The centrality of culture in the struggle for a new world: Amilcar Cabral and Ken Saro-Wiwa


By Firoze Manji, Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, Robert Bosch Academy, Berlin

This is a slightly shortened version of the Keynote address from the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar 15th November 2018


Firoze Manji delivers the keynote address at the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar, 15th November 2018

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A leprosy hospital in Pretoria

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian, Maynooth University Library

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In late 1914 an interesting letter arrived at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth which outlined the plight of detainees at a Leper Asylum in Pretoria, South Africa. The letter was written by an Irish missionary, Fr. Thomas Ryan, who was fundraising for the construction of a Catholic church at the Westfort Leprosy Hospital. Admission rates to leper asylums had greatly increased in the late nineteenth century following the introduction of legislation such as the Leprosy Repression Act of the 1890s which attempted to segregate and isolate those suffering from the disease. Fr. Ryan writes:
‘I beg you to forgive me for making this appeal to you. In my parish of Pretoria there is a leper asylum, and there over 800 lepers are gathered together. Before the “Union” of the S. African States there were not so many lepers in our asylum but now the authorities are more careful – the leper asylum of Bloemfontein has been closed, & lepers are now placed only at Robin [sic.] Island & in the Pretoria asylum.’

Letter from Fr Thomas Ryan outlining the plight of detainees at a Leper Asylum in Pretoria, South Africa, 14 October 1914

Fr. Ryan was born in 1858 and was ordained for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Inchicore in 1882. His missionary work brought him first to Leeds and then to Australia in 1893, where he settled at Fremantle, before returning to Ireland due to poor health and later travelling to South Africa in 1908 as a missionary. In 1914 Ryan wrote to several individuals and institutions around the world asking for help to develop ‘a little sanctuary which shall afford to the leper worshippers the means of realising the beauty of Catholic workshop on however small a scale’.
Simone Horwitz in her article ‘Leprosy in South Africa: A case study of Westfort Leper Institution, 1898-1948’, states that ‘Once patients were admitted to the institution, close contact with non-leprous persons, in theory at least, was to be prohibited’ yet in practice, the authorities failed to fully implement these policies, leading to ‘inadequate facilities, lax management, modest medical care and haphazardly enforced segregation’.
Fr. Ryan’s letter states that ‘[t]here are 25 Catholics among the lepers & they & others also are anxious to have a Catholic church built within the asylum boundaries. The priests visit the asylum regularly but we cannot say Mass for the lepers as there is no place that we can call our own.’ Following a petition to the Bishop of Transvaal it was decided to fundraise the £400 needed to construct the church and Fr. Ryan appealed to the professors and students of Maynooth College ‘to keep alive the Irish missionary spirit’ by giving just one shilling to the cause.

Fr Thomas Ryan writes that ‘over 800 lepers are gathered together’, 14 October 1914.

Supporters of Ryan’s work included the former High Commissioner of South Africa, Viscount Milner and the Prime Minister of South Africa, General Louis Botha. Local people also offered their support and according to a report in the Sacred Heart Review a number of people had already committed to the work:
‘A carpenter who is now fighting for his country in German South-West Africa has promised to make the doors; the Trappist Community at Mariannhill will be responsible for the windows, and several very poor working men will contribute the stone’.
The Anglo-Welsh artist Sir Frank Brangwyn  painted a set of the Stations of the Cross for the church ‘voluntarily as a Catholic in keen sympathy with the work of Father Ryan, whom he did not even know’.

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Fr Thomas Ryan notes ‘The priests visit the asylum regularly but we cacnnot say Mass for the lepers as there is no place that we can call our own’, 14 October 1914

The new church was finally opened in December 1916 by Bishop Cox who commended the work of Fr. Ryan. A newspaper report at the time also praised the work of the Irish missionary: ‘The work of such a man in such a cause is a tangible asset to the credit of the old land and of its fidelity to the ancient Church.’
Seven years later Fr. Ryan travelled to London to recuperate from a recent illness. Before he left Pretoria a celebration was held in his honour, during which both the Mayor and a member of the Legislative Assembly spoke.
He died in South Africa on the 18th October 1929 at the age of seventy-one.

