The Maynooth Montaigne

By Guest writer Prof John O’Brien Emeritus Professor of Durham University

Never judge a book by its cover! This age-old advice is never truer than in the case of the Maynooth copy of the Essais by the French writer, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). Externally, the book is a mid-to late 19th-century ‘Spanish pattern’ binding. Its real value lies within. It is, for a start, a printing of the first posthumous edition of the Essais overseen by Montaigne’s adoptive daughter, Marie de Gournay (1565-1645). Only a few hundred of these were printed in 1595, so the copy has some rarity value. Yet there are three other characteristics of the Maynooth Montaigne which make it a truly exceptional copy.

In the first place, this copy was a gift from Gournay to an acquaintance of hers, Henri de Beringhen (1603-92), whose aunt ran a literary salon that Gournay attended in the 1620s. Her dedication to Beringhen is shown in the illustration [011]. Although partly cropped, it is perfectly legible. We have almost no other copies of the 1595 edition with dedications by Gournay, so this in itself is valuable evidence of her circle of friends.

Secondly, the Maynooth Montaigne contains a number of ink corrections. About 17 of these are to be found in most copies of the 1595 printing and will have been done either by Gournay or by the printshop as the sheets came off the press. Over and above these, however, there are additional corrections in Gournay’s own hand, one of which is illustrated here [053]. In fact, the Maynooth Montaigne is second only to a copy now in Antwerp in having such a large number of corrections by Gournay herself. They constitute extremely important proof of the time and effort she continued to expend on getting the text of the Essais right.

One set of corrections, however, is without precedent in any other copy of the 1595 Essais. A passage at the end of chapter 17 of book 2 contains Montaigne’s praise of Gournay. For reasons which are unclear, but may be related to her own ascent as a writer, Gournay cut down this passage. Her alterations are shown on the Maynooth Essais [452]. They correspond to the text of the Essais printed in 1625, so we can be sure that it was around that date that she gave this presentation copy to Beringhen.

Finally, the Maynooth Montaigne contains reset sheets on pp. 63 and 64. Late in the printing cycle, it was discovered that text had been omitted. It was quickly added in some copies. This is an exceedingly rare feature found to date in only three other copies worldwide.

If just one of these features were present in the Maynooth Montaigne, that would make it of great interest. But having three such pushes it into the exceptional category, of outstanding value to scholars of Montaigne and of the history of printing.

Further reading: John O’Brien, ‘Gournay’s Gift: A Special Presentation Copy of the 1595 Essais of Montaigne’, The Seventeenth Century, 29/4 (2014), pp. 317-36.

A King’s Confessor: Henry Essex Edgeworth, 20th January 1793.

By Ruairi Nolan, Library Assistant, formerly of MU Library

While conducting research in the Russell Library I came across a book which caught my interest. It was the Memoires de M.L’Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont dernier Confesseur de Louis XVI by C. Sneyd Edgeworth, translated into English by Edmund Burke, and published in 1815 in Paris. Henry Essex Edgeworth, (1745-1807) was known also as Abbé Edgeworth in France, where he had lived most of his life from an early age.

Edgeworth was the final confessor to King Louis XVI, the French monarch who fell victim to the guillotine during the French Revolution. The King sent for Edgeworth personally – Edgeworth had developed a friendship with Princess Elizabeth, the King’s sister in the late 1780s-90s and came highly recommended.

Figure 1. Abbé Edgeworth

The book is one of many in the collections that is directly linked to the history of the foundation of the College. The effects of the French Revolution influenced the establishment of St. Patrick’s College. A number of French professors came to teach in the aftermath of the Revolution. L’Abbe Edgeworth was offered the presidency of the College in 1795 which he turned down.

In Edgeworth’s account, we are told the narrative of events which brought the Abbé to King Louis on the night of 20-21 January 1793 and we are introduced to the gut-wrenching first moment of when the two are alone. Edgeworth, thus far composed and in control of his emotions loses strength and begins to weep, prompting the King to follow suit:

‘Forgive me, sir…for a long time, I have lived among my enemies, and habit has in some degree familiarised me to them; but when I behold a faithful subject…a different language reaches my heart, and in spite of my utmost efforts, I am melted’.

From this we receive a detailed retelling of the evening spent with the monarch right through to the morning, he speaks of Louis’ final hour with his family where ‘Not only tears were shed, and sobs were heard, but piercing cries’. In the morning, the two were constantly bothered by paranoid officials and officers worried that the monarch would take his own life to avoid the shame of execution to which the king responded: ‘These people see daggers and poison everywhere; they fear that I shall destroy myself…they little know me! To kill myself would indeed be weakness’.

