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Emperors, operas and illumination: Brian Boru at Trinity College Dublin

Boru Image from Cartoon Saloon Feb 2014

Parnell was an ‘uncrowned king’ and O’Connell the ‘king of the beggars’, but Ireland had only one emperor: Brian Boru!


2014 marks the millennium anniversary of the pyrrhic victory and death of Ireland’s most celebrated king at the Battle of Clontarf. To commemorate the occasion the Library has curated an exhibition, on Brian’s life and legend, in the Long Room of the Old Library (between April and October), entitled Emperor of the Irish.


A highlight of the exhibition will be the ninth-century Book of Armagh, which is the only object known for certain to have been in Brian’s presence.The cream of the Library’s Irish manuscript collection will also be on display, including the twelfth-century Book of Leinster and the wonderfully illuminated sixteenth-century Book of the De Burgos. In addition, visitors will have the opportunity to view some curiosities that testify to Brian’s enduring legend, including a 1960s Mexican comic book and a nineteenth-century opera that both bear his name. 


An exciting feature of the exhibition will be a graphic interpretation of Brian’s life and legend by Cartoon Saloon (producers of the Academy Award nominated film The Secret of Kells). As you can see from this world-exclusive preview, the monks of Armagh probably had good reason to acclaim Brian as Imperator Scotorum — Emperor of the Irish!


Denis Casey

Summertime and the Library was … busy!

At the beginning of the new term we reflect on a hectic summer which kicked off with the visit of Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama on 17 June; a special exhibition on Obama family history was on display for the occasion. Also in June, Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts spoke about the Book of Kells as part of the Derry/Londonderry City of Culture events and also delivered a lecture at the Hay Literary Festival held in Kells on 28 June.

M&ARL staff have worked on a number of temporary exhibitions timed to coincide with events within Trinity College Dublin over the summer. The Book of Kings: Middle Eastern Manuscripts in the Library exhibition accompanied the Middle East Library Committee (UK) meeting on 25 June. The Transmitting the Anglo-Saxon Past exhibition was displayed to coincide with The International Society of Anglo-Saxonists Conference from the 29 July to 2 August. The exhibition What Price the Children? The work of Dorothy Price among the Dublin Poor, staged to mark the centenary of the Dublin Lockout, is currently on view in the Long Room. These are also available as online exhibitions.

The Library has an on-going arrangement in relation to the annual Samuel Beckett Summer School run by the Department of Drama Film and Music. As well as curating an exhibition specifically to tie in with the School, M&ARL hosted one of the School’s teaching sessions to permit attendees to have access to original Beckett literary material.

Samuel Beckett Summer School 2013
Samuel Beckett Summer School 2013

Another regular event was the return of the annual Irish Harp Summer School. The Library is home to two early examples of the traditional Irish harp: the so-called ‘Brian Boru Harp’, which is on permanent display in the Long Room, and the less well-known Castle Otway Harp.

Irish Harp Summer School 2013
Irish Harp Summer School 2013 viewing the Castle Otway Harp

Further classes held during the summer included a talk for Trinity College Library colleagues on the surprising variety of objects within the M&ARL collection.

Jane Maxwell (M&ARL) with Daniel O’Connell’s top hat
IMG_3947 cropped
A bullet which penetrated the roof of the Old Library during the 1916 Easter Rising

We are always delighted to hear about publications using M&ARL collections. One such author, historian Gill Morris from Tasmania, visited the Library on 6 August to present us with a copy of her book on the Revd Dr William Henry Browne, A Trinity College graduate, who left Cork for Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania in 1828.

Gill Morris and Aisling Lockhart (M&ARL)
Gill Morris and Aisling Lockhart (M&ARL)

It is also not unusual to see M&ARL manuscripts featured on TV and earlier this summer the BBC filmed the 1641 depositions for inclusion in The Stuarts which should air at the end of this year.

All of this outreach activity continued smoothly despite the fact that the summertime tends to be the busiest time for M&ARL. Add to that a major refurbishment of the Reading Room during July and August and it all made for a hectic summer.

Estelle Gittins

Words and Deeds

Deed MS1477-117_01

This deed dates from 1446 and relates to a house in Francis Street in the Liberties of Dublin: John Bossard and his wife Marion Chamberleyn granted the property to William Yong, citizen and butcher.

