The Good People: Are Fairies Among Us?

By David Rinehart, Library Assistant, Special Collections & Archives, Maynooth University

Irish Wonders by David Russell McAnally, Jr. (Cambridge 1888) claims to be “Popular Tales as told by the people,” providing a brief overview of popular Irish Folklore accompanied by many illustrations penned by H.R. Heaton. The tales span from “Satan’s Cloven Hoof” to “Leprachawns” to the chapter titled, “About the Fairies.”

Cover of Irish Wonders. Image by David Rinehart.

As fairies are a household favourite, I’ll be diving right into fairylore! This particular text follows a post-Christian influence on folklore in which the fairies are told to have once been angels.

When Satan sinned and drew throngs of the heavenly host with him into open rebellion, a large number of the less warlike spirits stood aloof from the contest that followed, fearing the consequences, and not caring to take sides till the issue of the conflict was determined. Upon the defeat and expulsion of the rebellious angels, those who had remained neutral were punished by banishment from heaven, but their offence being only one of omission, they were not consigned to the pit with Satan and his followers, but were sent to earth where they still remain, not without hope that on the last day they may be pardoned and readmitted to Paradise. (pg. 92)

Image from Irish Wonders. Image by David Rinehart.

Because the Fairies are still hoping to gain entry back into heaven, they have taken to being kind to humans (for the most part that is), and some say they actually ferry (pun absolutely intentional) the souls of the recently deceased to heaven’s gate without being permitted entry. Feuds, in fact, break out between factions who claim the souls of specific humans over who will take them to heaven’s gate. While this proclivity towards aiding humans has earned them the popular name “the Good People”, none-the-less, because of their great power, they are still greatly feared.

Image from Irish Wonders. Image by David Rinehart.

In Traces of the Elder Faith by William Gregory, Gregory states that,

Professor O’Curry in his Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History, gravely divides fairies into two distinct classes, i.e. the bona fide fairies or demons and the magic race of the Dedanann, who, after being conquered by the Milesians, transformed themselves into fairies… The peasantry have apparently tried to reconcile heathen and Christian imagination, and hold an ill-defined belief that fairies are fallen spirits, driven from heaven, and condemned to dwell on earth until the day of judgement.

Image from Traces of the Elder Faith. Image captured by David Rinehart.

While Irish Wonders is full of fascinating folklore and gripping fairy tales, it is not without criticism. As W.B. Yeats aptly states,

Mr. McAnally does not treat his material with sufficient respect; he is too eager to embroider everything with humor, to steep everything in a kind of stage Irish he has invented. There is not a dull chapter in the book. But no Irish peasant ever pronounced English as Mr. McAnally makes him. The very same dialect is put into the mouths of peasants from most different counties. Why, the children of one county laugh at the pronunciation of another! It is a foreigner’s idea of Ireland.

So, now I pose to you, dear reader, what is a fairy? What tales have you heard? Tweet us @SCA_MULibrary or comment below. We look forward to hearing your local folklore!

Autumn has come!

By Miriam van der Molen, Archivist, Special Collections & Archives

The air has suddenly become much cooler, and the days drastically shorter. I thought it would be apt to share some autumnal content from our collections.

First is a poem by Alexander Smith, contained in a collection of poems called ‘The Poetry of Earth: A Nature Anthology’, published by George G Harrap and Company (1910):

The beech is dipped in wine; the shower
Is burnished; on the swinging flower
The latest bee doth sit.
The low sun stares through dust of gold,
And o’er the darkening heath and wold
The large ghost-moth doth flit.
In every orchard Autumn stands
With apples in his golden hands.

Woodcut of beehives from ‘Omnia Andreae Alciati v.c. emblemata cum commentariis…’ (Antwerp, 1581) by A. Alciati

This is the time of year when people are harvesting the produce that has been growing for months. Here are some drawings of parts of apple and pear trees in a botanical educational book by Otto Schmeil, as well as potato plant parts:

While apples and pears get eaten, not everything is edible for humans. Take horse chestnuts for example. Horses can eat them, but they are poisonous to humans. However, they are useful in that they can be used to make an eco-friendly laundry liquid for slightly to medium soiled laundry. You need about five chestnuts per load of laundry. Beat them with a hammer (outside on the ground is safest), remove as much shell as possible, and mash the white inside part until it has turned into smaller pieces (the smaller the better, but they don’t have to be very small). Then put into a container and pour hot water over the pieces. After soaking between 5 hours and 2 days, pour through a sieve into the laundry detergent section of the washing machine. Add a few drops of essential oils if you want a little bit of a fresh smell.

