Christmas In The Archives


By Emma Doran, Special Collections & Archives, JPII Library.


title page
Cover Page of the pamphlet The Irish Christmas, published by the Three Candle Press in 1917.

“Who can bring back the magic of that story, the singing seraphim,   the kneeling Kings, the starry path by which the Child of Glory ‘mid breathless watches and through myriad wings came.”


The Descent of the Child – by Susan L. Mitchell (1866-1926)

Keeping in toe with the festive spirit this month our Special Collections blog will bring to light a beautiful Irish produced pamphlet, filled with various poems and imagery composed around the idea of Christmas. The pamphlet, called The Irish Christmas was published originally in 1917 by the Three Candle Press in Dublin. The copy located here is a first edition printed in 1917 and inscribed by the original owner ‘ for ” Ginette” from her loving little cousin Simon Donnlevy Campbell. Christmas 1917’.


The poems published in this pamphlet are penned by a number of poets who sympathized with or had links to the Irish cause at the time.  The pamphlet also provides ties closer to home here at Maynooth University as Fr. Tomás Ó Ceallaigh, the author of the first poem listed studied at Maynooth. Altogether there are six works listed in total written in both the English and Irish language. While the illustration work included is that of the artist and cultural activist Sadhbh Trinseach (Ceasca Trench).


Sadhbh Trinseach

Illustration by Sadhbh Trinseach , printed in the pamphlet The Irish Christmas, published by the Three Candle Press in 1917.


Born in 1891, she developed nationalist sympathies from the early age of fifteen. She joined the London branch of the Gaelic League in 1908. Through her attendance at Irish-language she became acquainted with many prominent Gaelic Leaguers, including Pádraig Pearse. In 1913-1918 she began designing publicity posters and postcards for the Gaelic League. She was an executive member of Cumann na mBan and an active member of Craobh na gCúig gCúigí. For those wishing to learn more about Ceasca, some sketchbooks and her papers are now available in the National Library of Ireland.



Fr. Tomás Ó Ceallaigh

Fr. O Kelly
An image of Fr. Tomás Ó Ceallaigh. Taken from NUI Galway’s History of the School of Education.

The first professor of Education in NUIG was born in 1879. In 1897, he attended Maynooth College as a clerical student and was ordained a priest in 1903. Fr. Ó Ceallaigh’s love of all things Irish further flourished in Maynooth College under the tutelage of Fr. Eoghan Ó Gramhnaigh, who had been appointed the professor of Irish in the College in 1891. Fr. Ó Ceallaigh was one of the founders of Irishleabhar Mhuighe Nuadhad and Cuallacht Chuilm Cille. He also edited Irisleabhar na Cuallachta. Having chosen a very interesting example of our archive collection to investigate in this month’s blog it is wonderful to discover that one of the works included was written by an alumnus of the college.  The piece had previously been published in the Christmas edition of An Claideam Soluis in 1907 under the editorial eye of Pádraig Pearse. While continuing to work in education and further his studies Fr. Ó Ceallaigh was still an avid composer and writer as seen by the text of twenty-two poems, six plays and five ceol-dramaí published in his biography An tAthair Tomás Ó Ceallaigh agus a Shaothar, by An tAthair Tomás S. Ó Laimhin (Gaillimh 1943).




Other works included in the pamphlet are:

I Follow a Star by Joseph Campbell

Christmas and Ireland by Lionel Johnson

The Crib by Susan Mitchell

The Descent of the Child by Susan Mitchell

Ho Ri, Ho Ri by Sean Duan Albanach



Joseph Campbell
Poem by Joseph Campbell, printed in the pamphlet The Irish Christmas, published by the Three Candle Press in 1917.

Joseph Campbell

Born in 1879, is best known as a poet and republican. Circa 1900 he joined the Gaelic League and became a fluent Irish speaker. Campbell is known to have frequently submitted poems to Arthur Griffith’s United Irishmen publications and as a great admirer of W.B Yeats’ poetry. He is also known for producing lyrics for many Ulster traditional airs leading to Campbell’s’ reputation as a lyrical poet. Campbell was known to be a friend of Pádraig Pearse, and taught Irish History in St. Enda’s.



Lionel Johnson

Born in 1867, is best known as a poet and critic. Johnson was an acquaintance of Oscar Wilde and a well-known friend of W.B Yeats. He was a founding member of the Irish Literary Society in London 1892 and composed many propagandist poems set in Ireland focusing on the theme of martyrdom and persecution. In April 1894, Johnson came to Dublin to lecture on the topic of ‘poetry and patriotism’ supporting the ideals of Yeats. It was also Johnson who arranged the first meeting between Olivia Shakespear and W.B Yeats.


Susan Mitchell

Susan Mitchell
Poem by Susan Mitchell, printed in the pamphlet The Irish Christmas, published by the Three Candle Press in 1917.

