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: library.specialcollections@mu.ie


[1] see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6338, 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:



The Chemical History of a Candle


By Saoirse Reynolds, Special Collections & Archives, JPII Library.

‘From the primitive pine-torch to the paraffin candle, how wide an interval! Between them how vast a contrast!’

The Chemical History of a Candle – by Michael Faraday (1791-1867).

faraday 2
Michael Faraday 1791-1867

The book was edited by William Crookes (1832-1919) and published in London by Chatto and Windus, 1870. The lectures were first printed as a book in 1861 and it has numerous illustrations.

Ever wish you could receive a lecture from one of the great scientists? With this book you can!

This book is a series of six lectures on the chemistry and physics of flames which was given by Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution in 1848. It was part of a series of Christmas lectures for young people which was founded by Faraday in 1825. These lectures are still given there every year and are televised. They were popular lectures and Faraday really enjoyed delivering them to the juvenile audience, passing on his enthusiasm for science to them and the public.

Front cover of book

Charles Dickens requested Faraday to write up his lectures and wrote to him in May 1850 saying “it has occurred to me that it would be extremely beneficial to a large class of public to have some account of your lectures you addressed… to children”. Faraday didn’t comply immediately but did eventually agree to have a stenographic record of his lectures undertaken.

The lectures were very entertaining and Faraday included serious chemical principles and used fascinating experiments to make them seem real. For example, copper chloride is used to colour a flame green, and a candle is relit from the vapour of an extinguished candle.

faraday 3
Experiment with lime-water

Other demonstrations were used and included the production and examination of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The properties of water were also studied and the volume of steam produced when water is vaporised.
Many of the demonstrations could be tried out at home and Faraday comments on the proper attention to safety, with suitable adult supervision.
What drew me to this book was the idea of taking something as simple as a candle and breaking down what happens to it scientifically. It is an easily accessible and informative  book for a beginner and someone interested in the history of science. The book offers a fascinating insight into the mind of a great physicist of his time.

The Chemical History of a Candle, can be viewed in Special Collections & Archives,  John Paul II Library in the Reading Room

Opening Times: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday
Mornings – 10am-1pm
Tuesday 10am-5pm. Closed for lunch 1pm-2pm
Special Collections is closed on Fridays
faraday 4
Different kinds of flames produced



Frank A. J. L. James, ‘Faraday, Michael (1791–1867)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9153, accessed 26 Oct 2017]

W. H. Brock, ‘Crookes, Sir William (1832–1919)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32639, accessed 26 Oct 2017]

The Worshipful Company of Saddlers by J.W. Sherwell – Presented to Maynooth College, 1889

Susan Durack, Special Collections and Archives

Saddlers’ Guild Coat of Arms p.58

Browsing through our Special Collections recently I noticed a book which I thought an unlikely find among the historic collections of an Irish university library.    This book may be of special interest given County Kildare’s rich equine history and Maynooth University’s (BBS) Equine Business degree.


A descriptive and historical account of the Guild of Saddlers of the City of London was written and compiled for private circulation  by John W. Sherwell, clerk of the company. Printed in 1889 “with the sanction of the Master, Wardens, and Court of Assistants of the Company” , the book is dedicated to the “Worshipful Company of Saddlers – this work is respectfully inscribed, in grateful recognition of many courtesies and uniform kindness shewn by its members to the writer”.

cover guild of saddlers2The content outlines the history; internal affairs; the company and trade; list of masters and wardens, some with biographical notes; a description of plate and other articles of interest in the Company’s possession; an addendum in the form of a Will dated 1392 and an index of the Saddlers’ Guild are also included. A number of examples from their courts are outlined.  On May 15th 1607 in the matter of personal appearance of their journeymen  and apprentices it was decreed that “At this Court the late apprentice of Roland Newton named Wm. Dennard, and the apprentices of Bywell and Browne named Henry Cavill and Anthony Seale wearing long hair were polled closse and Thomas Soloman the younger his man was polled also”. 