At 8 o’clock on the morning of 21 January 1793, the King was brought to the Place de la Révolution. The streets of Paris were so crowded with silent spectators that it took two hours to reach the site of execution. Once they arrived, the gendarmes attempted to bind the King’s hands and chop off his hair to which he exclaimed: ‘do what you have been ordered, but you shall never bind me’. (Fig 2)

Figure 2. King Louis Looks to Edgeworth

Edgeworth claims that the King looked to him in that moment as if seeking guidance, at which time he reassured him that this final humiliation served only to bring him closer to Christ in that he is suffering the same humilities as the son of God. Edgeworth is noted to have proclaimed ‘Fils de St Louis, Montez au ciel! / Son of St Louis, ascend to heaven!’ – though when asked himself about it, he could not recall having said anything.

A footnote to the memoirs highlight that the King was astonished that the Abbé chose to accompany him to the scaffold – he had assumed he would give flight once the night had passed. When the execution took place Edgeworth did become acutely aware of his position and feared he was next for the guillotine and he ‘thought it time to quit the scaffold…I saw myself invested by 20 or 30,000 men at arms…all eyes upon me’. Edgeworth had managed to blend in with the crowd, he simply looked like another spectator once he made it deeper into the crowd. (Fig 3)

Figure 3. Ascend Louis

France remained a dangerous place for him, he became known as King Louis’ final confessor and he noted in his memoir that a confidant expressed a dire warning: ‘Fly, my dear sir, from this land of tigers that are now let loose in it…it is not Paris alone, but France itself you must leave. For you I do not see a safe place in it’. (Fig 4)

Figure 4. Fly Abbé

Edgeworth remained in France for the next three years, evading arrest and hiding away. He eventually left to rejoin the then-exiled royal family, spending much time in Germany and Russia. He had refused a pension from the British Government. He died in Mittau, Russia (now in Latvia) while ministering for French prisoners of war on 22 May 1807. He was cared for in his dying days by the daughter of Louis XVI, further highlighting the close relationship he had with the family.


Liam Swords, The Green Cockade (Dublin, 1989).

Letters from the Abbé Edgeworth to his friends, written between the years 1777 and 1807; with memoirs of his life (London, 1818).

Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, Mémoires de m. l’abbé Edgeworth de Firmont : dernier confesseur de Louis XVI (Paris, 1815).

A Seventeenth Century Camera: Johann Zahn and the study of optics 

by Alexandra Caccamo Special Collections Librarian

Digitisation is an important part of our work in the library. It increases access to our collections and helps us make them available online to a greater number of people. With the development of our Digitisation Suite and the arrival of the scanner to the library, it is interesting to look at our collection for early descriptions of the camera. 

The Russell Library holds a number of books that deal with the study of optics. One such item is by Johann Zahn (1641-1707) Zahn was the canon of the Premonstratensian monastery of Oberzell near Würzburg. He had an interest in natural philosophy and published several works, with the most notable being ‘Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus Sive Telescopium‘ or The Long Distance Artificial Eye or Telescope. This work was published in 1685 in Würzburg. 

Plate depicting Zhan’s design for a portable camera obscura

The book is a treatise on optical instruments and their uses. It describes magic lanterns, telescopes, microscopes and other projection types. Zahn also outlines and illustrates the first portable camera obscura. A camera obscura consists of an entire darkened room with a small hole at one end through which an image is projected. It should be noted that he was not the first to describe a camera-like device. The Han Chinese philosopher, Mozi (c. 470 – 291 BC) described the principle behind the camera obscura and detailed how light travels in straight lines from its source thus inverting an image when projected through a small hole. However, Zahn was the first to publish a design for a portable mirror-reflex camera, which you can see here. Although it is still relatively large, and perhaps not what we would think of as portable today, it was innovative at the time. This design did not become a reality until almost 140 years later. 

Plate showing how light travels in straight lines.

‘Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus…’ has 190 pages. The title page is printed in black and red ink, with an additional richly engraved title page facing the printed title page. This engraving depicts an oculus artifci, literally artificial eye or a telescope. The book is illustrated throughout and contains 8 double-page tables, 30 engraved plates and numerous engraved and woodcut illustrations. Many of the plates are quite elaborate including one examining optics and the structure of the eye. 

Plate showing the structure of the eye.

