Clericus: A View of 225 Years of Students

By Sarah Larkin, Archivist, St Patrick’s College Maynooth

As the year of St Patrick’s College’s 225th Anniversary draws to a close, this blog post looks at a new resource which brings this long history to life. Clericus is an online database with vast potential for both academic and family historians alike to research the Irish clerical population.

The first phase of the Clericus project was financed by St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, as part of their 225th Anniversary celebrations. This phase involved the digitisation of 124 student classpieces, dating from 1861 to 2018. The classpieces include individual photographs of students/priests ordained from Maynooth. On Clericus, the photos are supplemented with biographical data from college student lists, including information for those who entered Maynooth but for whom no record of ordination exists. All of this data provides over 20,000 individual biographical entries.

Clericus makes identifying individuals from class pieces much easier. The image below shows the 1887-1888 class piece on the Clericus website. Many of the individual portraits are faded with age, and the names printed underneath quite small and difficult to read. It can be hard to distinguish individuals by looking at the class piece, but Clericus identifies each person depicted in the poster:

Holding the mouse over an individual portrait shows name and details, in this case Daniel Mannix. Under his name are two dioceses with which he is affiliated: he is from the Diocese of Cloyne and went on to be the Archbishop of Melbourne for 46 years. Clicking on Daniel Mannix will bring you to his person profile page, showing all associated details on Clericus:

On this page we can learn quite a bit of information about Dr Mannix, such as his name in Irish which he appeared under in one of the classpieces, the year he was ordained, and the classpieces he appeared on. Each of these pieces of information links Dr Mannix to the respective classpieces or events. At the bottom of this page, this information can be viewed as a ‘Network graph,’ presented as a visualisation of Dr Mannix’s data:

Dr Mannix is just one example of how the vast information available on Clericus can be used. As the project progresses, more data will be added to the database. It will no doubt prove to be an invaluable source for those academic, local, and family historians. Clericus can be viewed online here.

Document of the Day – Controversy and Coffee Culture from the Letters of Lady Louisa Conolly

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

The habit of coffee drinking first became popular in Europe early in the 17th century and the first coffee house was opened in Oxford at The Angel in 1650. Over the next two hundred years coffee houses flourished in cities such as London, Paris, and Vienna, acting as informal meeting places where information was exchanged through conversation and print.

According to a pamphlet, the ‘Women’s petition against coffee’ of 1674, coffee made men ‘as unfruitful as the sandy deserts, from where that unhappy berry is said to be brought.’

Pamphlet entitled The Women’s Petition Against Coffee, 1674 (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Despite some of these objections, coffee houses blossomed, over 2,000 having been set up in London by 1700. Literary contemporaries described clergymen snug in coffee houses penning sermons; doctors used them for consultations. Dublin’s earliest coffee houses were opened in the late 17th century and remained popular throughout the 18th century. The fashion also spread to county towns and in 1698, coffee houses were to be found throughout Ireland’s larger cities. Some coffee houses transformed into the gentlemen’s clubs that appeared in London, Paris, and Dublin in the 17th century. These clubs originally met in coffee houses, then taverns, until later proprietary clubs became fashionable.

Coffee houses have long been linked with social and political change, in the era of Enlightenment were considered an alternative gathering place and took over the role that taverns had long played. By offering a choice of drinks, and often sweets, at a fixed price and in a more civilized setting than most taverns provided, coffee houses and cafes were part of the rise of the modern restaurant.

Depiction of a 17th century coffee house. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Merchants whose businesses revolved around the Custom House frequented two of Dublin’s busiest coffee houses: The Little Dublin and The Exchange in Crampton Court. When the Royal Exchange (now City Hall) opened in 1779, it included a coffee room on the first floor. It extended ‘from one stair-case to the other, almost the whole length of the north front, and its breadth is from the front to the dome: In point of magnificence, it is perhaps equal to any coffee-room in Great Britain: It receives its lights by the windows in the north front, and by oval lanterns in the flat of the ceiling, which is highly ornamented, and from which is suspended a grand lustre’.