The Maynooth copy has a paste-on slip on the verso of the marbled front cover showing a raised crest of the Saddlers’ Guild.  The slip states that the book was “presented to The Library of Maynooth College by the Master, Wardens and Court of Assistantssaddler-pastedown of the Saddlers Company, Saddlers Hall, Cheapside, December 1889” the year of its publication and the beginning of Sherwell’s association with the guild.

The book is octavo with three-quarter bound leather boards with a gilt stamped coat of arms on the front board.  It has a tooled spine, marbled endpapers, five raised bands and gilt edges.  It would have been presented to liverymen on admission to the Guild and proved an invaluable resource for learning the history and the inner workings of the guild and their trade.


A good description of the origins and objectives of guilds is to be found on the Saddlers’ Guild website “Trade guilds or mysteries, grouped together merchants or craftsmen with similar interests and imposed regulations for the benefit of their members and the community in which they operated”.

The word guild derives from the Saxon gildan (to pay), and refers to the subscription paid by members. Mystery comes from the Latin ‘mysterium’, meaning professional skills. Thus while the recorded history of the London guilds dates from the 12th Century, it is likely that similar organisations existed in pre-conquest England.

The medieval guilds, in the beginning, were groups of men and women who sought to protect their trade and used the advantages given by the strength of the group to counteract the weakness of the individual in a feudal society.   http://www.saddlersco.co.uk/thesaddlerscompany/origins.html

Cheapside in A.D. 1639 showing the livery companies in their stands (detail), p.64

The circumstances of how the presented copy came to Maynooth College Library are unclear. A closer study of the list of members may yield further insights into possible connections with Maynooth College.

Ireland had its own Guild of Saddlers based in Dublin. Guilds were established in Dublin in 1171 and the Saddlers Guild which ranked 9th in precedence was established by charter granted by Dublin City Assembly. The guild was incorporated by royal charter in 1677 and included upholders (Upholsterers) Coach and Coach Harness Makers.

title page Guild of Saddlers
Title page

The Guild met at Tailors’ Hall from the middle of the eighteenth century to 1841.  The Irish Municipal Reform Act (1840) removed guild and city corporation autonomy to regulate trade. The guilds were abolished in 1841 with the exception of The Company of Goldsmiths which continued after 1841 and still exists today.

The  author of the book John William Sherwell was clerk of the company for 25 years.  He was also a liveryman during this time.  Before that he was secretary to the City of London College. He had a great interest in the technical education among the guilds and in the work of the City and Guilds of London Institute. He is credited with organising a “valuable exhibition of saddlery and harness work” held at the Saddlers’ Hall in 1873 which was opened by Lord Halsbury who was then prime warden.  Sherwell died in 1913 at his residence in Bickley after a long and serious illness. He was buried at Bromley Old Cemetery, London. “Mr. J. W. Sherwell.” Times, 23 Sept. 1913, p. 9.

For further information on sources for Irish guilds see

Guilds and related organisations in Great Britain and Ireland: A bibliography. By Tom Hoffman

Dublin Civic Life

A more detailed early history of the London Saddlers’ Guild is covered by Martin, G.H. “The early history of the London Saddlers’ Guild” in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. 1990 72(3): 145-154.


George Victor Du Noyer (1817-1869)

by Fiona Ahern, local historian and writer

Guest Lecture,  Maynooth University Library – National Heritage Week 2017

 du noyer 1

GSI field sheet executed by G.V. Du Noyer showing a view of the Blasket Islands and the Slea Head area of the Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry 6″ sheet No. 52    45cm x 30cm (quarter of a 6-inch sheet) (Courtesy Geological Survey Ireland)

The bi-centenary of the birth of George Victor Du Noyer (1817-1869) is a welcome opportunity to draw attention to an artist who was frequently overlooked during his lifetime and relatively unknown since.  His many beautiful watercolours certainly deserve more attention while his vivid sketches from the mid-nineteenth century provide a marvellous insight into Irish rural life in that period.

