Colourful Decorative Papers in the Collections and How to Make Them.

By Sarah Graham, Conservator, Maynooth University Library

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A selection of decorated papers from the Russell Library

December is a great month. As the nights draw in, I embrace the hygge spirit, lock out the cold and set up a craft making emporium. This year, I thought it would be interesting to use the decorated papers in Special Collections and Archives for inspiration. It is easy to take the vivid and ornate decoration for granted and see the library as just a repository of information. However, skilled craftsmanship is needed to bind books and the eye-catchingly colourful decorated paper used to cover them informs us of contemporary tools, trade influences and techniques cultivated in their production. As knowledge was passed along at the workbench rather than being written down, the origins and materials used in making decorated papers are harder to pin down and rely on empirical assessment of extant papers. However, for the purpose of Christmas creativity, there are some relatively straightforward methods to make interesting papers for wrapping or our presents. Paste papers and marbled papers are the two types being looked at here.

I first tried making paste papers in Italy this summer as described in a previous blog. The earliest example of paste paper I’ve seen in the Russell Library is used to cover the boards of a half-vellum binding dating to 1685 (the pink flowers on white, far left of the papers above). This is approximately the same time De Bray was describing how to use flour paste to adhere vellum in the production of books. It was as ubiquitous in traditional binderies as wheat starch paste (the conservation equivalent) is in modern studios. Every conservator has their take on the perfect wheat starch paste recipe. Due to its flexibility it has many uses in book and paper conservation. It can be used as a thick local repair paste, watered down to a milk-like consistency for lining or left to dry on Japanese paper ready to be re-moistened for water sensitive items. Paste papers may have been produced separately like marbled papers but the materials were available in a bookbinding studio if desired and relatively simple to produce. In this instance, I added some acrylic paint we use to tone papers and these viscous colours could then be pasted onto paper in a number of ways to create different effects.

These are a few which I made by applying paste to the paper and then combing through with what I had to hand:

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Papers made by combing or stippling

For these cover papers and paste downs, the paper was covered in paste, folded in half and then pulled apart. I tried by putting a separate sheet of paper on top but I think my attempt was a bit tentative.

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From left: full pulled paste paper binding, pulled paste end-page, my attempt…, half parchment binding and my attempt at replicating the pattern.

I’m not entirely sure how this red paste paper (above right) was made. I tried to create something similar by stippling the paste and then turning the brush but it is not quite right. I suspect that it is a pulled paper which has had something the shape of a small pastry ring pressed into it.

One of the reasons wheat starch paste is used in conservation is its reversibility. It is easy to re-moisten and remove your repair. The majority of paste papers I’ve seen in the Russell Library are stamped and this could possibly be because a thinner, partial coverage of paste was easier to handle when fresh paste was applied to the back (for attaching the paper to the boards.) I made the stars and squares patterns, as straight lines are simpler to make in the softcut (block for lino cutting) rather than attempt the fiddly curves of the flowers. These were reasonably successful and once you have the stamp, you can use it in a number of different ways.

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From left: binding from the Russell with various ways you could use the one stamp
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From left: binding from the Russell with my attempt at making the design, I cut up the stamp I’d made for the paper on the right

You can experiment away! Head to the National Library of the Netherlands for inspiration.

The origins of marbled papers are also ambiguous. It is likely to have started in China around the 10th century and spread quickly to Japan, where it was called suminagashi (floating ink). As a clear water bath was used, the inks must have been at least partially non-polar to stop it being miscible in water[1]. Marbled papers are quite quick to produce but are more technical to set up. For many years the details of how they were made were retained within specific workshops making marbled paper[2]creating a mystery around their production. Things have changed. For entry level marblers, there are oil based inks which can be found in craft shops. A quick search online produces many sites which show you how to marble on a water bath and on shaving foam. I only tried a water bath which can produce some pretty results but when compared to the originals in the Russell they can be a little heavy and… oily. As a technique it is possibly closer to the Japanese suminagashi method but the colours would need to be diluted a lot more.

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My first attempts at marbling using oil-based marbling inks

However, when marbling was developed in Persia and Turkey the water bath was thickened with a ‘size’ to make water-soluble inks float on the surface rather than sink. There are three main components to get right; the paper, the inks and the bath. The paper needs to be thin enough to flex when lowered into the bath as this will help the pattern stay even. It also really helps to coat the paper in an alum solution to help pick up the colour. Traditionally inks were mixed with varying amounts of ox gall to ‘control the speed at which they spread when dropped on to the size’[3]. I however, am cheating and using acrylic paint instead which seems a good compromise for a mid-level marbler. These need to be watered down so they can be dropped with a pipette. I am also cheating with the bath which is commonly a carragheen/borax mix[4] or methyl cellulose and ammonia. Methyl cellulose is often used in conservation and is easy for me to find but I’m leaving out the ammonia (I don’t have any lying about and it smells.) I found a cream like consistency prevented the pigment from sinking but let the combs move freely. Now we are ready to begin.