Letter from Lady Louisa Conolly to Lady Sarah Bunbury, 19 January 1766, PP/CON/2/1

Although the majority of coffee houses appeared in Europe’s larger cities, among our collections, is a letter from the Conolly archive in which Lady  Louisa Conolly refers to a Coffee Room at Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare. The letter is dated 19 January 1766, Lady Louisa in a letter to her sister Lady Sarah Lennox writes:

‘… every time she [Lady Powerscourt] sees me she says ‘Pray when did you hear from my Lady Sarah Bunbury. I hope she is well, and Mr Bunbury … the two together are so handsome. What fine children they’ll have … if you have no children I am afraid you will be out of favour, for she never likes anybody that has not … you may guess what favour our sister is with her. She has an aversion to a Coffee Room, and thinks it so wicked a thing that our having one here shocks her prodigiously and with the other circumstance of my not having children, she does not like me at all.’

This offers insights into the growth and popularity of the coffee trade in Ireland particularly among the landed gentry, however, it is unusual that one features in an estate like Castletown, commissioned by Lady Louisa, as conversation in coffee houses typically revolved around business and politics, serving as well springs of gossip, political intrigue and faction, and were thought improper places for women. The location of the coffee room was, fortunately, published in Arthur Young’s ‘Castletown House the Seat of the Right Honourable Thomas Conolly’ features an architectural drawing of Castletown House, dated 1780. It was formerly located on the first floor, from at least 1762-80, in a room which is presently known as the Brown Study.

Coffee Room, (top, left corner) Castletown House. Source: Arthur Young, Castletown House Seat of the Right Honourable Thomas Conolly, A Tour in Ireland, 1780. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Lady Louisa frequently discusses politics in letters to her sister Lady Sarah Bunbury, she writes ‘alas, the bill for the Augmentation of Troops, was thrown out by four voices; – he interested himself very much for it, and spoke, but all would not do, so poor Ireland, will, I am afraid, go to the next French war!’, and observing also ‘you must know that I am a great Politician with regard to Ireland’ (8 May 1768). It could be speculated that Lady Louisa discussed such topics among intimate circles of friends in her coffee room!

The Conolly archive is available for consultation at the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre

For further details about this collection please contact the Centre:


Twitter: @OMARC_archive

Instagram: @omarc_archive

Further reading:

PP/CON/2/1 Letters of Lady Louisa Conolly, Conolly Archive, OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre, Castletown House.

Document of the Day – Ephemera in the Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

By Dr Ruth O’Hara, Library Assistant, Maynooth University Library

Religious ephemera from the Church and Nation Committee
– Tony Keane Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

A large proportion of the 600 items currently in our Troubles Collection are ephemera. These pieces, that include election flyers, newspaper clippings, Christmas cards and posters, were often produced for a specific purpose and were not meant to be kept. Cataloguing and conserving ephemera alongside more traditional sources necessarily has implications in terms of staff resources, expertise and appropriate storage space.

A collection that includes a substantial amount of ephemera does not always lend itself easily to the familiar conventions of classification, storage and cataloguing. The diversity and the fragility of these pieces means they require meticulous treatment. Working closely with colleagues in our conservation department, repair work was carried out where needed and bespoke housing solutions were created to ensure that each item of ephemera was protected from ageing and damage due to handling while remaining accessible to readers. So, for example, most items were placed in mylar conservation pockets and housed in specially made conservation box files or paper folders in a closed access storage area allowing for easy consultation and maximum protection.

Republican Christmas card: ephemera – Tony Keane Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

The creation of exact and unbiased metadata records is also essential when seeking to stay the endangerment of the cultural memory captured in this assortment of items. Our approach was to provide a high level of access, but as cataloguing time is limited, keep the amount of detail down to a sensible amount. When working with ephemera, cataloguers often face the problem of information absence. Many of our pieces had no obvious title, discernible publisher or provenance information. So, while the normal cataloguing rules were applied and used in the same way as with books, note fields in our records were very important in order to provide full descriptions about the physical nature and unique characteristics of the items, including, for example, the numerous instances of added annotations that occur on many of the pieces. In this way the collection was allowed speak for itself without the imposition of the cataloguers conscious or unconscious bias.

Finally, one of the most challenging aspects associated with working with this type of ephemera is of course the fact that some victims and perpetrators of these events, or their families, may still be alive. While this has ramification for issues such as copyright and data protection, it also means that we still have access to the unique stories behind many of the pieces in our collection. An important example of this is a piece of ephemera seeking information in relation to the murder of three members of the British security forces in 1973. Thanks to the foresight of our donor, we know the full background to the circumstances of this poster being erected and its retrieval for posterity.