George Victor Du Noyer came from a Huguenot family who had settled in Dublin towards the end of the eighteenth century.  He received private drawing lessons from a family friend, the renowned George Petrie (1790-1866), painter, archaeologist, antiquary, scholar and sometime President of the Royal Irish Academy. George Victor Du Noyer was neither a formally trained artist nor a trained geologist but managed to earn his living from his drawing skills and his great interest in geology.  He was first employed by the Ordnance Survey as a draughtsman and spent six years (1836-42) illustrating fossils, plants, rocks and anything of interest upturned by the Ordnance Survey team in the course of its work in Co. Derry.

Du Noyer next took up teaching, becoming a drawing-master in the recently established St Columba’s College which at that time was located in Stackallan House on the banks of the Boyne near Navan.  It was the beginning of his huge interest in Co Meath, he was especially intrigued with Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth and the inscribed stones of Loughcrew.  He also received a few commissions to paint some private houses and popular views in the area of Navan.  An early water-colour from this period, View of Dunmoe Castle, hangs in the National Gallery today, its glorious composition and colouring rivalling the paintings of Paul Henry.

du noyer 2

View of Dunmoe Castle 1844 (Courtesy National Gallery of Ireland)

Du Noyer later returned to the Loughcrew area of Co. Meath and carried out a series of watercolours, sketches and rubbings of the Loughcrew Passage Tomb complex in conjunction with Eugene Conwell, one of the first to explore the site.  He subsequently presented a ‘Portfolio of Drawings of Antiquities at Sliabh na Cailighe (Loughcrew)’ to the Royal Irish Academy (1844-46).

In 1847 he combined his interest in fossils with his artistic skills to secure a job in the recently established Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI).  He began work on the new railway line which was being laid down between Dundalk and Castleblayney, meticulously recording anything of geological interest.  In 1849 he was made permanent in the GSI with the title of ‘Assistant Geologist.’  From then on he worked in the field, mapping and recording bedrock and rock formations all over Ireland.  He took a special pride in the field-sheets which he compiled as part of his daily work, enlivening the maps with little sketches and also more complete landscapes, as can be seen in the water-colour, View of the Blasket Islands from Slea Head, exquisitely painted and squeezed into a marine section of the map which did not require geological notes.

As he travelled the length and breadth of Ireland he always carried a tiny sketchbook in which he jotted down observations and made sketches of anything of interest.  He was a keen observer of daily life, taking time to record people’s occupations, their clothing, their houses, their customs and habits. Some 5000 of Du Noyer’s sketches and paintings survive, among them being Scene in the morning at Tomie’s cottage (1855, Courtesy Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland).  This is a quick sketch of the humble everyday task of milking, probably drawn by Du Noyer in a few minutes while he waited for his breakfast to be served.  The scene shows the woman of the house milking the cows inside her cottage. She is fairly well-dressed, with a scarf around her neck, seated on a low wicker seat to protect her clothes.  The well-stocked dresser displays the family’s collection of delft-ware, an indication that this family is moderately well-off.  The room is neat and tidy, the cows placid and used to being milked indoors.  There appears little distinction between the family’s living quarters and the cow byre, however a door on the right indicates that there is a second room, most likely the family’s sleeping quarters.

du noyer 9

Scene in the Morning at Tomie’s Cottage (July 1855) (Courtesy Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland)

Du Noyer was an enthusiastic member of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (later re-named the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland) and was passionate about the need to preserve Ireland’s antiquities. He was able to combine his love of antiquities with his work, visiting anything of interest in the areas to which he was assigned as a geologist.  He went out of his way to sketch and record for posterity ancient churches, windows, crosses, gravestones and inscribed stones that he came across in his travels.  He presented hundreds of these drawings to the Royal Irish Academy during the course of his career.  He was also a member of the Geological Society and gave many lectures to its members, using illustrations gathered in the course of his work.

