Indiana Campbell and the Ancient Seal of St. Augustine

By Yvette Campbell, Assistant Librarian, Special Collections & Archives

As Assistant Librarian working on the Russell Library Cataloguing Project, I am often in the fortunate position of becoming intimately familiar with the historical collections of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Whilst carefully describing each book, pamphlet, or manuscript, I have found that it is often the little things that can surprise and delight.

From time-to-time, I have unearthed pieces of ephemera hidden within the pages of an early printed book; a hand-pressed flower, personal photographs, handwritten letters, poetry, mysterious inscriptions, squashed insects, and even a four-leaf clover preserved within the pages from long ago!

Cataloguing the personal collection of Father Corkery, former librarian of St. Patrick’s College, was no different in this regard. It was such a joy to re-discover a personal handwritten letter in the pages of a booklet marking the centenary of John’s Lane Church in Dublin.

An appeal for the Seal – Irish Independent 21 November 1962

The letter in question was written by a friend of Fr. Corkery in 1962 enquiring about the lost Seal of St. Augustine by the Liffey that was used for marking documents in Dublin almost 650 years ago. It had apparently survived in Dublin until circa 1902 after which there doesn’t appear to be any further mention of its existence. It moved to the Protestant Church of St. Nicholas Within and after the closure of this church in the late eighteenth century, all the possessions including this seal passed to St. Audeon’s Church in Dublin.

The author wishes to know if Fr. Corkery had ever come across it in his extensive travels. After enquiring about his recent trip to America, the author writes as follows:

“Did you ever in your travels around museums, churches, libraries etc. & in meeting with collections of antiquities come across th[is] ancient seal…”

He asks Corkery further if it ever reached Maynooth, as it may have been found in libraries or museums. This letter was re-discovered in a booklet which helpfully includes an image of the seal itself, accompanied by a brief article regarding its history at the time of publication (1962).

Church of St. Augustine and St. John the Baptist : centenary 1862-1962, Dublin (1962)

The seal was a plaque of brass measuring almost two inches across. It has an engraving of four Augustinian figures, two on each side facing inward, and gazing reverently with uplifted hands at a crescent moon, above which hangs a star. 

The style of lettering and punctuation indicate that it was made circa 1300, possibly in the early or middle period of the reign of Edward III. It was most likely made by the King’s coiner and brought by the Augustinians from England to Dublin. The outer inscription much abbreviated reads: 

Sigillum capital provincialis heremitarum ordinis sancti Augustini in Anglia

which means: 

‘Seal of the Provincial Chapter of the Hermits of the Order of St. Augustine in England’

The four figures represent the four Definitors of long ago. The crescent moon represents Our Lady, while the star represents St. John the Baptist. The article concludes with sadness that the seal survived in Dublin 119 years ago and cannot now be found.

Further appeal – Irish Press, 22 November 1962

This interesting letter naturally provoked my curiosity and I immediately went about investigating. I searched through our copies of ‘St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Museum of Ecclesiology’ and the Tóstal catalogue from 1955 but unfortunately found nothing.

Perusing through our various newspaper databases that we subscribe to at Maynooth University, I found a reference to the seal through the Irish Newspapers Archive from the same year that the letter is dated, which includes an appeal on the missing seal, thought to be in private hands.

We would love to know how Father Corkery replied to this intriguing request, and if he indeed came across this seal whilst on his travels. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the seal ever made its way to Maynooth. Despite it all, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to scroll through our fantastic newspaper database. It was even more fun to play a detective/archaeologist while it lasted!


  • Augustinian Order. (1962). Church of St. Augustine and St. John the Baptist : centenary 1862-1962, Dublin. Dublin: Augustinian Community, John’s Lane, Dublin.
  • Breen, P. J. (1995) St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Museum of Ecclesiology. Maynooth University
  • Frazer, W. (1879). ‘Description of the Brass Matrix of an Ancient Seal Belonging to the Augustinian Hermits, with an Account of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, near Dublin, and Observations on the Symbolism of the Crescent Moon and Star’ Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities, 2, 465-471. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from
  • ‘Missing for 60 Years’, The Irish Independent, 22 November 1962. Retrieved: 12 February 2021, from Irish Newspapers Archive.
  • St. Patricks College Maynooth (1955). St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth museum. An Tostal display 1955. Maynooth University.
  • ‘Search for a Seal’, The Irish press, 21 November 1962. Retrieved: 12 February, 2021, from Irish Newspapers Archive.


