. As well as lecturing and working within the college, Bedford – as can be depicted from his notebook – travelled for work too.


The first entry into the notebook, dated Monday 21st August 1843, describes Bedford boarding the ‘Lord Melville steamboat to sleep’ heading towards Ostend. He appears to have company throughout the trip, noting both stewards and companions in his notebook. On the same page – describing the following day, 22nd August – Bedford went into large detail noting his passage across the sea. Conditions onboard appeared to be horrible for passengers, as the rough sea appeared to make individuals sick or ‘miserable’, as Bedford describes circumstances. Despite the conditions of the sea, Bedford appears to have enjoyed the company on the way to Belgium: ‘fell in with three pleasant companions and enjoyed myself immensely’.

Henry Bedford’s Notebook AHC/14/1. Image © All Hallows College Archives

The nature of Bedford’s journey is not fully clear in his notebook. However, one can assume that the nature of his journey is for work. We know that Bedford was training to become a priest, so perhaps his visit to the abbey is part of his work. The abbey appears to hold some level of importance to Bedford, as he visits the building immediately upon arriving in the town: ‘Arrived at a small public house near the abbey at half past 10; and immediately hastened to the interesting place’. The area in which the abbey appears to be located is ‘barren’ and ‘sandy’ in Bedford’s opinion, compared to the rest of his journey where areas are ‘fertile’ and ‘abundant in oak’.

Henry Bedford’s Notebook AHC/14/1. Image © All Hallows College Archives

The abbey is noted by Bedford as being bare, plain and surrounded by walls. One can assume that Bedford was called to visit the abbey for business, as the porter who opened the door appears to be overcome, or maybe even surprised, with the arrival of Bedford to the abbey: ‘A lay brother draped in black gown…opened the door and instantly fell on his knees, cupping his hands over his heart’.

Bedford’s expenses, documented at the back of his notebook, help us to track his journey through Belgium. Starting out towards Ostend, he travelled to Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen and Antwerp. Bedford could be described as a wealthy individual, capable of managing his money since analysing his notebook.

Henry Bedford’s Notebook AHC/14/1. Image © All Hallows College Archives


As a final note, it was interesting to find out that, despite Bedford training to become a priest, he was never ordained due to a natural born defect in his right hand. Following research on the Vatican archive website, Canon Law states that:

Can. 1025 §1. To confer the presbyteral or diaconal orders licitly, it is required that the candidate, having completed the period of probation according to the norm of law, is endowed in the judgment of his own bishop or of the competent major superior with the necessary qualities, is prevented by no irregularity and no impediment, and has fulfilled the prerequisites according to the norm of cann.

Despite not being ordained as a priest, Bedford continued to teach at All Hallows. He died in 1905, at the age of 89, and is buried in the cemetery of All Hallows College in Dublin.


An account of the 1798 Rebellion by Lady Louisa Conolly, Castletown House, 25 May 1798


Karel Kiely, Student, MA in Historical Archives

This vivid account of the 1798 rebellion was written by Lady Louisa Conolly at its outbreak on 24th May.  It is taken from a collection of her letters (1759-1821) which were transcribed in the mid-nineteenth century by Lady Albert Seymour, a great-niece of Louise Connolly, the daughter of Lady Sarah Napier.

Born in England in 1743, Louisa Lennox was the fifth of seven children of Charles, second Duke of Richmond and Lady Sarah Cadogan.  Lady Louisa and her sister Sarah came to live with their older sister, Emily, Duchess of Kildare, at Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, after the death of their parents in 1750 and 1751.   At the age of fifteen, Louisa married Thomas Conolly of Castletown, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, who had inherited this estate from his great uncle, Speaker Conolly. The story of Louisa and her sisters is a fascinating story of aristocratic women in the eighteenth century.

The majority of the Irish population in the late 1700s was excluded from political life. In a country where most people lived in abject poverty and the landlord class owned ninety per cent of the land, the ideals of the French and American Revolutions influenced the rebellion which broke out in May 1798.