Born 1866, Mitchell is most recognized as an essayist, poet and supporter of Home Rule. A close friend of the Yeats family and in particular W.B Yeats. When recovering from illness, Mitchell stayed with the Yeats family in London in 1899 and had her portrait painted by John Butler Yeats.  She was a lifelong friend of George Russell, who encouraged Mitchell to publish a number of poetry anthologies such as A Celtic Christmas, The Living Chalice, Aids to Immortality of Certain Persons in Ireland and Frankincense and Myrrh. She was a founding member of the United Irish Countrywomen’s Association, known today as the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. After the 1916 rising she took care of the personal affairs of Countess Markievicz. Her portrait painted by John Butler Yeats is available to view in the National Gallery of Ireland.

The pamphlet, The Irish Christmas can be viewed by request in the John Paul II Special Collections & Archives, Reading room.

Opening Times: Monday, Wednesday & Thursday Mornings – 10AM-1PM

Tuesday 10 AM-5PM. Closed for Lunch 1PM-2PM

Special Collections is closed on Fridays


Fr. Tomás Ó Ceallaigh:

Ó Héideáin, Eustás, TAthair. (2001). History of the School of Education. Retrieved November 21, 2017, from



Patrick Maume (2015). Trench, Cesca (Trinseach, Sadhbh).
In James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.),  Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Ó Héideáin, Eustás, TAthair. (2001). History of the School of Education. Retrieved November 21, 2017, from

James Quinn (2009). Campbell, Joseph.
In James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.),  Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Desmond McCabe (2009). Johnson, Lionel Pigot.
In James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.),  Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Patrick M. Geoghegan (2009). Mitchell, Susan Langstaff.
In James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.),  Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.



Lines from a Wintery Enclosure: A Letter from Seán Ó Faoláin to Friends in Brazil


Document of the Day: By Audrey Kinch, Maynooth University Library.  archives explored

It was a pleasure to sit back and read a letter sent in 1977 by Irish writer, Seán Ó Faoláin, on behalf of himself and his wife Eileen in Ireland, to their friends Munira Hamud Mutran and her husband Marcello in Brazil. At the time, Ó Faoláin was seventy-seven and still active in his career. Mutran was a young academic in Brazil. She had completed her PhD thesis on Ó Faoláin’s short stories the previous year in 1976, and would go on to become Professor of Literatures in English in the University of São Paulo in 2000. They enjoyed a correspondence over fourteen years and an enduring friendship for many more. Mutran received an honorary doctorate from Maynooth University in 2008, and she donated the letters to the University Library.

Selection of Documents from the Sean O Faolain Archive
              Selection of Documents from the                Seán Ó Faoláin Archive

Seán Ó Faoláin was born in Cork in 1900. He attended the Lancasterian School and the Presentation Brother’s College. In 1918, he began studying in University College Cork. He completed an MA in Irish in 1924 and an MA in English 1925. Ó Faoláin was a nationalist and a member of the Irish Volunteers. Throughout his life, he travelled widely within his career and also for leisure. He taught Anglo-Irish literature at Boston College in Massachusetts and English language and literature at St. Mary’s Training College in South West London. He was married to children’s writer Eileen Gould, they had two children, Julia and Stephen, and they lived in Killiney, County Dublin. Ó Faoláin published works in fiction and non-fiction. His first novel, A Nest of Simple Folk was published in 1934 and he continued writing throughout his life. He was granted the freedom of Cork city in 1988, and passed away at the age of 91 in 1991.


Sean O Faolain letter to Brazil
Letter from Seán Ó Faoláin to Munira Hamud Mutran and her husband Marcello, 1977


The letter that I have selected from the archive reads as follows:

“Dear Marcello, Munira,

Lovely to hear from you both and thanks for the elegant desk diary. We have often thought of you. My publisher insists on producing a selection of my best? stories in 1978 and so does his American counterpart. Our lives are as quiet as a mouse when the cat is around. It rains and blows but we reck not. One of the regrets of age is non-participation i.e. not being part of the busy world outside; but this is also one of the charms of retirement.

Pardon this ‘used’ envelope – Eileen is sending out her Christmas cards in my envelopes and it is too wild and wet to go out for replacements! We do live like hibernating squirrels once December comes. This, it has been said, is why Scandinavian longships were so finely carved – in the days of short light they carved by the firelight. I like this wintry enclosure. It is a good time for writing, tho’ at my age I ‘potter’ rather than compose. We send you all our warmest affections.

Sempre :-

Seán Ó Faoláin”

Signature on the letter from Sean O Faolain1
                 Detail from the letter containing                 Ó Faoláin’s signature

The letter exudes the warmth of the friendship and displays an ease of exchange in communication. At the top of the letter is a loop drawing of both Marcello and Munira’s names entwined at the letter “M”. The letter is also signed off warmly and fondly “Sempre”.