There are also a number of plates which depict the refraction of light. 

Although, cameras have come a long way since the seventeenth century, we are still developing new ways of capturing images. In the New Year, we hope to be able to image, digitise and share more of our collections online. 

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

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:

Seeking the Foundations of the Canadian Church

By Professor Mark McGowan
Library Visiting Research Professor in the Arts and Humanities Institute at Maynooth University

My current project is tentatively titled Pilgrims in the Snow: A History of Catholics in Canada, which is intended to be a thematic synthesis of the principal developments, controversies, and challenges within Canada’s largest Christian denomination. There has not been a history of the Catholic Church in Canada, written in English, in over twenty years. Because of the strong influence of Irish and Scottish Catholic settler/colonists in many regions of the country, it seemed appropriate to dedicate a chapter on the Celtic presence in the Church. For part of the material for this chapter, I am grateful for the opportunity to undertake research at Maynooth University as a Library Visiting Research Professor in the Arts and Humanities Institute.

One of the influences was certainly the way in which Canadian bishops in fledgling dioceses in the 18th and 19th centuries depended on the recruitment of priests and women religious from Ireland and Scotland. The Russell Library, at Maynooth University, which houses the collections of St. Patrick’s College and All Hallows Seminary, provided the ideal locus for research into how priests were recruited for British North America and how they were formed by the discipline and curriculum of these Irish seminaries. Correspondence between Canadian bishops and the Irish Seminaries could offer valuable insights into what Canadian prelates expected of the recruits, and how these newly formed priests brought their Irish training to bear on the Canadian frontier.

Based on the matriculation records of All Hallows Seminary, between 1841 and 1891, seventy young men trained for thirteen dioceses in British North America. Having examined the episcopal correspondence, however, two more dioceses in the far west of Canada (Regina in Saskatchewan, and Victoria, in British Columbia) were added to the list. The correspondence is a treasure trove of insights into the reasons All Hallows became “a favourite” among the Canadian hierarchy. Bishops frequently expressed high praise of the quality of instruction offered by the Vincentians in Dublin. Academic rigour and moral formation were qualities Canadian bishops wanted in new recruits since many bishops were preoccupied disciplining their priests who were often described as less than models of priestly virtue. As dioceses were growing, bishops needed more men, and they sought qualified graduates of All Hallows, whom they would support financially through their course of study. One bishop, Michael Power of Toronto, made a heartfelt plea for more priests in 1847, as he feared the loss of so many priests due to typhus fever, which was in epidemic proportions, among the thousands of Irish famine victims fleeing to his diocese.

While the correspondence is plentiful between All Hallows and Canada in the mid to-late nineteenth century, the episcopal requests become fewer by the 1880s. At this point in their development, many dioceses had sufficient numbers of home-grown Canadian priests, who were trained principally on the “Irish floor” of the Grand Séminaire in Montreal, or in the United States. The exception to this independence from Ireland is evident in the two Newfoundland dioceses of St. John’s and Harbour Grace. Newfoundland had a population of which 40% were of Irish birth or descent, many of whom had roots in southeast Ireland. The bishops of Newfoundland had the most robust correspondence with All Hallows and, in one sense, it became their “local” seminary. In the mid-nineteenth century, Newfoundland imported graduates of All Hallows, but after the 1850s bishops were sending Newfoundlanders of Irish decent to All Hallows with the intention that they be properly trained and return to Newfoundland. No other British North American dioceses managed such a relationship with All Hallows, where several Newfoundland priests continued to be trained until the 1940s. The engagement between the Church in Newfoundland and Ireland was quite unique, given the Province’s Irish heritage, its resistance to the control of Canadian bishops, and the fact that it remained politically independent of Canada until 1949.

The correspondence in this collection is rich with potential research subjects well beyond the scope of my proposed monograph. In the mid-nineteenth century there is a detailed and moving correspondence between Bishop Modeste Demers of Vancouver Island and successive Presidents of All Hallows until 1871. Located on the Pacific coast of what is now the Province of British Columbia, Demers’ diocese could not be geographically farther away from Ireland. Demers discusses his need for at least two Irish priests, as young Irishmen entered his diocese to work in mining, forestry, and the gold fields. He laments the sorry state of Christianity in the region but sees All Hallows as a means of transforming this frontier diocese. The fact that Demers’ letters take six months to reach Ireland adds further drama, if not pathos, to the desperate pleas of this frontier bishop. In fact, his missives reveal much about the state of his diocese, material descriptions that are less evident in Canadian archives. Demers’ requests do not go unrequited. By the end of his life, he welcomes at least one Irish priest, “Mr. Maloney.” The twenty-six letters in this folio would make for an interesting article for an eager post graduate student.

