Conserving a Caxton, Part 2

By Gretchen Allen, Library Conservator, Special Collections & Archives

Ingrained discoloration removed through capillary washing

This post contains the second half of the treatment of the St. Canice’s Caxton, a single folio of John Gower’s “Confessio Amantis” printed by William Caxton in 1483. For part 1 of this treatment and some historical background on the print itself, please see [this post.]

When we last spoke, the Caxton had been carefully removed from its frame, gently surface-cleaned, and put through several rounds of capillary washing, which helped remove both surface dirt and ingrained discoloration and prepared the print for consolidation and repair. It’s important to remove as much mobile dirt and discoloration as possible before introducing any adhesives to an object, since consolidants and repairs will end up fixing remaining dirt in place both in and on the paper. This was especially important since the paper was very fragile; it had lost the majority of its structural integrity over the course of its long life and as a result the paper has become very fluffy, especially around the edges. In order to restore some of the paper’s original robustness, a diluted water-soluble consolidant was carefully applied to the whole print on both sides. Once the consolidant was dry, the print was gently humidified and flattened under light weight and wool felts in order to preserve the surface texture of the paper.

Once the paper had been successfully consolidated, it was finally possible to repair the losses and tears along the edges. This was done using a very lightweight Japanese tissue paper that had been toned with acrylic paint in order to integrate the repair visually and not distract from the object. The repairs were attached using wheat starch paste, which is both compatible with the original substrate and a reversible adhesive that can be removed in the future if necessary.

Adding toned tissue repairs along torn edges

After all the repairs were completed, the print was encapsulated between two sheets of Melinex using a sonic welder. Gaps in the welds were left at the head and tail edges to allow

for airflow and prevent microclimate formation around the print. The encapsulated print was placed in a bespoke standing display frame which can be used for both storage and display purposes. The letter of authentication that came with the print was placed in an archival folder along with the label from the original glass frame. The encapsulated print, frame, and the folder containing the letter and label were all placed in a bespoke handmade archival solander box for storage and returned to the collection.

Trimmed toned repairs

This item was such a privilege to work on, as not only is it an incredibly rare and valuable example of early English-language printing, but also it was very satisfying to get a chance to repair and rehouse it. The item is now safe to be stored in the Maynooth Library collections and to be examined and handled by readers and researchers. Hopefully the St. Canice’s Caxton will prove to be a unique and beautiful resource for the wider academic community!

The Caxton in its bespoke solander box

The Caxton in its standing frame

Library Treasures: Heritage Week 2022| The St. Canice’s Cathedral Library Collection

For this National Heritage Week 2022 edition of our Library Treasures video, Rare Books Librarian Yvette Campbell takes us on an exciting adventure with some stunning book history from the St. Canice’s Cathedral Library Collection. Prepare yourself for the most beautiful incunabula, early printed books, inscriptions and even a little fragmentology!

Pierce Egan’s The life of an actor – raw spouter, stroller and gagger

By Darren Sturdy, Special Collections and Archives

Egan, detail of an engraving by
C. Turner after a drawing by G. Sharples. BBC Hulton Picture Library.

Moving through the bays of Special Collections and Archives prized collections at Maynooth University Library, I discovered an intriguing title (well I actually found it in the first bay, but to sound dramatic decided to embellish my discovery…)

The book, The Life of an Actor is by one Pierce Egan (1772-1849), probably the most famous Irish Pierce before that most quintessential of Englishmen James Bond was played by another Irish Pierce.

Pierce Egan was a journalist, sportswriter and writer on popular culture. He was born in either Dublin and moved to London whilst young, or was born in said city to Irish parents. There are no known records of his early life.

First published in 1825, the version in our library is an 1892 reprint. The author did not live to see this vision of publishing being reissued.

Title-page (detail) from The Life of an Actor

Set in London, it describes the travails and tribulations of the working actor through the character of Peregrine Proteus, in the midst of the bright lights of London Theatre.

In the dedication to Edmund Kean, Esq. (1787-1833), Egan outlines “Peregrine Proteus was written principally to introduce the artist to the notice of the public; and I am happy to inform you that the desired object has been accomplished; a young man of talent has not only been rescued from oblivion, but perhaps the success which he has made me with by his delineations of The Life of an Actor may afford him still further opportunities to amuse and interest society”.

