Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

‘Party Tunes’ in the Littlehales Archive

by Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections & Content, MU Library

The archives of Sir Edward Baker Littlehales, held in Maynooth University Library contain a wealth of interesting information on the Irish administration after the Act of Union.  While much of it is fascinating, it lacks the ribald and risqué stories which can be found in some of the other archives under our stewardship (looking at you Marquis of Sligo!).  Almost every mention of ‘party’ by Littlehales refers to that of a political type, and despite being a significant player at various prominent social events in Dublin for nearly twenty years, he scarcely deigns to mention them in correspondence.  Indeed, with the exception of ‘political’ parties, the main concern he had regarding moments of jollity came when militia and yeomanry decided to strike up an air. 

Portrait of Edward Baker Littlehales, taken from The diary of Mrs Simcoe

What really concerned Littlehales was when these sizeable amateur military forces decided to use festivals and parties for the airing of political ideology.  And to be fair to the beleaguered undersecretary, this was a genuine challenge, with the militia being primarily Catholic and the yeomanry being primarily Protestant

A letter from the Chief Secretary in April 1814 noted that there had been accusations of bias on behalf of Dublin Castle, given that

‘regular militia regiments have been forbidden to play party tunes on certain days but they are still played by the yeomanry here’

(MU/PP12 Peel to Littlehales, 29 April 1814)
MU/PP12 Peel to Littlehales, 3 May 1814

In reality, the government had striven for years to present as neutral a front as possible on such matters and when called to account for the confusion by the Chief Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, Littlehales was quick to defend noting that both militia and regular forces had been expressly forbidden, but also regarding the Yeomanry. He observes

‘it has been the policy of Government invariably not to countenance their playing any party tunes on certain days, in any manner which might give Offence to their Fellow subjects many of whom are probably of different persuasions, from themselves, particularly in the North of Ireland’

(MU/PP12 Littlehales to Peel, 3 May 1814)

Oddly enough Littlehales had brought this to Peel’s attention the previous year noting in particular that due to the link with the burgeoning Orange Order, no military band was to play any tune on certain days of commemoration

‘and especially on the 12th of July’

(MU/PP12 Littlehales to Peel, 26 June 1813)

lest it offend.

As always, Littlehales proved himself to be far from the Georgian libertine, but in this instance at least his party instincts (or lack thereof) could be said to be for the greater good. 

MU/PP12 Peel to Littlehales, 3 May 1814

Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

The Sale of Kilkenny Castle, 1935

by Nicola Kelly, Archivist, OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre

An item which currently forms part of the Irish country house archives at the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre is a sale catalogue for Kilkenny Castle dated 1935. It symbolises the fortunes of the powerful Butlers of Ormonde and the collections amassed during a six-hundred-year dynasty.

Kilkenny Castle has been an important site since Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, commonly known as Strongbow constructed the first castle in the 12th century. The Castle later became the seat to a very powerful family, the Butlers of Ormonde. The Butler family (who changed their name from FitzWalter in 1185) arrived in Ireland with the Norman invasion. They originally settled in Gowran where James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond built Gowran Castle in 1385. The patrimony of the Butlers of Ormond encompassed most of the modern counties of Tipperary, Kilkenny, and parts of County Carlow. The purchase of Kilkenny Castle in 1391 and the Butlers established themselves as rulers of the area, a dynasty that would last for centuries.

Main entrance and courtyard, Kilkenny Castle

By the twentieth century, however, the impact of rising taxes, death duties, economic depression and living costs had taken their toll. The Butler family disposed of the bulk of their tenanted estates in Tipperary and Kilkenny, 21,000 acres (85 km²), by 1915 for £240,000. Death duties and expenses following the death of James Butler, 3rd Marquess of Ormonde in 1919 amounted to £166,000 which was devastating. George Butler, Earl of Ossory and his family remained living in the castle until 1935, when they sold its contents for £6,000, moved to London and abandoned it for thirty years.

Cover page, Sale catalogue of Kilkenny Castle, 1935

It was announced in Irish newspapers as follows

‘Battersby and Co. are favoured with instructions from the Right Hon. the Earl of Ossory to sell by auction at “Kilkenny Castle” the valuable furnishings and appointments of the historic mansion together with the library, outdoor effects, etc. : Catalogue of the valuable, antique and interesting contents of this historic mansion to be sold by auction commencing Monday, 18th November 1935 to 25th November, 1935 and 3 following days.’

