‘Observations on Nature’ Heritage Week in the Russell Library

Post by Saoirse Reynolds, Special Collections & Archives

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


me and os
Ordnance Survey Map of Kildare

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

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

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

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


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

scenery fisher
‘Scenery of Ireland’ by Jonathan Fisher


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

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

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

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

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

Special Collections John Paul II Library

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

Russell Library

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

A Portuguese Bible and the 1916 Rising

by Audrey Kinch and Mary Robinson

Many unique and wonderful treasures are found among the Russell Library’s Bible collection. ‘The New Testament of our Lord and Redemptor Jesus Christ’ by Joao Ferreira de Almeida (1628-1691) is a Portuguese language Bible that was damaged during the Easter Rising of 1916. Printed in London in 1819 this Bible is part of the Hibernian Bible Society (HBS) collection. This collection of c. 2,500 Bibles was deposited by the Society to the Russell Library in 1986 and is represented in 593 languages. The sheaf catalogue of this unique collection lists the Bibles first by language, then chronologically.  The New Testament of our Lord and Redemptor Jesus Christ is number 740 in the catalogue.

Catalogue record
Sheaf catalogue entry 

Some books of the Bible were first translated into the Portuguese language in the 13th century. Joao Ferreira de Almeida, a converted Protestant pastor, began translating the Bible when he was just 16. He was also an ardent religious writer mostly protesting against the Catholic Church with the Portuguese Inquisition publicly burning some of his writings and sentencing him to death for heresy. He studied Greek and Hebrew in order to perfect his Bible translations as his first publication of the New Testament (1681), was criticised due to the amount of errors. He spent ten years revising this and the new edition was published posthumously in 1693.

Title page with damage
Title page

The Hibernian Bible Society (now the National Bible Society of Ireland) was established in 1806 to encourage wider circulation of the Bible throughout Ireland.  The Society is now located on Dublin’s Dawson Street but was previously situated in the heart of Dublin City in Bible House on 10 Upper Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). Bible House bore witness to many historic times including the Dublin Rebellion of 1916 and the Irish Civil War.

Ninety seven years after Almeida’s Bible was published, it was damaged by gunfire during the Rising. Although we do not know the circumstances, the damage, which resembles bullet holes is clearly visible on the top right foredge of the front cover, the textblock and on the backboard. The sheaf catalogue entry testifies to the damage from the rebellion. Despite the impairment the Bible remains mostly intact and is in overall good condition.

Disaster struck the Hibernian Bible Society in 1922 when Bible House was destroyed during the Irish Civil War. One of the greatest losses to the Society was the library, which was devastated during the conflict. Upon relocating to the premises on Dawson Street, the Society replenished the library to its former glory.

Maynooth University currently have two exhibitions on display to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916.  The Russell Library has Maynooth College and 1916 on view and Domhnall Ua Buachalla: an Exhibition is on display in the JPII library building.  Visitors are welcome.



Easter Rising of 1916

Irish Civil War

Watchtower online library, accessed 21/04/2016


Medicine and Natural History Exhibition in the Russell Library for Maynooth University Library Publications Festival

by Mary Robinson, Special Collection & Archives

As part of the annual Maynooth University Library Publications Festival, the Russell Library is hosting a one day exhibition entitled Medicine and Natural History, showcasing some of the Library’s oldest works relating to the sciences. Here is a brief history of some of the items on display which include The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle vol. IV which Boyle bloodcontains Memoirs for the Natural History of Human Blood (1744). This was once praised as ‘the most important of Boyle’s medical writings’ but upon publication the general reception was less enthusiastic suggesting Boyle presented findings that were outdated and already published. Born in Lismore, Co Waterford in 1627, Boyle was the 7th son of the Earl of Cork and one of Ireland’s most important scientists. He is most known for devising Boyle’s Law and many experiments with air and discovering the necessity of it for combustion and the transmission of sound.


Also on display is the appendix to Sir John Sinclair’s pamphlet The Code of Health and Longevity which describes, with images, eight very elderly persons

Petratsch Zortan lived to 185

from the age of 112 to 185 years. Petratsch Zortan, at 185 years, had ‘…little sight and his hair and beard were of a greenish white colour, like mouldy bread…’ The secret to his long life involved ‘Being a Greek by religion, the old man was a strict observer of fasts, and never used any food but milk and cakes…together with a good glass of brandy’.  An Irishwoman, Catherine the Countess of Desmond, apparently lived over 140 years, dying in the reign of King James I.