This is but a short glimpse into a collection that promises to confirm the thesis that Irish seminaries provided the firm foundations for an Anglophone Church outside of the Province of Quebec, where French was the dominant language.

Dr. Mark G. McGowan

Professor of History, University of Toronto

Interim Principal & Vice-President, University of St. Michael’s College

Cosmography: First mention of California and Australia in print

By Adam Staunton, Special Collections & Archives

Peter Heylin

Cosmography in Four Books: Containing the Chorography and History of the Whole World (1652) is an attempt by Peter Heylin to describe in immaculate detail everything known about the world, including its cultures, religions, politics, customs and geography. Heylin was enrolled in Magdalen College at Oxford University in 1615 and by 1617 had already graduated with a B.A and begun lecturing with the school of Geography. By 1620 he completed his M.A and published his lectures, Microcosmos: a Little Description of the Great World and presented the same to Prince Charles in 1621. His continued loyalty to the Monarchy would cause Heylin a great deal of trouble during The English Civil Wars (1642-1651). His home was attacked by Parliamentarian troops, he narrowly escaped the siege of Oxford and was later forced into hiding. It wasn’t until the Restoration of 1660 that Heylin was restored to his position as sub-dean of Westminster, presenting the royal sceptre to King Charles II at his coronation.

Cosmography is one of Heylin’s most important works. It is the first print mention of California, Australia and the Tierra del Fuego province of Argentina. California is described in book four, part two, The Chorography and History of America and all the Principal Kingdoms, Provinces, Seas and Iles thereof. Heylin starts his description by objecting to the name given to the continent. America was named after Amerigo Vespucci who sailed from Spain to the Gulf of Mexico, then was the first to travel as far as to Brazil and back to Haiti. Heylin argues that Christopher Columbus and John Cabot “led the way” and “touched many places” but that Vespucci did not. Heylin suggests the names “Columbana” or “Cabotia” and refers to Vespucci only as “an adventurous Florentine” and not by name.

Map one of North America first showing California attached to mainland North America

California at this time was believed to be an Island, with the Gulf of California separating it from mainland Mexico, as Heylin notes: “acceptation of it to an Island, as now it is generally conceived to be.”  Although one map in the chapter shows California attached to mainland North America while a second shows it as an island. He goes on to describe California as “very plain, of few trees, nor much of people.” California is broken down into four different provinces, Quivira to the North, Cibola in the South, New Albion to the North West and California as the remaining part. Each with its own climate, food sources and descriptions of its indigenous people. Their religions, clothing, language and first interactions with Spanish or English travellers are described in great detail by Heylin. For example Englishmen had been kidnapped by the Tartary of Quebec who are described as “near neighbours” of the indigenous people of Quivira, only known to be “apparelled in bull skins from head to feet.” While in New Albion, Englishmen were gifted feathers and bull skins by its indigenous people upon landing.

Map two showing the Isle of California as described by Heylin

Terra Australis Incognita is briefly described in An Appendix to the Former Work Endeavouring a Discovery of the Unknown Parts of the World. Heylin notes that mariners travelling along the Cape of Good Hope have noted cold winds coming from the South. Heylin argues that wind blows colder from land than it does from sea, thus there must be a new land mass to the south of Good Hope. This land mass “of glory (and) enough to satisfy the hungry appetite of any Empire” had gone undiscovered as Princes are “engaged in wars and other such avocations” while merchants are busy in their “wealthy factories.”  Terra Australis would end up being Antarctica as we know it today, hence the cold wind theory. While Australia as we know it today was originally named New Holland and it wasn’t until Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the continent in 1803 that he suggested the name Terra Australis, 150 years after it appeared in print in Cosmography.

Cosmography was the last work Heylin could complete by himself before becoming blind. By 1660 he couldn’t read or write and could only make out shapes. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, under his own choir stall after being visited in a dream by King Charles I who told him “Peter, I will have you buried under your own seat in church, for you are rarely seen but there or at your study.” Further reading on the life of Peter Heylin and his relationship with both King Charles I and II can be found in the Russell Library. Cosmography was recently viewed in the Russell Library by Maynooth University president Professor Eeva Leinonen, accompanied by The Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Gary Gray.