Hand coloured aquatint plate by Theodore Lane. The upper regions in disorder.
Hand coloured aquatint plate by Theodore Lane : Suiting the action to the word.

The critic features prominently too, as the poor actor must suffer at the hands of these wordsmiths who had and still have the power to make and break a career by the repeated “cutting up and cant of criticism”.

Image from The Life of an Actor

There are 27 beautifully illustrated hand coloured aquatint plates including the frontis by Theodore Lane (1800-1828). He died at the tragically young age of 28 after falling through a skylight. Lane apprenticed under John Barrow, a miniature painter before becoming a satirist of political and social occasions.

Egan wrote about life in London and became famous for writing about boxing, producing a publication titled Boxiana from 1813 to 1829. Egan’s writing was brought back to popular attention by boxing articles in The New Yorker from 1950 to 1964 by A.J. Liebling (1904-1963).

Egan also produced a comical publication called Life in London with characters called Tom and Jerry who caused mischief wherever they went and had the financial wherewithal to do so. Apparently, there is no evidence of a future animated connection.

Egan was a street commentator, a documentarian of his day who was the art, lived it and told the tale.

Image from last page of The Life of an Actor


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Egan, detail of an engraving by
C. Turner after a drawing by G. Sharples. BBC Hulton Picture


Interview with Professor Terence Dooley

Burning the Big House Exhibition at Maynooth University John Paul II Library

Terence Dooley is a Professor of History at Maynooth University and Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates. He specialises in Irish social and political history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly the history of Irish country houses and the landed class; the working of the Irish Land Commission; the revolutionary period 1916-23; and local history in Ireland. He teaches undergraduate and postgraduate modules related to all of these areas of specialisation.

Seeking the Foundations of the Canadian Church

By Professor Mark McGowan
Library Visiting Research Professor in the Arts and Humanities Institute at Maynooth University

My current project is tentatively titled Pilgrims in the Snow: A History of Catholics in Canada, which is intended to be a thematic synthesis of the principal developments, controversies, and challenges within Canada’s largest Christian denomination. There has not been a history of the Catholic Church in Canada, written in English, in over twenty years. Because of the strong influence of Irish and Scottish Catholic settler/colonists in many regions of the country, it seemed appropriate to dedicate a chapter on the Celtic presence in the Church. For part of the material for this chapter, I am grateful for the opportunity to undertake research at Maynooth University as a Library Visiting Research Professor in the Arts and Humanities Institute.

One of the influences was certainly the way in which Canadian bishops in fledgling dioceses in the 18th and 19th centuries depended on the recruitment of priests and women religious from Ireland and Scotland. The Russell Library, at Maynooth University, which houses the collections of St. Patrick’s College and All Hallows Seminary, provided the ideal locus for research into how priests were recruited for British North America and how they were formed by the discipline and curriculum of these Irish seminaries. Correspondence between Canadian bishops and the Irish Seminaries could offer valuable insights into what Canadian prelates expected of the recruits, and how these newly formed priests brought their Irish training to bear on the Canadian frontier.

Based on the matriculation records of All Hallows Seminary, between 1841 and 1891, seventy young men trained for thirteen dioceses in British North America. Having examined the episcopal correspondence, however, two more dioceses in the far west of Canada (Regina in Saskatchewan, and Victoria, in British Columbia) were added to the list. The correspondence is a treasure trove of insights into the reasons All Hallows became “a favourite” among the Canadian hierarchy. Bishops frequently expressed high praise of the quality of instruction offered by the Vincentians in Dublin. Academic rigour and moral formation were qualities Canadian bishops wanted in new recruits since many bishops were preoccupied disciplining their priests who were often described as less than models of priestly virtue. As dioceses were growing, bishops needed more men, and they sought qualified graduates of All Hallows, whom they would support financially through their course of study. One bishop, Michael Power of Toronto, made a heartfelt plea for more priests in 1847, as he feared the loss of so many priests due to typhus fever, which was in epidemic proportions, among the thousands of Irish famine victims fleeing to his diocese.