So much interest had been garnered in the auction, a second printing of the catalogue was required.

Opening the auction on 18th November 1935, Raymond V. Judd, Manager of Battersby and Co. Auctioneers was quoted by the Irish Independent newspaper as saying,

‘he could not let the occasion pass without voicing his regret with the citizens of Kilkenny for the severance of an association which lasted for so many centuries.’

The names of the illustrious ancestors of the Castle had been interwoven with Irish history for centuries. Unfortunately, due to the changing economic circumstances of the Butlers and many landed estate owners alike, they were forced to sell the contents of Kilkenny Castle.

Contents of the Dining Room, Kilkenny Castle

The catalogue lists 3,036 lots, amounting to a little over 4,000 items, interspersed throughout are plates, featuring prominent items from the auction. Over 600 lots alone from the catalogue include the contents of the library. A visitor to the second day of the auction described stepping into the entrance hall,

‘Immediately you have crossed the threshold of the main door, you are reminded of its associations through centuries, heartbreaking and painful for the native Irish and not uneventful for the castle’s inhabitants. The castle is filled in its every nook and cranny with beautiful pieces from many periods.’

Lot 412, Oak framed fourfold Spanish leather screen, figures and cherubim

The Picture Gallery

The Picture Gallery, photographed in the catalogue features significant pieces of art of international importance, the picture collection is a story of acquisition and sales, collection and dispersal, spread over four centuries. The story can be told in four phases: acquisition in the seventeenth century, sales in the eighteenth, followed by a period of improving fortunes leading to more acquisitions, and finally, in the twentieth century, a final sale and partial recovery.

As early as the 16th century, the Ormonde family were important patrons of the arts, when James Butler 9th Earl (1504-46) commissioned his portrait from Hans Holbein the Younger, one of the greatest portraitists of the time at the court of Henry VII.  The 17th century ducal collection was the largest and finest of its time in Ireland, numbering over 500 paintings, 200 tapestries, oriental furniture, silver, and objects d’art.

The Picture Gallery, Kilkenny Castle sale catalogue, 1935

During the nineteenth century the collection in this gallery consisted of 184 paintings, today there are 49 hanging. The nineteenth century list shows that paintings on display were comprised of almost equal numbers of portraits (98), the rest (86) divided amongst subject painting, landscapes, and religious pictures. Today there are 36 portraits on display.

From examining this catalogue, it certainly places the Butler family as one Ireland’s most important collectors of fine art, furniture, silver and tapestries and Kilkenny Castle a key component in Ireland’s art-historical heritage.

The collection of country house sale catalogues is available for consultation to researchers, please contact the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre for details.

Website: www.maynoothuniversity.ie/omarc

Email: nicola.kelly@mu.ie

Explore Your Archive: Documents of the Day

The Wardell Archive: George Vaughan Wardell Letters

by Adam Staunton, Library Assistant, MU Library

The Wardell Archive comprises the personal papers of the Wardell family. The Wardells were a military family serving in the British army. William Henry Wardell (1799-1881) was a Major in several regiments, his son William Henry Junior (1838-1903) was a Major-General, George Vaughan Wardell (1840-1879) a Captain, while his nephew Warren served in the Garhwal Rifles. The collection consists of their letters along with letters by Professor John Wardell (1878-1957) whose father John Charles Wardell was a Captain in the Royal Marines, Frederica Wardell, Eliza Wardell, and Georgiana Wardell.

The Wardell letters show the close bonds that existed within military families, not just of the adults who served but also the families at home including the children who write about pets or their siblings. The collection details military life and traditions but also the daily life of British landed gentry of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is reflected in the letters by George Vaughan Wardell. George was born in Toronto in 1840 and followed his father Major William Wardell into military service. In May 1858 he joined the British 24th Regiment. By 1861 he became a lieutenant and as detailed in his letters to parents and siblings, served in Mauritius, Rangoon, Madras, Malta, Gibraltar and Brecon. In 1872 he was promoted to captain and posted to South Africa following an increase in native disturbances.