Document of the Day – Ephemera in the Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

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

Religious ephemera from the Church and Nation Committee
– Tony Keane Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

A large proportion of the 600 items currently in our Troubles Collection are ephemera. These pieces, that include election flyers, newspaper clippings, Christmas cards and posters, were often produced for a specific purpose and were not meant to be kept. Cataloguing and conserving ephemera alongside more traditional sources necessarily has implications in terms of staff resources, expertise and appropriate storage space.

A collection that includes a substantial amount of ephemera does not always lend itself easily to the familiar conventions of classification, storage and cataloguing. The diversity and the fragility of these pieces means they require meticulous treatment. Working closely with colleagues in our conservation department, repair work was carried out where needed and bespoke housing solutions were created to ensure that each item of ephemera was protected from ageing and damage due to handling while remaining accessible to readers. So, for example, most items were placed in mylar conservation pockets and housed in specially made conservation box files or paper folders in a closed access storage area allowing for easy consultation and maximum protection.

Republican Christmas card: ephemera – Tony Keane Troubles Collection Northern Ireland

The creation of exact and unbiased metadata records is also essential when seeking to stay the endangerment of the cultural memory captured in this assortment of items. Our approach was to provide a high level of access, but as cataloguing time is limited, keep the amount of detail down to a sensible amount. When working with ephemera, cataloguers often face the problem of information absence. Many of our pieces had no obvious title, discernible publisher or provenance information. So, while the normal cataloguing rules were applied and used in the same way as with books, note fields in our records were very important in order to provide full descriptions about the physical nature and unique characteristics of the items, including, for example, the numerous instances of added annotations that occur on many of the pieces. In this way the collection was allowed speak for itself without the imposition of the cataloguers conscious or unconscious bias.

Finally, one of the most challenging aspects associated with working with this type of ephemera is of course the fact that some victims and perpetrators of these events, or their families, may still be alive. While this has ramification for issues such as copyright and data protection, it also means that we still have access to the unique stories behind many of the pieces in our collection. An important example of this is a piece of ephemera seeking information in relation to the murder of three members of the British security forces in 1973. Thanks to the foresight of our donor, we know the full background to the circumstances of this poster being erected and its retrieval for posterity.

Despite the challenges of working with such diverse pieces of ephemera their inclusion in our Troubles Collection allows unique access to multiple voices that could otherwise have faced endangerment because of environmental, political, infrastructural, and related risks.

Cataloguing the Troubles

By Ruth O’Hara, Special Collections and Archives, Maynooth University Library

Figure 1: Selection of items from the MUL Tony Keane Troubles collection Northern Ireland

Maynooth University Library (MUL) is the custodian of a unique collection of books, pamphlets, periodicals and ephemera relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles. Dating mainly from the 1970s and early 1980s, these items provide a vivid insight into the lives of all parts of a society in conflict. We have over 600 items, ranging from political flyers and posters to newspapers, prayer leaflets and romance novels, that encompass all shades of opinion. Many of the pieces in this collection were never meant to be kept or they are the only copies of short-run prints, making it unique in terms of our library holdings but also in the Republic of Ireland more generally.

It is such an interesting time, one hundred years after the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and in the midst of ongoing Brexit negotiations, to be working with a collection which, in the main, was produced in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles by groups and individuals from all backgrounds. As librarians working in a publicly funded institution, we have an ongoing responsibility to actively capture the spectrum of memories of such a contested era. It is our obligation to preserve and protect the sources and objects not only of our “official history” or “memory” but also of those periods and groups we might want to forget, which don’t reflect well on us or which represent a viewpoint we may not agree with or even have never considered before.

Figure 2: Catholic Church relief committees: ephemera (LY (SP TCNI(E) 12/1-2)

Perhaps the most vivid evidence of life lived in a society in conflict is captured by the ephemeral items in the collection. Beside numerous election leaflets, there are many pieces produced by paramilitary and pressure groups who had limited access to the media for propaganda purposes and so cheap print publications were how they got their message across. However, it is objects like the church circular providing information on relief services for communities facing food and electricity shortages that bring home the reality of what life was really like at that time.

Figure 3: Danger. Keep out. Stay away from derelict buildings…they may be booby-trapped. Great Britain. Northern Ireland Office. LY (SP TCNI (LF) 6)

Our Troubles collection also includes several posters whose striking imagery is a visual testament to the events and controversies of the period. There is, for example, a poster issued by the Northern Ireland Office warning the public not to approach derelict buildings that might be boobytrapped. The posters in the collection are highly emotive with some even being collected from the gateposts of houses in the immediate aftermath of a horrific incident.

The events of this period impacted every aspect of society as in evident in the newspapers, pamphlets and even the romance novels that we have also preserved. This growing collection offers a bridge to those interested in finding out what happened and what was really written and produced during this turbulent period of history.