While the correspondence is plentiful between All Hallows and Canada in the mid to-late nineteenth century, the episcopal requests become fewer by the 1880s. At this point in their development, many dioceses had sufficient numbers of home-grown Canadian priests, who were trained principally on the “Irish floor” of the Grand Séminaire in Montreal, or in the United States. The exception to this independence from Ireland is evident in the two Newfoundland dioceses of St. John’s and Harbour Grace. Newfoundland had a population of which 40% were of Irish birth or descent, many of whom had roots in southeast Ireland. The bishops of Newfoundland had the most robust correspondence with All Hallows and, in one sense, it became their “local” seminary. In the mid-nineteenth century, Newfoundland imported graduates of All Hallows, but after the 1850s bishops were sending Newfoundlanders of Irish decent to All Hallows with the intention that they be properly trained and return to Newfoundland. No other British North American dioceses managed such a relationship with All Hallows, where several Newfoundland priests continued to be trained until the 1940s. The engagement between the Church in Newfoundland and Ireland was quite unique, given the Province’s Irish heritage, its resistance to the control of Canadian bishops, and the fact that it remained politically independent of Canada until 1949.

The correspondence in this collection is rich with potential research subjects well beyond the scope of my proposed monograph. In the mid-nineteenth century there is a detailed and moving correspondence between Bishop Modeste Demers of Vancouver Island and successive Presidents of All Hallows until 1871. Located on the Pacific coast of what is now the Province of British Columbia, Demers’ diocese could not be geographically farther away from Ireland. Demers discusses his need for at least two Irish priests, as young Irishmen entered his diocese to work in mining, forestry, and the gold fields. He laments the sorry state of Christianity in the region but sees All Hallows as a means of transforming this frontier diocese. The fact that Demers’ letters take six months to reach Ireland adds further drama, if not pathos, to the desperate pleas of this frontier bishop. In fact, his missives reveal much about the state of his diocese, material descriptions that are less evident in Canadian archives. Demers’ requests do not go unrequited. By the end of his life, he welcomes at least one Irish priest, “Mr. Maloney.” The twenty-six letters in this folio would make for an interesting article for an eager post graduate student.

This is but a short glimpse into a collection that promises to confirm the thesis that Irish seminaries provided the firm foundations for an Anglophone Church outside of the Province of Quebec, where French was the dominant language.

Dr. Mark G. McGowan

Professor of History, University of Toronto

Interim Principal & Vice-President, University of St. Michael’s College

Nicolaus Copernicus – Heretic or Devotee?

Post by David Rinehart.

Do you remember when you learned that the planets in the solar system orbit the Sun? No? Yeah, me neither. It’s always been a fact of life for me. I’d say that for nearly all of us that is the case. I do recall when I learned that there was a time in which people thought the universe revolved around the Earth. The Geocentric theory. I cannot say exactly when I learned about this historical perspective of humanity’s place within the stars, but I suspect it was in primary school.

Do you remember who was responsible for this paradigmatic shift in thought where the heliocentric theory became as commonplace as the sky being blue? It was Copernicus. I’d say that while some of us may recall his name from memory, many of us at least recognize his name.

What if I told you that the very book in which the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus established the heliocentric theory is available as a second edition in our very own Russell Library?

Amazed, I wonder? Because I sure was! A unique aspect of working in a library with tens of thousands of books is that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually know every single book in the collection. You have catalogues and systems by which to maintain the collection and keep it safe. But it is nearly humanly impossible to know every single item within the library, especially only a year or two into the job. So, we rely on colleagues, especially scholars and researchers who come in to view the materials, to key us into the treasures we have on the shelves.

I remember perfectly the day in which one of our frequent readers, a history of maths researcher, came into the library to do some research on several mathematics and physics texts essential to the history of Mathematics, and brought out the De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI (Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs). When he asked me to pull this book out, I did a double-take and asked him at least twice if we really had the very text Copernicus wrote to establish the heliocentric theory. Yes, indeed we did and do.

The text we hold is a second edition copy, printed in Basel in 1566. What’s more is that there are a known 277 copies of the first edition and a known 324 copies of the second edition in existence today, making this quite a gem.

We know this is a second edition for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, the second edition was printed in Basel by Henric Petrina. Evidence of this is found on the title page where we see the stunning printer’s mark unique to this Basel based printer with the text underneath, “BASᴁL, EX OFFICINA HENRICPETRINA”. Because we know that the second edition was printed by Henric Petrina, which is a different printer from the first and subsequent editions,

this text is indeed a second edition printed in 1566. Further, the printers also stamped the date of print, September of 1566, in the back of the book as well.

