Violence, ridicule and silence: the campaign for female suffrage in 1918

Suffragists Kathleen Emerson & Meg Connery in Green Street Dock 1912

Making public spaces unsafe for women, and denying authority to the female voice has, as we are told by Professor (or SAINT!) Mary Beard, a long and dis-honourable history. The campaign for female suffrage in 1918 was part of this story.

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Jacobite Relics

Two fascinating Jacobite ‘relics’ from the collection of the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library were recently loaned to the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition, the first major display on this theme in over 70 years, traced the ambitions of the Stuarts and their Jacobite supporters from the defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 to the downfall of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746. It was a spectacular, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ gathering of over 350 items: paintings, costumes, jewellery, documents, weapons and glassware loaned from a wide range of private and public collections such as the Musée du Louvre, V&A,  Royal Collection, British Museum, as well as the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

Image credit the National Museums of Scotland

The loan of these manuscripts sparked further research into their provenance which forms the subject of an article in the current Jan/Feb 2018 issue of History Ireland magazine by this author.

When the last member of the Stuart dynasty, Henry, Cardinal Duke of York (brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie) died in Rome in 1807, many of the state papers held in his possession were purchased by the English crown. But the more personal family documents were retained by members of the Cardinal’s circle who then sold them off, piecemeal, to eager visitors taking the grand tour. Among these was the Irish collector Blayney Townley Balfour (1799-1882) of Townley Hall near Drogheda. While in Rome in 1842, he purchased, among other miscellaneous Jacobite souvenirs, the two manuscripts loaned by Trinity to the Edinburgh exhibition.

TCD MS 3529

The first of these (TCD MS 3529) is the Book of Private Devotions of James II. This is a small, confessional volume of letters, prayers and memoirs written in James’s own hand and mostly dated 1698-1700. Written around eight years on from his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, James was then nearing the end of his life, in exile in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was subsidised by Louis XIV of France. The volume provides a window into the deposed King’s psychological state and pious obsessions. At one point he proffers advice on how best to spend one’s leisure time: through prayer, meditation and good books. Also admissible as leisure-time pursuits are matters of business, (moderate) hunting, shooting, and tennis (but only for exercise and the desirable company it could afford). James particularly advises against attending balls, operas and plays but concedes that ‘if obliged at any time to go to any of them, to governe one’s [eyes] with discretion, and to let one’s thoughts be of the vanity of them’.  In the Edinburgh exhibition the volume was displayed underneath two wall sconces and alongside a service book (belonging also to James, and his queen, Mary of Modena) loaned from the Royal collection. Also in the case were his spectacles case, along with a pair of contemporary spectacles, loaned by the V&A – in short, the personal effects that the exiled king would have likely kept on his bedside table.

TCD MS 7574

The second manuscript on loan from Trinity (TCD MS 7574) is the marriage certificate of James II’s son, James III (the ‘Old Pretender’) and the 17-year-old Polish princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702-1735) – the parents of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). Its elaborate frontispiece bears the combined Stuart and Sobieski coats of arms above a hilltop village probably intended to represent Montefiascone, near Lake Bolsena, north of Rome – the  venue for the wedding, and summer residence of the then Pope, Clement XI. That the union took place at all is nothing short of remarkable given the events that led up to it played out like a Hollywood blockbuster: the couple were pursued across Europe by the agents of King George and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI leading to an ambush, an imprisonment, and a jailbreak, with a maid in disguise, lost jewels, false identities, forged passports, broken axles, and the spiking of some hapless pursuers’ drinks all thrown in for good measure.

TCD MS 7574

One advantage in gathering together so many items from different institutions is that manuscripts can be displayed alongside other objects related to the same event. Accordingly, the Edinburgh exhibition also featured a silver medal struck to commemorate the tumultuous rescuing of Maria Clementina Sobieska en route to her wedding, as well as portraits of the bride and groom, and a print of the marriage ceremony itself. The whole affair caused a sensation throughout Europe, but did not furnish its well-deserved fairy tale ending as the couple separated soon after their two sons were born.

International loans of manuscripts are never undertaken lightly; they incur a number of complex arrangements and advance preparation. In this case, work began in the summer of 2016 when Trinity granted the initial loan request. Library staff then liaised with their counterparts at the National Museum of Scotland as well as with exhibition designers, conservators and art handlers in negotiating loan agreements, facilities reports, insurance documentation, export licences, courier itineraries and receipts.

The two manuscripts were also photographed in their entirety by Digital Resources and assessed and treated in Conservation ahead of their Scottish journey. When the day of installation finally dawns, however, a great sense of camaraderie shared between the colleagues from all the contributing institutions makes up for the lengthy practicalities that arise from such an ambitious undertaking. Such high-profile loans to well publicised exhibitions enhance the participating institutions’ international reputation as well as offering wider public access to the display items. Other major, recent loans from the Library include the papyrus fragment PAP.F.18 to the Nero exhibition in Trier and a selection of Oscar Wilde items to an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris.

The Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition ran at The National Museum of Scotland June-November 2017.

Estelle Gittins

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