‘Reading Euclid’: Examining the key mathematical text through an exhibition at the Russell Library

By Barbara McCormack (Special Collections Librarian, Maynooth University), Dr Ciarán Mac an Bhaird (Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Maynooth University) and Dr Philip Beeley (Reading Euclid Project, University of Oxford)

An important exhibition relating to the history of mathematics was launched in the Russell Library on Wednesday, 27th June by Professor Philip Nolan (President of Maynooth University). ‘Reading Euclid: Examining the key mathematical text through an exhibition at the Russell Library’ was a collaboration between the Library and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Maynooth University in conjunction with the ‘Reading Euclid’ project at Oxford University.

Euclid’s Elements is often referred to as one of the most influential works ever written, and it has played a key role in education since it first appeared. The original text is attributed to the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, who lived around 300BCE. It was one of the first mathematical works to have been printed and is reported to have had the second most printed editions of any work after the Bible. It has been used as a textbook in mathematics for over a 1000 years, and contains many well-known results, such as the Pythagorean Theorem.

Euclid Invitation
Invitation to the exhibition launch in the Russell Library which took place at 5.00pm on Wednesday, 27th June.

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Cataloguing the Graham Family Archive

by Miriam van der Molen, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

A selection of material from the Graham Family Archive

An exhibition of material from the Graham Family Archive will be on display outside the Special Collections Reading Room in the John Paul II Library from the beginning of June until 23 June 2018.

In 2016 I catalogued the papers of the Graham family from Belfast who were Catholic wine and spirit merchants. Initially I looked through the boxes of documents to get an idea of content. Some documents were folded and tied together into bundles with ribbon. This was a typical way of storing legal papers from the nineteenth to early twentieth century. For papers not in any bundles, I had to figure out the link between documents.

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Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio at Maynooth University Library

Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian

Portrait of William Shakespeare from the ‘Fourth Folio’

Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio, printed in 1685, will be on display outside the Special Collections Reading Room in the John Paul II Library during May 2018.

The fourth edition of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, more commonly known as the Fourth Folio, was printed for Herringman, Brewster and Bentley ‘at the Anchor in the New Exchange, the Crane in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, and in Russell-Street Covent-Garden’ in the year 1685. The Fourth Folio was printed just twenty-two years after the printing of the Third Folio, many copies of which were destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The text features the engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droedshout which appears opposite the title page. It also includes the original dedication to William Earl of Pembroke and his brother Philip E. of Montgomery by compilers of the First Folio,  John Heminge and Henry Condell.

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Mgr. Seán Swayne’s Bequest

By Yvette Campbell, Russell Library Cataloguing Project

Monsignor Seán Swayne, an internationally renowned liturgist, was the first director of the Irish Institute of Pastoral Liturgy at St Patrick’s College, Carlow, and was chairman of the Irish Episcopal Commission for the liturgy and parish priest of Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny. Following studies in Paris, he was appointed to the faculty at St Patrick’s College, from where he helped to found the IIPL. The institute has attracted students from all over the world to take part in its one year programme.

In 1989 Father Swayne was appointed monsignor in recognition of his lifelong promotion of the arts, liturgy and architecture. He died in May 1996. His bequest to the Russell Library, Maynooth included 100 books printed before 1850.

SW 100
Armorial bookplate – SW 100

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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’.

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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: library.specialcollections@mu.ie




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 deara, 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