I poured the methyl cellulose into a shallow baking tray (although a white tray would have made the paints more visible.) You then drop the colours into the bath and comb through a pattern as demonstrated by Steve Pittelkow on ibookbinding. There are also many videos of this on youtube and the Washington University Library website has great examples.

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From left: snail pattern marbled paper from the Russell Library, my attempts at snail, feather and combed marbled paper and finally combed marble paper from the Russell.

I should warn you that this can become quite addictive. I have had to stop myself on many occasions from ‘just making up one more bath’ to see the effect a different consistency would have. I have only dipped my toe in and it would take many more marbled papers to become proficient. Luckily however, you don’t have to perfect an exact peacock design to create something beautiful.

decorated paper marbled wrong

Images of original books from the Russell Library are reproduced by permission of the Librarian, Maynooth University, from the collections of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

[1] P6 Wolfe, R.J., Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques and Patterns (Philadelphia, 1990).

[2] P43 Wolfe, R.J., Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques and Patterns (Philadelphia, 1990).

[3] P38 Miura, E., The Art of Marbled Paper: Marbled Patterns and How to Make Them (Hong Kong, 1990).

[4] P38 Miura, E., The Art of Marbled Paper: Marbled Patterns and How to Make Them (Hong Kong, 1990).

The centrality of culture in the struggle for a new world: Amilcar Cabral and Ken Saro-Wiwa


By Firoze Manji, Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, Robert Bosch Academy, Berlin

This is a slightly shortened version of the Keynote address from the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar 15th November 2018


Firoze Manji delivers the keynote address at the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar, 15th November 2018

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The Master le Pádraig Mac Piarais

Fionntán de Brún, Ollamh le Nua-Ghaeilge

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I gcóipleabhar beag atá á choinneáil i Leabharlann an Ruiséalaigh, tá dréacht lámhscríofa den dráma The Master le Pádraig Mac Piarais. Léiríodh The Master san Irish Theatre, Sráid Hardwicke, ar an 20 Bealtaine 1915 agus ba é an dráma deireanach dá chuid a chonaic an Piarsach ar an stáitse. Ba dá dheartháir féin, Willie, a thug an t-údar an phríomhpháirt (Ciarán/ An Máistir) agus ba do dhaltaí nó d’iardhaltaí leis as Sgoil Éanna a thug sé na páirteanna eile. An bhliain dár gcionn, chuaigh údar agus beagnach gach duine d’fhoireann an dráma i ndeabhaidh lainne le himpireacht na Breataine agus ba mar gheall ar imeachtaí sin Éirí Amach na Cásca a cuireadh an dís deartháireacha chun báis, Pádraig ar an 3 Bealtaine agus Willie ar an 4 Bealtaine 1916.

The Master le Pádraig Mac Piarais

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A leprosy hospital in Pretoria

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian, Maynooth University Library

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In late 1914 an interesting letter arrived at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth which outlined the plight of detainees at a Leper Asylum in Pretoria, South Africa. The letter was written by an Irish missionary, Fr. Thomas Ryan, who was fundraising for the construction of a Catholic church at the Westfort Leprosy Hospital. Admission rates to leper asylums had greatly increased in the late nineteenth century following the introduction of legislation such as the Leprosy Repression Act of the 1890s which attempted to segregate and isolate those suffering from the disease. Fr. Ryan writes:
‘I beg you to forgive me for making this appeal to you. In my parish of Pretoria there is a leper asylum, and there over 800 lepers are gathered together. Before the “Union” of the S. African States there were not so many lepers in our asylum but now the authorities are more careful – the leper asylum of Bloemfontein has been closed, & lepers are now placed only at Robin [sic.] Island & in the Pretoria asylum.’

Letter from Fr Thomas Ryan outlining the plight of detainees at a Leper Asylum in Pretoria, South Africa, 14 October 1914

Fr. Ryan was born in 1858 and was ordained for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Inchicore in 1882. His missionary work brought him first to Leeds and then to Australia in 1893, where he settled at Fremantle, before returning to Ireland due to poor health and later travelling to South Africa in 1908 as a missionary. In 1914 Ryan wrote to several individuals and institutions around the world asking for help to develop ‘a little sanctuary which shall afford to the leper worshippers the means of realising the beauty of Catholic workshop on however small a scale’.
Simone Horwitz in her article ‘Leprosy in South Africa: A case study of Westfort Leper Institution, 1898-1948’, states that ‘Once patients were admitted to the institution, close contact with non-leprous persons, in theory at least, was to be prohibited’ yet in practice, the authorities failed to fully implement these policies, leading to ‘inadequate facilities, lax management, modest medical care and haphazardly enforced segregation’.
Fr. Ryan’s letter states that ‘[t]here are 25 Catholics among the lepers & they & others also are anxious to have a Catholic church built within the asylum boundaries. The priests visit the asylum regularly but we cannot say Mass for the lepers as there is no place that we can call our own.’ Following a petition to the Bishop of Transvaal it was decided to fundraise the £400 needed to construct the church and Fr. Ryan appealed to the professors and students of Maynooth College ‘to keep alive the Irish missionary spirit’ by giving just one shilling to the cause.