Dr Munira Mutran is Associate Professor of Literatures in English at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.  In 2015-16, she attended Trinity College Dublin at the Long Room Hub as a Visiting Research Fellow.

Letters to Brazil:  The Sean O’Faolain Archive can be consulted by appointment in the Special Collections and Archives Department at Maynooth University Library. For further details:




Comhfhreagras idir an tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire agus Séamus Ó Dubhghaill (Beirt Fhear)

Cáipéis an Lae: An Dr Tracey Ní Mhaonaigh, Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, Ollscoil Mhá Nuadarchives explored

Tá an comhad áirithe seo ar coimeád i Leabharlann an Ruiséalaigh, Coláiste Phádraig, Má Nuad. 99 litir atá ann ó pheann an Athar Peadar Ó Laoghaire agus é i mbun comhfhreagrais le Séamus Ó Dubhghaill (Beirt Fhear). Clúdaíonn na litreacha tréimhse 8 mbliana déag, ó mhí Aibreáin 1899 go dtí mí an Mheithimh 1917—tréimhse an-tábhachtach i scéal na Gaeilge agus obair Chonradh na Gaeilge faoi lán seoil, An Claidheamh Soluis tagtha ar an saol agus ceisteanna teanga agus cultúir á gcur agus á bplé.

Photograph of Peadar O Laoghaire
Grianghraf de Pheadar Ó Laoghaire

Donnchadh Ó Floinn, iar-Ollamh le Gaeilge sa Choláiste, a rinne an bailiúchán a chlárú  sa bhliain 1947 agus bhronn sé ar Choláiste Phádraig é i mí na Márta 1949. Sula ndearna sé aon chuid den obair seo, dóbair gur cailleadh an bailiúchán ar fad, áfach. Murach gur tugadh faoi deireadh, trí thimpiste agus iad á ndó, gur litreacha Gaeilge a bhí iontu, bheidís ar fad scriosta. Ach, a bhuí le súil ghéar an Athar Tomás Ó Cléirigh C.M., sábháladh an tromlach agus tugadh do Dhonnchadh Ó Floinn iad. Ní amháin go ndearna Ó Floinn iad a chlárú agus a bhronnadh ar an gColáiste, ach rinne sé iad a athscríobh ar dtús, in dhá chóipleabhar faoi chlúdach crua, chun go mbeadh cóip ann dá dtarlódh aon cheo do na litreacha bunaidh.

Cad a bhí á scríobh ag an Athair Peadar sna litreacha seo? Ní nach ionadh, tá cuid mhór iontu mar gheall ar leaganacha cainte agus brí focal, mar aon le plé ar mhúnlaí áirithe gramadaí. Ceisteanna a bhí i mbéal an phobail i bhfoilseacháin na linne is mó a spreag, de réir dealraimh, ábhar an chomhfhreagrais, agus an tAthair Peadar ag tacú le, nó ag seasamh an fhóid i gcoinne, tuairimí á léiriú iontu.

Letter from Peadar O Laoghaire to Seamus O Dubhghaill 16 October 1900
Ceann de na litreacha ón gcomhfhreagas idir an tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire agus Séamus Ó Dubhghaill atá ar coimeád i Leabharlann an Ruiséalaigh, Coláiste Phádraig, Maigh Nuad.

Chreid sé sa teanga agus i saothrú na teanga, ach ar bhealach a thaitin leis féin. Iad siúd a bhí ar aon tuairim leis, bhí sé an-mhór leo, ach sheas sé an fód go láidir ina gcoinne siúd nach raibh. Feicimid sna litreacha, dá bharr, daoine áirithe á moladh go hard na spéire aige—Séamus Ó Dubhghaill féin, Eoghan Ó Gramhnaigh agus Norma Borthwick, ina measc—agus daoine eile á gcáineadh aige—Micheál Ó hIceadha, Seosamh Laoide, Eoin Mac Néill, Eoghan Ó Neachtain, agus, an duine ba mhó a thuill a cháineadh, Pádraig Mac Piarais. Is é an meon a léirítear dúinn tríd an mbailiúchán seo an ghné is luachmhaire de.


Reflections on Catalonia from the Pearse Hutchinson Archive

Document of the Day: By Maureen Finn, Maynooth University Libraryarchives explored

Recent events in Catalonia, as this small region makes a bid for independence, brought to mind thoughts of the renowned Irish writer and poet, Pearse Hutchinson, who so loved that part of Spain. One wonders what he would think of the political upheaval and unrest that has unfolded there in recent times.