Du Noyer 4

Cherty Limestone, Brown Island, Killarney, Co. Kerry (Courtesy Geological Society of Ireland)

The above illustration could have been a pedestrian sketch of cherty limestone for a lecture to geologists but has been transformed by Du Noyer into a thing of beauty with the inspired addition of the little boating party setting off from the shore, the view of the mainland in the distance and the confident use of colour in the rocks and greenery.

However, Du Noyer received little recognition as a painter during his lifetime as works in water-colour were under-rated and under-valued compared to works in oils.  In all, he exhibited over fifty watercolour paintings in the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibitions.  It is really only in the last decade or so that any references to Du Noyer’s works have been included in books on Irish paintings. In 2015, TV presenter Martha Kearney retraced George Victor Du Noyer’s journeys around Ireland in a mini-series for BBC entitled In the Footsteps of Du Noyer. 

To its credit, Cork’s Crawford Gallery is the first to host a major solo retrospective of Du Noyer’s work.  The exhibition Stones, Slabs and Seascapes: George Du Noyer’s Images of Ireland will run from mid-November 2017 to mid-February 2018.  Featuring over one hundred and fifty watercolours and drawings, this exhibition will be curated by Peter Murray, former Director of the Crawford Art Gallery, in collaboration with Petra Coffey and the Geographical Survey of Ireland and will feature loans of Du Noyer’s drawings and paintings from the collections of the Royal Irish Academy, the National Museum of Ireland, the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland, the Geological Survey of Ireland, and the National Archives.



Thomas Ashe (1885-1917)

thomas Ashe
Thomas Ashe

Post by Olive Morrin, Special Collections & Archives

The hundredth anniversary of Thomas Ashe’s death occurs on the 25th September 2017.  He was an Irish volunteer who participated in the Easter Rising and actually lead the only successful action taken outside of Dublin.  He commanded the 5th battalion of the Irish Volunteers who won a significant victory in Ashbourne, Co. Meath (which is not connected with his name). Special Collections holds a copy of The death of Thomas Ashe: full report of the inquest.

Thomas Ashe was born in the townland of Kinard near Dingle, Co. Kerry where his father Gregory was a farmer. He entered De La Salle Training College, Co. Waterford in 1905 and in 1908 he became principal of Corduff National School in Lusk, Co. Dublin.  Thomas Ashe made a considerable impact in his new post and community surrounding Lusk.  He used his many talents for the betterment of his school and community and was a respected teacher, excellent footballer, hurler and musician with a fine singing voice.  He was also an actor, writer and produced many plays in the public library at Lusk.  As he came from a Gaeltacht area it was natural he should promote the Irish language and he founded branches of the Gaelic League in Skerries and other neighbouring villages and organised many céilí dances.  He founded the award winning Lusk Black Raven Pipe Band and in 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers.

Recognised as a natural leader he was given command of the Irish Volunteers’ 5th Battalion in 1916.  He was a skilled organiser and when the Rising broke out he moved his detachment along in stages to Ashbourne.  Against the odds and significantly outnumbered his battalion managed to defeat the RIC troops and captured four police barracks and a large amount of guns and ammunition.  This success was mainly due to his adoption of guerrilla tactics which included striking at enemy targets and withdrawing while capturing arms and was in sharp contrast to the style of fighting in Dublin.  This approach probably influenced the Volunteers’ successful strategy in later engagements during the War of Independence

When Ashe received news of the surrender he complied with the order and was arrested, court martialled and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. While in prison he composed his well know poem “Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord”. He was released in June 1917 as part of the general amnesty.  Upon his release he was elected President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in place of the executed Pádraig Pearse.  He travelled throughout the country making speeches which resulted in him being rearrested in July for incitement and sedition.  While in Mountjoy Jail along with other fellow prisoners including Austin Stack he demanded Prisoner of War status.  When this was refused he and six other went on hunger strike.  As punishment the authorities took away their beds, bedding and boots. It was later decided to force feed the prisoners and along with other prisoners Ashe was put in a straitjacket and force-fed.  The procedure was administered incorrectly by a trainee doctor and in an already weakened state Ashe collapsed on the third day.  It was later discovered that the feeding tube had entered and pierced his lung and he died two days later in the Mater Hospital of heart and lung failure.  At the inquest following his death the jury condemned the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct”.  There can be no doubt that Ashe must have suffered greatly during these procedures which caused his death at the age of 33.