On the shelves – Hibernian Bible Society Archives

[Explore Your Archive 2021 (5 of 9): #ArchiveShelfie]

By Alexandra Caccamo, Assistant Librarian with responsibility for Special Collections and Archives

On the shelves of our climate-controlled store in the Special Collections reading room, we carefully house our archival collections. In this room there is a wealth of material waiting to be explored. One such archival collection is that of the Hibernian Bible Society (now the National Bible Society of Ireland). These archives complement the substantial bible collection in the Russell Library which was deposited in 1986 by the Society. There are over 2000 bibles in the Russell Library, including some rare and important volumes, such as the earliest edition of the bible in Irish and the first published edition of the Greek Testament compiled by Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536).

Bibles from the Hibernian Bible Society collection in the Russell Library

Originally the aims of the society were to distribute the bible in Ireland and to support other bible societies around the world in a similar endeavour. They wanted to make the bible as widely available as possible, and to this end they translated the bible into many different languages. Consequently, there are hundreds of languages represented in the collection. This is a valuable resource for researchers, as often this is the first time some of these languages appeared in print.

PP25/1/7 (2) – Leaflet outlining information about the Hibernian Bible Society

The Dublin Bible Society was founded in 1806 by Rev. B. W. Matthias (1772-1841). The Society later changed its name to the Hibernian Bible Society, to better reflect its countrywide remit. The earliest item in the archives is a volume of annual reports dating from 1806 (PP25/2/2/8). Other items in the collection include minute books, financial reports and documents relating to the Society’s projects.

Minute books from the Hibernian Bible Society archives

From the archives we can gain an insight into the history of the Society. In 1922, a particularly significant event happened. The Hibernian Bible Society was originally based in Bible House, Upper Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) in Dublin city centre. It remained at that location until June 1922, when it was occupied by armed forces during the Irish Civil War. On 5 July, this property and others in the city including the Four Courts, were destroyed following a week of fighting. Almost everything was lost in the fire. Records of the society, along with its library could not be recovered. The annual report of 1923 gives an account of these items and lists some of the books lost, which included an edition of the Vulgate of Pope Sixtus V (1590) and Dr Robert Morrison’s Chinese Bible (1823), the first complete Bible printed in China. The Hibernian Bible Society relied on donations to replenish its books over the following years, many of which came from the British and Foreign Bible Society in England.

PP25/2/2/4 – Annual Report of the Hibernian Bible Society, year ending March 1923. Image shows Bible House following its destruction by fire on 5 July 1922

In the minute books, we can see that the committee of the Society met on the 11 July 1922, six days after the destruction of Bible House, to decide its future. Initially they found temporary premises in Molesworth Street, Lincoln Place and Kildare Street. Although they eventually received some compensation for Bible House, there was no way to recover the loss of the original Georgian building. Built in 1756, it had been the town house of the Earl of Drogheda, who had decorated the walls and ceilings with stucco work by Italian craftsmen. The Hibernian Bible Society had been at that location for almost a hundred years, but they decided not to rebuild and instead sold the site. By 1925, they had purchased Nos 41 and 42 Dawson Street. This building opened in 1927 and the Society has remained there ever since.

PP25/1/7 From minute book of HBS meetings 1922-1929. The upper image states, “In connection with the Civil War over the signing of the Treaty, December 1921, the upper portion of Sackville Street was occupied by those who opposed the Treaty in the fighting which lasted for some days.”


McCormack, Barbara (2017) Bibles from around the world: The Hibernian Bible Society collection at Maynooth University Library. Sconul Focus, 70. pp. 1-7. : Bibles from around the world.pdf (

Cooney, Dudley Levistone. Sharing the Word : a History of the Bible Society in Ireland . Dublin: The Columba Press, 2006.

Robert Bloomfield’s beloved memory of life on a farm

Post by Audrey Kinch, Special Collections and Archives

For though on hoary twigs no buds peep out,
And e’en the hardy brambles cease to sprout,
Beneath dread Winter’s level sheets of snow,
The sweet nutritious Turnip designs to grow.

These lines are an excerpt from the ‘winter’ section of the poem entitled The Farmer’s Boy by English poet Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823). The poem was first printed in March 1800 and a copy is held in the English collection in the Russell Library.

Title page The Farmer’s Boy

Robert Bloomfield was born in Honington in the English county of Suffolk and he was one of six children.  His father George was a tailor who died when Bloomfield was a year old.  His mother Elizabeth was a schoolmistress and he learned to read and write at an early age mostly under her guidance.  Elizabeth later re-married and the family continued to grow.  When he was approximately 12 years of age, Bloomfield was sent to live with his uncle William Austin at Sapiston.  William worked a farm for the Duke of Grafton and Bloomfield spent three years as a farmer’s boy where he was treated well.  He always held fond memories of this time in his life. 