MU/PP/2/75/1 George Vaughan Wardell (1840-1879)

However, George in his letters had now started speaking of his long desire to retire from active military service but remarks he cannot do so on a Captain’s pension with a wife and six children to support. George is often refused leave from service as he states

‘I am so disappointed, after all my waiting, and longing, I suppose I must grin and bear it as well as I can’


George was still needed in Africa as his company had successfully built and defended Fort Warwick against Xhosa attacks for several months and as a result earned praise from British commander in South Africa, General Sir Arthur Cunynghame. Following British victory over the Xhosa in 1879, attention turned to the Zulu Kingdom.

I do not think they could possibly spare any troops at present from this.’


High Commissioner for Southern Africa Sir Henry Bartle Frere, on his own initiative and without the approval of the British government, presented an ultimatum to Zulu king Cetshwayo that the Zulu army be disbanded and the Zulus accept a British resident. Zulu culture which had been reformed under King Shaka in the 1820s could not accept these terms. Shaka transformed the Zulu tribe into a warrior outfit under the ibutho military system, convincing his people that the quickest way to power was to conquer and incorporate smaller tribes into their army. The Zulu army used the chest and horn military tactic, as the chest would commence a frontal attack on the enemy, the horns would surround them and cut off any retreat.

MU/PP/2/64 Wardell to his parents,
18 September 1877

George Wardell knew the Zulu posed a much greater challenge than the Xhosa and predicted a much tougher war,

the Zulus are a far more powerful and better armed than the last’


Despite this, the British military had a clear technological and tactical advantage over the Zulu military. Continuing in his letter George writes,

I don’t want to see any poor devils bowled over but I am curious to see our field battery open fire on them in mass. I think it will open their eyes


George would go on to describe his column as consisting

of one battery field. Royal artillery, about 500 horsemen and a native contingent about 200 strong.


On 10 January 1879, George would write his final letter to his family as the British army crossed into Zululand

I must write a few lines before bidding adieu to Natal, as very early tomorrow morning we commence crossing the Buffalo, into Zululand to bring that great and sable potentate Cetchwayo to his bearings.’


George finished the letter by saying

If all is well I will send you a line again’


The next morning the Zulu army of 20,000 men attacked the British camp at Isandlwana hill. As Wardell’s 24th Regiment fought the chest, the British right flank retreated allowing the Zulu left horn to flank and break British lines. The bodies of the 24th regiment weren’t found and buried until June 1789. Wardell was survived by his wife, Lucy, and six daughters.

MU/PP/2/71 Wardell to his parents, 6 November 1878
MU/PP/2/73 Wardell’s last letter, 10 January 1879

Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

What is Yet to Come: The Quaker Archives in Progress

by Catherine Ahearne, Senior Library Assistant, MU Library

As the newest member of the Special Collections & Archives team, Explore Your Archive week gives me the opportunity to get to know our collections better. Our archive collections include the papers of academics, writers, and other professionals, as well as documents of local interest. Only collections that are fully catalogued are available for research. So as member of team I wanted to show what the archivists are working on and will be available to researchers once fully processed.

One collection that is currently being worked on is the Quaker Letters, a series of letters between members of the Grubb family of Clonmel, County Tipperary, and their relations, the Shackleton and Leadbeater families of Ballitore, County Kildare. The letters were acquired by Maynooth University Library in 2019.

Mary Leadbeater, Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

I looked at one bound volume of letters from Margaret Grubb (née  Shackleton), Clogheen and Clonmel, to her sister Mary Leadbeater (née Shackleton), Ballitore. This volume contains ninety-six letters which concern a number of subjects including the births, deaths, and marriages of their extended family, domestic issues including the running of their households, visitors and guests, and the health and wellbeing of their children and wider family.

The letter that I examined is dated 4 June 1795 and is from Margaret Grubb to Mary Leadbeater. It is a letter written in the aftermath of the loss of a child. The letter begins very practically accepting offers of sympathy and referring to the loss as the ‘affliction that has befallen me.’

MU/PP35, Vol 1, 4 June 1795

From these letters we gain an insight into how detailing the loss of a child, causes and the actual moment of death, was part of everyday life for the women of this time.