Thomas Ashe’s funeral on the 30th September further galvanised public support for the IRB and was attended by 30,000 people.  Michael Collins now propelled into the republican leadership gave a short sharp oration in English and Irish.  After the volley of shots he stepped forward and said “Nothing additional remains to be said.  That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian”.  As with Pearse’s oration at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa these words were a forewarning of the coming War of Independence.

Thomas Ashe’s unfortunate death further robbed Ireland of a brave, talented and charismatic leader.

Both Sean O’Casey and local poet and nationalist Teresa Brayton wrote poems about Thomas Ashe after his death, below is the more subdued last verse of Teresa Brayton’s poem:

We buried young Thomas Ashe among the best of our brave,

He was a soldier of Erin, he lies in a soldier’s grave;

His name and his deeds we keep in the scroll of our sacred things

And the cause that he died for yet will sweep o’er the dust of forgotton kings.


Wikipedia –  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Ashe

Thomas Ashe by Sean O’Casey – PA 1206/16 (Russell Library)

The death of Thomas Ashe: full report of the inquest: published by J.M. Butler, 1917.           SP 1537

Hail to the flag: through the turbulent years: poems by Teresa Brayton. Compiled by Bernadette Gilligan. Published by the Teresa Brayton Heritage Group, 2016.

Photo of Thomas Ashe from Google Images: http://bit.ly/2mPyViu


‘Observations on Nature’ Heritage Week in the Russell Library

Post by Saoirse Reynolds, Special Collections & Archives

The Secretary of States’ House at Palmerston
 Published by J. Fisher 1792


me and os
Ordnance Survey Map of Kildare

On August 21, 23 & 24 the Russell Library took part in Heritage Week with an exhibition exploring nature through the historical print collections of the Russell Library. Books on gardening, botany, agriculture, husbandry and medicinal plants were on display some of which referred to the local area.

A 6inch Ordnance Survey map of Kildare was on display as well as items from our Special Collections in the John Paul II Library.

One of the most visually interesting and beautiful books which was on display was William Hanbury’s, A complete body of planting and gardening published in London in 1770-71. Hanbury was a Church of England clergyman and horticulturist, was born at Bedworth, Warwickshire in 1725.  He matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford in 1745 and graduated in 1748. The degree of MA was subsequently conferred on him by St Andrews University on 11 November 1769 in recognition of his achievements in planting.

cortusa hanbury
Image of Spotted Cistus, Purple Cortusa and Double Blossomed Cherry
 In ‘A complete body of planting and gardening’ by William Hanbury


A Rare Book from the Russell Library which was on display was Scenery of Ireland: illustrated in a series of prints, of select views, castles, and abbeys, in this kingdom by Jonathan Fisher. The book was printed in Dublin in 1792 and has beautiful illustrations of castles and abbeys of Ireland. Fisher was an Irish painter and was born in Dublin in 1740. He is first recorded in 1763 when he was awarded a premium by the Dublin Society for a landscape. He is best known for his fine engravings and aquatints of Irish scenery. He travelled all over Ireland and published views of Killarney in 1770 and 1789. He lived at Great Ship Street, Dublin, from about 1778 until 1805, when he moved to Bishop Street, Dublin, where he died in 1809.

scenery fisher
‘Scenery of Ireland’ by Jonathan Fisher


Another beautiful book we had on display from our Special Collections was Ireland’s wild orchids /orchid portraits by Susan Sex with accompanying text by Brendan Sayers. It was printed by Nicholson & Bass in Belfast in 2004 and is a limited edition of 700 signed and numbered copies.