Photograph of Pearse Hutchinson

Photograph of Pearse Hutchinson from the Archive

Hutchinson spent a number of years in Catalonia in the 1950s while learning Spanish and expanding his writing, and he grew to love the Catalan people, their language, culture and customs. During this time, he collected many works of literature in the Catalan language, including several books of poetry, which form part of the substantial archive of his work, now permanently housed in the Special Collections & Archives Department at Maynooth University Library.  A selection of material from the Pearse Hutchinson Archive was on display over the October Bank Holiday weekend in Sitges, as part of the Creative Connexions Festival. The festival is a celebration of Celtic and Catalan identity.


One item of note from the Pearse Hutchinson Archive is a poem dedicated to Emilio Prados.  The poem is simply entitled ‘Málaga and was written in the mid-1950s. In its passages, Hutchinson describes a journey on an open-sided tram along a beach road with the scent of jasmine wafting in on the summer evening breeze. The poem evokes peaceful, tranquil images, describing sights and sounds that soothe the senses and instil calm. The following verse taken from the poem illustrates this point:

Malaga by Pearse Hutchinson
‘Málaga’ by Pearse Hutchinson

“I could have sworn for once I travelled through full peace
and even love at last had perfect calm release
only by breathing in the unseen jasmine scent
that ruled us and the summer every hour we went.”
(Extract from the poem ‘Málaga’ by Pearse Hutchinson, PP/2/1/1/3).

Hutchinson appeared to find contentment when in Spain, and from the outset he seems to have developed a fondness for that country. A copy of this poem was also found among his mother’s possessions bearing the inscription “le mo ghrá – Pearse.”

Selection of documents from the Hutchinson Archive
Selection of documents from Pearse Hutchinson Archive

The Pearse Hutchinson Archive contains a considerable body of work compiled by Hutchinson throughout his long and varied career. It includes poetry (in a number of languages), translations, contributions to radio and magazine, material from the literary journal Cyphers, which he founded in 1975. It went on to become Ireland’s longest running poetry magazine.

His publications span five decades and include such titles as Tongue without Hands (1963), Faoistín Bhacach, (1968), The Soul that Kissed the Body (1991) and Collected Poems (2002).

Also included in the Archive are family papers, letters, photographs and printed material from his parents, Henry Warren Hutchinson and Caitlin McElhinney, together with a notebook and drawings from Pearse’s childhood. His parents’ records reflect a turbulent period in Ireland’s history during the struggle for independence and the 1916 Easter Rising. They were strong supporters of Sinn Féin and had connections to many high profile nationalist figures of that time.

The Pearse Hutchinson Archive is rich in diversity and provides a window on the life and times of one of Ireland’s great literary figures of the last century.



Thomas Graham: A Justice of the Peace Appointed in 1893

Document of the Day: By Miriam Van der Molen, Maynooth University Library  archives explored

Thomas Graham (1838-1905) was a partner in the Belfast wine and spirit business, Keegan Graham and Company, from 1881. The Special Collections and Archives Department at Maynooth University holds various documents concerning Thomas Graham, both as an individual and as a partner in the business. The document that I have chosen to explore is an item from the personal, non-business, section of Thomas Graham’s archival material. It is a document made of vellum, which appointed him as Justice of the Peace for County Down. It was issued by “Nugent Liutaigne Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper and Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland”. It is dated 6 January “in the fifty-sixth year of our [Queen Victoria’s] Reign” (i.e. 1893) and measures 600mm x 695mm.

Document appointing Thomas Graham Justice of the Peace 1893
Justice of the Peace (document appointment)

In the first paragraph, Queen Victoria addresses councillors and cousins who have positions of authority in Ireland, such as the Lieutenant General of Ireland, various dukes, earls, marquises, barons and viscounts and others with legal and administrative functions or who were apparently held in esteem for some other reason. The first portion of names is printed, while the second is handwritten. The final name in this list is “Thomas Graham, Esquire, Thornbrook, Bangor, County Down”.

The second paragraph states that those same people, named in the first paragraph, are appointed “Justices to keep our Peace in our County of Down”. The list of names is again partly printed and partly handwritten. This time, the handwritten names very soon begin to only have initials for the honorific titles and first names, presumably to cut down on the already onerous task of writing out the lengthy list of over two hundred names a second time.

Detail of the document
Justice of the Peace (detail)

The third paragraph states that the Justices of the Peace will uncover the truth, lawfully, about various offences. The offences specifically named are “Treasons, Murders, Manslaughters, Burnings, Unlawful Assemblies, Felonies, Robberies, Witchcrafts, Inchantments [sic], Sorceries, Magic Arts, Trespasses, Forestallings, Regratings, Engrossings and Extortions”, as well as disturbing the peace in different ways. A person could be punished for their offences by “Fines, Ransoms, Amerciaments, Forfeitures, or otherwise”. While the names of most of these offences are understandable today, I looked up the meanings of “forestalling”, “regrating” and “engrossing”, which were all seen as offences against public trade. “Forestalling the market” was the buying of goods on their way to market or stopping traders selling at the market or encouraging traders to raise their prices, all of which could cause a decrease in market competition. “Regrating” and “engrossing” appear to be synonymous with each other in being defined as “buying corn or other dead victuals (i.e. food)” with a view to reselling in the same market. The price would be raised as the person reselling would have to make a profit, and thereby make the food more expensive for the buyer.[1].

