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. 


Alphonso, de Espina, 15th cent. Fortalicium Fidei . 
Nuremberg, Johann Mentelin, 1485 
(Russell Library: RB9) alphonso

The Fortalicium Fidei  is estimated to have been written between 1458-1460 and is  known as the first printed work to contain a description of witchcraft.  In particular the fifth and final section of the book  is dedicated to classifying demons, one of the particular demons described in the book tempts older women in particular to practice the dark arts.




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The aerial voyage: an account of Ireland’s first balloon flight

This post first appeared in the Russell Library blog

Imagine the impact of the first hot-air balloon rising into the sky in 1783. Suddenly, it was possible to fly! The first living flight was from Versailles in June 1783, with a sheep, a duck and a cock in the car. Four months later the maestro himself, Étienne Montgolfier, rose above the earth in a splendidly decorated balloon. Others across Europe quickly followed suit.

‘The balloon’ in Francis Olivari, The balloons of Citizen Campenas   (Dublin, 1798)

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‘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

St. Canice’s Library: The Otway-Maurice Collection

By Yvette Campbell, Susan Durack and Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives

The Otway-Maurice Collection of St Canice’s Cathedral Library, Kilkenny is a very important collection which was recently acquired by Maynooth University Library on long-term loan from The Representative Body of the Church of Ireland for restoration and safe keeping with Hugh Murphy (Senior Librarian) and Barbara McCormack acting as project managers.

St. Canice’s Library Room

This is a unique collection of early printed books, mainly that of Bishop Edward Maurice, who was Bishop of Ossory in the mid-18th Century. It includes many fine examples of woodcut illustrations, historic bindings, and manuscript fragments. Particular highlights of the collection include: four items of incunabula (pre-1500 printing), a Shakespearean Fourth Folio (1685) and a Sarum Missal printed for Fleet Street printer Wynkyn de Worde.

Collection processing was carried out on a phased basis to provide access to the collection as soon as possible: the first stage was to list the material in the collection and then each item was catalogued to a minimum level before the final stage of full DCRM (B) compliant cataloguing can begin.

A substantial amount of work began on the collection in September 2015 which included a basic clean, freezer de-infestation and transportation from Kilkenny to Maynooth. It was strongly recommended that the collection be housed in an environmentally controlled storage area to prevent insect damage and deterioration due to fluctuating humidity and temperature. This was especially essential that all pre-1600 items (approximately 310) and other particularly rare and valuable items be housed in this storage area.

St. Canice’s Library Room

One of the highlights of the collection is a magnificent copy of Shakespeare’s Folio, one of the most sought-after books in the world. The First Folio, printed seven years after Shakespeare’s death, brought together 36 plays – 18 of which would otherwise not have been recorded. Without this publication, there would be no copy of plays such as Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and The Tempest.

This copy was published in 1685 and is the fourth printing in perfect condition. The book is also the only source of the familiar dome-headed portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout.

Shakespeare's Folio
Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio 1685

Another favourite is our copy of The Ship of Fooles by Sebastian Brandt printed by John Cawood in 1590. Brant’s satire on human foolishness became a European bestseller. By 1574, more than 40 editions of the text had appeared, including translations into Latin, French, English, Dutch, and Low German. The text describes a fictitious sea voyage of 112 fools, each representing a certain type of human misconduct, to the promised land of “Narragonia.” The succession of fools is led by the foolish reader: convinced of his learning, he is engaged in chasing away the flies buzzing around his desk piled with books, but he does not open the books to gain knowledge. Brant does not so much criticise foolishness as remaining foolish by failing to recognize one’s own shortcomings.

The Ship of Fooles
The Ship of Fooles

One of the reasons for the work’s great success was undoubtedly the high-quality woodcuts that introduce and complement the text. Each sin or vice in the book is accompanied by a finely detailed woodcut that gives either a literal or allegorical interpretation of that particular sin or vice. Chapters are devoted to such offenses as Arrogance Toward God, Marrying for Money, and Noise in Church. Among the artists with whom Brant collaborated on this work was the young Albrecht Dürer, who soon after the completion of this work left Basel for Nuremberg.

