Robert Bloomfield’s beloved memory of life on a farm

Post by Audrey Kinch, Special Collections and Archives

For though on hoary twigs no buds peep out,
And e’en the hardy brambles cease to sprout,
Beneath dread Winter’s level sheets of snow,
The sweet nutritious Turnip designs to grow.

These lines are an excerpt from the ‘winter’ section of the poem entitled The Farmer’s Boy by English poet Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823). The poem was first printed in March 1800 and a copy is held in the English collection in the Russell Library.

Title page The Farmer’s Boy

Robert Bloomfield was born in Honington in the English county of Suffolk and he was one of six children.  His father George was a tailor who died when Bloomfield was a year old.  His mother Elizabeth was a schoolmistress and he learned to read and write at an early age mostly under her guidance.  Elizabeth later re-married and the family continued to grow.  When he was approximately 12 years of age, Bloomfield was sent to live with his uncle William Austin at Sapiston.  William worked a farm for the Duke of Grafton and Bloomfield spent three years as a farmer’s boy where he was treated well.  He always held fond memories of this time in his life. 

In May 1796, Bloomfield began writing The Farmer’s Boy which was originally intended as a gift to his mother.  The poem is about a boy called Giles as he completes his chores on the farm, his observance of and interactions with nature.  It is a pastoral poem, a celebration of rural life and is c. 1,512 lines in length.  The poem is divided in four sections which correspond to the seasons. 

Due to a slight build, Bloomfield was deemed not wholly suited to the manual work on the farm so his uncle advised his mother to find another position more suited to his abilities.  Elizabeth arranged for him to move to London and his brother George would teach him to become a shoemaker.  In 1781, at the age of fifteen he arrived to London, stayed with George and four other cobblers in Coleman Street and learned the trade of shoemaking.  Bloomfield had apparently a great memory for poetry and could recite numerous lines.  By 1786 he was a qualified shoemaker and explored his interests in music by acquiring a violin and hand-crafting aeolian harps.  In 1790 he married Mary-Anne Church and their first child Hannah was born in 1791. 

Frontispiece The Farmer’s Boy

The poem opens with an invitation for spring to come with a positive and uplifting tone ‘Sweet inmate, hail! thou source of sterling joy’ with an observation of snow topped hills, the morning dew and open skies.  Though privately mourning for his father, Giles is depicted as happily pre-occupied in his work and his mind is off his worries.  His uncle is portrayed as a kind man, engaging with his young nephew and setting out his work for him to do. 

The summer section refers to the weather and the harvest, ploughing the land and all the labour involved in the harvest from toiling in the fields with the ‘sweeping scythe’ to working in the barn until it is filled.   Bloomfield notes after the day’s work ‘Sweet twilight, welcome!, Rest, how sweet art thou.’  Descriptions of the rain falling, ploughing in the fields, insects swarming, a sky-lark singing, clear blue skies and crops appearing as ‘the smiling produce of the land’ provide a clear image of rural life.

In the Autumn section the changing season is visible with fallen acorns, blowing winds and fallen leaves which lie on the ground.  Bloomfield depicts the wild ducks, pheasants and foxes in the woods and gives account of village life.  He comments on Gile’s and how he is tired, weary yet diligent in his work.  Nature is both recognised and praised ‘bless the Power that rules the changing year.’  The tone within the autumn section remains positive, ever-looking forward ‘That Spring will come, and Nature smile again.

Winter arrives in the final section, the ground is under frost, ice and snow.  The farmer thinks of respite when he returns home ‘the cold may pierce, and storms molest, Succeeding hours shall cheer with warm and rest.’  In the evenings, Giles visits the cows in the shed and the pigs in the sty, his voice is familiar to the animals and they eagerly feed from his hand.  The gentle, strong hardworking farm-horse Dobbin is happy to return at the end of the day ‘And joys to see the well-known stable door, as the starv’d mariner the friendly shore.’  Ewes and lambs die due to damp and cold however the farmer is uplifted to see the flock group together and the orphan lambs survive.  The remaining lines give thanks and praise for the experiences of the seasons which appears an insightful, deep appreciation of nature.  In a moment of mindfulness for anyone this could be considered a poem of positive wellbeing which is relaxing to read.

Initially three publishers rejected publication of The Farmer’s Boy and Bloomfield gave up and gave the poem to his brother George as a gift.  George showed the poem to editor and writer Capel Loftt who was also an influential figure in Suffolk society.  Loftt included an evaluation and The Farmer’s Boy was published in March 1800 by Vernon and Hood.  Robert Bloomfield published further volumes of poetry in his lifetime and he died in Shefford, Bedfordshire in August 1823. 