Two volumes of Charles Henry Dessalines d’Orbigny’s Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle were on display also. D’Orbigny was a French botanist and geologist

Images of colourful butterflies and a rose
in d’Orbigny’s ‘Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle’

specializing in the Tertiary of France. He was the younger brother of French naturalist and South American explorer, Alcide d’Orbigny. At the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, d’Orbigny identified many of the flowering plant species returned to France from his brother’s natural history collecting journeys through South America.

For more information on any of these items please contact us:

Special Collections John Paul II Library

Phone: 01-4747423, e-mail: library.specialcollections@mu.ie

Russell Library

Phone: 01-7083890, e-mail:  library.russell@mu.ie

The Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa Exhibition

Arnold Bernhard Library, Quinnipiac University

October 4, 2016 – May 5, 2017

by Robert A. Young, Public Services Librarian


Cathal McCauley University Librarian Maynooth University, John L. Lahey, President Quinnipiac University and Robert Joven, University Librarian, Quinnipiac University.

I: Collaboration and Installation

Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition

During the fall 2016 and spring 2017 academic semesters, the Arnold Bernhard Library  in partnership with Maynooth University Library, Ireland, hosted a traveling exhibition highlighting the last writings of renowned Nigerian writer, social activist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa. This cooperative project between the two libraries was the result of the five year exchange between Maynooth University and Quinnipiac University  that is promoting cross-institutional collaboration between students, faculty, and staff. The exhibition featured facsimiles of selected letters, poems, and additional artifacts from the Ken Saro-Wiwa archive which has a permanent home  in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room at Maynooth University Library. The materials in the Saro-Wiwa archive date from 1993 – 1995, the period in which he awaited execution at Nigeria’s Port Harcourt Detention Centre and other locations. The archive was donated to Maynooth by Sister Majella McCarron (OLA)  who was the original recipient of the letters and a collection of poems written by Ken Saro-Wiwa.  McCarron is an Irish missionary nun who supported Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people in the struggle to protect their homeland.

Silence Would be Treason Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa

The site of the exhibition was the Arnold Bernhard Library Rotunda, located under the building’s central dome on the first floor. Facsimile documents were exhibited in three cases, each having a display area of 36 x 24 inches. Items displayed included letters, poems, and photographs. Four pull-up narrative banners were placed between the cases, and copies of a Mosop  (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People)  flag and T-shirt were attached to the fronts of two of the cases. Books by and about Saro-Wiwa were displayed on a bookcase located on the opposite side of the rotunda from the main exhibition. One of the volumes on display, Silence Would Be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa (CODESRIA, 2013), was coedited by Maynooth Deputy Librarian, Helen Fallon.

Sandy O’Hare, Access Services Librarian at the Arnold Bernhard Library, created a Library Guide for the exhibition, which included links to Maynooth and Quinnipiac resources. A laptop for public access to the resources was setup with the book display.  More recently Maynooth University Library has produced a comprehensive guide to the collection.

KSW exhib -books (web)
Book display and laptop to complement the exhibition

Robert Young, Public Services Librarian at the Arnold Bernhard Library, wrote a post about the exhibition for the Arnold Bernhard Library Special Collections blog . Young also wrote a press release that was distributed by the university’s Office of Public Affairs to local media, and he was featured in a 30 second Public Affairs video about the exhibition that was posted to the Quinnipiac University Facebook page.

Matthew Flaherty, Outreach and Instruction Librarian at the Arnold Bernhard Library, wrote an article about the exhibition that was the featured story in the December 2016 issue of the Arnold Bernhard Library Newsletter.