An interesting bit of debated history is the belief by storytellers of differing professions, myself included until very recently, that Copernicus was shunned by the Catholic Church for his ‘radical’ theory. However, many researchers have noted that this was not, in fact, the case. They state as evidence that Copernicus was devout to the church and in fact, the forward by Andreas Osiander, defending Copernicus’ work, was dedicated to the Pope at the time, Pope Paul III. Osiander states,

As you can see with this snippet of the forward, the theories and maths were presented with the utmost care to not be offensive or heretical. In fact, Osiander states that the heliocentric theory as it was presented was not to be believed as fact, but only as a tool for calculations until a better theory could fit in its place. This introduction of Copernican theories as purely hypothetical actually kept the book off the Index of Prohibited Books until the next century.

I would like to now shift your attention back to the book in question

to the stunning engraving on page 9, the diagram of the heavenly bodies, or what we now-a-days call planets and their orbits around the Sun. This diagram encapsulates a period of history in which there was a paradigmatic shift in which our understanding of our place in the cosmos dramatically changed.

To quote the amazing Dr. Elizabeth Boyle in an interview on the Library Treasures Podcast,

We fundamentally cannot get back into the mindset of a world before all of the things that have revolutionised our understanding of where the Earth sits in relation to the Solar System, the Universe – where humans sit in relation to evolution and so on. There have been fundamental shifts.

Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Boyle – Part 2

In part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Boyle, we talk more about her book Fierce Appetites, her research, and the library spaces and collections at Maynooth University and St. Patrick’s College Maynooth.

‘We have deceived the senate’: The Trial of Reverend William Jackson, 30th April 1795.

By Ruairí Nolan, Library Assistant with Engagement and Information Services.

The Russell Library carries a great deal of invaluable documentation from the late eighteenth century. This is particularly true of items concerning the 1798 Rebellion and the run up to it. One can find works by Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Edmund Burke (1730-97), Richard Musgrave (1746-1818) and many more. One name that stood out to me while doing research in the Russell was that of Rev. William Jackson (1737-95). I found summaries of proceedings for the trial in the form of pamphlets from 1795 which included transcripts but also a published book from 1845 by Thomas MacNevin (1814-48). MacNevin’s account notably takes from the summarised accounts with a bit more substance added – whether from other unknown sources or historical hagiography, is unclear.

The anniversary of the trial was yesterday and took place at the bar of the King’s Bench in Ireland. He was a man that led the life of a reverend in the Church of England, a journalist, a courtier to aristocracy and spy for the French Committee of Public Safety. In 1794 Jackson was caught and arrested on charges of high treason for passing on documents which proved the existence of a French mission to gauge public opinion in Britain and Ireland for armed revolution. The sentence for high treason was the death penalty, meaning the forfeiture of his estate to the government upon his death, something Jackson could not stomach – among other things.

Jackson was a man known for his self-dramatizing appetite for life, embedding himself in the controversial life of the Duchess of Kingston and engaging in a journalistic debate with Samuel Foote, a fight which cost him his job. What stands out the most about Jackson’s trial and MacNevin’s account of such, is Jackson’s continued flair for the dramatics right up until the end of his life. Jackson was found guilty on the morning of April 24th and his date of sentencing set for the following week.

While imprisoned, Jackson at no point showed regret or concern for his fate – he simply accepted it and understood that what he did was the right thing to do. So, eyebrows were raised when on 30th April there were reports of him vomiting from the carriage on the way to the courthouse and looking ill, sweating profusely and steam rising from his head.             


Newgate Prison, Dublin

To many it had seemed that he had begun to reconsider the consequences of his actions, but MacNevin records it in a different light: ‘He beckoned to his counsel to approach him…and uttered in a whisper, and with a smile of mournful triumph, the dying words of Pierre, ‘We have deceived the senate’’. This reference, a call back to the last words uttered by Pierre in Thomas Otway’s play Venice Preserv’d, a conspirator against the state who kills himself before the government can reach him. Otway’s production, from the Restoration Era, was particularly controversial in 1790s Britain for its overt radical political imagery – a somewhat fitting reference for Jackson to make.

As Jackson’s lawyers haggled over the formalities of proceedings, he started to become visibly more distraught. Eventually he was heard groaning aloud and clutching at his sides in pain – forcing prosecutors to call a doctor to the bench, almost immediately pronouncing Jackson dead.