Our copy of John Foxe’s The Book of Martyrs is a perfect example of a medieval book in all its glory – great binding, elaborate text accompanied by striking images.

John Foxe’s survey of Christian martyrs throughout history laid strong emphasis on those who had died for their faith during the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58), and was widely read during the 16th and 17th centuries. It had a great influence on popular opinion with regard to Catholicism over the following centuries, providing support for the legal oppression of Catholics until the 19th century.

Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

While Foxe was by no means an impartial writer, and his presentation of history is selective and peppered with comment, his access to the evidence from very recent trials and eye-witness accounts renders his work generally reliable and fascinating.

As a Protestant in exile in Germany he continued writing, as news of the persecutions in England reached him. The first edition of his book, in Latin, was published in 1559, and contained little information about the recent Protestant martyrs, whose stories were included in the much fuller edition published in English in 1563.

Paradise Lost
Milton’s Paradise Lost

Our 1688 copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost is certainly an incredible treasure in this collection. Since its first illustrated edition rolled off the press in 1688, Paradise Lost has fired the imaginations of artists. Generations of painters, draughtsmen and printmakers have tried – and sometimes failed – to create a visual equivalent of Milton’s poetry. Between the late seventeenth and early twentieth centuries a flurry of illustrated editions of Paradise Lost appeared. Apart from being beautiful artefacts in themselves, these books and their engraved plates are an invaluable sign of what Paradise Lost meant to the periods that produced them. Satan, for example, looks very different in 1680 to how he looks in 1860.

Other items of interest include the oldest item in the collection – which are latin fragments known as binder’s waste from the early 1500’s; Books with such topics as Greek Mythology, Cannibalism, Demonology, Witchcraft and Botony; Epitaphs on the tombs in the Cathedral Church of St. Canice Kilkenny; material with provenance history from Queen Christina of Sweden to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The St. Canice’s Library Collection is certainly without a doubt a treasure trove that offers both researcher and enthusiast alike a chance to step back in time and discover a hidden gem. Below is a geographical map of the origins of the collection showing the places of publication across Europe from the 16th to the 17th centuries.

To date, 3152 books from the St. Canice’s Library Collection have been catalogued and can be accessed online via the LibrarySearch discovery tool.

Access to this collection is by appointment only – Please email library.specialcollections@nuim.ie



British Library

BBC News

Darkness Visible: a resource for studying Milton’s Paradise Lost





Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (1877-1946)

By Olive Morrin, Special Collections & Archives

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington died on the 20th April 1946 and this year marks the 70th anniversary of her death.  She was born in Kanturk, Co. Cork but the family moved to Drumcondra, Dublin  in 1887 and Hanna attended the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street.  She was a bright student and was one of the few women at the time to receive a third level education.  She graduated with a degree and later an MA  in 1902.  She became a teacher in Eccles Street and also lectured in Rathmines School of Commerce.


She married Francis Skeffington in 1903 and both took each other’s surnames. She was a talented orator, well informed in Irish and international affairs and was renowned for her independence of thought and wit.  She and Francis were very involved in the suffragette movement and for her entire life she continued to campaign, highlighted anomalies in the new state’s legislation if it discriminated against women and fought for women’s rights.  She never compromised her strongly held views which sometimes left her isolated.  She was a liberal and possibly a radical in the increasingly conservative and church bound new state.  She was an atheist who refused to see a priest even on her deathbed.  She remained a socialist following the beliefs of James Connolly in a society that was becoming more materialistic.  When she was imprisoned in Holloway in 1918 Kathleen Clarke widow of Tom Clarke said of her “She was a highly-gifted woman, and one of the straightest I ever met, and I had great admiration for her”.

In 1913 she was arrested for throwing stones at Dublin Castle in a feminist march. She was imprisoned but went on hunger strike and was released but was soon rearrested. This was the first of the many times she was arrested for her activities, but it never dented her resolve. She was also dismissed from her teaching job after this incident.