Horse chestnuts. From ‘Lehrbuch der Botanik’ by Otto Schmeil.

If you prefer flowers in your garden, rather than food, Schmeil also has some nice pictures showing tulip composition. This is also relevant to our Autumn theme, as this is the time to put down flower bulbs. So if you dug up your bulbs earlier this year, or have just bought some, get digging and plant them so you will get some pretty Spring flowers next year.

Tulips. From ‘Lehrbuch der Botanik’ by Otto Schmeil.

The book ‘Garden Perennials’ by John Weathers, has a lovely image of sweet peas and of an oriental poppy. Another book, ‘Hardy Perennials’ by A.J. Macself (1922), tells us that poppies grow well in lots of places, whether sheltered or on a hill, or in rich soil or gravel. The one thing they do need is sunlight, however. So while sweet peas and poppies are finished flowering now for this year, any plants that are still standing may have seeds that are now ready for harvesting for sowing next year.

To summarise, it is now the time to pick and eat fruit such as apples and pears, dig up potatoes, gather chestnuts to make laundry liquid, plant bulbs of flowers such as tulips and daffodils, and collect seeds of any plants whose flowers have produced them now. Happy gardening and gathering!

The  Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, courtesy of Noo Saro-Wiwa

On Saturday the 25th of September 2021,  BBC World Service will broadcast the documentary Silence Would be Treason. 

This blog post gives a short account of the background to the death-row correspondence of Saro-Wiwa, to Sister Majella McCarron (OLA), which was donated to Maynooth University. A fuller account is given in my essay in the book Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro Wiwa.

On 10th November 2011, Sr. Majella McCarron presented a collection of personal correspondence and 27 poems she received from Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, to Maynooth University Library. The collection comprises 28 letters to Sr. Majella, 27 poems, a MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) cap and flag,  a collection of photographs and other documents, including articles, reviews, flyers and maps relating to Saro-Wiwa’s work and the work of Sr. Majella on the cause of the Ogoni people, both in Nigeria and Ireland.  Some of this material can be viewed in our Ken Saro-Wiwa Library Guide.

Letters and poems, (c) Maynooth University Library

We are grateful to Maynooth University sociology student, John O’Shea, who created the initial link between Sr. Majella and the University Library. In 2010, O’Shea interviewed Sister Majella while working on his MA thesis Societies in Transition. She told him about the archive and expressed an interest in finding an appropriate home for it, knowing the value this collection would have to present and future generations of scholars and activists. He contacted the Library and we immediately set about acquiring this unique collection.

The letters were mainly handwritten between the 20th of October 1993 and the 14th of September 1995. In May 1994 Saro-Wiwa and several other activists were placed in military detention in Port Harcourt. The letters, from this period until his execution with eight others (the Ogoni Nine), were smuggled out of military detention in food baskets.

The letters cast light on Saro-Wiwa as a political activist, a writer, a family man and a personal friend to Sr. Majella, who travelled as a missionary from Ireland to Nigeria in 1956. While lecturing at the University of Lagos, she met Saro-Wiwa, The oil problem in the Niger Delta region was severe, with major environmental damage being wrought from oil extraction by Royal Dutch Shell. Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), was organising a non-violent campaign against the environmental destruction of the Ogoni area of the Niger Delta.  Sr. Majella worked with him to highlight the issues and to raise funds for the relief effort when Ogoni villages were destroyed in September 1993. In May 1994, Saro-Wiwa and other members of MOSOP were arrested. The 28 letters from this time until his death were written in military detention.

MOSOP flag and cap, (c) Maynooth University Library

In August 1994, Sr. Majella returned to Ireland, having decided not to renew her contract at the University of Lagos. The conversations that had begun in the Lagos office continued on paper. She campaigned, with others, to save the lives of the Ogoni Nine. Sadly, this was unsuccessful and Saro-Wiwa was executed, with his eight colleagues, on the 10th of November, 1995. She received his final letter, hand delivered by his son, after his death.

Ken Saro-Wiwa is considered to be one of the great environmental activists of the late 20th century and his letters reflect his passion for peace and justice. In gifting these letters to Maynooth University, Sister Majella is ensuring the Ogoni story will continue to be told in many different contexts. A travelling exhibition has been developed from the archive and this has been exhibited at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and in public libraries across Ireland.

A number of articles have been published on the collection and the issues embodied therein.  Both Silence Would Be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa (edited by Íde Corley, Helen Fallon and Laurence Cox, and published by Daraja Press), and I am a man of Peace: Writings Inspired by the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection (edited by Helen Fallon, and published by Daraja Press) are available on open access.