Fr Thomas Ryan writes that ‘over 800 lepers are gathered together’, 14 October 1914.

Supporters of Ryan’s work included the former High Commissioner of South Africa, Viscount Milner and the Prime Minister of South Africa, General Louis Botha. Local people also offered their support and according to a report in the Sacred Heart Review a number of people had already committed to the work:
‘A carpenter who is now fighting for his country in German South-West Africa has promised to make the doors; the Trappist Community at Mariannhill will be responsible for the windows, and several very poor working men will contribute the stone’.
The Anglo-Welsh artist Sir Frank Brangwyn  painted a set of the Stations of the Cross for the church ‘voluntarily as a Catholic in keen sympathy with the work of Father Ryan, whom he did not even know’.

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Fr Thomas Ryan notes ‘The priests visit the asylum regularly but we cacnnot say Mass for the lepers as there is no place that we can call our own’, 14 October 1914

The new church was finally opened in December 1916 by Bishop Cox who commended the work of Fr. Ryan. A newspaper report at the time also praised the work of the Irish missionary: ‘The work of such a man in such a cause is a tangible asset to the credit of the old land and of its fidelity to the ancient Church.’
Seven years later Fr. Ryan travelled to London to recuperate from a recent illness. Before he left Pretoria a celebration was held in his honour, during which both the Mayor and a member of the Legislative Assembly spoke.
He died in South Africa on the 18th October 1929 at the age of seventy-one.

Barbara McCormack contributed an article on this topic to Treasures of Irish Christianity: To the Ends of the Earth, edited by Salvador Ryan and published by Veritas in 2015.

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Women of the Revolution : Hannah Condon Cleary on her service in Cumann na mBan 1918-1923

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

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To read a firsthand account of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War is illuminating. When the eyewitness happens to be a woman a different and yet still relatively rare vision of these defining moments in Irish history presents itself. This is the case with the four-page manuscript acquired recently by Maynooth University Library written by Hannah Condon Cleary, a commanding officer with Cumann na mBan. It details her “active service” from 1918 to 1923 in Anglesboro Co. Limerick and brings to the fore the roles open to women in the fight for Irish liberty.

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First page of Hannah Condon Cleary’s manuscript detailing the year she joined Cumann na mBan

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Maynooth University Library Ken Saro-Wiwa School Poetry Competition

By Helen Fallon, Deputy Librarian, Maynooth University Library


Maynooth University Library and Maynooth Education Campus organised a Ken Saro-Wiwa school poetry competition. Prize winners were announced at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar on 14th November 2018.

Jessica Traynor, poet


Background to the Award

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a writer and environmental activist who lived in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. He fought against the pollution of his homeland by the international petrochemical industry and was executed along with eight others (the “Ogoni 9”), in 1995.  While in military detention, he wrote letters and poems full of hope, and sent them to his friend Sister Majella McCarron (OLA). Ken Saro-Wiwa’s letters to Sister Majella were smuggled out of military detention in breadbaskets and donated, by Sister Majella, to Maynooth University in 2011. Each year, the Library organises a Ken Saro-Wiwa seminar to mark the anniversary of his death.
The school poetry prize was part of this year’s initiative. Poetry workshops were facilitated by poet Jessica Traynor.  She was also the competition judge.

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Fr William Purcell, CM and the Nordrach Sanatorium

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

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Following the closure of All Hallows College, Dublin in 2016, its archives (dating back to its foundation in 1842) were transferred to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The archives are currently being catalogued so that they can be opened to researchers. One of the many interesting items I have catalogued so far is a photo album which documents one of All Hallows’ past president’s time as a patient in a TB clinic in the Black Forest in Germany (AHC/4/1/2).

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Fr Purcell during his stay at the Nordrach Sanatorium, 1928-1929

Fr William Purcell, CM was born in Tipperary in 1891. He was ordained a Vincentian priest on 25 May 1918. His first appointment was to All Hallows College in Dublin, where he taught history and was also responsible for keeping an eye on the younger students who walked to Earlsfort Terrace for classes each day. Fr Purcell would be seen commuting back and forth on a bicycle, and during those commutes he witnessed many memorable scenes in the turbulent city. He later recalled:

‘The nearest I got to a graveyard was when an ambush took place on Tolka Bridge which I half saw from my window. I stood on Butt Bridge, too, when the Customs House was burning. And, of course, I was in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. I should get a medal for that, because I took home a little child I met outside the gate!’