Detail of the wax seal
Justice of the Peace (wax seal)

A black wax seal is attached by another piece of vellum to the document designating Thomas Graham as Justice of the Peace. It shows the head and upper torso of Queen Victoria, with her head framed by the roof-like peak of the throne on which she is sitting. In her right hand, she is wielding a sceptre, symbolic of authority. The impression on this seal is actually only a detail of the full image of the Great Seal of Queen Victoria. The full seal shows a person to her left and right and also an orb which the Queen is holding in her left hand. This orb, like the sceptre, is part of the royal regalia and symbolises the globe and thereby the monarch power on earth. This authoritative power is conveyed in the wording of the document appointing Thomas Graham a Justice of the Peace.

[1] ‘Commentaries on the laws of England: Book the fourth’ by William Blackstone, Dublin 1770, page 158.


Rev. Desmond Forristal: A Scholar, Playwright, Television Producer, and More

Document of the Day: By Ranju Upadhyay, Maynooth University Libraryarchives explored


When I was young my grandmother used to read Mahabharata, one of the Hindu epics, to us. In this epic narrative that has hundreds of characters and touches almost all aspects of life and society, Krishna the Omnipresent fascinated me the most. He is probably one of the most versatile characters one would find. However he is a mythical character! There is a possibility that he could exist in our imaginations but not necessarily in reality.

Portrait of the Forristal Family, c. 1940s
Portrait of the Forristal Family,  c. 1940s

When I came across the Rev. Desmond Forristal Archive in the Library at Maynooth University, I was amazed by this multi-talented figure. Forristal was a scholar, playwright, television producer, musician, an author and more.





The Archive includes a series of homilies written by Forristal between 1988 and 1994. Some of the lines from one document tell us that he was a profound thinker:

“Much of the conflict in the world today is caused by the oppression and ill-treatment of the minorities”.  (1 January 1989).

Homily by Rev Desmond Forristal
Homily by Rev Desmond Forristal, 5 November 1989

And deeply spiritual as well:

“Every exit is an entrance somewhere else… That is what death is. Our friends, our loved ones, leave the stage. We can see them going. We can’t see where they go. We can only sit there and wonder. ” (5 November 1989).

And may have held quite traditional views at times:

“Divorce does not just undermine marriage. It abolishes marriage. It rewrites the marriage vows until they are empty of all meaning.” (2 October 1994).

Recently, I have been reading a book by Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, and was amazed at the extent of injustice committed in what was considered a democratic and liberal empire. Forristal’s book The Bridge at Lo Wu: a life of Sister Eamonn O’Sullivan, a biography of an Irish missionary in China, reflects the sufferings of people under communist rule in China. The interesting observation for me was the similar nature of these injustices. Well of course I think these two political systems have the same basic principle i.e. “everyone is equal” and not the opposite. However, when we look at different stages of time, including the present, both these political systems seem to have managed to treat people most unequally and unjustly.

In one of her letters home, Sister Eamonn reflects on the tyranny of communist guerrillas:

“It would be an easy thing to be killed: there are worst things than death”.

Of course the several different religions that in essence have a simple idea of “faith” have created their own share of problems at different points in time and continue to do so. I myself am neither religious nor have strong political views. The only philosophy that has ever influenced me is “Life is all about balance”. But the point here is that every time I go through an archival collection it proves to be a beautifully rigorous, thought-provoking exercise. And I think that is the beauty of our archives, so well preserved is the past that every time I visit it becomes alive.

Rev. Desmond Forristal’s contribution is much more than the simple political or religious expressions that I have highlighted. His association with Irish television broadcasting through his films and TV series, with the Gate Theatre through his plays, and of course his association with the church through several parishes he served, shows his genuinely versatile personality.

The papers, writings and books of Rev. Desmond Forristal were donated to the Library at Maynooth University in 2001 by his brother, Ciarán.

Photograph of Rev Desmond Forristal playing the piano
Photograph of Rev Desmond Forristal playing the piano, c. 1960s



“Ogoni is Buzzing with All Sorts of Noise”: A Letter of Hope from the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive

Document of the Day: By Mark Dummett, Business and Human Rights Researcher, Amnesty International.     archives explored


Photograph of Ken Saro-Wiwa
            Photograph of                Ken Saro-Wiwa

The Library at Maynooth University is fortunate to hold a unique and fascinating collection of letters written by Ken Saro-Wiwa, the acclaimed Nigerian author and activist, who led a peaceful grassroots protest movement highlighting the inequities of the oil industry in his home region, Ogoniland, during the first half of the 1990s.