Countess of Desmond lived for over 140 years

She ‘retained her full vigour in a very advanced period of life’ having ‘…twice or trice renewed her teeth’.



Continuing the theme of longevity, the 1683 text by Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum or A Natural History in Ten Centuries, discusses ‘the history, natural and experimental of life and death or the prolongation of life’. Among the chapter headings include Length and Shortness of Life in Man, Medicines for Long Life, the Operation upon the Bowels for the Extrusion of Aliment and The Porches of Death. Bacon proposes ‘Islanders are, for the most part, longer-liv’d than those that live in Continents: for they live not to [sic] long in Russia as in the Orcades…and the Japonians [sic] are longer-liv’d than the Chinese…’ He goes on to suggest ‘the countries which have been observed to produce long-livers are: Arcadia, ᴁtolia…Brazil, Britain, Ireland, with the islands of the Orcades and Hebrides.’ If one would appreciate a long life, one thing to do is look after the stomach ‘which as they say is the master of the house…’

Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

The stomach should be ‘clean, not surcharged with foul humours and yet not altogether empty or hungry: …it is to be kept ever in appetite, because appetite sharpens digestion’. However, a long life can be shortened by sudden death with a list of possible culprits including, not surprisingly ‘…a great blow on the head induceth sudden death, the Spirits being frightened within the ventricles of the brain….also extreme drunkenness or extreme feeding sometimes cause sudden death…’ and ‘…joys, excessive and sudden have bereft many of their lives’.

Among the natural history titles on display is Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s  De Motu Animalium or On the Movement of Animals which was first published posthumously in 1685. Borelli was an Italian physiologist and physicist acquainted with Galleo Galilei. While in the post of Head of Mathematics at the University of Pisa, Borelli met the Italian anatomist Marcello Malpighi and in 1657 they co-founded the short-lived Accademia del Cimento, a scientific academy. At this time Borelli began a fascination with the science of animal movement or biomechanics, eventually earning him the title the Father of Biomechanics. In De Moto Animalium, Borelli compares animals to machines and employs mathematics to prove his theories. The anatomists of the 17th century were the first to suggest the contractile movement of muscles. Borelli, however, was the first to suggest that ‘muscles do not exercise vital movement otherwise than by contracting’. Borelli recognised that forward motion entailed movement of a body’s centre of gravity forward, which was then followed by the swinging of its limbs in order to maintain balance. His studies extended beyond muscle and locomotion. In particular he likened the action of the heart to that of a piston. For this to work properly he derived the idea that the arteries have to be elastic. Forced into exile in 1668, for suspected involvement in political conspiracies, Borelli lived his remaining years in poverty, teaching basic mathematics at a convent school.

The exhibition includes many more treasures on medicine and natural history. The oldest on show is Principia Philosophiae by René Descartes. Printed in 1650. It includes 4 of Descartes works including the essay Dioptrices. In it Descartes uses various models to understand the properties of light. It was his greatest contribution to optics.

The exhibition will run on Wednesday 27th January from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm to 5pm. A guided tour will be held at 12pm.



  1. Hunter and H. Knight (eds), Unpublished Material Relating to Robert Boyle’s Memoirs for the Natural History of Human Blood


Bishop Edward Galvin – An Irish Missionary in China

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives

Last year saw the launch of the exhibition Letters from an Irish Missionary in China – a collaborative endeavour between the Columban Fathers Central Archive and the Russell Library, Maynooth University.

Bishop Edward Galvin
Bishop Edward Galvin

The exhibition told the remarkable story of Bishop Edward Galvin, co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China Society which later became the Missionary Society of St. Columban and included letters, photographs and articles from the archives of the Columban Fathers, supplemented by primary and secondary sources from the Russell Library. A fantastic collection of artefacts, including Galvin’s suitcase and violin, were also on display in the Library as part of the event.