Despite the challenges of working with such diverse pieces of ephemera their inclusion in our Troubles Collection allows unique access to multiple voices that could otherwise have faced endangerment because of environmental, political, infrastructural, and related risks.

Document of the Day – Looking for Lady Elizabeth

By Anna Porter, Archivist, St Patrick’s College Maynooth

Letter from Castlereagh to Lady Elizabeth

Amongst other items, this letter found its way from the College Museum in 1998 to the archives of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Its reference code is SPCM 161/1/2 and its catalogue description reads:

‘Castlereagh to Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Dublin, 16… 1798. Case of Lord Edward. The rising in general. Copy?’

The question of whether it is a copy or not is only the first of the mysteries this intriguing letter presents.

We can infer from Castlereagh’s letter that Lady Elizabeth had written to him after the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald asking what would be Lord Edward’s fate.

Lord Edward was one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion. He was on the run when he was arrested in Dublin on 19 May 1798. He resisted arrest, injuring at least one of his captors, and was shot in the arm. He was incarcerated in Newgate Prison, Dublin, where he died on 4 June 1798.[i]

Lord Edward was the son of James Fitzgerald, 1st Duke of Leinster and Lady Emelia Mary Lennox, one of the famous Lennox sisters. Even after the death of her husband and her remarriage she retained the title of Dowager Duchess. Edward’s brother, William Fitzgerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster married Emilia Olivia St George, the young duchess.

Letter is signed ‘Castlereagh’

I tend to believe that Castlereagh’s letter is not a copy because the handwriting is in keeping with the style of the time, with its archaic contractions and double S being written with the leading S looking more like the letter F. Additionally, the signature on the letter seems to match Lord Castlereagh’s signature quite well.

Details of the signature

A more interesting question is who was Lady Elizabeth to whom Lord Castlereagh’s letter was addressed? I have sought her amongst the members of the Fitzgerald family at that time, without success.

It seems to me that there are two candidates who might have written to Lord Castlereagh after the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald on 19th May, 1798; a letter which he must have received on 4th June, the day of Lord Edward’s death.

The first is Lady Elizabeth Ussher St. George, mother of the young Duchess of Leinster who was sister-in-law to Lord Edward. If she was the author of the letter, she had to contend with more tragedy that month when her daughter, the Duchess Emilia Olivia, died on 23rd June, 1798.

However, I believe the more likely candidate is Lord Castlereagh’s step-aunt, Lady Elizabeth Pratt who resided with her sister, Frances, the wife of Castlereagh’s father, Robert Stewart, 1st Marquess of Londonderry, at their home in Mount Stewart, county Down.

Lady Elizabeth Pratt was a favourite family member of Lord Castlereagh’s and the tone of his letter implies a close connection.[ii] In other correspondence, just as in this letter, he addressed her as Lady Elizabeth.[iii]

It is possible that she tried to intercede on behalf of Lord Edward’s family just as she had attempted to obtain a pardon for Rev. James Porter by writing to General Nugent, only to have her plans foiled by her brother-in-law, Castlereagh’s father, who Porter had lampooned in one of his satirical Billy Bluff letters. Sadly, Rev. Porter was hanged outside his own church in Greyabbey on 2nd July, 1798 and his wife, Annie’s, appeal to Lady Elizabeth came to naught.[iv]

Castlereagh would have known the Fitzgeralds. His wife, Amelia (Emily) Hobart, was a niece of Thomas Conolly of Castletown House who was married to another of the Lennox sisters, Louisa. Amelia had bought a house in Dublin from Louisa and had moved to it from Mount Stewart where Lady Elizabeth lived so it is likely Elizabeth was also acquainted with Louisa.[v] Lord Edward Fitzgerald was Louisa’s favourite nephew and she and his brother, Henry, contrived to be at his side when he died.[vi]

Lady Elizabeth Pratt was probably acquainted with Caroline Lennox too. In 1781 she created a pastel drawing of Caroline Fox, grand-daughter of Caroline Lennox, wife of Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland and yet another sister of Emily, Dowager Duchess of Leinster, the mother of Lord Edward.[vii] It is possible that she, or perhaps her daughter-in-law, was the duchess Castlereagh mentioned in his letter.