Barbara McCormack contributed an article on this topic to Treasures of Irish Christianity: To the Ends of the Earth, edited by Salvador Ryan and published by Veritas in 2015.

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Women of the Revolution : Hannah Condon Cleary on her service in Cumann na mBan 1918-1923

By Ruth O’Hara, Library Assistant, Maynooth University Library

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To read a firsthand account of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War is illuminating. When the eyewitness happens to be a woman a different and yet still relatively rare vision of these defining moments in Irish history presents itself. This is the case with the four-page manuscript acquired recently by Maynooth University Library written by Hannah Condon Cleary, a commanding officer with Cumann na mBan. It details her “active service” from 1918 to 1923 in Anglesboro Co. Limerick and brings to the fore the roles open to women in the fight for Irish liberty.

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First page of Hannah Condon Cleary’s manuscript detailing the year she joined Cumann na mBan

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Fr William Purcell, CM and the Nordrach Sanatorium

By Sarah Larkin, All Hallows Archivist, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth

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Following the closure of All Hallows College, Dublin in 2016, its archives (dating back to its foundation in 1842) were transferred to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The archives are currently being catalogued so that they can be opened to researchers. One of the many interesting items I have catalogued so far is a photo album which documents one of All Hallows’ past president’s time as a patient in a TB clinic in the Black Forest in Germany (AHC/4/1/2).

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Fr Purcell during his stay at the Nordrach Sanatorium, 1928-1929

Fr William Purcell, CM was born in Tipperary in 1891. He was ordained a Vincentian priest on 25 May 1918. His first appointment was to All Hallows College in Dublin, where he taught history and was also responsible for keeping an eye on the younger students who walked to Earlsfort Terrace for classes each day. Fr Purcell would be seen commuting back and forth on a bicycle, and during those commutes he witnessed many memorable scenes in the turbulent city. He later recalled:

‘The nearest I got to a graveyard was when an ambush took place on Tolka Bridge which I half saw from my window. I stood on Butt Bridge, too, when the Customs House was burning. And, of course, I was in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. I should get a medal for that, because I took home a little child I met outside the gate!’

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Fr Purcell (second from the left) and other patients of the Nordrach Sanatorium, pictured outdoors in the Black Forest.

In 1927, Fr Purcell was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lung. In the early decades of the 20th century, TB was a serious and very prevalent illness in Ireland. Consumption, as it was called, claimed thousands of lives annually. In October of that year Fr Purcell set out for Nordrach Sanatorium in the Black Forest in Germany, where he spent eighteen months as a patient. The photo album contains 34 black and white photographs taken in 1928. They show Fr Purcell and the other patients at the clinic, in the picturesque scenery surrounding it, and in the nearby town of Nordrach. Fr Purcell served as President of All Hallows College from 1948 until his death on 24 May 1961.

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Fr Purcell (front row, fourth from the left) and other patients outside the clinic.


The Nordrach Sanatorium was established in the late nineteenth century by Dr Otto Walther, for the treatment of advanced tuberculosis. The rooms of the clinic were some 460 metres above sea level, with windows to expose patients to the refreshing winds. Nordrach thrived as a clinic throughout the early 1930s. Dr Walther, as a Jew, came under increased scrutiny as the Nazis came to power in Germany, and the sanatorium was eventually forced to close.

This pencil portrait of Fr Purcell, which was inserted into the photo album, is signed at Badenweiler, another TB sanatorium in the south of Germany. It was drawn shortly before Fr Purcell returned to Ireland in 1929.

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Pencil portrait of Fr Purcell, signed by ‘[L.N. Brestaner], April 1929, Badenweiler.
However, after only a short time at home in Ireland, he was again obliged to return to a clinic for medical treatment, this time in Switzerland. By the 1950s, TB was being treated effectively with antibiotics, and many of the European sanatoriums previously devoted to it began to close.