Artefacts on display during the exhibition 'Letters from an Irish Missionary in China'
Violin on display during the exhibition ‘Letters from an Irish Missionary in China’

Galvin was ordained for the diocese of Cork in the year 1909 following the completion of his studies at Maynooth College. He spent the following three years as a priest on loan to the diocese of Brooklyn in New York before embarking on his journey to China. Galvin allegedly read every single book about China he could find in the Brooklyn Public Library before embarking on his travels!

After spending four years in China working as a missionary, he made a decision to return to Ireland in the hope of recruiting new volunteers from Maynooth College. It was here that he met Professor John Blowick, co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China society. Galvin and Blowick worked tirelessly to achieve formal recognition of the Society.

Chinese fan on display during the exhibition
Chinese fan on display during the exhibition

The Bishops officially sanctioned the Society at a meeting in Maynooth during October 1916. Formal recognition from Rome followed in 1918, with the first batch of volunteers travelling to China in 1920.

Bishop Galvin's suitcase
Bishop Galvin’s suitcase

Galvin’s devotion to the missionary cause saw him remain in China through periods of political unrest, cholera outbreaks, and floods. He was one of the last foreign missionaries to leave China in the year 1952.

The Pearse Hutchinson Archive at Maynooth

By Ciara Joyce, Archivist, Special Collections & Archives

On May the 14th, Maynooth University Library will host the inaugural Pearse Hutchinson conference: Opening the Archive: A Door into Light. This event marks the end of the first year of work on the extensive Hutchinson archive, which the Library was fortunate to acquire in 2013.

This wide-ranging and fascinating collection contains material from Hutchinson’s long career, as poet, writer, critic, columnist and radio broadcaster. It also includes some truly unique and intriguing material belonging to Hutchinson’s parents, Henry Warren Hutchinson and Caitlín McElhinney, including letters from Countess Markievicz, Margaret Pearse and Eamon De Valera.

Hutchinson’s archive is gradually being catalogued and will be made available on a phased basis beginning with his English language poetry archive.

Pearse Hutchinson (1927-2012)
Pearse Hutchinson (1927-2012)

It contains early drafts of Hutchinson’s well-loved poems as well as a plethora of unpublished material from the 1940s on.

All aspects of Hutchinson’s diverse career are reflected in the collection, which includes everything from his childhood drawings, scripts from his eclectic radio show Óro Domhnaigh, letters from distinguished Irish and international writers, an assortment of ephemera from the arts and cultural events in Ireland and Hutchinson draft works showing the creative process of his writing.

This conference will be the first opportunity to view the collection, as a selection of material will be on display on the day. It will also present an occasion for scholars and enthusiasts of Hutchinson’s work to gather and share their interest in the man and his writing.

The Pearse Hutchinson Archive
The Pearse Hutchinson Archive

For more information on the Pearse Hutchinson Conference please see: https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/library/events/pearse-hutchinson-archive-maynooth-university-library

Childhood drawing by Hutchinson
Childhood drawing by Hutchinson

Maynooth College 1914-1918

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives

We are currently hosting a very interesting exhibition in the Russell Library to mark the anniversary of World War I. ‘Maynooth College 1914-1918’ was developed to commemorate the role of Irish Catholic army chaplains in the First World War while also documenting the history of Maynooth College during this period.

Memorbilia on display
Memorbilia on display

The exhibition is a collaborative endeavour between St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Maynooth University, with a grant from Kildare County Council towards costs.

Exhibition Goals

  • To commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
  • To focus on local history during the period 1914-1918.
  • To assess the impact of the War on the day-to-day running of the College.
  • To commemorate the work of Irish Catholic army chaplains during the conflict.
  • To explore the relationship between the Irish and English Catholic administration at this time.
  • To explore the impact of the War on teaching staff.
  • To explore attitudes towards the threat of conscription in 1918.
  • To create opportunities for community engagement, specifically with regards to adult learners.
  • To encourage learning, reflection and dialogue in relation to Ireland and the First World War.
  • To encourage further research in the area of conflict resolution and military history.

Students, 1916
Students, 1916


The exhibition and accompanying events focused on local history during World War I through an analysis of the following themes:

  1. Daily life in Maynooth College during the First World War.
  2. Meeting the need for Irish Catholic army chaplains at the front.
  3. The threat of conscription in Ireland.
  4. Irish nationalism during World War I.
  5. A German professor at Maynooth College.

WWI exhibition