The edition of The Farmer’s Boy held in the Russell Library was published in Halifax by William Milner in 1837.  The Russell Library is open on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10.00am to 1.00pm and 2.00pm to 5.00pm.  Access to the Russell Library is arranged through appointment by telephone (01) 7083890 or e-mail

Snowdrops in winter

In beaded rows if drops now deck the spray,
While the sun grants a momentary ray,
Let but a cloud’s broad shadow intervene,
And stiffen’d into gems the drops are seen;

Bloomfield, Robert: A Farmer’s Boy, rural tales, ballads and songs (1837)
Kaloustian, David:  Bloomfield, Robert (1766-1823), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

Domhnall Ua Buachalla and the First Dáil

Ciara Joyce, Archivist

May God send in every generation men who live only for the Ideal of Ireland A Nation’ James Mallon B. Co. III Batt. I.R.A. Hairdresser  “To the boy of Frongoch” with E. D’Valera Easter Week 22/12/16 Frongoch’.

                                                            MU/PP26/2/1/7 Autograph by James Mallon

Members of the first Dáil 1919

On the 21st of January 1919, the first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Mansion House, Dublin. Elected in the 1918 General Election, the members of parliament refused to take up their seats in Westminster, and instead established the Dáil as a first step in achieving the Irish Republic.

Prominent elected members included Michael Collins, Constance Markievicz, Éamon de Valera, Cathal Brugha, W.T. Cosgrave, Eoin MacNeill and Arthur Griffith. A number of T.Ds, including de Valera and Markievicz, were serving sentences in British prisons at the time and were absent from the first meeting. De Valera would later become the Dáil’s Príomh-Aire or President, after a daring escape from Lincoln Jail.

Also present at the sitting of the first Dáil was Volunteer, Irish language advocate and Maynooth native Domhnall Ua Buachalla.

Domhnall Ua Buachalla  (1866-1963)

Domhnall Ua Buachalla was born on the 3rd of February 1866 in Maynooth, county Kildare. His father, Cornelius Buckley, a shopkeeper, was a native Irish speaker from county Cork. His mother, Sarah Jacob, was the daughter of Joshua Jacob, the founder of the ‘White Quakers’. Ua Buachalla took over the family business from his father and ran a successful shop on Main Street, Maynooth.

Ua Buachalla, himself a fluent speaker, became a well-known supporter of the Irish language and a member of the Gaelic League. He organised the Maynooth branch of the League and ran Irish language classes in the town.

In 1905, Ua Buachalla was prosecuted for having his name on the side of his delivery cart in Irish. He lost his case, and as he refused to pay the fine, the local sheriff had goods confiscated from Ua Buachalla’s shop. The goods were sold at public auction, after which the sole bidder returned the items to their owner.

Ua Buachalla was also a member of the Irish Volunteers and a friend of Patrick Pearse. On hearing that the Rising had begun in Dublin on the 24th of April 1916, he and 14 of the Maynooth Volunteers marched to Dublin to join in the fight. They first called to Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth to receive a blessing from its President, Monsignor John R.  Hogan.

Ua Buachalla’s Irish Volunteers membership form

After his subsequent arrest, Ua Buachalla was imprisoned in Knutsford jail before being transferred to Frongoch internment camp. He remained a prisoner until December 1916.

Ua Buachalla contested and  won the North Kildare seat in the 1918 general election. As a member of Sinn Féin, he attended the opening session of the first Dáil rather than go to Westminster.

He was elected unopposed in the 1921 election, again standing for Sinn Féin. He opposed the Treaty and fought with anti-treaty forces in the ensuing Civil War, resulting in his imprisonment in Dundalk in 1922. Undeterred after losing his parliamentary seat in the election of 1922 he successfully fought the 1927 election, standing as Fianna Fáil candidate in Kildare. He held this position until his defeat five years later.

Election Flyer

In 1932, Ua Buachalla was appointed chair of a commission to investigate conditions in the Gaeltacht. However, in November of the year de Valera asked him to take up the office of Governor General. This appointment was part of de Valera’s efforts to dismantle the Treaty and remove all reference to the King in the Irish Constitution. In his role as Governor General Ua Buachalla lived modestly and was rarely seen in public. His most notable acts while in office were the signing of the Constitutional Removal of Oath Act of 1933 and the Constitutional Amendment no. 27 bill of 1936, which abolished the office of Governor General.

He married Sinéad Walsh in 1897 and they had seven children. He died on the 30th of October 1963 and received a State Funeral with full military honours.

The Ua Buachalla Archive

In 2015 Maynooth University Library received the papers of Domhnall Ua Buachalla on short-term loan for use in the University’s 1916 commemoration. Ua Buachalla’s family, who still live locally, were keen to share this treasured collection for the commemoration.

This collection consists of a series of documents relating to Ua Buachalla interests and political career from 1900 to 1968.

The earliest material includes receipts and letters relating to Ua Buachalla’s involvement with the Gaelic League and Irish language classes in Maynooth, including a series of letters from Mícheal Ó hÍceadha, Professor of Irish, Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth and Vice-President of the Gaelic League.