The protest movement that he led – the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) – said that decades of pollution from oil spills and gas flares had destroyed their farmlands while others had grown rich on the proceeds.

MOSOP’s protests attracted headlines around the world after the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell withdrew from its Ogoni oil fields, which it operated in partnership with the Nigerian state, in January 1993. But the protests ended in tragedy.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other men from Ogoniland, in Africa’s most important oil-producing region, the Niger Delta, were executed on 10 November 1995, as Nigeria’s military government sought to silence MOSOP.

The men had been wrongly convicted of involvement in a murder, after a manifestly unfair trial, and months of harsh imprisonment. During his long incarceration (which began on 22 May 1994), Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had a heart condition, was denied medical care. Soldiers attacked his mother and family members of the other men as they brought food and visited them. Another of the accused, Baribor Bera, said that during his own brutal interrogation, soldiers knocked out his teeth and forced him to swallow them.

The situation inside Ogoniland itself was even worse. The military attacked defenceless villages, carrying out numerous, grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings, as well as torture and other ill-treatment, including rape, and the destruction of homes and livelihoods.

Last letter from Ken to Sr Majella Page 1
Last letter from Ken Saro-Wiwa  to                    Sr Majella McCarron,                14 September 1995

However, despite this grim scene, the collection of letters (sent to a Catholic Sister working in Nigeria, Sister Majella McCarron), reveals that throughout his time in detention, Ken Saro-Wiwa remained constantly upbeat. They show how he managed to keep his finger on the pulse of Ogoni and Nigerian politics from behind bars as he strived to find a solution to the crisis destroying his homeland.

The last of the 28 letters, dated 14 September 1995, is no exception. By this time, Ken Saro-Wiwa was certain he would be convicted. Not expecting to be executed, he wrote that he was gearing up to “remain in prison for as long as the authorities please.” Yet he was also discussing a “peace effort” with the commander of the military force deployed to subdue Ogoniland. He reported on persuading the commander to release three Ogoni youths from detention as a goodwill gesture, and that with the talk of reconciliation and peace deals, “Ogoni is buzzing with all sorts of noise, all sorts of expectation.”

It is a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

Detail from last letter from Ken to Sr Majella
Extract from last letter from Saro-Wiwa to McCarron 

Saro-Wiwa and the other men were executed just two months after this letter was written, and the abusive military force stayed in Ogoniland for years longer. To this day, no-one has been held to account for the human rights abuses that occurred, and no government has yet investigated the role that Shell may have played. Victims, who accuse the company of complicity, have been forced to file claims against Shell in foreign countries, as they see no chance of justice in Nigeria itself. A much heralded effort to finally remediate Ogoniland’s polluted environment was flagged off by the government over a year ago, but nothing substantial has yet got underway.


The reconciliation that Ken Saro-Wiwa hoped, and fought for, has still not been achieved.




Writing from the Fringes: Letters from Ireland to a ‘Miss Mordaunt’ in Brighton, 1827-1828

Document of the Day: By Róisín Berry, Maynooth University Library   

  archives exploredWorking as an archivist, I am extremely fortunate to have access to a wide range of archival collections. Cataloguing each collection is a unique experience with different challenges involved. In some cases the hand-writing may be difficult to read, in others, closure periods may have to be applied due to the sensitivity of the content. Every project teaches you something new and allows you to draw on that experience further down the line.

Selection of letters from the collection
Selection of letters from the collection

Recently, I have been working on a small collection acquired by the Library at auction in 2013. Little background information was provided at the time of purchase, so there are many gaps in this story. The collection contains fifteen handwritten letters, each neatly signed “MEC”, and written between 1827 and 1828 from a number of addresses in counties Wicklow and Wexford. The letters are addressed to a ‘Miss Mordaunt’ with addresses at 19 Cannon Street, 2 Bedford Square, and Regency Square in the Brighton area in England.


We know little about the author herself, although we can glean a certain amount of information from the documents. The lady in question appears to be of some means and with certain connections. She is a married English woman residing in Ireland with her husband Horace, albeit on a temporary basis. The couple seem to have fallen on difficult times, as the author writes about her husband’s poor health, financial challenges, and her struggle to take on the management of the family’s affairs during her husband’s illness. She is a woman under pressure as her place in the world becomes a little less secure due to her husband’s ill health. In one letter she states “I am obliged to learn to understand all sorts of things wh. are very difficult & sometimes called upon to decide about things wh. makes me anxious & uneasy” (18 May 1827). Each letter is addressed “dearest friend”, revealing a level of intimacy between the two women.