Francis Sheehy-Skeffington – image from British militarism as I have known it

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Mothering Sunday – Happy Mother’s Day!

Embryology and female anatomy: selected images from the St. Canice Library Collection

By Yvette Campbell, Special Collections & Archives

If anyone ever says childbirth is easy, show them this!

Canice 2
Woodcut of childbearing – The “gagliarde” able to sit up, 1596. – Scipione Mercurio

To celebrate all motherhood on this day, have a look at some of the amazing images from a 16th century book on pregnancy from the St. Canice Library Collection here at Maynooth. This most important, curious and fascinating book deals with human ontogeny (from embryo generation to birth) and with female anatomy (mostly concerning pregnancy and childbirth). It was most likely used for instruction and learning. Scipione Mercurio, a friar, wrote this handbook in Italian rather than Latin: hence, midwives could understand it.

The work written by the Dominican friar Scipione Mercurio (1540-1615?), La Comare o Ricoglitrice, was published in Venice in 1595 & 1596 respectively; it is composed of three volumes which investigate pregnancy, childbirth, aid in case of difficulty during delivery, and obstetrical, gynaecological, and childhood diseases. The first volume is equipped with precious anatomical tables representing pregnant women, engraved in a copper slab by Francesco Valesio (1524-1592).

Canice 5
Engraving of the labelled anatomy of a woman – Francesco Valesia (1524-1502)

Before the 17th century, when surgeons started to enter the labour room, theory, training and practice were assigned to midwives who used to assist their patients without the help of a physician or a surgeon. Because they embed a great number of didactic pictures, some of which may compete against any modern book of anatomy, embryology and obstetric, some of these are shown.

Some of the illustrations in the second volume are quite bizarre, when Mercurio shows the positions to be taken by women in case of difficulties during childbirth or when women in labour are quite overweight. Here are also represented the two proper positions for a caesarean section, distinguishing between the ‘strong’ women (the gagliarde), who could be operated while sitting on the bed, and the ‘weak’ ones (the deboli), to be operated while lying in bed.

Canice 1
Woodcut of the “deboli” lying-down, 1596. – Scipione Mercurio

Mercurio states, that the woman was held by the shoulders by another woman, while the midwife stood at the base of the chair, ready to take the baby and, in case the obstetric chair was not available, the patient sat on the knees of the midwife herself. Men usually would not attend this event to protect female privacy, the surgeon was called only in case of embryulcia and embriotomy, to extract the dead baby from the mother’s womb. 

As this book deals with difficulties during delivery, perhaps this is why we see so many men in these images. By the end of the 16th century, however, childbirth in presence of a surgeon was an exceptional event: midwives summoned doctors very rarely.

Obstetricians were supposed to favour, if possible, the lying-down procedure, regarded by Mercurio as safer for both mother and child. The friar believed that lying-down avoided infections and stopped the bad tradition of laying the baby on the floor.
Canice 6
Diagram of a baby leaving the mothers womb.

The volume is equipped with a rich critical apparatus of surgical instruments. The forceps, invented by Chamberlen in 1572, was the instrument that was to become the symbol of this new obstetrics: known as the ‘‘instrument of life,’’ it allowed surgeons to extract the baby alive by seizing it by the head with two pairs of pincers.

The Comare textbook was extremely successful in Italy and abroad, too, as it was edited twice in German. The main issue of this book is that the image of the midwife and her education come out as very positive as the author wrote: “Do not think my idea is educating and transforming my midwife into a physician“.

Canice 8
Diagram of the baby in the womb

At this time the midwives were often not educated and usually they were taught by an older and more expert colleague. They used herbs, spices, sometimes magic and simple instruments to help their patients, such as a tiny rope to tie the baby’s limbs together, fats and oils to ease labour. For their deep familiarity with herbs and magic spells, these women had been very often blamed for sorcery and damned to the stake in a male society, where only men attended a formal education, their knowledge, based on tradition and female sharing of experience, was considered dangerous and able to undermine the teachings of men.