The collection also contains documents relating to Ua Buachalla’s role in the Irish Volunteers in Maynooth, his internment in Frongoch in 1916, his involvement in Sinn Féin, the Dáil and general elections and his role as Governor General.

Documents of note include enrolment forms for members of the Irish Volunteers in Maynooth (MU/PP26/2/1/1), notice of order of interment issued to Ua Buachalla in 1916 (MU/PP26/2/1/3) and a letter from Countess Markievicz, T.D. regarding farmers in Maynooth allowing land to go fallow (26 February 1920) (MU/PP26/2/3/4). Ua Buachalla also kept an autograph book during his time in Frongoch, which is filled with autographs, poems and sketches by his fellow detainees. It includes the signatures of Micheál Ó Murchadha, J.M Stanley, Cathal Mac Dubhghaill, Liam Ó Briain,  James Mallon, Joseph Lawless, Sean Gogan, Páid Ua Braonáin, Brian Ó hUigínn, James Fitzgerald, Gearóid O’Beoláin, Séamus Ó Fearghail, Joseph Begley, P.J. McNamara, Patrick Cole and others. The final entry in the book is by William Sears, 74 Leinster Road, Rathmines, who writes on the 22nd of December 1916 ‘Last night in Frongoch Camp. The Boys going home in as good a spirit as when they were out on Easter Monday‘ (MU/PP26/2/1/7).  The collection also contains ephemera such as invitations, tickets, posters and flyers.

The collection has now been digitised and is available for consultation. For more information on the Ua Buachalla collection, please contact Special Collections and Archives.

Threatened strike at Maynooth College in 1918

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian

Ever wondered what it was like to work as an Irish agricultural labourer in 1918? Well, look no further than the archives of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The minutes of the finance council (B3/11/3) provide an insight into working conditions at this time, which typically consisted of nine or ten-hour days for an average wage of thirty shillings per week. This work was certainly not for the fainthearted! In August 1918 representatives from the Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union met with members of the College to agree better working conditions for agricultural labourers.

The wider Irish labour movement made significant strides during the year 1918, including the successful coordination of a one-day general strike on the 23rd April in support of the anti-conscription campaign. The authorities at Maynooth College were increasingly aware of the threat of industrial action and in May 1918 they discussed the establishment of a college bakery ‘particularly in view of the dangers to the College from Strikes in the Dublin Bakeries’. Just three months later, in August 1918, strike action at Maynooth College was a very real possibility.

On the 16th August the council met to deliberate on a request by the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union for an improvement in working conditions, outlined as follows:

  1. The granting of a ‘half holiday’ on Saturdays.
  2. An agreed work pattern in line with guidelines from the Agricultural Labour Board which recommended ten hours of work during the summer and nine hours during the winter.
  3. An additional three shillings for Sunday work.
  4. A bonus of four pounds during the harvest season.
  5. The payment of wages totalling thirty-five shillings each week.

Faced with the prospect of strike action the College prepared to make some concessions. It was agreed that the request for additional holiday leave on Saturday could not be sanctioned by the College; that it would aim for agreed working hours (where possible); that an increase from two shillings sixpence to three shillings would be given for Sundays; and that wages of thirty-five shillings was too high. When it came to the harvest bonus the council noted that:

‘There was no difficulty in accepting the principle of a harvest bonus, but there was a difficulty about how to deal with the Bonus in case a workman was careless in coming punctually to work or in absenting himself for some days during the busy harvest season.’

Dr James MacCaffrey, Vice-President of Maynooth College in August 1918

The following day (17th August) the vice-president and bursar met with representatives of the Irish Transport Union, including future Irish Labour Party member, Thomas Farren, to agree a settlement. The terms were agreed as follows:

  1. No half-holiday was to be granted on Saturdays.
  2. Hours were fixed at ten hours during the summer and nine in the winter.
  3. An additional three shillings were to be awarded for Sunday work.
  4. Wages were fixed at thirty shillings per week for summer and winter.
  5. A three-pound bonus was to be paid at harvest-time. The finance council noted, however, that ‘[i]f any of these labourers deliberately remains out during a substantial portion of the harvest work he is not be to entitled to any harvest money; and a pro rata deduction is to be made in case of those who deliberately fail to keep time.’
  6. It was up to casual workers to agree their wages with the College.

In 1918 the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union successfully argued for better working conditions on behalf of agricultural labourers at Maynooth College. Although these changes may appear modest by today’s standards, they constituted a significant achievement for workers at the time.


Minutes of the Finance Council, Archives of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth B/3/11/3

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

By Sarah Graham, Conservator, Maynooth University Library

Decorated papers for blog
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:

Combed paste for blog
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.

pulled paste for blog.jpg
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.

oil marblin for blog
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.

marbling for blog
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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