The installation of the exhibition coincided with the October 2016 visit to Quinnipiac University of four librarians from the John Paul II Library, Maynooth University:

Cathal McCauley, University Librarian

Hellen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian

Hugh Murphy, Senior Librarian, Collection Management Services

Lorna Dodd, Senior Librarian, Learning Research and Information Services

The exhibition was installed in ABL Rotunda on October 4, 2016, and was followed by an opening reception.

Setting up HM (web)
Hugh Murphy, Maynooth University Library and Robert Young, Arnold Bernhard Library, Quinnipiac University setting up the Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition

II: The Exhibition and the Quinnipiac University Community

The Last Writing of Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition was originally scheduled to be on display from October 2016 through February 2017. However, it was eventually decided to display the exhibition for the entire 2017 spring semester.  This allowed more people to view it during the periods of the spring semester when the library had the most visitors. Quinnipiac University schedules many tours for high school students and their families during winter/spring breaks, and students who will be freshmen in the fall spend the first weekend of April on campus during Admitted Students Days. It was noted by library staff that visitors stopped to peruse the exhibit, especially during times that saw the most visitors on campus.

In addition to allowing the exhibition to be seen by the maximum number of visitors by extending the exhibition period, the library took advantage of the additional time by integrating the exhibition into library instruction sessions for two undergraduate courses. The exhibition was also presented to a group of docents-in-training from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University, who visited the library to learn about the various Irish collections. Robert Young facilitated the class sessions and docent presentation.

KSW exhin in QUINN (web)
Items on display as part of the Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition at Quinnipiac University

In February, Young provided students in Professor Christine Kinealy’s Introduction to Irish Studies course with a library session that included touring the library to view primary and secondary materials. Young showed the students items in The Great Hunger Collection, and also pointed out and described the significance of the Saro-Wiwa exhibition.

In March, Robert was asked by the chair of the history department, Professor Jill Fehleison, to provide students in her Historiography and Historical Methods course with a session on primary materials in the library’s several special collection. He showed students items from the Irish collections, university archives, the Albert Schweitzer Collection, as well as the Saro-Wiwa exhibition.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University inaugurated a volunteer docent program in early 2017, and by March a core group of ten people had been selected to provide guided tours at the museum. The volunteers attended training sessions, including an April session at the library. The library session provided the docents with information about the library’s various Irish collections, and Young discussed the collaborative relationship between Quinnipiac and Maynooth when the docents were shown the Saro-Wiwa exhibition.

A final note of interest relates to a visitor who viewed the exhibition on Saturday, October 21, 2016. Public Services Librarian Ronda Kolbin was staffing the reference desk that day and she was approached by an undergraduate Quinnipiac student who told her that he appreciated that the library was hosting the exhibition. He mentioned that the exhibition was of particular interest to him because he was related to Ken Saro-Wiwa.

III: Conclusion

 The Arnold Bernhard Library’s hosting of the Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa Exhibition, courtesy of Maynooth University Lbrary, proved to fulfill several of the collaborative objectives that were emphasized in the five year exchange agreement between the two institutions. The library staffs of both Quinnipiac and Maynooth coordinated successfully to mount a travelling exhibition that highlighted not only the last years of Ken Saro-Wiwa, but also the significance of his relationship to Sister Majella McCarron and the unique and important collection of letters, poems, and artifacts that she donated to the Maynooth University Library.

Students and faculty benefitted from the exhibition by it being included in library course sessions that highlighted materials that had significance as examples of Irish history, Nigerian history, and the history of social justice movements. The superb facsimiles of the original documents provided illustrative examples of how archives of primary materials are important to the preservation of the historical record.

The exhibition also met the Arnold Bernhard Library’s commitment to Quinnipiac University’s multicultural strategic plan, IMaGinE (Inclusiveness, Multiculturalism and Globalism in Education).   The emphasis of this plan is to expose the Quinnipiac student body to a greater sense of diversity that will contribute to them graduating as open-minded, global citizens.