It is strange that this letter is held in the SPCM archives; if you have any more information about it or the true identity of Lady Elizabeth, please get in touch.

Anna Porter

[i] Library Ireland website,, accessed 23 October, 2020

[ii] Bew, John, Castlereagh: The biography of a statesman, (London, 2011), p. 23

[iii] Bew, John, Castlereagh: The biography of a statesman, (London, 2011), p. 62

[iv] Bew, John, Castlereagh: The biography of a statesman, (London, 2011), p. 118

[v] Bew, John, Castlereagh: The biography of a statesman, (London, 2011), p. 114

[vi] Thorpe, Ruth, and John Mulcahy. “New Light in Castletown.” Irish Arts Review (2002-), vol. 27, no. 3, 2010, p. 121, JSTOR, Accessed 6 Oct. 2020.

[vii] Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, online edition, available at, accessed 13 October, 2020

Also see:  Aristocrats, TV drama series, BBC, 1999, based on the lives of the Lennox sisters.

Document of the Day – Using an Archive to Communicate a Human Rights message: the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian, Maynooth University Library

In 2011, Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) donated the death row correspondence she received from Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa to Maynooth University Library. Saro-Wiwa was executed, with eight colleagues (The Ogoni 9) in November 1995. Twenty-five years later, the book A Man of Peace: Writings Inspired by the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection, published by Daraja Press and edited by Helen Fallon, Deputy Librarian, will be launched by Dr Gemma Irvine, Vice-President, Equality & Diversity, Maynooth University on 10th December, International Human Rights Day.

Cover of the new publication

The twenty-one essays and forty-two poems by people from different parts of the globe, relate to human rights, environmental protection, climate justice, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and the role of the Library in preserving and promoting the Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Special Collections. There are contributions from those closely connected to Saro-Wiwa. His daughter, the renowned travel writer Noo Saro-Wiwa, shares her story of growing up in England with strong links to family in Nigeria, and the trauma of hearing of her father’s execution while at University. His brother Dr Owens Wiwa recounts how his older brother awakened and nurtured his awareness of the tremendous damage being wrought by Royal Dutch Shell to their homeland, in collaboration with the then Nigerian military dictatorship.   Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) reflects on the events that shaped her work with Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria and her subsequent efforts to save the lives of the Ogoni 9 and her more recent work on the Shell to Sea and other campaigns in Ireland.

Noo Saro-Wiwa with archivist Ciara Joyce in MU Library

Other essays explore topics such as the environmental destruction that Shell has caused in the Niger Delta, land rights in the global south, redress for communities adversely effected by Shell and other multinationals, climate justice, and various historic and current aspects of the Ogoni struggle. Library-related topics include open access, the cataloguing, digitisation, and subsequent use of the archive to support teaching and research, and the broader, often complex, issues of collection development.

The final essays, while inspired by Saro-Wiwa’s quest for equality and justice, reflect on aspects of an increasingly diverse Irish society. They include an exploration of relationships that exist amidst the intersections of race, gender and institutional positions, diversity training for library staff at MU, and the designation of MU as a University of Sanctuary.

Selection of documents from the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive

The second section of the book contains poems by both established and new poets. The poems are preceded with a contextual essay by Irish poet and creative writing teacher Jessica Traynor, who has worked with the Library on delivering poetry workshops for schoolchildren and adults, both face-to-face and, more recently via Zoom. While the workshops grew from human rights violations in Nigeria, they sought to inspire people to write about their own life experiences. Read more on the poetry competition.

The concluding essay is by David Rinehart, who has worked with migrant aid and solidarity organisations for many years. He reflects on the poems in the collections for both their intrinsic beauty and as a tool for looking both inward and outward in order to better understand different ways of being, and the effect of our actions as a global community on the people we share this planet with.

Maynooth University has a long involvement with issues of inclusion and justice in Ireland and abroad.  This deep-rooted commitment is articulated in our University Strategic Plan 2018-2022, where a strategic goal is ‘to build on our achievements to date and become a model University for equality, diversity, inclusion and inter-culturalism, where social justice, addressing inequality and empowering people are central to our mission.’