‘I hoped that as the other children got over the disease so lightly that it ought be her case, & I thought the place where the infection was laid appeared so little inflamed that it might have been so too, but she was not a fit subject, being too irritable in her habit, & disposed to convulsions…she expired very quietly they told me, her poor Nurse has manifested deep affliction…she said she wanted to give up her eldest little girl to my care, as she was near death herself, having neither eaten nor slept for many days & nights’

(MU/PP35 Vol. 1, 4 June 1795)

Community in times of loss is evident, ‘visited by so many…I was kept up by them.’ The women of the community rallied around the grieving mother, to distract her from ‘falling into despair’ but also to offer practical support

Betty stayed both day and night and attended to the house and other children, for my Anne was overwhelmed with sorrow & like myself not of fit mind to mind them.’

While the tone of the document was pragmatic and sensible at the beginning as we read further into the letter, we begin to see the grief manifest itself.

I am tolerable in the day but at night I waken out of my just sleep with an unexpected pang.’

MU/PP35, Vol 1, 4 June 1795

These letters will be a wonderful asset to the research community reflecting how society functioned at this time in Ireland and as a primary source. But it also gives a voice to the history of women, of the roles they played in society and in the family.

Explore Your Archive: Document of the Day

Lord Benjamin Bloomfield’s Loughton and Moneygall Estates in King’s County, 1836.

by Ruairí Nolan, Library Assistant, MU Library

Lord Benjamin Bloomfield is a fascinating character whose story is deeply engrained in the history of Ireland. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1781 and saw combat in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 serving as an artillery commander at the Battle of Vinegar Hill, the final major engagement of the rebellion which virtually shattered the rebel forces.

Shortly after 1798, though unclear exactly when, Lord Bloomfield was sent to Brighton to work with the Prince Regent‘s regiment, the 10th Light Dragoons. It is from his introduction to the Prince Regent and his ability to shine as a commander and leader that a friendship began to form between the two that lasted 27 years. Later in 1817 he became private secretary to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, for the regent and subsequent King George IV until 1822. Today’s document will be a collection of maps from surveyed estates belonging to Bloomfield.

The collection contains a book of maps of the estate of Lord Benjamin Bloomfield in the King’s County and County Tipperary, surveyed by Samson Carter, Civil Engineer in 1836 which contains an extensive list of estates. Alongside these, is a book of maps of the Redwood Estate of Lord Benjamin Bloomfield in County Tipperary, surveyed by Martin H. Carroll, Civil Engineer in 1840. The focus for today’s blog will of a single map of Bloomfield’s Loughton and Moneygall properties.

The maps in this collection are incredible to examine – the level of detail and the decorative way in which they are done add a level of depth often absent from maps. The first thing we are presented with is a beautifully drawn title page – a style which is continuous throughout the collection to indicate the location of each drawing.

The centrepiece of this survey is Loughton House, a country house around which the estate is predicated. The house was originally built for Major Thomas Pepper in 1777 and was passed on to his son Thomas Ryder Pepper who had married into the Bloomfield family with Anne Bloomfield in 1792. When Thomas Ryder passed away the property was inherited by his brother-in-law John Benjamin Bloomfield. It is this Bloomfield who would earn the title of First Baron Bloomfield and his son, John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield the 2nd Baron Bloomfield was the last to hold such title.

One of my favourite details on these maps are the decorative cardinal points. Each map has a different decorative cardinal point indicating the orientation of each drawing. Below are three examples, one being a bird, another an ornamental crown radiating light and the final one being a more subtle Fleur-de-Lis.

With this collection comes a series of indices for each map – explaining what each number on the map is from house and office buildings, to ‘plantations’, ‘lawns’, and ‘arable’ farming plots. What is also presented is an extensive record of tenants and the corresponding plots belonging to them. Where no name is listed, there is simply a shortening of ‘ditto’ to indicate they all belong to the first name.

Loughton House is built on the site of an older late-sixteenth century estate which is evidenced by the existence of a ruined tower house south of the main building complex and gardens. The tower is all that remains of the structure, and it has been recorded as a castle in the Down Survey map of 1655. To the north can be seen the remains of a ringfort also – an origin date for which is unknown.

To cap it all off, Moneygall may ring a few bells for some people. You might recognise it and not know why. I promised myself I would avoid bringing the 44th President of the United States up but alas, I cannot help myself. This is simply because Barrack Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney, who hailed from Moneygall and emigrated to America – was likely a tenant of Benjamin Bloomfield and would have been a toddler when this survey was done in 1836. Kearney emigrated in 1850 at the age of 19. A very interesting and unexpected connection to the Bloomfield maps indeed.