By reading the letters it is obvious that Lady Louisa was well-informed of the progress of the rebellion in the surrounding towns and villages.  The residents of Castletown House were at the centre of an area of rebel activity which began on 24 May in Co. Kildare at Naas, Prosperous, Kilcullen Bridge and Clane.  Louisa’s blow by blow account of the action names the regiments, commanders and the fatalities on each side.  She witnessed the rebellion at first-hand on 26 May, when ‘a party of 200 broke thro’ Mr. Conolly’s gate at Celbridge, marched across the lawn, & formed their other parties, coming from different roads to the town of Leixlip which they attacked ….’  Referring to the recent atrocities at Prosperous,  she voices her concerns that the women and children of the company could share the same fate of ‘murder and fire’.   The letter contains a great amount of detail on the activities of the rebels, military and her neighbouring local gentry in Co. Kildare who were involved in trying to suppress the rebellion.  It would be interesting to know where she was getting her information; the source is not stated, but it may have been her husband, Thomas Conolly. For example, in reference to the battle at Naas, she writes, ‘At Naas, the insurgents proceeded with more skill; having secured the different entrys into the town under their Commander Lord Gosport after losing about 20 of their soldiers, & two pieces of cannon…’

Louisa had a tragic, personal connection to the rebellion through her nephew, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a former British army officer and M.P. for Athy, Co. Kildare. He became involved with the United Irishmen and was shot and captured days before the outbreak of the Rebellion. He was not permitted any contact with his family during his incarceration in Newgate Prison, Dublin. However, Lady Louisa petitioned Lord Clare, Chancellor of Ireland, for permission to see him. She visited Edward hours before he died on 4 June, accompanied by Lord Clare and Lord Henry Fitzgerald, one of Edward’s brothers.

PP/CON/2/4 p.100. Image © OPW- Maynooth University Archive & Research Centre
PP/CON/2/4 p.101. Image © OPW- Maynooth University Archive & Research Centre
PP/CON/2/4 p.102. Image © OPW- Maynooth University Archive & Research Centre

Inscribed Wooden Board found in 1950s at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth


Patricia Duffe, Student, MA in Historical Archives

Exhibit title
Description of inscribed wooden board, College Museum. Image © St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

Walking through the Museum of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, in Co. Kildare, one might wander by an inconspicuous section of timber on display. The timber remained undisturbed, hidden until it was uncovered during rebuilding works to the Long Corridor of St. Patrick’s College in the 1950s.

The wood appears to be a section of partition resembling pine floorboard, one can still see the holes from the nails where the board would have been nailed down.  If you look closely, one can see the wood section is in excellent condition, showing no signs of decay or insect damage. The wood was placed there by tradesmen in the hope that one day it would be found, and when so, that prayers would be said for the workmen who did the works on the Long Hall.

On a summer’s day in July 1872, seven men thought to inscribe their names with a verse and a request for prayers. We might ask ourselves what these workmen were doing in the college in 1872; St. Patrick College was built in 1795, therefore it is highly likely they were carrying out repairs. The inscription is quite detailed, written in black lead pencil, one can read the rhyming verse and the men’s names very clearly.

Underneath the written verse one can see the initials J.W., the name James Whelan, the first name on the list of inscriptions. It is worth noting that the names of the tradesmen in the inscription are written in the same hand; perhaps James Whelan was the literate one amongst the group.

This section of wood tells a story of interconnectedness; a connection between themselves the tradesmen, and the building they worked on, perhaps they felt privileged to work there. These men wanted to be remembered for the work that they did on the magnificent building that is St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth; and when uncovered to be remembered.

Inscribed wooden board, College Museum. Image © St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

1872    SPCM 153/20/A

“Here are our names let them lie in the shade

On the 19th of July 1872 they are laid

When peace full and plenty when again you are seen

Be found in our home our dear island of green

May all tradesmen prosper and wages increase

When our souls they are gone to the fair Lord of peace

When our bones they are rotten beneath the green sod

May our souls enjoy that great joy to see God

When all troubles are ore all cares at an end

To enjoy such great happiness your God don’t offend”




George Vaughan Wardell


                                       Helena La Pina, Student, MA in Historical Archives

George Vaughan Wardell. Image © Maynooth University Library

Part of this collection chronicles George Wardell’s letters to his parents, from 1858 to 1879, while he was on an overseas commission. He was captain of the 24th regiment and had been abroad for 21 years. Initially, in May 1858, he sought advice from his father what regiment he should join. He is informed that joining the Indian regiment was not advisable. The following year he was stationed in Hampshire at South Camp Aldershot where he explained changes such as ‘getting rid of all militia regiments.’

Eighteen months later, on Christmas Eve, he wrote about his pending 2 to 3 month journey on the Australian ship Donald M’Kay. By 1865, he laments to his family the fact he is not married but heading for Bombay and described the Indian servants are cheaper than Mauritian servants. In 1866 he wrote from Port Blair Andamans at the Bay of Bengal. While stationed there he described the natives are ‘perfect savages.’ Monsoon season hit Rangoon and he described how Major Bagalgelle has died from fever and congestion of the lung. Major Clark ‘old captain of mine’ would assume responsibility.