The death-row correspondence of Ken Saro-Wiwa has been the catalyst for this collection, which I hope, will inspire archivists, librarians and concerned citizens to continue to use our archives to promote debate, dialogue and publications on the topic of justice and equality.

Learn more about the Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection.

Document of the Day – Documenting Covid-19 Project at Maynooth University Library

By Adam Staunton, Library Assistant, Maynooth University Library

Living day to day with Covid-19 and adapting to lockdowns, changing regulations, and the new normal, it can be easy to forget that we are living in a time of unprecedented history. The last pandemic to hit on such a global scale was the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919. How we record the virus today will impact how future researchers discuss such a life changing event.

A very empty Maynooth Campus during the first lockdown in March.
Photograph by Hugh Murphy.

The project aims to document how the virus changed the daily lives of those living or studying in the Kildare region. So far, it is only a few months old and very much in its infancy but has collected first-hand accounts of life under lockdown, starting new a job or university semester during a pandemic, funerals under Government regulations, and living in quarantine. These have come in the form of personal write-ups, comics, poems, and photograph collections. The project has also collected a vast amount of newspaper articles and reports that focus both nationally and on the Kildare region. Through these it can be seen how the pandemic has evolved through the eyes of the media since the first national lockdown in Ireland. The entire collection so far has been collected digitally, so there is no need to worry about the new quarantine procedures that archives and libraries around the country are getting used to.

Comic by our conservator Gretchen Allen

A series of documents that really stands out of the growing collection is a set of diaries written by Maynooth students undertaking a master’s degree in Immunology and Global Health. The diaries start in March of 2020, and students record their personal experiences of how the virus outbreak is affecting them and the rest of the country. As the diaries start in March before lockdown in Ireland, it can be seen how the virus is hitting Europe and slowly making its way to the country, one student noting “All social gatherings have been cancelled for St. Patrick’s Day. Today I spoke to a friend in Italy, who is already in lockdown, who urged me to take this very seriously (March 17th).” The diaries cover a wide range of diverse topics, students from Europe, Africa and America who have come to Ireland to study detail their experience with lockdown in another country. There are students who are working as nurses during the outbreak, to those who have unfortunately lost their employment as a result of lockdown. There are those who are inspired to take on PhDs to discover the cause of outbreaks and those who want to create a vaccine. Others discuss the struggle to main their social life or religious activities. The diaries give a great sense of student life during lockdown as the University closes and the uncertainty around the examination process, the diaries are an incredible insight into Irish society during a pandemic through the lens of those who study the field of immunology.

The Documenting Covid-19 Project is very much only starting and will continue to evolve just as society does with the virus. In the short term, it is looking to expand to oral interviews and continue to capture how the virus has changed the daily lives of the public. Long term, the future effects of the virus in health and human behaviour will no doubt dominate the Project, but for now, it continues to seek contributions from the public, and we are grateful for all contributions received to date. Any questions about the project and contributions can be sent to Stay safe and wear your mask.

A much quieter than usual Maynooth University Library during the first lockdown in March.
Photograph by Hugh Murphy.

Document of the Day – A townland map and a journey of discovery

By Susan Durack, Senior Library Assistant, Maynooth University Library

Map of Harristown, Kilcloon, Co Meath

Special Collections at Maynooth University Library recently purchased an estate map of the townland of Harristown, Kilcloon, Co. Meath.  The cartouche information indicates that the map was drawn up in 1820 by Sherrard, Brassington and Green for Thomas Swords Esq owner of the townland of Harristown. Possibly when the townland was first purchased. The townland remained in the family until 1851. Sherrard, Brassington and Green were the leading firm of surveyors in the early 19th century.  In 1821, a volume of maps of the ‘Mannor of Maynooth’ (including Carton Park) was produced by Sherrard, Brassington and Greene. Thomas Sherrard (175ca-1837) had been a pupil of Bernard Scalé (1738-1826).

Image of Taylor’s map (Maynooth detail) of Co. Kildare 1783

It was personally exciting for me to see this new acquisition as I had come across Thomas Swords in previous research. This map gave me information that I was not aware of at that time, all of which indicated that more detective work was required to find out about the life of Thomas Swords and his son, also Thomas.   The Irish Newspaper Archive in the library’s  A-Z database collection and Mural (Maynooth University Research Archive Library) yielded more information.