Queries on the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive should be sent to Special Collections and Archives at: library.specialcollections@mu.ie

Robert John Thornton and his Botanical Lottery

By Alexandra Caccamo, Assistant Librarian with responsibility for Special Collections and Archives

Tragopogon pratensis, Goat’s-beard

In the Russell Library we have a small collection of natural history books. One of the botanical books in this collection is Robert John Thornton’s The British Flora or, Genera and Species of British Plants, published in 1812. When we look at the title page, we can see that the book was printed specifically for a lottery. At first glance what looked like quite an unassuming book, seems to have a story to tell.

Title page of The British Flora or, Genera and Species of British Plants (1812)

Robert John Thornton is thought to have been born in 1767. His father was the successful writer, Bonnell Thornton. Destined for the Church, he began his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge at just 16 years. However, he was not to continue with the theological life. While at Cambridge, he became interested in medicine and botany.

Robert John Thornton (1767-1837)
Source: CC BY 4.0 via Wellcome Collection Gallery

By 1797 he was working as a doctor in London. It was also the year in which he first advertised the monumental work that was to define his life, A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus. This elephant folio was published in 3 volumes between 1799 and 1807 and is commonly known by the title of the third volume, Temple of the Flora. This volume contains lavishly produced aquatint and mezzotint plates, illustrating plants in evocative settings. Originally to include 70 plates, the author quickly ran into financial difficulties and his ambitions were curtailed, with the final work containing around 30 plates.

Night Blowing Cereus or Cactus grandiflorus. From A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus. (1799-1807)
Source: CC BY NC SA 4.0 via Peter H. Raven Library/Missouri Botanical Garden.

Thornton’s financial strife in relation to the book was due to several reasons. Firstly, the public desire for these large-scale botanical works had waned and interest in his publication was not what he had hoped at the outset. Also, Britain was at war with France, which resulted in increased taxation and economic strife. Thornton laments in the Temple of the Flora “…infuriate war has constantly and violently raged, which like a devouring conflagration, destroys everything before it…”. In order to offset the costs of the production and save the project from disaster, Thornton obtained an act of parliament allowing him to organise a lottery. Advertised as “The Royal Botanical Lottery”, he sought to sell twenty thousand tickets at a cost of two guineas each. This is where our book comes in. Listed in the advertisement as fifth prize, there were 2000 copies available to win. Sadly, the lottery did not raise the expected £42,000 and the publication left Thornton and his family in financial ruin. He died virtually penniless in 1837.

Ranunculus repens, Creeping Buttercup
Prunus domestica, Plum

The book itself contains uncoloured engravings of British plants, arranged according to the Linnean system of classification. The text is in English, with both Latin and common plant names given. He lists the defining characteristics of each genus, as well as the derivation of the generic name. The images you can see here are some plants you might find in flower or fruit at this time of year.

If you would like to see more of these or any of Robert John Thornton’s other works, they are available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library or Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

Further Reading:

Blunt, W. and Stearn, W. T. (2015). The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club (2015).

The Belmont Mills archive: a veritable treasure trove

Ciarán Reilly, Maynooth University Arts and Humanities Institute

Letter from Jens Edmonds to her granny

In his recent blog post Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections, posited ‘what is a special collection?’ (See here: https://mulibrarytreasures.wordpress.com/2021/06/01/digital-not-dusty-the-role-of-digitised-primary-sources-in-our-special-collections/, claiming that it was next to impossible to answer the question definitively. Of course, if you are a student or researcher of nineteenth and twentieth century Irish history one could argue that the Maynooth University Special Collections holds a number of ‘special collections’. The Belmont Mills archive is one such ‘special collection’; indeed, it is a veritable treasure trove.

From the outset it will be of interest to readers that other records relating to the Perry family and their milling operations exist, including a significant collection at Offaly Archives (see https://www.offalyarchives.com/uploads/r/offaly-county-library/1/4/d/14df7cdc9869eb9d2855ade3b0499e629e2751446835e7b1de0cf4ece94c4e02/P68_Descriptive_Catalogue.pdf ).

While a mill had operated at the site from as early as the 1760s, it was not until the late 1850s, when Henry Robert Perry purchased Belmont Mill from Captain John Collins, that the Perrys commenced business there. Situated south of the village of Belmont, and on the right bank of the River Brosna, Belmont was ideally suited for the transport of goods on the Grand Canal and on the Clara-Banagher Railway, which opened in 1884.  Henry Perry’s brother, Thomas, acquired the ownership of the mill in the 1870s, modernising it in the process with the introduction of innovations including ‘roller mills’. However, throughout the course of its history a number of fires, most notably in 1879, 1909 and in the early 1920s threatened ruin for the family. When Thomas Perry died in 1900, his son Ernest who had been educated with a view to taking over the business, became the new proprietor and continued to upgrade the facilities, and expanded their export interests. The mill then passed to his brother Wilfrid in 1924, and in turn to his son Philip (died 1967) and his wife. Their son David Perry took over the mill but, following a fire in 1982, milling operations ceased. The mill was purchased by the Dolans in 1997. The papers in Maynooth Special Collections are largely divided into two strands; personal papers and business records.