All Hallows Annual (1929-1930): Accessed October 2018.

All Hallows Annual (1962-1963): Accessed October 2018.

Buckley, Dan, ‘The silent terror that consumed so many’ Irish Examiner (24 August 2010): Accessed October 2018.

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Sketches from the battlefield: Captain George Vaughan Wardell and the Battle of Rorke’s Drift

By Nicola Kelly, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

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The Wardell Archive comprises the personal papers of the Wardell family; William Henry Wardell senior (1799-1881) a Major in several regiments, including the Royal Canadian Rifles; his wife Eliza Wardell (b.1800); William Henry Wardell junior (1838-1903)  Major-general, and an instructor at Woolwich Academy. The majority of the collections contents are the letters, photographs and sketches by George Vaughan Wardell  (1840-1879) Captain of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot.

Captain George Vaughan Wardell’s correspondence reflects his family life and military career which began when he enrolled as an ensign in the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot in May 1858. He writes between 1864 and 1871, mainly to his parents but also to his brothers and sister, a series of letters detailing among other matters his experiences in faraway postings such as Mauritius, Rangoon, Madras, Malta and Burma.

Captain George Vaughan Wardell

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The College Bells

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By Anna Porter, Archivist, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

Sometimes an enquiry to the archives of Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth (SPCM) leads to an investigation into some obscure aspect of the college’s history.

Tim Jackson’s request for information regarding the college bell was one such query. Tim’s research on behalf of Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers [1] prompted him to enquire whether SPCM’s bell exceeded 40 Cwt (2 tons) in weight.

A search of the college archives revealed little about bells except for a letter dated 8 September, 1853, from John Murphy, bell founder of 15 Thomas Street in Dublin (SPCM/8/35/153).

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Letter from John Murphy, bell founder to Rev. Dr, Renehan. SPCM/8/35/153

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Look Out! They’re Lurking About: Books That Go Bump In The Library

By Emma Doran, Special Collections & Archives Library Assistant.

Image taken from the Book Irish Wonders by D. R. McAnally Jr. Published by Houghton Mifflin in 1888.


It’s that time of year again when the days wane toward the impending colder weather and the campus is alight with leaves of red, orange and gold and that can only mean one thing…Halloween is fast approaching. Having scoured our special collections treasures in anticipation of writing this blog, I have selected a few devilishly delightful rare books for you to sink your teeth into. My selections ranging from the 15th to the 20th century, hail from both the Special Collections Reading Room and the Russell Library and they explore all elements of the dark arts, judgement of witches and even exorcising demons and promise to send a chill down your spine. 

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The Country House and the Great War

Professor Terence Dooley, Director, Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, History Department, Maynooth University, and Nicola Kelly, Archivist, OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre, Castletown House.

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In the summer of 1914 many Big House families in Ireland had been preparing, through the Unionist movement, to fight the implementation of Home Rule, in Ulster by force if necessary. However, just as Ireland seemed on the brink of civil war, attentions were turned to a European conflict of unimaginable magnitude. Elizabeth Bowen recalled a garden party at Mitchelstown Castle on 5 August 1914:

‘This was a time to gather…for miles round, each isolated big house had disgorged its talker, this first day of the war. The tension of months, of years – outlying tension of Europe, inner tensions of Ireland – broke in a spate of words.’

But those who had gathered scarcely realised the social, physical and emotional impact that total warfare would have on their families in the years ahead. Scores of relatives would go to war and many would never return; more would enthusiastically sacrifice their time, finances and energies to the war effort at home; and virtually all would be disgusted by the events of Easter Week 1916.


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    The Country House and the Great War Exhibition displayed in the                     Russell Library

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Document Of The Day – “Achnasheen” by Pearse Hutchinson

By Yvette Campbell, General Collections & Finance


As part of the Pearse Hutchinson Archive acquired by Maynooth University in 2013, this fascinating and vast collection contains the papers from Hutchinson’s long and extremely varied career, from his childhood writings to his last draft poems. One of these draft poems held in Maynooth is the typescript draft entitled “Achnasheen” published in 1975.