This changed dramatically in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the surgeon’s presence into the labour chamber led to a fundamental decrease of infant and maternal mortality, but transformed the idea of delivery into the idea of extracting the foetus alive from the birth canal and of easing the mother’s pains only. Schools for Midwifery were opened across Europe and women were provided with an educational curriculum and together with surgeons, they helped mothers safely deliver their babies.

As if mothers need reminding…



  • Vanucci, L., Frigenti, L., and Maria-Simonetta Faussone-Pelleggrini. “From conception to birth: ancient library sources of embryology and women anatomy kept in the Biblioteca Biomedica of the Università degli Studi di Firenze (Biomedical Library of Florence University)” Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology Vol . 116, n. 2: 93-103, (2011).


  • Lippi, Donatella, and Domizia Weber. “Crouching or lying-down? The reason of a (uncomfortable) delivery position” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, Early Online 1-3, (2013).

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


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.

3  Letter KSW re tribunal
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.

A Christmas Book – Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

By Yvette Campbell, Special Collections & Archives

SP 22767 Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie; Illustrated by Arthur Rackham –  SP 2767.

Here in Special Collections we have a beautiful copy of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (UK Hodder and Stoughton 1907) bound in russet cloth with gilt illustration and lettering to the front cover and spine. This wonderful book contains 50 hand mounted Rackham colour plates consisting of one frontispiece illustration and 49 others grouped together at the rear of the book, all with tissue guards. Besides the date and minor differences in title-page layout, this edition is similar to the 1906 first edition.

In 1906 Barrie sanctioned the publication of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and illustrated by Arthur Rackham, in which Peter is a seven-day-old infant. The 1906 limited first edition is illustrated with about 50 colour plates by illustrator Arthur Rackham Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was originally part of an earlier work, The Little White Bird by J.M.Barrie. The Peter Pan chapters were extracted and published as a separate work in 1906. The colour plates to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham made the book immediately popular, and drew attention to Rackham, who was not well-known before then.

photo 7
“They all tickled him on the shoulder.”

In 1905 J. M. Barrie visited the Rip Van Winkle exhibition and was so taken with Rackham’s artwork that a meeting was arranged to discuss collaboration on a Peter Pan book. The “boy who never grew up” had first appeared as one of many stories in The Little White Bird (1902), and became a successful theatrical production the following year. But it was the partnership between Rackham and Barrie that made Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens the “outstanding Christmas gift-book of 1906″ and one of the most beloved of all 20th-century children’s books. It was also one of Rackham’s biggest financial successes, reprinted numerous times and leading to the production of the Peter Pan Portfolio, a selection of twelve of the artist’s favourite illustrations reproduced in their original sizes.Barrie was so pleased by this gift, and by Rackhams’ work, that he replied in a letter,

My dear Rackham, It was immensely good of you to put that delicious little picture in my copy of ‘Peter’. I have been a wreck with colds and coughs for six weeks which is why I have not written you sooner, especially about the exhibition. It entranced. I think I like best of all the Serpentine with the fairies, and the Peter in his night-gown sitting in the tree… I am always your debtor, and I wish the happiest Christmas, and please, I hope you will shed glory on more of my things.”

photo 12
“Put his strange case before old Solomon Caw.”

It tells the story of how Peter left his family as an infant, became a friend of fairies, and (re)learned to fly. The text of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was originally published in 1902 as chapters 13-18 of Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird, a semi-autobiographical fantasy about an unnamed gentleman and David, a little boy he befriends; the Peter Pan story is something he tells to the boy (or the boy to him) in that story.  The Little White Bird was published as a novel for adult readers; Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was published with 50 colour illustrations by Arthur Rackham, ostensibly as a children’s book, but in a fancy hardcover edition that was more likely to end up in the library than the nursery.

The story is set in Kensington Gardens, a famous park in London, mostly after “Lock-Out Time”, when the park gates are closed to the public, and the fairies and other magical inhabitants of the park can move about more freely than during the daylight, when they must hide from ordinary people. Fairy inhabitants of the gardens are first described in Thomas Tickell’s 1722 poem Kensington Gardens.