The personal papers of the Perry family at Belmont provide an important insight into the social world of King’s County (now Offaly) and their interactions which centred mainly on the upper classes and the gentry. For this reason, social historians and those interested in the country house will find the papers informative, particularly in relation to their sporting and other leisure pursuits. The development of sport in the midlands and provincial towns is a burgeoning research topic, and the papers provide evidence of this. From tennis tournaments at the height of the Land War, to golf, ‘association football’, fishing and hockey, the Perrys were active in a host of sporting activities. In 1900 Ernest writes that ‘Wilfrid and I going to play hockey at Shannon Grove’, while on another occasion he remarked that ‘some sportsmen in Banagher are trying to get up a hockey club but it is only a suggestion as yet. I hope it will succeed’. Tennis was predominantly played at the private homes of what Sir Charles Coote described as the ‘minor gentry’ of Offaly. In 1905 one tournament held at ‘Sherrards’ was attended by the Burdetts, Sherrards, L’Estranges; Seymours; Moonys , Droughts, Hodges; Trenchs; Bouchers; Goodwins; Kearns’, and Walkers. Other visitors included the Drevars, of whom Emily remarked in 1908 that she was looking forward to visiting Belmont again to play tennis ‘much as I used to enjoy though ignorant of the rules’. The Perrys were also avid golfers taking to the course at Moystown and Tullamore, while also undertaking trips to Greenore and Malahide in the early years of the twentieth century. Fishing holidays were usually undertaken in the west of Ireland near Ballinrobe in County Mayo. Their social world also revolved around visiting neighbouring families where musical evenings were enjoyed. In September 1899, for example, Wilfrid informed Ernest that he had ‘rode over to Lissanode yesterday to a musical afternoon’ and that ‘we rode on from Lissanode to Inchmore’, remarking that the ‘Inchmore people were very full of Colonel Cox’.

Letter from Jens Edmonds to her granny

            A feature of the archive are the letters written by Ernest Perry in the early 1880s while at boarding school at Chesterfield, Parstonstown (Birr). Young Ernest was not happy about his time at Chesterfield, informing his mother in 1881 that they were being ‘unkind and cold hearted’ for not coming to see him. In another letter he concludes: ‘if you want to prove your love to me’ you must come and visit.  His time at Chesterfield was far from happy, prompting him to the pen the following lines in advance of the summer holidays:

 ‘This time 14 weeks where shall we be,

out of the gates of misery,

no more cabbage full of slugs,

no more tea out of dusty mugs’

By 1884 Ernest was enrolled in boarding school in England from where he enquired whether there was ‘any particular branch of chemistry for milling’ that he should learn.

            The archive also contains other fascinating insights into the Perry family and their relations, including those in South Africa, and combined with other papers in Maynooth Special Collections, these provide glimpses of life around the turn of the twentieth century and the  Second Anglo Boer War. When Thomas Perry died in 1900 his wife Harriet undertook a number of trips to the Cape Colony to see her daughter May, who married Walter Edmonds, and her children. Farming over 6,000 acres at a place called Komgha, the Edmonds had 200 breeding cattle, 1,800 sheep and 600 sows. Letters to Harriet while in South Africa often contain the best insights into life in Offaly at this time as she was kept up to speed with what was happening back home!

The Decameron: Florence to Maynooth via Louvain

By Darren Sturdy, Special Collections and Archives

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

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

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

Signature of James Cowan, 1791.

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

Decorative initial.

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

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

Statue of Giovanni Boccaccio, The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

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

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

  Decameron Web | The Project (brown.edu)

The Abolitionists and After

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian, Maynooth University.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leicester Village, Sierra Leone.

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

Russell Library Reading Room.

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

By Adam Staunton, Special Collections & Archives

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

Travel Map of the United States circa 1871

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

The Courtyard of Haddon Hall, with a very welcoming crowd

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

Don’t forget to pack those Lemons

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

Immigration arrival, Castle Garden, New York

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

View of New York from Ward Island

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

By Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Creek People

By David Rinehart, Library Assistant, Special Collections and Archives

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

Photo of alligator in Paynes Prairie courtesy of Florida State Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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