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Fr Purcell (second from the left) and other patients of the Nordrach Sanatorium, pictured outdoors in the Black Forest.

In 1927, Fr Purcell was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lung. In the early decades of the 20th century, TB was a serious and very prevalent illness in Ireland. Consumption, as it was called, claimed thousands of lives annually. In October of that year Fr Purcell set out for Nordrach Sanatorium in the Black Forest in Germany, where he spent eighteen months as a patient. The photo album contains 34 black and white photographs taken in 1928. They show Fr Purcell and the other patients at the clinic, in the picturesque scenery surrounding it, and in the nearby town of Nordrach. Fr Purcell served as President of All Hallows College from 1948 until his death on 24 May 1961.

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Fr Purcell (front row, fourth from the left) and other patients outside the clinic.


The Nordrach Sanatorium was established in the late nineteenth century by Dr Otto Walther, for the treatment of advanced tuberculosis. The rooms of the clinic were some 460 metres above sea level, with windows to expose patients to the refreshing winds. Nordrach thrived as a clinic throughout the early 1930s. Dr Walther, as a Jew, came under increased scrutiny as the Nazis came to power in Germany, and the sanatorium was eventually forced to close.

This pencil portrait of Fr Purcell, which was inserted into the photo album, is signed at Badenweiler, another TB sanatorium in the south of Germany. It was drawn shortly before Fr Purcell returned to Ireland in 1929.

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Pencil portrait of Fr Purcell, signed by ‘[L.N. Brestaner], April 1929, Badenweiler.
However, after only a short time at home in Ireland, he was again obliged to return to a clinic for medical treatment, this time in Switzerland. By the 1950s, TB was being treated effectively with antibiotics, and many of the European sanatoriums previously devoted to it began to close.



All Hallows Annual (1929-1930): Accessed October 2018.

All Hallows Annual (1962-1963): Accessed October 2018.

Buckley, Dan, ‘The silent terror that consumed so many’ Irish Examiner (24 August 2010): Accessed October 2018.

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‘Safe both from gales of wind or an enemy’s chase’; The travels of Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo

By Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections and Content, Maynooth University Library

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Cataloguing and preparing our archival collections is a time intensive endeavour.  One of the consequences of this is a delay from the time at which we acquire a collection to when it becomes available for consultation.  This is a challenge, not least for the staff who are desperate for such wonderful items to be available, but are equally conscious that to do so before they are ready puts them at risk.  The upshot of this is that we have, at any time, a number of ‘undiscovered gems’ waiting to step into the sunlight of the researcher’s benevolent gaze!

One such collection is that of the Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo.  Browne was the only son of the first Marquess of Sligo, who had received this ennoblement after he voted for the Act of Union in 1800.  While in many ways his life gives the impression of the classic ‘Regency Buck’ his energy and enthusiasm for travel and adventure led him to live a remarkable life, roaming over Europe.  His later life is, in many ways defined by one significant act; his attempt, while governor of Jamaica to free the slaves of that island.

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Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo.  (Picture courtesy of Westport House, Mayo)

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Sketches from the battlefield: Captain George Vaughan Wardell and the Battle of Rorke’s Drift

By Nicola Kelly, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

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The Wardell Archive comprises the personal papers of the Wardell family; William Henry Wardell senior (1799-1881) a Major in several regiments, including the Royal Canadian Rifles; his wife Eliza Wardell (b.1800); William Henry Wardell junior (1838-1903)  Major-general, and an instructor at Woolwich Academy. The majority of the collections contents are the letters, photographs and sketches by George Vaughan Wardell  (1840-1879) Captain of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot.

Captain George Vaughan Wardell’s correspondence reflects his family life and military career which began when he enrolled as an ensign in the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot in May 1858. He writes between 1864 and 1871, mainly to his parents but also to his brothers and sister, a series of letters detailing among other matters his experiences in faraway postings such as Mauritius, Rangoon, Madras, Malta and Burma.

Captain George Vaughan Wardell

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An Extraordinary Act of Kindness: The Fascinating Life of Elizabeth O’Kelly as Revealed in her Family Archive

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By Róisín Berry, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

The Irish media has recently been covering a story about an extraordinary act of kindness, the donation of €30m to five charities in Ireland including the Irish Cancer Society, Irish Kidney Association, Irish Heart Foundation, Irish Society for Autism and Royal National Lifeboat Institution. This generous bequest came from Elizabeth O’Kelly, a deeply private woman who spent her final years living in Stradbally, County Laois before her death in December 2016. The recent donation of Elizabeth’s family archive to Maynooth University Library has provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating life of this enigmatic woman.


Photograph of Elizabeth with a leopard cub c. 1930s
Photograph of Elizabeth with a lion cub, c. 1930s

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