Jack Cornfield in ‘Liberty’: Exploring the Creative Process of Seán Ó Faoláin 

By Róisín Berry, Archivist, MU Library 

Whether writing a blog post, a short story, or a novel, the creative process of each writer is unique and can vary from project to project. One of the most exciting aspects of being an archivist is examining how a work of literature can evolve, from a few scribbled notes on a scrap of paper to a final published work. This process can involve the development of themes, characters, timelines, and revisions, supported often by extensive research and fact-checking. Understanding this process can provide researchers with a much richer experience of a writer and their work. 

Foreign Affairs and Other Stories by Seán Ó Faoláin

In 2018, Maynooth University Library was fortunate enough to acquire a fascinating letter written by writer Seán Ó Faoláin (1900-1991). The four-page document reveals how Ó Faoláin researched the main character, Jack Cornfield, for his short story ‘Liberty’ published in a collection of his work, Foreign Affairs and Other Stories in 1976. Ó Faoláin was regarded as one of Ireland’s leading short-story writers at the time. Not confined to fiction, he also produced travelogues, literary criticisms, and historical biographies. The letter is dated 24th February 1973 and is addressed to Dr Burke, who appears to be a mental health professional. In the document, Ó Faoláin describes his short story character, Cornfield, and outlines plot lines for the story, requesting that the doctor assess their feasibility. Cornfield is a patient in a psychiatric asylum, and the fictional story revolves around his relationships, sanity, and freedom.

Ó Faoláin notes in his letter that the story is based on the memory of a man who used to sit outside the psychiatric asylum in Cork. He recalls him on fine days sitting outside the front gate on the low wall backing on to the fields above the River Lee, chatting with anybody who passed. Ó Faoláin mentions his wife knowing him a little as a girl, her father having worked in the asylum at the time, and notes ‘between them they gave me the image of a quiet and cultivated and gentlemanly sort of chap.’ With this ‘meagre memory,’ Ó Faoláin describes how he has invented a history for Cornfield to ‘explain why this apparently sane chap was there and what he may have been through.’

Letter from Seán Ó Faoláin to Dr Burke on Jack Cornfield character

In the document, Ó Faoláin asks Dr Burke specific questions as he attempts to create a plausible backstory for his character, which includes a violent attack on his wife and the potential repercussions. He enquires ‘Here is the first practical q.:- She commits him to asylum. Is this possible? Or was it ever? But she agrees later that he be sent at her expense to a private mental clinic (? Right word?).’ He also observes ‘No least sign of instability has been given by Cornfield since he was first committed. Yet he continues in the public asylum year after year, tacitly recognised as harmless…and bit by bit he achieves so much respect…that he also achieves this liberty, and virtual equality so that he can wander about the grounds, stroll outside the gates, sit on the wall outside, smoke and chat.’

Detail of letter to Dr Burke

Ó Faoláin observes ‘I am sure you must be chuckling at all these complications and I rather feel myself that so many would bend the credibility of the story.’ He refers to the boyhood image of this patient sitting happily outside the asylum in the sun writing verses and reading books that has stayed with him for fifty years, concluding ‘…as I don’t know his story I am obsessed by the wish to invent it. I suspect I’ve been too inventive.’

An enthralling insight into an artistic mind at work. For further information on our Seán Ó Faoláin collection, please contact: library.specialcollections@mu.ie

The Münster Mash: Mythical Monsters at Maynooth

By Yvette Campbell, Assistant Librarian, Special Collections & Archives

CK 967 -Cosmographiae Universalis (1550)

The month of October marks the 820th anniversary of St. Canice’s Cathedral. To celebrate this occasion, I have selected an interesting piece from the St. Canice’s Cathedral Library Collection that also ties in with the celebration of Halloween.

Cosmographiae Universalis by Sebastian Münster printed in Basel by Heinrich Petri in 1550 includes approximately 900 woodcuts of sea and land monsters thought to have existed around the world. Aside from the famous maps present in the Cosmographia, the text is richly filled with woodcuts of flora and fauna, monsters, obscurities, Kings/Queens and customs. This success of this work was due to the notable woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel).