The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up - Kensington Gardens London. Picture courtesy of Yvette Campbell
The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up – Kensington Gardens London. Image courtesy of Yvette Campbell

The turning point for Rackham came in 1900, when he met his future wife, Edith Starkie, who was living in the house next door to his Hampstead studio. Starkie was also an artist and was developing a considerable reputation as a portrait painter. “His alliance with this gay artistic Irishwoman brought out the best in Rackham; for she was always his most stimulating, severest critic, and he had the greatest respect for her opinion” (Hudson, p. 56).

Most critics agree that it was during Rackham’s courtship and early marriage that he matured fully as an artist. Previously he had focused on line drawings, but from his wife he learned to use colour, particularly watercolour, much more effectively. This talent was developed at a propitious time, as technological advances dramatically improved the quality of book illustrations, allowing his art to achieve its fullest expression.

photo 14
“He passed under the bridge and came within full sight of the delectable Gardens.”

Unlike previous illustrators, who relied on an engraver to cut clean lines on a wood or metal plate used for printing, Rackham could have his pictures photographed and mechanically reproduced. This change removed the middleman between Rackham and his finished product. In particular, it allowed Rackham to display his particular gift for line, which an engraver, lacking Rackham’s talent, likely could not render onto a printing plate.  (Central Michigan University Library)

photo 13
“Peter Pan is the fairies’ orchestra.”

This type of printing required glazed paper that had to be pasted in (“tipped-in”) after the text was printed. Although this made publications more expensive, “the result enhanced the appearance of books and helped create the early-twentieth-century market for gift-books” (Central Michigan University Library).

A contemporary review of this book published in “The World” reads “Mr. Barrie has done what no one else has done since the inventor of “Alice”, he has invented a new legend, a modern folk story which comprehends all the innermost secrets of the modern child, be he four or forty. Mr. Rackham, for his part, has been bewitched in his cradle: he does not dream of fairies or hobgoblins, he knows them.”

If you would like to see more of Rackham’s artwork in our collections, check out our 1920 copy of Irish Fairytales by James Stephens.

photo 4
“The Serpentine is a lovely lake, and there is a drowned forest at the bottom of it. If you peer over the edge you can see the trees all growing upside down, and they say that at night there are also drowned stars in it.”

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

By Olive Morrin, Special Collections & Archives

Yeats - Land of heart's desire
‘The Land of Heart’s Desire’ by W. B. Yeats

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats on 13th June 1865.  Yeats became one the most prominent figures of 20th Century literature and was the first Irish person to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature although it is generally considered he wrote his best works after he received the prize.

The Library holds copies of much of Yeat’s work and a considerable amount of reviews and criticisms by other writers.  Special Collections & Archives also holds several unique volumes, including:

  •  I am of Ireland: favourite poems by W.B. Yeats with paintings by Yeat’s Irish contemporaries such as Louis Le Brocquy and Harry Clarke.
  • A brief account of the Cuala Press, formerly the Dun Emer Press, founded by Elizabeth Corbet Yeats in 1903
  • Yeats, the tarot, and the Golden Dawn by Kathleen Raine
  • W.B. Yeats and the designing of Ireland’s coinage:  text W. B. Yeats and others, by Brian Cleeve
  • The Yeats family and the Pollexfens of Sligo by William M. Murphy with drawings by John Butler Yeats
  • A tower of polished black stones: early versions of ‘The shadowy waters’ by William Butler Yeats: edited by David Ridgley Clark and George Mayhew with five illustrations by Leonard Baskin and drawings by the poet

The Library also holds a copy of The Dolmen Press Yeats Centenary Papers 1965 which commemorated the centenary of his birth. This bound collection of twelve papers was published separately between March 1965 and April 1968.

Yeat’s died in 1939 in Roquebrune, France.  His body could not be brought home because of the outbreak of World War II.  In 1948 his body was finally brought back to Sligo and he was buried “Under Ben Bulben” in Drumcliffe – as he specified in his Last Poems.


The Dolmen Press Yeats Centenary Papers MCMLXV edited by Liam Miller