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Bringing it all back home: transcribing Henry Theophilus Clements’ 19th-century travel journal

Among the historical family archives in Trinity’s Library are the papers of the Clements family, of Ashfield, Co Cavan, and Lough Rynn, Co Leitrim. This year, over a century and a half after it was written, an important missing element of the archives was presented to the Library; it is a travel journal written in the 1840s by Henry Theophilus Clements. However, this is not the full story. Apart from the journal, the donor Saoirse Fitzallen also presented her transcription of the diary. This makes the diary significantly more likely to be used – simply by making reading and searching it easier – and may have the effect of drawing scholarly attention to the main Clements family collection.

Nathaniel Clements (d. 1771) was the 18th-century equivalent of a Minister for Finance and a very influential political figure. He became MP for Duleek in 1727. It was he who built the house now know as Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the President of Ireland. His grandson Henry Theophilus Clements (24 July 1820‐7 January 1904) was the son of an Henry John Clements (1781-1843) MP for Leitrim, and for Cavan. He was the nephew and inheritor of the estates of the ‘wicked’ Third Earl of Leitrim; and he was a soldier who spent most of his childhood in France.

Picture of his father by 11-year-old Henry Theophilus Clements, 1831.

The Clements family papers have been in the Library since the mid-1970s. The collection contains the usual range of financial and estate-management material, and is particularly rich in travel journals. This is why it is so gratifying to be able to return this missing item to the collection and the story of its discovery is interesting. Our guest author, and the donor of the journal, Saoirse Fitzallen, writes:

“I found the journal while on a wee stroll to stretch my legs on holiday in Norfolk. It had been left outside a cottage with several other journals and other bric- a -brac on a ‘help yourself’ shelf – they had been cleared out of a holiday home that I later discovered had belonged to one of Henry Clements’ descendents. Researching into the author’s life, and transcribing the journal, became an incredibly rewarding project for me during the first UK Covid lockdown in 2020.  I figured out who the author was once I’d deciphered his name and looked up where Ashfield was. I gradually made the connections by using Debretts and other Google searches and reaching out to Irish historians who put me in touch with surviving members of the family all of whom were very helpful.

This journal chiefly charts the journeys taken by Henry, his mother, and his sisters to cheer them all up after the death of his father Henry Clements senior in 1843. This alone would have given me a soft spot for him but I am so grateful that he took the time to write his adventures down and that in transcribing his journal I was able to learn so much about his life and the lives around him.

The journal is an extended progress through Europe with Henry, his family and staff staying in grand hotels and beautiful houses, seeing amazing artefacts, marvelling at feats of engineering and architecture, attending operas, plays and entertainments while eating and drinking in all the best spots with all the best people.

At the back is a proto Tripadvisor which rates all the hotels in which he stayed. If you, as I did, follow his journey using Google Maps, you can see most of what he saw and might be tempted, as I was, to follow in his footsteps. The journey won’t be so long – one of his day-long trips would take us just half an hour in a car. Some of the treasures will have been lost or locked away but we’d still be able to see that double-helix staircase in France. Horses aren’t used to carry stones to the roofs of buildings anymore so that’s a sight we’ll never be afforded but I wonder if there’s still a transparent alabaster window in that monastery in Italy? I wonder if a rainbow is still created as the falling water hits those rocks in Switzerland?  What has replaced the ladder they used to descend to that Spa?

I am so very proud to be able to donate this journal and my transcription of it to Trinity College to join the rest of the Clements family papers and hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed working on it.” Saoirse Fitzallen

The transcription may be found attached to the online-catalogue record of the new diary for all to enjoy.

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