This Latin edition and the German edition, both published in the same year by Münster’s son-in-law Heinrich Petri, were the first of Münster’s works to contain town views. The map of the modern world, “Typus Orbis Universalis,” also first appeared in this edition, replacing the Ptolemaic world map used in previous editions.

Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and Hebrew scholar whose Cosmographia or “Cosmography”) first printed in 1544, was the earliest German description of the world, and a major work in the revival of geographic thought in 16th century Europe. Although the Cosmographia records encyclopaedic details about the known world at that time, what is interesting from a modern perspective, is the speculations surrounding the unknown worlds at that time. It is highly likely that Münster relied heavily on the works of Roman author Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) for descriptions of the unknown lands and those thought to have dwelt there.

From left to right: Sciapodes, Cyclopes, Bicephales, blemmyae and Cynocephali woodcuts printed by Heinrich Petri (1550)


The Sciapodes (or Monopods) were a legendary people with one leg and one gigantic foot which they used like an umbrella to shade from the sun during extreme heat. A Sciapod is often depicted lying on their back in a curved shape, with their huge foot in the air. They were also popular in Medieval bestiaries and map illustrations of Terra Incognita.


More familiar to us, (thanks to famous fairy tales, Greek myths and Harryhausen movies) is the Cyclops. Cyclopes (‘wheel-eyed’) were odd-looking giants with one eye in the middle of their foreheads.


Two-headed people as pictured above in the centre of the image, were likely manifestations representing the duality of good and evil, fire and water, light and darkness – a common sight in many cultures and myths for thousands of years.


A Panotii

The famous mythical blemmyae or akephaloi (“headless ones”) are described and illustrated throughout numerous Greek and Roman sources. They were first mentioned 2,500 years ago by Herodotus in ‘The Histories’. Pictured here in the Cosmographia, the headless blemmyae were thought to have been cannibalistic creatures with a face on their chest and could reach up to 12 feet in height and 6 feet wide. Following reports of their existence by several famous explorers and as testament to the popularity of these creatures , Shakespeare even incorporated them into his plays The Tempest and Othello.


The Cynocephali, or ‘dog-headed’ people were one of the best-known monstrous races. They were said to be fierce warriors with the body of a man and the head of a dog. Other than the god Anubis in Ancient Egypt, both the ancient Greeks and the Chinese have recorded their sightings of these creatures in several surviving texts.


The Panotii or Panotiorum (All-Ears Islands) were a tribe of giant-eared people, measuring 27 inches in height who were native to the cold islands of the far north and slept snuggled up inside the flaps of their gigantic ears. According to some sources, they also used these wing-like appendages to fly.

Slideshow of other mythical creatures in the Cosmographia

For the month of Halloween, check out the Cosmographiae Universalis on display outside the Special Collections and Archives reading room located on Level 2 of the John Paul II Library. If you would like to learn more about the wonderful books from the St. Canice’s Cathedral Library Collection, check out our introductory video below as part of our Library Treasures series:

All images in this post © The Representative Body of the Church of Ireland from the collections of Maynooth University Library

Conserving a Caxton, Part 2

By Gretchen Allen, Library Conservator, Special Collections & Archives

Ingrained discoloration removed through capillary washing

This post contains the second half of the treatment of the St. Canice’s Caxton, a single folio of John Gower’s “Confessio Amantis” printed by William Caxton in 1483. For part 1 of this treatment and some historical background on the print itself, please see [this post.] https://mulibrarytreasures.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/conserving-a-caxton/

When we last spoke, the Caxton had been carefully removed from its frame, gently surface-cleaned, and put through several rounds of capillary washing, which helped remove both surface dirt and ingrained discoloration and prepared the print for consolidation and repair. It’s important to remove as much mobile dirt and discoloration as possible before introducing any adhesives to an object, since consolidants and repairs will end up fixing remaining dirt in place both in and on the paper. This was especially important since the paper was very fragile; it had lost the majority of its structural integrity over the course of its long life and as a result the paper has become very fluffy, especially around the edges. In order to restore some of the paper’s original robustness, a diluted water-soluble consolidant was carefully applied to the whole print on both sides. Once the consolidant was dry, the print was gently humidified and flattened under light weight and wool felts in order to preserve the surface texture of the paper.