In 1867, writing from 103 Champ de Maris Port Louis Mauritius and heading to Cape Mais [Cape of Good Hope] he told his parents that he is married to ‘a friend of the family’. In several letters he described people, including his wife, having fever; specifically Malta Fever. He imagined getting his own company as he has ‘had enough of soldering’ in his lifetime. His leave application is rejected; the first of many.

By 1868 his regiment arrived in’ Burrmah’ [sic] and described Rangoon as being hot and expensive but that he was ‘obliged’ to keep 5 servants. He remained convinced that if he learnt the Burmese language, he had a fighting chance of receiving a good appointment in the Burmese Commission. By 1870 Waddell lamented that his daughter ‘had entirely forgotten’ him.

His small detachment was inspected by Sir A.  Cunninghame Lieutenant General, commander in South Africa in 1875. In 1876 he wrote that he would be soon arriving at St Helena with ‘2 battery of artillery, 2 officers and 84 soldiers’. He also stated that the Governor was receiving remuneration of £900 a year as opposed to the previous governor who received £2500 in compensation.

In 1877 he stated that he would be departing the island of  St Helena with his wife Lucy (Loo)  and  his 4 children and would soon be returning to England. He received a letter a few days later from R. Lewis Governor of St Helena, stating the 24th Regiment was relieved by the 88th Regiment.

Again in 1877 his application for leave was not granted.  By now he was writing from King William’s Town, Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  He missed his family, failed in his attempts to receive relief of his duties and the Governor of Cape of Good Hope had inquired ‘into late native disturbances’. Later that year he wrote from Fort Warwick Impeta South Africa and complained to the District Adjunct Commander, King William’s Town, stating a lack of water.

By January 1878 he reported from Fort Warwick, describing an ambush and the ultimate loss of 50 of his men. Later on, he described a small attack by the ‘devils’ 88th Regiment who joined him as 120 of his men were wounded. In the spring of 1878, he wrote from Kei Road Station South Africa stating that he had 4,000 men. Writing from King William’s Town South Africa in August 1878, he described that their campaign is almost over. Eighteen months later, writing from camp at Rorke’s Drift Buffalo River Natal his column has 500 horsemen and native ‘contingent of 2,000 strong, composed of native Zulus.’ Wardell hoped to retire in 1878 after 20 years of service.

Also included in the Wardell archive is a photograph of George as captain of 24th Regiment 2nd Warwickshire in Memoriam of 24th Regiment, a tribute and 5 sketches depicting the defeat of British colonial troops before the Zulu Empire in the battle of Isandhlwana.

Sketch of Isandhlwana by George Vaughan Wardell. Image © Maynooth University Library

The Box in the Wardrobe: Activating the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive

By Sister Majella McCarron, (OLA)

Wedding & Portrait PhotographersEbony & Pearl Photography
Sister Majella donating the Archive to Maynooth University 2011. Image ©Maynooth University Library

My correspondence with Ken Saro-Wiva, sat in a box in my wardrobe for sixteen years.  I needed to find a safe place for the letters and other things Ken had sent me.  I began to think about Maynooth University.  This idea came to me as a sat in a field in Erris overlooking the ocean and chatting to a member of the Rossport Solidarity Camp, John O Shea, about his MA thesis with the Sociology department at Maynooth University. He was in Erris to support Shell to Sea and I was part of the Table Observers reporting on human rights protection during the protests. He was discussing the actions of Shell in the Niger Delta and my experience in Ogoni. I tasked him to make enquiries at Maynooth University.

John O’Shea went to the library. Before sundown that day I had a phone call from the Deputy Librarian looking for my box. Helen Fallon describes her response to the offer: “The value of the Ken Saro-Wiwa collection was immediately obvious.  MU has programmes and course modules relating to social justice, community studies, and post-colonial studies and is home to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for Conflict Resolution”.

KSWletters (3)
A selection of letters from the Ken Saro-Wiwa archive. Image ©Maynooth University Library


That was in 2010 – 2011 and this is 2019 and we are still finding not just papers but inspiration in what was the box in the wardrobe. My vision had been somewhat different: The Archives would be a hidden room, very quiet, dark mahogany and only one or two people about. It was to be final resting place for Ogoni matters in Ireland to which the lone researcher with the plastic gloves might be admitted through gates and observed from cameras. Much in the sense of a vault, a gravestone where every year I might visit to reflect on an extraordinary painful reality that had been part of my justice ministry when I responded to the call of the Africa – Europe Faith and Justice Network ( AEFJN) in March 1993.