Handwritten label enclosing the letters

What fascinates me most about this archival collection are the observations recorded by “MEC” on Irish life, customs, people and society during the late 1820s. Each letter is filled with detailed accounts of everyday occurrences as observed by an English Protestant woman living on the fringes, and very much an outsider. On the subject of Catholicism, the author notes:  “The Protestants thank God! are making many converts – as far as I see with Popery, goes Beggary & idleness & error & fanaticism – & these amongst the lower orders are serious & mischievous evils. I was never so anti-Catholic as since I came to Ireland” [6 March 1827].

Another letter, dated 10 April 1827, describes funeral customs in Ireland, stating:

“Great respect of a peculiar kind is paid to the dead especially by the R. Cath.cs – you know the old custom of wakes – & besides this they make a point of carrying the body as far as possible about – thinking it is the nearer to heaven!…unlike us they neither hire, nor put on mourning faces – nor think any solemnity necessary – they have less value for life & less fear of death – this makes them brave but dangerous”.

The couple move from Wicklow to Glebe Hill in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, at some point in April 1827, and the letters are filled with descriptions of the county and its residents, observing:

“the country is more promising as to industry cultivation & soil than Wicklow…the race of people quite different…Horace observed the countenance of the people on the high road, said he shd. not be surprised if a colony of Welch or English had settled here…they retain to this day a striking difference of countenance & character – they are more sober & industrious than the inhabitants but very ugly’, with the residents of County Waterford described as ‘still more ugly – speaking nothing but Irish & very savage” (28 April 1827).

Not all of the comments are negative, however, and the author goes on to state:  “be assured there is as much good sense & real refinement in the recesses of Ireland…& much pleasanter society, for they naturally easy & cheerful & without the English reserve…& quite as much real delicacy”. (28 April 1827).

This is a wonderful collection full of interesting insights and reflections, shedding light on everyday life in Ireland during the late 1820s. The identity of the author “MEC” has yet to be established as work continues on the material but the challenge of piecing together the different strands of the story is one of the most rewarding aspects of working as an archivist.

Detail of the author's signature
Detail of the author’s signature





Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis: A Loyal Instrument of Government

Document of the Day: Barchives exploredy Hugh Murphy, Maynooth University Library

One of the more interesting characters of influence in Ireland at the start of the nineteenth century is Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (31 December 1738 – October 1805[1]), who served as both Lord Lieutenant and Commander in Chief from 1798-1801. Maynooth University Library has twenty-two of his letters in the Littlehales Archive and they provide a fascinating insight into a figure who played a central role in both the 1798 Rising and the Act of Union. As recently installed Commander in Chief, Cornwallis moved swiftly to suppress the Rising, but he was noted for his fairness, allowing pardons for many of the participants and censuring those groups of militia, yeomanry or regulars who were overly zealous in their reprisals.

First Marquis of Cornwallis
Portrait of Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, by John Singleton Copley, c. 1795

In conjunction with Viscount Castlereagh, it fell to Cornwallis to ensure the passage of  the Act of Union, which he delivered in January 1801 having, with Castlereagh, ensured that it was “written up, spoken up, intrigued up, drunk up, sung up and bribed up”[2]. One of the key promises made in this process was that a union would make Catholic Emancipation an inevitability and the evidence suggests that Cornwallis believed this most sincerely.  He had not however counted on the intransigence of his monarch, George III, who declared himself utterly against such a move; an action which resulted in the fall of Pitt’s government in London and which also ensured that emancipation could not be considered for a political generation.


Cornwallis felt this most bitterly and resigned his post. In a letter to his incumbent successor, the Earl of Hardwicke, he referred to his original desire to assume the post simply for the duration of the Rising. He states:

“The danger of the moment could alone have prevailed upon me to undertake the arduous task and it was always my intention to return as soon as tranquillity & order were tolerably re-established”.

However, Cornwallis subsequently notes that he felt obligated to not only deliver the Union, but to do so in a way that reinforced this model with the “admission of the Catholics to the full enjoyment of all the privileges which were possessed by their Protestant Fellow Subjects”.

Detail from letter to Earl of Hardwicke
Detail from the letter from Cornwallis to the Earl of Hardwicke

Ruefully, he admits that such a hope has either been “totally defeated” or significantly postponed and he now wishes to retire.

Cornwallis, ever the loyal instrument of government (even when disagreeing with its actions), further notes to Hardwicke that he has “taken every means and I flatter myself with considerable effect to soothe the Catholics & to impress upon their minds that it is only by a temperate and loyal conduct that they can hope for future favour”.  That he had some credibility with many sections of the Catholic community will have made sure that this advice was listened to, at least for a time.