The Swords family lived at Crew Hill, north of the town of Maynooth on the Moyglare Road, a very short distance from the Kildare-Meath border.  Harristown is situated just inside the Meath border.

In Ladychapel Cemetery, about 3 km from Maynooth, stands a monument dedicated to Thomas Senior. The grandeur of the monument and sentiments expressed speaks to the importance of the family, qualities that appear to have been carried on by his son. 

Thomas Swords Ladychapel
  ‘Beneath this Monument
 Repose the mortal remains of 
 Thomas Swords of Maynooth Esq
 Who departed this life on the 18th August 1826
 In the 77th year of his Age
 In Manners kind and conciliatory
 In Disposition humane and generous
 In Friendship steady and disinterested
 Characterised not less
 By the Purity of Principle that by Integrity of Life
 He enjoyed the Respect and Regard
 Of all Banks,
 And died deeply regretted by his sorrowing Family 
 By an extensive Circle of Friends and by the Poor
 Who lost in him a bounteous Benefactor
 To perpetuate the Memory
 Of a revered and lamented Parent
 To record the filial Piety 
 Of his affectionate and afflicted Children
 This memorial of his many Virtues 
 Is inscribed 
 To the tenderest and best of Fathers
 Requiescat in pace’. 

Thomas Swords Senior and Junior could be described as early 19th century Maynooth entrepreneurs who were involved in business dealings in the town including the newly established Royal College of Maynooth in 1795.

At the age of 26, Thomas Swords Senior is mentioned in the Maynooth College Account books from its beginnings.  From selling a horse, carriage, harness, potatoes, and oats to the College to providing services such as transportation to and storage of coal at Hazelhatch near Celbridge.  He rented a house to the College for student accommodation for several years.   By 1800, his income from the College alone had increased substantially.

Thomas Swords Senior died in 1826. Slater’s directory of 1846 shows the family still lived at Crewhill. His son Thomas took over the business interests. He was chairman of the Board of Health in 1832. In 1836, Swords was one of the signatories to a letter to the High Sherriff Co. Kildare requesting a meeting to discuss the “odious imposition of Tithes”.  In 1844, he contributed to the fund for the payment of a new Roman Catholic church at Maynooth. In 1846, he contributed to the widow and orphans of a deceased clergyman in Co. Meath.  He also made contributions to All Hallows College, Dublin. Swords was also involved in leasing property in Maynooth such as a Brewery and Malt House.

Thomas Swords Junior died in 1851.  The appreciation in the Freeman’s Journal of April 8, 1851, mirrors the sentiments expressed on his father’s monument:

‘March 30, at the family mansion, Crew-hill, near Maynooth, at the advanced age of 76, Thomas Swords, ESQ.  Universally respected by all who knew him and endeared to his immediate friends by the urbanity of his manner, the benevolence of his disposition, and the strict sense of honour which distinguished all the transactions of his long and blameless life, his memory will be long held in grateful remembrance by the poor of his native parish as well as the surrounding parishes for whose use he bequeathed a large sum of money together with a considerable yearly property in perpetuity.’

The property was auctioned on April 12, 1851. The fate of the townland of Harristown was also sealed when it was put up for sale on April 24, 1851. (Freeman’s Journal). 

Sale of the Estate of the Late Thomas Swords, Esq. …Harristown contains 135 Irish acres of prime land, is situate in a peaceful, healthful, and sporting country, within two miles of Maynooth and Kilcock, both market and post towns; it adjoins the splendid Demesne of the Duke of Leinster, and possesses numerous local advantages…

Estate maps provide valuable information on the extent and nature of enclosures, settlement patterns, the evolution of place-names and road network development, and linked to auction advertisements or catalogues we also get an idea of farm husbandry and the material possessions of associated houses.

We are fortunate to have acquired this map and it is an example of how a map such as this can take one on an exciting and engaging journey of discovery. And still there are questions to be explored. For further information on Estate maps and map makers see:

Duffy, Paddy (1997) Eighteenth-Century Estate Maps. History Ireland, 5 (1). pp. 20-24. ISSN 0791-8224

Please contact for further details on our collections.

Document of the Day – The Grubb Letters: a fascinating insight into Irish Quaker society

By Gretchen Allen, Conservator, Maynooth University Library

The Grubb Letters are a series of almost 500 manuscript letters written by Irish Quaker leaders between 1770 and 1830. The letters detail the lives of multiple high-profile members of the Society of Friends, along with those of their family members, and are an incredibly important resource for the study of 18th century Quaker life. They were acquired by Maynooth University Library in 2020 for the purposes of extensive study and digitization.

Selection of documents from the Grubb Collection

What makes this collection unusual from a conservation standpoint is that the letters are bound into five books, four of which are sewn on cord sewing supports. Even more remarkable is that unlike a typical book, these letter-books were never given covers. This leaves the sewing fully exposed; the cord supports are so long that in several cases their ends have been loosely knotted together over the spine. The only covering material for each collection is an endpaper made from what appears to be wastepaper, often large, printed receipts from the General Post Office (GPO).

Repairing items from the collection

All of the material in the collection (with the exception of the printed covering paper) is manuscript text on paper, likely in iron gall ink. Iron gall ink has been used for centuries; it is made by soaking oak “galls”, which are small growths that form on oak leaves where a wasp has injected its eggs. This liquid is then mixed with ferrous sulphate, an iron compound, hence the name “iron gall”. Due to the iron in the ink, iron gall ink can often cause problems, as like any iron, over time the ink can rust and corrode through the paper. Luckily, the ink is stable with no signs of corrosion. This is a relief, as there are several instances throughout the collection where the author of a letter wrote sentences overtop of each other in a crosshatch pattern, in order to save on paper. In addition to their written content, some letters retain wax seals and postage stamps.

Conservator Gretchen Allen at work

The five collections of letters are in poor condition. The exposed style of binding left the letters exposed to heavy soiling, tearing, and loss. Many tears extend through several letters. The letters are all disparate sizes as well, which creates large gaps in the bottom of each textblock where dirt was able to collect. Several of the volumes have loose sections at the front. In addition, each collection of letters has had a large, modern adhesive label stuck to the front, as well as adhesive number stickers on every single letter.

Cleaning work on the letters

The collections of letters are being extensively surface cleaned. The adhesive labels have been carefully removed using a metal sculptor’s spatula. The extensive creasing will be relaxed, and the letters flattened where possible. The tears will then be repaired. The loose sections will be reattached using the original sewing supports, which will then be threaded through a non-adhesive conservation binding to facilitate the extensive handling and digitization intended for the collection. The finished volumes will then be rehoused in bespoke archival boxes.

For further information please contact

Document of the Day – Home is Where the Heart is at Airfield

by Yvette Campbell, Assistant Librarian, Maynooth University Library

It is very fitting that this year we should have one day dedicated to the theme of ‘Home’ for Explore Your Archive Week 2020 as all of us are spending so much more of our time in our homes.

For me, there was only one archival collection that I knew would fit this theme very snugly – my favourite archival collection – the Airfield Archive. Furthermore, anyone who has consulted this archive, visited Airfield Estate or immersed themselves in the exhibitions related to this charming collection will know just how difficult it is to pick one example that stands out for today’s Document of the Day.

Document of the Day: Letitia (left) and Naomi (right) in 1969

The Airfield Archive (1802 -2004) consists of the private papers of the extended Overend family and their beloved house and farm named Airfield, in Dundrum, South Dublin. The women of this extended family lived ordinary lives but had extraordinary experiences. When Lily Overend died in 1945 the estate passed equally to her daughters Letitia and Naomi Overend, who both lived at Airfield for the remainder of their lives. Despite travelling the world and engaging tirelessly in many charitable activities, Airfield Estate remained the place closest to their hearts.

While the archive is full of extraordinary documents and photographs of the family and their home, I wanted to share something simple. One of my favourite documents is a photograph of sisters, Letitia and Naomi Overend in their later years with Letitia’s beloved Rolls Royce, which came to be seen as an expression of their independence. For me, this photograph encompasses everything that is sincere and intimate about this archive. It also speaks volumes to the close relationship these two sisters shared.

Letitia Overend with her famous Rolls Royce

Letitia Lily Anne Letham Overend, known affectionately to her family and friends as ‘Tot’, was born in 1880.  From a young age Letitia was involved in charity work, including fundraisers for the Blind Asylum. During World War I, she became a central member of the Alexandra College Branch of the Saint John Ambulance Brigade, even rising to the position of Chief Superintendent of the Nursing Division in Ireland. She worked daily at the Irish War Hospital Supply Depot, in Merrion Square, sending medical supplies to war hospitals on the front.

Naomi Letham Overend was born at Airfield in 1900. Despite her quieter nature and the twenty-year age gap between the sisters, the two remained close throughout their lives. From a young age Naomi had loved animals and was a life-long supporter of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This love of animals extended naturally to the animals on the farm at Airfield and to the building up of the Overend sister’s award-winning herd of Jersey cows. Contained in the collection are documents relating to the purchase of property as well as the early years of the farm, including files on the Jersey herd.

Both sisters shared many interests, including cars, travel and the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Letitia maintained her own Rolls Royce for fifty years, which she purchased in 1927, while Naomi drove her own 1936 Austin Tickford and they both participated in vintage car rallies together.

Naomi and Letitia during the visit of the Ghost Club to Airfield

Neither sister married nor had children of their own. Despite being made generous offers over the years, the Overends refused to sell any of the property for development. Instead of allowing their house and land to be broken up or sold to developers, the sisters founded a charitable trust. These self-sufficient women succeeded in creating their own legacy; a private haven of countryside in suburban Dublin, which is used as a recreational and educational resource today.

The archive which gives us a valuable insight into their daily lives was transferred to the care of the OPW/Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre at Castletown 10 years ago in 2010 where it has been professionally listed and made available for academic research.

Further Reading:

  • Joyce, Ciara (2014) The Airfield Archive at the OPW-NUI Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown. Archives and Records Association Ireland. Available online at <>

Document of the Day – A Young Priest’s Journey to Missouri, 1881

By Sarah Larkin, All Hallows Archivist

In 1881, after being ordained in All Hallows College, Dublin, Fr Daniel Pembroke embarked on a journey to America. There, he would work as a priest ministering to the growing Irish diaspora in Missouri. On 22 September 1881, he wrote an eleven-page letter to Dr William Fortune, President of All Hallows College, recounting his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and describing his new life in Missouri. This life would have been vastly different from life in his native home of Castleisland, Co Kerry.

Letter from Fr Pembroke to Dr Fortune

Fr Pembroke set sail from Queenstown (now Cobh) with a number of other All Hallows priests bound for America.

‘After leaving Queenstown we had very fine weather and a calm sea until Wednesday morning, when a rather brisk gale began to blow. We all expected it would not be of very great moment, but contrary to our expectations, it got worse and did not go down during two days and nights. As usual after the storm came the calm, which did not forsake us during the rest of the voyage.’

Pembroke writes that he was fortunate not to have suffered from seasickness. One of his companions, Fr James Cooper, was not so lucky.

Fr Cooper ‘was very sick, he was completely downcast. He most seriously declared several times that he never had to endure a quarter of the same hardship… Some other times he created no small merriment by telling us that if he had known it would be such, he would have remained with his mother! The first evening of our storm found him on deck holding on by both hands to two of the largest ropes of the second mast. Each lurch of the ship was to be the continually expected sinking. Were I to continue all my space would be taken up with his sayings and deeds. Needless to inform you that he was not long on terra firma when all the evils of the ocean were forgotten.’

When their ship arrived in New York, Fr Pembroke and another, Fr Hand, boarded the Erie Railroad for Chicago. From there, Fr Pembroke got another train to Kansas City. He again thanks his good fortune in not having delayed, as the train the following night was robbed!

Extract from letter to Dr Fortune

‘This is becoming quite an ordinary thing out here. Since my arrival another train has been treated similarly in Kansas. Bands of armed men have entered some of the neighbouring towns which they [pilfered]. These highwaymen are considered to be desperadoes of the vanquished South who being declared outside the pale of the laws try to live as best they can.’

Fr Pembroke worked in St Joseph, Missouri. In his letter, he describes the climate as ‘pretty bad.’ He elaborates that malaria is common in the Autumn and Spring, and the weather fluctuates from snow and extreme cold to suffocating heat. He declares:

No priest has any business coming here else he be very healthy and strong. A young priest breaking down here after a few months illness has no other alternative save to go to some other healthier place or go into the poorhouse.’

This sentiment highlights the harsh reality that people would have faced at the time, particularly emigrants from Ireland and elsewhere, not used to such extreme climates.

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Detail from letter