In May 1796, Bloomfield began writing The Farmer’s Boy which was originally intended as a gift to his mother.  The poem is about a boy called Giles as he completes his chores on the farm, his observance of and interactions with nature.  It is a pastoral poem, a celebration of rural life and is c. 1,512 lines in length.  The poem is divided in four sections which correspond to the seasons. 

Due to a slight build, Bloomfield was deemed not wholly suited to the manual work on the farm so his uncle advised his mother to find another position more suited to his abilities.  Elizabeth arranged for him to move to London and his brother George would teach him to become a shoemaker.  In 1781, at the age of fifteen he arrived to London, stayed with George and four other cobblers in Coleman Street and learned the trade of shoemaking.  Bloomfield had apparently a great memory for poetry and could recite numerous lines.  By 1786 he was a qualified shoemaker and explored his interests in music by acquiring a violin and hand-crafting aeolian harps.  In 1790 he married Mary-Anne Church and their first child Hannah was born in 1791. 

Frontispiece The Farmer’s Boy

The poem opens with an invitation for spring to come with a positive and uplifting tone ‘Sweet inmate, hail! thou source of sterling joy’ with an observation of snow topped hills, the morning dew and open skies.  Though privately mourning for his father, Giles is depicted as happily pre-occupied in his work and his mind is off his worries.  His uncle is portrayed as a kind man, engaging with his young nephew and setting out his work for him to do. 

The summer section refers to the weather and the harvest, ploughing the land and all the labour involved in the harvest from toiling in the fields with the ‘sweeping scythe’ to working in the barn until it is filled.   Bloomfield notes after the day’s work ‘Sweet twilight, welcome!, Rest, how sweet art thou.’  Descriptions of the rain falling, ploughing in the fields, insects swarming, a sky-lark singing, clear blue skies and crops appearing as ‘the smiling produce of the land’ provide a clear image of rural life.

In the Autumn section the changing season is visible with fallen acorns, blowing winds and fallen leaves which lie on the ground.  Bloomfield depicts the wild ducks, pheasants and foxes in the woods and gives account of village life.  He comments on Gile’s and how he is tired, weary yet diligent in his work.  Nature is both recognised and praised ‘bless the Power that rules the changing year.’  The tone within the autumn section remains positive, ever-looking forward ‘That Spring will come, and Nature smile again.

Winter arrives in the final section, the ground is under frost, ice and snow.  The farmer thinks of respite when he returns home ‘the cold may pierce, and storms molest, Succeeding hours shall cheer with warm and rest.’  In the evenings, Giles visits the cows in the shed and the pigs in the sty, his voice is familiar to the animals and they eagerly feed from his hand.  The gentle, strong hardworking farm-horse Dobbin is happy to return at the end of the day ‘And joys to see the well-known stable door, as the starv’d mariner the friendly shore.’  Ewes and lambs die due to damp and cold however the farmer is uplifted to see the flock group together and the orphan lambs survive.  The remaining lines give thanks and praise for the experiences of the seasons which appears an insightful, deep appreciation of nature.  In a moment of mindfulness for anyone this could be considered a poem of positive wellbeing which is relaxing to read.

Initially three publishers rejected publication of The Farmer’s Boy and Bloomfield gave up and gave the poem to his brother George as a gift.  George showed the poem to editor and writer Capel Loftt who was also an influential figure in Suffolk society.  Loftt included an evaluation and The Farmer’s Boy was published in March 1800 by Vernon and Hood.  Robert Bloomfield published further volumes of poetry in his lifetime and he died in Shefford, Bedfordshire in August 1823. 

The edition of The Farmer’s Boy held in the Russell Library was published in Halifax by William Milner in 1837.  The Russell Library is open on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10.00am to 1.00pm and 2.00pm to 5.00pm.  Access to the Russell Library is arranged through appointment by telephone (01) 7083890 or e-mail

Snowdrops in winter

In beaded rows if drops now deck the spray,
While the sun grants a momentary ray,
Let but a cloud’s broad shadow intervene,
And stiffen’d into gems the drops are seen;

Bloomfield, Robert: A Farmer’s Boy, rural tales, ballads and songs (1837)
Kaloustian, David:  Bloomfield, Robert (1766-1823), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)