Pearse Hutchinson
As someone with a background in Medieval Irish & Celtic studies, I’ve always loved the history behind Irish placenames especially when they relate to Irish mythology and literature. Beginning with “You’d miss the Gaelic from the Placenames“, this heavily annotated manuscript copy by Hutchinson himself is a powerful poem highlighting the significance of the few Gaelic placenames which have not been distorted by English renaming. It is a fascinating document to see Hutchinson’s notes and corrections on a piece of Irish writing that people know and love so well.

Pearse Hutchinson’s poem “Achnasheen” describes the mistranslation of Gaelic toponyms, and the subsequent absence of the original Gaelic from signposts in Northern Ireland. My favourite quote from this poem that captures the mood of the subject so beautifully is:

The Gaelic names beating their wings madly
behind the mad cage of English”

This poem was published in Selected Poems 1982, The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. III, Ed. S. Deane (1991)., Collected Poems (2002) & An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry Ed. Wes Davis (2010).

Since “Achnasheen“, there has been great work done with The Northern Ireland Place-name Project and a number of other Irish databases dedicated to the preservation of the history of Gaelic placenames in Ireland – therefore Hutchinson’s poem is a great document to feature in our Explore Your Archives Week.

If you want to learn more about Pearse Hutchinson and his poetry, the 2nd annual seminar will be held in Maynooth University on Wednesday 23rd November. The seminar will be chaired by the writer, poet and broadcaster Vincent Woods and will include a paper by Prof. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Ireland Professor of Poetry, musical perfomance by Danny Diamond and Néillidh Mulligan and a launch of an exhibition of material from the Archive.

Developing Archival Literacy among Undergraduates at Maynooth University

Helen Fallon and Professor Anne Ryan, Maynooth University.

5  Special Collections Ken Saro-Wiwa Material  By Alan Monahan (9)Special collections frequently form the basis of postgraduate research but are less frequently used by undergraduate students. This blog post explores the integration of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive -into the undergraduate curriculum at Maynooth University.

The Ken Saro-Wiwa archive contains a number of items relating to Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, including 28 letters he wrote from death row to Sister Majella McCarron.The letters, mostly handwritten, were smuggled out of military detention in food baskets.

We, the authors, decided to use these letter in the Development Theories module on
the BA in Community Studies, offered by the MU Department of Adult & Community Education, because we thought the letters offered a way to engage with a complex subject – conflict over ownership of natural resources in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria – while giving students an opportunity to gain an understanding of the richness of archives and special collections as information sources.

We have both lived and worked in African countries and share a commitment to people-centred development.

The Development Theories module is offered as part of BA in Community Studies, and  is one of a number of programmes offered by Maynooth University that are designed to meet the specific needs of mature students.  Classes are in the evening to facilitate adults who are unable to attend on a full-time basis during the day.


Module Content

Eighteen mature students opted to take the module. In exploring the modernisation and dependency theories of development the module drew on the following three case studies:

Peace keeping in post civil war Liberia;
Climate change and hunger in Malawi;
The impact of the petrochemical industry on the Niger Delta.

Each of the three case studies followed a similar pattern. The students heard the story of an individual who was directly involved in the initiative being studied. That story was then considered in the light of modernisation and development theories. The first two case studies involved bringing a person into class.  In the Liberia case study the storyteller was an officer in the Irish Defence Forces who served as a UN Peacekeeper in Liberia. In the Malawi case study the storyteller was a Malawian academic. In the final case study (the petrochemical industry in the Niger Delta), the storytelling was done through the letters of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Ken Saro-Wiwa


Delivering the Module
We jointly prepared and delivered the Niger Delta case study. This allowed the combining of expertise in knowledge of collections and information sources and knowledge of development theory and practice to create a seamless learning experience for the students. In delivering the module, we sought to provide students with a learning experience that: encompassed the context in which Ken Saro-Wiwa campaigned including the discourses surrounding his ultimate execution; an opportunity to explore similar development discourses in today’s world and a chance to develop skills in using and evaluating primary and secondary information sources including an appreciation of the aesthetic and research value of letters.