As Jackson had passed before a formal sentencing was handed down to him, all his property and wealth was left to be inherited by his family, as opposed to the state. It was found that he had intentionally ingested a lethal amount of metallic poison, but how and by whom, was never concluded. The details of this trial are incredible to follow, and the pamphlets detailing the trial provide a great amount of detail and I can’t recommend visiting the Russell Library to read them more.


The trial of the Rev. William Jackson, at the bar of the King’s Bench in Ireland, for high treason, on Thursday the 23rd of April, 1795 By William Sampson

A full report of all the proceedings on the trial of the Rev. William Jackson, : at the bar of His Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench, Ireland, on an indictment for high treason. Collected from the notes of William Ridgeway, William Lapp, and John Schoales, Esqrs. barristers at law

The life and trials of Archibald Hamilton Rowan, the Rev. William Jackson, the Defenders, William Orr, Peter Finnerty, and other eminent Irishmen By Thomas McNevin

The Irish Race Congress 1922

Ciara Joyce, Archivist

On the 21st of January 1922, on the third anniversary of the establishment of Dáil Éireann and the Irish Republic, the Irish Race Congress took place in a Paris hotel.

Proceedings of the Irish Race Congress, Issued by Fine Ghaedheal Secretariat

This eight-day congress, attended by delegates from seventeen countries, was first mooted by representatives of the Irish Republican Association of South Africa and organised by the Irish Self-Determination League of Great Britain with support from the Dáil cabinet.

The purpose  of the congress was political, but it also sought to showcase highlights from Irish culture. Its objectives included:

‘1. To put a stop to the  excesses of the British troops in Ireland by securing their withdrawal.

2. To secure the International Recognition of the Irish Republic, and to afford moral and material assistance to the Irish Government.

3. To form a centre and rallying point for those members of the Irish Race throughout the world who feel the humiliation of the continued subjection of their motherland and recognise that to free Ireland is to exalt the status of the Irish Race in every land where it has found a home’.

Attendees at the Irish Race Congress, Paris, 1922

The congress was organised over the course of a year but its timing in January 1922 was unfortunate. The Treaty was signed on the 6th of December 1921 and ratified by the Dáil on the 7th of January. It was agreed that the congress should go ahead but a deeply divided delegation left from Ireland, the majority of which were anti-treaty republicans led by Éamon DeValera.

Some of the delegates at the Congress, 1922

England sent the largest number of delegates to the congress, but attendees also travelled from Scotland, Wales, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, France, Belgium, Spain and from Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico.

Among the delegation that attended from Scotland was Henry Warren Hutchinson, whose son was the Irish poet Pearse Hutchinson. Among Hutchinson’s archive held by Special Collections & Archives, are several items his father kept regarding his attendance at the congress including letters, photographs, notes and the published proceedings of events. He was conscious of the tensions between the pro and anti-treaty delegates, as all the attendees must have been. In a letter sent to his wife Cailtín, Henry wrote that:

‘somehow I feel that the conference is not a success – the treaty has knocked it out of gear’.

The congress’s main outcome was the establishment of Fine Ghaedheal, an organisation intended to represent Irish people throughout the world. De Valera was elected as Chairman of the organisation, with a committee made up of republican representatives only. Hutchinson, despite his reflection on the success of the congress, was delighted to be elected to the executive committee, writing to his wife:

Postcard from Henry Warren Hutchinson to his wife Caitlín McElhinney, January 1922

‘I have had a great honour in being elected one of the members of the Executive Committee for the Irish Race Convention out of representatives of 24 nations’

he also adds that:

‘we had a great fight -they were fighting & we were fighting, it was glorious but we beat them, it became evident from one or two test points that we were the stronger and after several attempts to defeat Dev -they gave in & he was elected unanimously’ .

His own admiration of De Valera is very clear, he writes:

‘everyone admits De Valera is the greatest man in the world & certainly there never was a more loved & honoured leader’.

Invitation to the Irish Art Exhibition at the Galerie Barbazanges, Paris, 1922

The cultural aspects of the congress were very successful, with lectures on Irish art and literature by W.B. and Jack B. Yeats, a talk on the Gaelic League by Douglas Hyde, an Irish traditional music concert and an exhibition of Irish art at the Galerie Barbazanges, where three hundred paintings and sculptures were displayed.

Fine Ghaedheal, failed to secure financial backing from the Provisional Government, and faded into obscurity. By the end of June 1922, the Irish Civil War had begun.

For more information or to access this collections please contact Special Collections & Archives at or (01) 474 7423