‘Gwynnity College’

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Photo of the Gwynn family taken in the Provost’s Garden, Trinity College, June 1934.  Included are the following more well-known members.  Back row: Aubrey Gwynn SJ ( 5th from L), Rev. RM Gwynn (6th from L), Maj. Gen. Sir Charles William Gwynn (4th from R); middle row: Stephen Gwynn (4th from L), Edward Gwynn (Provost) (3rd from R).

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John Gwynn, (1827-1917). Regius Professor of Divinity, Trinity College (1888-1907). He was also a mathematician, a scholar of old Irish, and a Syriacist. He edited the seminal edition of the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52).

An exhibition showcasing highlights from the Gwynn family papers will be on display in the Long Room of Trinity College Dublin from 11 January to 1 March.  The Gwynns are an extraordinary family who have had a long and distinguished association with the university since the early 19th century.  They counted among their number a Provost, Vice-Provost, the first Lady Registrar, several Scholars, professors and Fellows, as well as numerous alumni.  They excelled academically in the areas of Old Irish, Syriac, classics, theology, mathematics and engineering.  On the sports field they showed themselves to be gifted rugby and cricket players, playing at both university and national level.  Such was their success in various areas of College life that the university was at one point dubbed ‘Gwynnity College’.  Their achievements outside College, in Ireland and abroad, were no less impressive, in politics, in military engagements and in exploration.  

Highlights of the exhibition include: a letter written by the Young Irelander William Smith O’Brien to his daughter Lucy (wife of John Gwynn) from Van Diemen’s Land in 1850; a watercolour sketch of the Donegal countryside from Lucy Gwynn’s album; a letter from Maude Gonne McBride to Edward Gwynn congratulating him on his appointment to the Provostship of Trinity College in 1927; a letter from Charles Gwynn to his nephew John David Gwynn describing the Battle of Gallipoli; and photographs of various members of the family on and off campus.

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John Gwynn’s son Lucius (1873 – 1902), playing cricket in College Park. He was a Fellow of Trinity College and talented cricketer.  The buildings of Nassau Street can be seen in the background.

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Edward J Gwynn (left) and others enjoying a cricket match in College Park.

The papers were generously donated to the Library of Trinity College in 2016/17 by several of John Gwynn’s great-grandchildren.  Many of the present generation of the family retain strong links with the College, as academics and alumni.  The Library is very grateful to them for making the decision to transfer the collection to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.  Its contents, including correspondence, diaries, photographs and legal documents, would be of enormous research interest to academics and students alike.  The documents cover a vast range of subjects: Irish nationalism, Irish education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the history of Trinity College, Protestantism in Ireland, the First World War, the 1916 Rising, the geo-politics of West Africa in the late nineteenth century, and much more besides.  Once catalogued, the collection will be available for general consultation.

The exhibition is curated by M&ARL, in conjunction with colleagues in Digital Collections and the Preservation and Conservation Department.

Ellen O’Flaherty