Keeping the faith

The author on her First Communion day, June 1969. Private collection.

We all recognise 1969 as the year that man first stepped on the moon but few would recall that it was also the year that Pope Paul VI became the first reigning pope to step onto the African continent in Uganda.

At that time there was a practice in Catholic schools for children preparing to make their First Holy Communion to make an offering to become ‘god-parents’ to children in Africa so that they could be baptised into the Catholic faith.  At Belgrove National School in Clontarf, my teacher Miss Heid, told us to choose a name for our ‘baby’.   I was only six years old and I came up with the name Anne. In my young mind I thought that all these babies would be brought to the school and I would get to bring mine home.  I puzzled over where she would sleep.  The penny dropped when I received my god-parent card with my name and Anne’s name handwritten on the back……we would never meet.  It was simply a very successful fund raising effort to support mission work in Africa.  Try explaining that to a six year old!

The only tangible connection I had with Anne was the card. So it was a real trip down memory lane when I came across it in a box while clearing out my attic recently and our Manuscripts and Archives Research Library were pleased to accept it as a donation.

 In 1969 the Catholic population of Uganda was approximately 3 million and no one batted an eye in Ireland at holding a collection for the ‘black babies’ or of referring to an unbaptised infant as a pagan. Today the Catholic population of Uganda stands at around 13 million.

I was lucky to attend Belgrove School. It had a broad curriculum and imbued in me a love of reading and of mystical Celtic Ireland.  We learnt poetry, painted and took part in school concerts.

However, it was also the school that dismissed a teacher in 1965 for writing subversive material. That teacher was the writer John McGahern.  The subversive material was the novel The Dark and he was dismissed under the orders of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, whose name is printed on my little card.

Sex education for girls, circa 1970. TCD MS 9308/793/1

Along with the card, I also donated a booklet called My Dear Daughter, which my dear late mother gave to me when I was twelve to help me along the path to womanhood. It was written by Sister Joseph of the Incarnation.  It makes for interesting reading especially when it gets to the part of how to confess ‘impure thoughts’ in the confessional.What a contradictory world it was. On the one hand we marvelled at men rocketing into space and on the other tied one another down with unenlightened thinking and restrictive ideology.   Today, depending on where you are in the world, people are free to make their own decisions about how to live their lives and raise their children and in 2016 a memorial lecture was held in Belgrove School to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of John McGahern.

For me this card and the booklet are an example of some of the ways the Catholic Church and the wider population’s affiliation with that institution influenced children’s lives, both here and abroad.  It also reminds me of the innocence of children and I would hope that we would never presume on that innocence again.

Therese Mulpeter

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

 

Launch of first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde ‘From Decadence to Despair’

The opening of the first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde was marked by a public interview with actor and writer Rupert Everett on Thursday October 12, 2017 in Trinity College Dublin. The highly personal exhibition in Trinity’s Long Room, featuring letters, photographs, theatre programmes, books and memorabilia, maps out the Anglo-Irish playwright’s meteoric rise to fame and also his dramatic fall from grace.

Pictured at the launch actor Rupert Everett, curator Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin and Senator David Norris

Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation, Oscar Wilde is one of the best known Irish personalities of the 19th century and was one of the great writers of the Victorian era. Besides literary accomplishments, Wilde became a figure of some notoriety for his lifestyle and involvement in the ‘art for art’s sake’ aesthetic movement as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.

Now Trinity College Dublin is celebrating one of its most famous alumni with an exhibition entitled ‘From Decadence to Despair’ in Trinity’s Long Room and an accompanying online exhibition. The exhibition opening takes place four days before Oscar Wilde’s birthday on October 16th. To mark the occasion a public interview with actor, writer and long-time Oscar Wilde fan Rupert Everett was conducted by Carlo Gébler, Adjunct Professor in Creative Writing at Trinity’s Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing this evening in the Robert Emmet Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity at 6.30pm.

The 30 items in the ‘From Decadence to Despair’ exhibition are drawn from the Library’s  Oscar Wilde Collection, which is the only Wilde archive held in a public institution in Ireland. It is unique in its focus on the playwright’s downfall and exile years. The collection was acquired by Trinity in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a rare book dealer and life-long collector of Wildeana based in London.

Commenting on the significance of the exhibition Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said: “The Oscar Wilde Collection held here at the Library of Trinity College Dublin comprises items of great symbolic significance for Wilde’s biography. All the great Wilde biographers have made extensive use of the archive.  Now, with these new exhibitions, we are delighted to be able to bring this important collection to national and international audiences.”

Curator of the exhibition and Assistant Librarian at Trinity, Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin added: “Oscar Wilde’s life and work continues to captivate academics and the general public. Through this exhibition we hope to celebrate the extraordinary legacy of Oscar Wilde and to shed further light on his remarkable journey from his student days in Trinity right through to his downfall and the sad circumstances in which he found himself during those final years in exile.”