Ken Saro Wiwa Hat by Alan Monahan (10)
Image of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s hat from the archive. Image ©Maynooth University Library


Visiting the library, on a lovely summer morning I found myself greeting a bunch of lively children from a neighbouring town whose mothers, mostly of Nigerian background, had decided that a worthwhile holiday activity would be a visit to the Library to see the archive. I found the children spread out comfortably on beanbags, listening to the Ogoni story from the Archives suitably adapted to their age. That is where I encountered the “Activation of an Archive ”.  There were snacks and different child-friendly activities, and then up in the lift went groups of children right into the Special Collections Reading Room where a suitably adapted presentation of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s work was given and my correspondence from him was laid out. All in all, the summer activity went without a hitch: as did a more recent event in 2018, a related poetry competition for 80 transition year students from Maynooth Education Campus. I had been invited to a preparatory brainstorming session where I offered as theme ‘Ken Saro-Wiwa, eco-hero.’  The students came in groups and had the wonderful opportunity of a short workshop – facilitated by poet Jessica Traynor – on writing poetry. I took part and was impressed when my group of ten was asked by Jessica to describe what made them angry. The teenagers were encouraged to rant and then transmit their feelings into what might make a poem.  Six weeks later we had five of those people receiving prizes at what is now the annual Maynooth University Ken Saro Wiwa Seminar.  The winning poem described an immediate personal delight on the discovery of oil, and the consequent pain of becoming aware of the potential destruction it might inflict. You can listen to the poem here.

Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar 2017. Image ©Maynooth University Library



One of the early major developments was  was the publication of the book Silence would be Treason:  Last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa. I. Corley, H. Fallon, & L. Cox (Eds.) in 2013. This pleased me greatly as did the invitation to choose the title, a line from a KSW poem, one of the 28 included in the book and sent to me by Ken. They had been in the box all these years and came to be counted with the letters as the ‘last writings of a prolific author’.  A second edition was launched in 2018. Both editions have impressive contributions and explanations – all the way from sociology to post colonial literature, to explanations of the Archives with a description of the ongoing compilation of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive.  It includes interviews, not just with me but with guests to related events such as Noo Saro-Wiwa, daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his brother Dr Owens Wiwa.

Proceeds from the sale of the printed book have allowed a Ken Saro- Wiwa PostGraduate Bursary. Graham Kay, a PhD student in History working on the role of oil politics in World War One won the inaugural bursary.  It allowed him to spend time doing archival research in Germany. I was invited to launch the e-edition of Silence Would be Treason which is on open access. This means that the book is available in Nigeria, in the Delta, in Ogoni and among other impacted communities, free of charge, via the internet. Open Access also responds to the wishes of Trócaire, who gave financial assistance to producing the book, and it is also part of MU Library commitment to open access.  Ken would be impressed as he encouraged photocopying important newspaper articles where the cost of daily newspapers was but a dream for many of his people.


Graham Kay winner of the inaugural Ken Saro-Wiwa Bursary. Image ©Maynooth University Library

The Archive moves about, or at least part of it does. It was loaned to Quinnipac University in the US. This university is recognised as a valuable repository for Irish Famine content in the US and yet the Ogoni material was selected from MU. The journey continues. The travelling exhibition is now going around libraries in Ireland. It started its journey last February in the public library in Athy, Co Kildare, where I was invited to be part of the launch.  I drew attention to the place of Kildare in this story: that it was during the Action from Ireland (AFRI) human rights conference during the Féile Bríde festival (February 1995). In Kildare town, I told the story of the plight of the Ogoni 9. I had arrived back from Nigeria and Ogoni in August 1994 almost six months before that. The Ogoni 9 were hanged in November of that year in spite of the pleading of Ogoni Solidarity Ireland, which was  set up at the Kildare conference, in concert with a strong national and international plea. So Kildare town, Maynooth and Athy thread a part of the tragic account.

Helen Fallon book collage1
Collage of images from the Ken Saro-Wiwa archive. Images ©Maynooth University Library


Ogoni Bells

MU Library has engaged very actively with promoting the collection and a number of papers have been written about aspects of the collection.  It has been integrated into both the undergradate and postgraduate curriculum.