This was also the first time that a traveling exhibition from another library had been displayed at Quinnipiac University. The success of this endeavor has contributed, in part, to initiating plans for hosting other traveling displays. For example, in the fall of 2017, the Arnold Bernhard Library will be partnering with Quinnipiac’s Netter Health Sciences Library in hosting an exhibition on loan from the National Library of Medicine in Washington, DC.

And, finally, the library staff at the Arnold Bernhard Library would like to sincerely thank the staff of the Maynooth University Library for allowing the Last Writing of Saro-Wiwa exhibition to be displayed at Quinnipiac. It is hoped that this is just the beginning of fruitful collaborative partnerships between the libraries of Maynooth University and Quinnipiac University.

Apparitions at Fatima: May-October 1917

Post by Olive Morrin, Special Collections & Archives

From Samhailteacha Fatima

The 13th May  2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima.  On that day Lucia dos Santos aged ten and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto aged 9 and 7 were tending Lucia’s family herd of sheep on the hills outside Fatima when the first of six apparitions of Our Lady appeared to the children.  The apparitions occurred on the 13th of each month except in August when the children were not allowed to go to Cova da Iria where the apparitions occurred.  She appeared instead on the 19th August when they returned. 


Lucia recalls what happened that first day. “a beautiful lady clothed in white, more brilliant than the sun, surrounded by a light more intense and clearer than a tumbler of crystal-clear water through which the sun is shining”. The lady spoke to the children and said she would not harm them and that on the thirteenth day of each month she would return for six months in succession.

Word began to spread about the apparitions and by the fifth apparition about 30,000 people accompanied the children to the site.  On the sixth and last apparition on the 13th October a crowd of about 70,000 people accompanied the children in torrential rain.  Lucia had asked for a miracle and during the apparition Lucia asked people to look at the sun.  According to eye witnesses the sun began to turn in different directions and project bands of light in different colours.  It then went back to its original position but then seemed as if it was falling from the sky and the people were terrified. 

Portugal had entered World War I on the Allies side in 1917 and Lucia brother had been called up.  The 1918 flu pandemic or “Spanish flu” ravaged Europe after the war.  Lucia’s father died and five members of the Marto family.  Francisco in 1918 and Jacinta in 1920 from the effects of a combination of flu and tuberculosis.  

Much controversy and speculation has surrounded the Three Secrets of Fatima.  Lucia claimed on July 13th 1917 the Virgin Mary entrusted the children with three secrets.  According to Catholic interpretation the secrets cover Hell, World War 1, World War II and the Pope John Paul II assassination attempt.  Two of the secrets were revealed by Lucia in 1941 at the request of her bishop.  In 1943 she was instructed by her bishop to reveal the third secret which she was reluctant to do until she received an order to put it in writing.  She did so with the proviso that it not be revealed until 1960.  The text of the third secret was eventually publically revealed in 2000 by John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI wrote a commentary at the time “A careful reading of the text of the so-called third ‘secret’ of Fatima……will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred.  No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled”.

Lucia became a nun and died at the Carmelite convent of Santa Teresa in Coimbra, Portugal on 13th February 2005 aged 97.

The Library holds a number of books relating to the apparitions of Fatima and Special Collections holds four pamphlets and one book relating to what happened at Fatima.  Three of the pamphlets are published by the Catholic Truth Society and the fourth by the Holy Ghost Fathers. The Library has also recently received as part of the Pearse Hutchinson Collection a copy of the Fatima story in Irish called Samhailteacha Fatima by Matias Ó Eidhin. 


The apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima: the story of the apparitions by H.s. Caires. Published by the Catholic Truth Society 1946

Mary warns the world: Fatima by J. Mullins. Published by the Holy Ghost Fathers 1943

Our Lady of Fatima by Francis De Zulueta. Published by the Catholic Truth Society 1935

What happened at Fatima by J.J. Gannon. Published by the Catholic Truth Society 1969

Samhailteacha Fatima by Maitias Ó hEidhin. Published by Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais, 1948