Once the paper had been successfully consolidated, it was finally possible to repair the losses and tears along the edges. This was done using a very lightweight Japanese tissue paper that had been toned with acrylic paint in order to integrate the repair visually and not distract from the object. The repairs were attached using wheat starch paste, which is both compatible with the original substrate and a reversible adhesive that can be removed in the future if necessary.

Adding toned tissue repairs along torn edges

After all the repairs were completed, the print was encapsulated between two sheets of Melinex using a sonic welder. Gaps in the welds were left at the head and tail edges to allow

for airflow and prevent microclimate formation around the print. The encapsulated print was placed in a bespoke standing display frame which can be used for both storage and display purposes. The letter of authentication that came with the print was placed in an archival folder along with the label from the original glass frame. The encapsulated print, frame, and the folder containing the letter and label were all placed in a bespoke handmade archival solander box for storage and returned to the collection.

Trimmed toned repairs

This item was such a privilege to work on, as not only is it an incredibly rare and valuable example of early English-language printing, but also it was very satisfying to get a chance to repair and rehouse it. The item is now safe to be stored in the Maynooth Library collections and to be examined and handled by readers and researchers. Hopefully the St. Canice’s Caxton will prove to be a unique and beautiful resource for the wider academic community!

The Caxton in its bespoke solander box

The Caxton in its standing frame

Library Treasures: Heritage Week 2022| The St. Canice’s Cathedral Library Collection

For this National Heritage Week 2022 edition of our Library Treasures video, Rare Books Librarian Yvette Campbell takes us on an exciting adventure with some stunning book history from the St. Canice’s Cathedral Library Collection. Prepare yourself for the most beautiful incunabula, early printed books, inscriptions and even a little fragmentology!

Pierce Egan’s The life of an actor – raw spouter, stroller and gagger

By Darren Sturdy, Special Collections and Archives

Egan, detail of an engraving by
C. Turner after a drawing by G. Sharples. BBC Hulton Picture Library.

Moving through the bays of Special Collections and Archives prized collections at Maynooth University Library, I discovered an intriguing title (well I actually found it in the first bay, but to sound dramatic decided to embellish my discovery…)

The book, The Life of an Actor is by one Pierce Egan (1772-1849), probably the most famous Irish Pierce before that most quintessential of Englishmen James Bond was played by another Irish Pierce.

Pierce Egan was a journalist, sportswriter and writer on popular culture. He was born in either Dublin and moved to London whilst young, or was born in said city to Irish parents. There are no known records of his early life.

First published in 1825, the version in our library is an 1892 reprint. The author did not live to see this vision of publishing being reissued.

Title-page (detail) from The Life of an Actor

Set in London, it describes the travails and tribulations of the working actor through the character of Peregrine Proteus, in the midst of the bright lights of London Theatre.

In the dedication to Edmund Kean, Esq. (1787-1833), Egan outlines “Peregrine Proteus was written principally to introduce the artist to the notice of the public; and I am happy to inform you that the desired object has been accomplished; a young man of talent has not only been rescued from oblivion, but perhaps the success which he has made me with by his delineations of The Life of an Actor may afford him still further opportunities to amuse and interest society”.

Hand coloured aquatint plate by Theodore Lane. The upper regions in disorder.
Hand coloured aquatint plate by Theodore Lane : Suiting the action to the word.

The critic features prominently too, as the poor actor must suffer at the hands of these wordsmiths who had and still have the power to make and break a career by the repeated “cutting up and cant of criticism”.

Image from The Life of an Actor

There are 27 beautifully illustrated hand coloured aquatint plates including the frontis by Theodore Lane (1800-1828). He died at the tragically young age of 28 after falling through a skylight. Lane apprenticed under John Barrow, a miniature painter before becoming a satirist of political and social occasions.

Egan wrote about life in London and became famous for writing about boxing, producing a publication titled Boxiana from 1813 to 1829. Egan’s writing was brought back to popular attention by boxing articles in The New Yorker from 1950 to 1964 by A.J. Liebling (1904-1963).

Egan also produced a comical publication called Life in London with characters called Tom and Jerry who caused mischief wherever they went and had the financial wherewithal to do so. Apparently, there is no evidence of a future animated connection.

Egan was a street commentator, a documentarian of his day who was the art, lived it and told the tale.

Image from last page of The Life of an Actor


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Egan, detail of an engraving by
C. Turner after a drawing by G. Sharples. BBC Hulton Picture