Recently the Library completed negotiations with Sam adegoke to use the book in a film he hopes to make about Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The Library has assumed responsibility for continuing to ring Ogoni bells, a task laid on me by Saro -Wiwa in one of his letters: “Seems like ages since I last heard from you. I have seen your work & your pictures in the Irish Times though and I think you yourself might be surprised how far those Ogoni bells are ringing now, and how you have become the bellman?  I thank God for your presence among us”. (Silence Would Be Treason, Letter. March 21, 1995, p. 121).

To learn more about the Ken Saro-Wiwa collection at Maynooth University click here.


Tortuous, Nothing to Proclaim and Devoid of Grace: The Travel Books of the Russell Library

By Adam Staunton, Library Assistant, Maynooth University Library

There’s nothing like the arrival of winter to make one start dreaming of the next summer holiday. Before you decide where to go, the travel books of the Russell Library are full of travel tips, destinations and city hot spots. Below are three destination for you to consider.


Gondola’s Entering Venice

We start in Venice, described in 1876 by T.G Bonney in ‘Picturesque Europe, Volume III’ as “the most picturesque and almost the most interesting city in Southern Europe.” Bonney recommends taking the railway into the city and from there taking a gondola down the canals, despite being “tortuous…it is a journey well worth the making.”

Our first stop is the Grand Canal to visit all the local vendors. Who doesn’t love some holiday shopping? On the bank are local peddlers, the fish market and across the bridge is the fruit market with “dissolving in the mouth figs.”


Fruit Market in Venice

Once you’ve had your fill of figs, its back on the gondola to Saint Mark’s Basilica which is a feast of culture. As one arrives the Royal Library is to the immediate left and described as “one of the finest structures of its date in Italy.” Beyond that, the great Campanile towers into the sky. To the right is the Great Palace and the City Cathedral. However, Bonney, possibly due to an abundance of figs can’t describe the beauty of Saint Mark’s for us, “I dare not attempt to describe St. Mark’s, for a master hand has done it.” I guess we’ll just have to see that one for ourselves. For the nightlife Bonney does recommend the City Piazza which comes alive once the sun sets with the “songs of itinerant minstrels, or chaffing with flower-girls and peddlers of all kinds.”



Madrid’s City Balconies

Next we head to Madrid, Rev. Samuel Manning in ‘Spanish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil’ describes the city as “full of light…the colours are everywhere and the snow-capped heights of the Guadarrama range form a background of which any city might be proud.” For those of you searching for a sun holiday, “the sun blazes down with tropical fury, seeming to scorch and blister the very walls.” Better pack the sun cream. We start in the Puerta del Sol which despite being “absolutely nothing to proclaim” is full of photographers, tailors, and the Great British Coffee House.

From here it’s a quick walk south to the Plaza Mayor which has more of a local flair with its windowless shops, beautiful balconies and musicians combined with “peasantry from La Mancha, gipsies from Guadalajara or smugglers from Andalusia.”

A Bagpiper in Madrid who may or may not keep you up all night

The Plaza is also the home of the city nightlife, which will come in handy as Manning states “Madrid is surely the noisiest city in the world.” “Sleep is impossible” he goes on to complain as the early morning and day is filled with country people selling their produce, while in the evening the “streets are thronged with promenaders.” The hotels are no help either as Manning describes them as “very bad” but to be fair to Madrid the hotels might have slightly improved in the 143 years since Manning wrote his review in 1876.





Maynooth Obelisk

For those of you wanting to stay local for a holiday, ‘Rambles Near Dublin’ by W. St. J. Joyce recommends cycling 35 miles from Dublin to Maynooth. Or for those of you not wanting to complete a marathon, take the train to Leixlip to cut the journey down to 10 miles. Joyce describes Maynooth as “a neat, bright-looking town” that “presents none of that appearance of decay that characterises Leixlip.” Highlights include the Maynooth Obelisk (now known as the The Conolly Folly) built in 1740 that Joyce describes as “wholly devoid of grace or stability.”

If that doesn’t take your fancy, Joyce further recommends Carton House, St Patricks College and the “remarkable” ruins of Maynooth castle. Good to see the town has changed so much since 1890.


Maynooth Castle


Russell Library contact details:

Tel:                  01-7083890



Special Collections contact details :

Tel:                  01-4747423




Bonney, T.G, Picturesque Europe, Volume III, (1876)

Joyce, W. St. J, Rambles Near Dublin, (1890)

Manning, Rev. Samuel, Spanish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil (1876)