Photographs of the funeral of Thomas Ashe by Elsie Mahaffy

TCD MS 2074 f182r

Funerals of patriots have often proved to be pivotal moments in Irish history. The funeral of Thomas Ashe (1885-1917) is a particularly poignant case. In life he was a popular and cultured school teacher, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers  and leader of the 1916 Rising in Ashbourne, Co Meath. In death he came to epitomise the struggle and suffering of his generation for Ireland’s cause. He died aged 32 on 25 September 1917 in the Mater Hospital after incarceration in Mountjoy Prison, a hunger strike and botched force feeding. The tragic brutality of his death, coming after the protracted executions of the other 1916 leaders the year before, resulted in an upsurge of support for the republican movement.

TCD MS 2074 f182r

TCD MS 2074 f182r

The funeral on 30 September 1917 therefore presented an opportunity for a pageant of political propaganda along the lines of the funerals of O’Donovan Rossa and Parnell. It also provided a significant challenge for the Volunteers and other republican forces who had lost men and arms and were struggling for cohesive leadership. However, the opportunity was defiantly seized and a large funeral procession to Glasnevin cemetery was planned involving various republican forces along with the Dublin Fire Brigade and around 30,000 members of the public who had travelled from across Ireland to line the streets. City Hall was also seized from British forces for the lying in state. The graveside oration was delivered by the young Michael Collins who, after a volley of shots, took inspiration from Pearse’s oration at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa  and proclaimed ‘Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian’. A statement of intent for the years to follow.

One unlikely observer from the side-lines was Elsie Mahaffy, the daughter of Trinity College provost John Pentland Mahaffy, who kept a careful record of the 1916 Rising and aftermath, in a scrapbook which includes diary entries, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, photographs, postcards and other collected memorabilia.

TCD MS 2074 f179r

Whilst holding firmly to her unionist point of view (describing his death as ‘suicide’, and the procession as being ‘attended by thousands of armed rebels’) Elsie was clearly mesmerised by the press coverage of Ashe’s death and funeral. The type and amount of material she collected on the funeral in particular displays an awareness of this as a key event in the evolution of contemporary Irish politics. The most remarkable items are three photographs of the cortege and procession, which indicate that Elsie was sufficiently fascinated to join the crowds herself and to take the images as the procession passed her. We would welcome any further information on the location or participants in any of these photos.

The scrapbook also includes newspaper clippings detailing the funeral arrangements and order of procession, as well as numerous  clippings from after the event. In addition Mahaffy has also pasted in a memorial card and a copy of ‘Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord’ the poem written by Ashe in Lewes jail. She devotes a number of pages to a description of the circumstances of his death, the government reaction, his lying in state in City Hall, and the ‘huge funeral’.

TCD MS 2074 f179a

Whilst captivated by the tragic story and unfolding public reaction, we cannot know if this had any effect on her politics. However, she may have held the same view as General Sir Bryan Mahon, then head of British forces in Ireland, who commented that republican forces were now ‘exhibiting discipline to a degree which is perhaps the most dangerous sign of the times.’

A fuller account of Elsie Mahaffy’s scrapbook, written by Lucy McDiarmid, can be found on the Library’s 1916 digital resource ‘Changed Utterly’. The scrapbook has been digitised in its entirety and is available on the Library’s Digital Collections site.

Estelle Gittins

 

Frank Stephens – a life in photographs

TCD MS 10842/1/13 ‘Cottage. Aran Is/ Fish drying on roof/ September 1935’.
[Location on Inis Mór, Oileáin Árann]. Surplus fish were cleaned in fresh water, salted and then left on walls or thatched roofs to dry. The fish had to be retrieved every night, and also if there was a shower of rain, in order to dry them properly for storing.

Frank Stephens (1884-1948) was born in prosperous middle-class Orwell Park, Rathgar, Dublin, eldest son to solicitor Henry (Harry) Francis Colcough Stephens and his wife Annie Isabella Synge, sister of the playwright John Millington Synge. Both the Stephens and Synge families lived side by side until shortly before J M Synge’s death in 1909, a proximity that had a profound effect on Frank’s life and interests. From the age of six Frank was being tutored by his famous Uncle John on a range of subjects, among them natural history, archaeology, folklore and music. It was in the last decade of the nineteenth century that the development of small hand-held cameras changed the nature of photography making it more accessible and affordable but also allowing photographers to move away from posed compositions to more candid and natural images. J M Synge and his nephew, Frank Stephens, embraced this new portable technology as a means of recording the people and places they loved in an intimate and uncontrived way.

Frank spent his working life in education, teaching history and Irish, but he also found time to lecture on local history, antiquities and European history for the County Dublin Libraries Committee and various local history societies, deploying his 2000+ lantern slide collection to illustrate his talks. These slides are now being cleaned and rehoused by Trinity College Library conservator Clodagh Neligan prior to digitization.

Frank was one of the photographers who volunteered for the Irish Folklore Commission in 1939 recording the historic landscape of Poulaphouca in Co Wicklow and its farming community before the area was flooded to create a reservoir to supply water to Dublin city. His talents as a photographer were uniquely suited to such a project as he had a keen eye for the intrinsic beauty and honesty of simple things. His photographs celebrate the seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life: the homespun clothes of the Aran islanders, street traders selling their wares in Dublin, a woman and her spinning wheel in Co Wicklow, or a cottage interior in the west of Ireland.

An exhibition Frank Stephens – a life in photographs, co-curated by Felicity O’ Mahony (M&ARL) and Gillian Whelan (DRIS), will be on view in the Long Room, September 2017