It belongs to a collection of over 200 vellum deeds (TCD MS1477) in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, and these documents provide a vital source of information for the social, commercial and topographical history of medieval Dublin. The geographical focus of the collection is the area around the parish of St John the Evangelist, which included the land surrounding the Church of SS Michael and John, as well as streets such as Fishamble Street and Winetavern Street. However, some of the deeds also cover other areas within and without the city walls, such as Oxmantown. Most of the deeds are in Latin and many still have seals attached.  They include leases, wills, grants, licences and appointments, dating from around 1230 right up to the early 18th century. As well as chronicling the transfer of land and property in this area, the documents also give evidence of the origin and occupations of the landowning classes, and of the varied spellings of placenames.  For example, among the characters who appear in these deeds are ‘Robert de Notyngham’, ‘Richard de Exeter’ and ‘Henry le Mareschal’; what is now known as Christchurch Place is referred to variously as ‘Bothestrete’, ‘Bowstret’ and ‘Bovestret’, while Fishamble Street appears as ‘Fishamelstrete’, and ‘Vico Pistarie’.

This collection, hitherto in a fragile state, has recently been conserved by the Preservation and Conservation Department, and a special folder has been constructed for each deed, which makes handling the individual items easier.

This blog entry is based on my ‘Manuscript sources for the history of medieval Dublin in Trinity College Library’ in Medieval Dublin XII: proceedings of the Friends of Medieval Dublin Symposium 2010, (ed. Seán Duffy, Dublin, 2012), which is available here and in most good bookshops.

Ellen O’Flaherty

A Pali Manuscript from Burma

TCD MS 1642 f1

This manuscript (TCD MS 1642) from Burma, now known as Myanmar, bears the text of the Upasampada Kammavaca, the ordination service for Buddhist monks, and is one of a number of Burmese manuscripts housed in M&ARL .

When one of their sons became a monk, wealthy Burmese families often commissioned a copy of the Upasampada Kammavaca for presentation to the monastery their son was intending to enter. The ordination ceremony is one of the legal acts contained in the Buddhist Monastic Rule or Vinaya. The strict requirement to follow the Rule has meant that the ceremony has remained unchanged for thousands of years, since the time of the Buddha. It is still conducted in Pali, the original language of Buddhism.

Lacquered and gilded wooden cover
Lacquered and gilded wooden cover

This elaborately lacquered and gilded manuscript set comprises two wooden covers and nine leaves. The covers and leaves would have been tied together with string or by thin sticks of bamboo threaded through the hole in the left hand side. Each strip holds six lines of Pali script, written in the square Burmese style, in black magyi zi lacquer made from tamarind seed, between hatched borders. In this instance the leaves have been described as being made from plantain but Kammavaca leaves can also be made from palm leaf, ivory, copper and brass sheets, and sometimes from the old robes of a venerated monk.

Estelle Gittins

It’s life, Jim …

MS10528_133r_LO cropped

Domestic account books are frequently to be found in historical family archives. On display in the Long Room at the moment is an eighteenth-century account book (TCD MS 10528) belonging to James Ware (b. circa 1699), sometime student of Trinity College and grandson of the historian Sir James Ware.

Ware was a meticulous record-keeper which means his accounts are a particularly valuable research resource for students of domestic life and the cost of living. The details included here allow us to build up an understanding of the way in which eighteenth-century life may have differed from our own. Weekly shopping for example. He records purchasing items such as a scabbard for his sword and moulds to make glass bottles. Ware also records buying himself a suit of clothes lined with silk, a pair of scarlet britches and a waistcoat with gold lace.

One of the most unusual characteristics about this account book is that Ware gives the reasons why he dismissed individual servants; he may have kept these details as an aide memoire in case he was asked to recommend a member of his staff to future employers.

Here are some of Ware’s choicest complaints: sottishness and dram drinking; immoderate hastiness of temper; marrying a man ‘tho certain of his having another wife’; intolerable sullenness, obstinacy and rudeness; one man was described as ‘slovenly and prating’; another was a ‘false shirking scoundrel’; one of the nursemaids ‘gave the children the itch’ and another was ‘a little inclined to whoring’.

Reading between the lines of Ware’s record of his child’s nursemaid’s wage agreement, one can see the great fear parents had in the face of very high levels of child mortality in the eighteenth century. The nurse, upon whom the infant’s entire well-being depended, was to get a bonus on the appearance of a child’s first tooth, no doubt to encourage her to make sure the child made it that far. Perhaps this is the origin of the ‘tooth-fairy’ stories.

Jane Maxwell