Our presence in the classroom allowed us to get to know the students and to adapt and adjust the module to meet their needs and concerns. There were a number of African students in the class, three of whom were Nigerian. One of them had met Ken Saro-Wiwa. His contribution to the class created a unique level of student engagement with the topic. As the module progressed, the combination of  letters, artefacts and African students was particularly important in capturing local nuances, which can often be absent when encountering a topic from a distance.

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Letter to Sister Majella


Videos (including some covering the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa) and other resources were made available via the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which is used across the University.

The YouTube clips were invaluable in gaining a balanced perspective on Ken Saro-Wiwa’s campaign as some contained extracts from his original manuscripts and the clips could not disguise what was actually taking place on the ground. All very empowering and relevant primary sources. Student quote

Students worked in small groups with a selection of articles covering the conflict in the Niger Delta in newspapers, magazines and journals from different countries from different perspectives. They were asked to compare and contrast coverage, comment on the different types of information sources and summarise the group discussion after reading these different articles.

An awareness of the different types of information sources and the political perspectives of different sources was evident in group feedback.

Truth is slippery. A lot depends on who you are talking to or what you are reading. I’m very conscious now of needing to know whose view I’m hearing and read more than one account.  Student quote

Students were given access to Ken Saro-Wiwa’s letters. Wearing appropriate protective gloves, they were allowed to handle original handwritten letters. This engagement with the physical collection was something the students really appreciated and it was their first introduction to archives and special collection.

The opportunity to actually see, hold and read original letters written by Ken Saro-Wiwa allowed for a real sense of his beliefs and passion to social and economic inequalities, most significantly his commitment to bring the plight of the Ogoni people to the world’s attention. Student quote

The Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive was originally held in the Russell Library (home to pre-1850 material and a major collection of bibles), while a major extension to the main Library (with a Special Collections Reading Room) was being built.

The opportunity given in this module to visit the Russell Library was wonderful and very beneficial. It was my first time in this library. The organizing of a well structured and very professional and informative tour by Librarians enabled us to fully experience and learn about many of the wonderful special collections that the library holds.  Student quote


Course Assessment

The 18 students who undertook the module, were required to complete a 3,000 word assignment. They were free to draw on any or all of the three case studies presented in the module. The fact that 16 of the 18 students drew on the Niger Delta case study within their assignments indicated a high level of engagement with this particular case study.


I really appreciated that Ken Saro-Wiwa was almost like a guest speaker in this module. We heard his voice and saw his face. I felt I got an insight into his experience in dealing with the causes and effects of development. This made such a difference in interpreting and relating the theories to real life situations, rather than just reading text. Also, for me personally, the assignment opened   opportunity to question and challenge my own beliefs regarding the implications of development. Student quote



Special collections and archives provide an opportunity for students to encounter sources and artefacts that enable them to engage more fully with often complex controversial topics that may otherwise seem very removed. The use of such materials allows students to move from a purely information gathering approach to their learning and enables them to better critique knowledge and exercise their curiosity by engaging with non-traditional personal sources such as the letters of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Encountering personal artefacts stimulates a response that is not purely intellectual. It is an interesting way to engage with a topic via a collection. If undergraduate students are exposed to special collections, their learning at the time of contact is enhanced and they have greater awareness of the potential of such collections for their future learning and research.

Librarians and academic staff need to work together more closely to integrate special collections (ideally in original form, but if not feasible, in digitised form) into the undergraduate curriculum. At present these collections are mainly used by postgraduates undertaking specialised research. Increasing the visibility of these collections as a source for undergraduate work needs to be explored further. Librarians need to be involved in the various fora where discussion on the content and design of the curriculum take place, in order for them to promote the use of existing collections and to identify subject areas for potential special collection acquisition.

Through collaborations, such as the one described above, libraries can maximise use of their archives and special collections. Increasing visibility of such resources may also help to acquire funding for new special collections.