Letter to Earl of Hardwicke
Letter from Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, outgoing Lord Lieutenant, to his incumbent successor, the Earl of Hardwicke, 28 February 1801

The letter is part of the Littlehales Archive in Maynooth Library, and offers a poignant insight into an honourable man, for whom the Union and its aftermath counted as a bitter and personal blow.

An exhibition of a selection of documents from the Littlehales Archive is running in Maynooth University Library from 20-26 November as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign for 2017. For further details please contact:


[1] see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2011 [, accessed 25 Oct 2017]

[2] Connolly, S. J. “Reconsidering the Irish Act of Union.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, vol. 10, 2000, p. 399

Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger

Document of the Day: By Professor Christine Kinealy, Quinnipiac University and    Dr Jason King, Irish Heritage Trust, and Irish National Famine Museum

   archives explored

In late summer 1845, newspapers throughout Europe carried reports of a previously unknown disease that was destroying the potato crop from Belgium to England. On 13th September, the London newspaper the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Gazette announced:

“We stop the presses with great regret to announce that the potato murrain has unequivocally declared itself in Ireland. The crops about Dublin are suddenly perishing. Where will Ireland be in the event of a universal potato rot?”

Almost 50 per cent of the Irish population depended on potatoes as a diet staple. At this stage, no one expected that this mysterious disease would reappear, in varying degrees of deadliness, for a further six years. In the first year of shortages, despite widespread suffering, there were no deaths from starvation but by the end of 1846, disease and death were evident throughout Ireland.

Letter introducing Bishop of Montreal
Letter from D. Murray to Dr Renehan introducing the Bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget, 23 March 1847 (from St. Patrick’s College Archive).

The Great Hunger proved to be one of the most devastating humanitarian disasters of the 19th century. In only five years, Ireland lost about a quarter of its population through a combination of death and emigration. Sadly, in addition to those who died in Ireland, a large number died en route to their destination, or shortly after arriving there. Between 1846–51, as many as 1.5 million people left Ireland, never to return. Passage to Canada (also known as British North America) was a favourite destination for Famine emigrants. If emigration started as a voyage of survival, for thousands it ended in disappointment, with as many as 10 percent of people not making it to the new world. Many more, weakened by the long voyage, perished shortly afterward. Two areas that felt the full impact of the Famine exodus were Grosse Isle and Montreal, both in Quebec. Grosse Isle, located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, had been established as a quarantine station in 1832. In 1847, it was the first landing place of Irish refugees, with an estimated 100,000 Famine emigrants arriving there. More than 5,500 people died on the island, primarily of typhus fever. As a consequence, Grosse Isle, along with Montreal, became the largest burial grounds for victims of the Great Hunger outside Ireland.

Montreal was the main Canadian port of debarkation for Famine immigrants. In 1847 alone, 75,000 Irish emigrants landed in this city of 50,000 people, mostly in the summer months. A large portion of them were sickly or dying, many being afflicted with typhus fever. To cope with this unprecedented influx, twenty-two new fever sheds were erected along the waterfront. A number of religious orders, including the Grey Nuns, worked tirelessly to help the ailing. Regardless of the sacrifice and the efforts of these women, thousands of poor Irish died in the sheds, their time in Canada proving all too brief. As many as 6,000 Famine immigrants perished in Montreal.



Matriculation Register - Pat Morgan (1)
Matriculation entry for Father Patrick Morgan, dated 1835 (St. Patrick’s College Archive)

An exhibition exploring the little known story of the Grey Nuns and other religious orders in Montreal, who provided care and shelter to Irish immigrants in Canada during the Great Hunger, is currently running in the Russell Library at Maynooth University. ‘Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger’ was curated by Professor Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, and Dr Jason King. The exhibition tells the story of the religious and clergy who cared for Irish emigrants in the fever sheds of Montreal during the summer of 1847. One of the first priests to enter the fever sheds with the Grey Nuns was Father Patrick Morgan, who was ordained at Maynooth College in May 1842. Morgan was born in Collon, Co. Louth, in June 1810. Following his studies at Maynooth, he joined the Paris-based order of the Priests of St Sulpice on 3rd September 1842 and arrived in Montreal on 24th September 1843. Morgan was the first priest to enter Montreal’s fever sheds with the Grey Nuns in June 1847.  He was also one of the first clergy to perish from the typhus epidemic, dying on the 8th July 1847. The current exhibition features the matriculation entry for Father Patrick Morgan and a letter of introduction for Montreal’s Bishop, Ignace Bourget (1799-1885), who visited Maynooth in 1847 to recruit Irish missionary priests.


Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch
Exhibition launch at the Russell Library, Maynooth University, 8 November 2017

The exhibition ‘Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger’ is running in the Russell Library, Maynooth University, until 25 January 2018. For further details: