The Fire at the Four Courts

TCD MS 7890/1/37r

This startling and hitherto unreproduced image of the Dublin Four Courts ablaze was taken on the night of 1 July 1922. The fire signalled the end of the ‘battle of the Four Courts’, the first engagement of the Irish Civil War. The factions involved were those that supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 and those that opposed it. It also resulted in the devastating destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland, part of the Four Courts Complex, which housed seven centuries of Ireland’s historical record.

The photograph (TCD MS 7890/1/37) comes from the Library’s extensive Childers family archives. Little is known about this image other than the inscription on the back which reads ‘Taken, from here, the night after the surrender. I suggested the photograph. G Cleary’. This is most probably Fr Gregory Cleary, a correspondent of the Childers family and admirer of Robert Erskine Childers (former Secretary General of the Irish delegation at the treaty negotiations, who had subsequently sided with De Valera and the Anti-Treaty faction, and was executed by Pro-Treaty forces in November 1922).

TCD MS 7890/1/37v

Fr Cleary was resident at the Friary on Merchant’s Quay at the time of the battle – a building directly facing the Four Courts from the opposite side of the river Liffey. It was here that the image was taken and it was then sent to Molly Childers, Robert’s widow, sometime later. Other Capuchin brothers were known to have engaged with the Anti-Treaty forces occupying the Four Courts, especially those from the community based in Church Street on the north side of the Liffey.

The dramatic red colouring of the small photograph is the result of underexposure due to the low light levels at the time it was taken, necessitating the intensification of some chemicals during the developing process. This has caused a red colour-cast, or discolouration, as the photograph has aged.

The Library also hold records originating from the opposite side of the conflict during this period, most notably a file of correspondence, telegrams and records of phone messages between Michael Collins (commanding the Pro-Treaty National Army forces) and Winston Churchill (at the time a British cabinet minister and co-signatory of the treaty). The file contains copies of Collins’ telegrammed requests for ammunition. It also contains a selection of messages from Churchill to Collins written down by Alfred Cope, (Assistant Under Secretary in Dublin and intermediary between the British and Irish governments), which were recorded on scraps of now defunct ‘parliamentary questions’ paper. One such message to Collins, stamped 30 June 1922, and signed off in Churchill’s name reads ‘… the archives of the Four Courts may be scattered but the title deeds of Ireland are safe’ (TCD MS 11399/15).

The devastating legacy of the destruction of the nation’s archives has formed the basis of the work of our colleagues at Beyond2022. The Library is a core partner of the Beyond2022 project and also a participating institution, donating records to the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland. The latter is a vast compilation of items recovered or copied from documents that were once housed in the Four Courts. The project is the culmination of six years of collaboration with archives across the globe. We congratulate the team on the launch of such an ambitious and critical project for the future of Irish historical research.

Estelle Gittins

With thanks to Andrew Megaw and Caroline Harding

The process of digitising Mathew Paris’s ‘Book of St Albans’

TCD MS 177 f37v-f38r the martyrdom of St Alban, Matthew Paris, the Book of St Albans

The digitisation of the Book of St Albans manuscript by Matthew Paris was quite possibly the most anticipated step within the Medieval manuscript digitisation project currently being conducted within the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This high value manuscript was first photographed as black and white collotype prints for the M.R. James Facsimile edition in 1924 and in the 1980s a selection of images from the manuscript were captured on colour transparency film and scanned. The colour transparency slides show the pastel green hues well. Furthermore, considering a comparison between the resolution of fine grain film and high-resolution digital imaging is still contestable, I do not believe I can immediately say the resolution of the digital surrogate images taken on a medium format digital back camera is well and truly above what can be captured with fine grain film in terms of image resolution. However, the high dynamic range, colour accuracy and ease of use and speed of a medium format digital back camera makes the true hues and gold highlights seen within the miniatures throughout the Book of St Albans manuscript much easier to render correctly.

Digitising a high value manuscript such as the Book of St Albans involves slightly more planning than other medieval manuscripts as multiple people need to be involved throughout the process to ensure the safety and security of the manuscript. My role first off was to calculate how long I anticipated the digitisation to take place and whether there was a possibility to be able to also capture extra images of a selected number of illustrations using raking light to show the texture within the illustrations. Considering multiple expertise needed to be involved throughout the process and the manuscript is permanently stored in high security, I had a limited amount of time to complete all the digitisation. Although, the fact that this manuscript only has 77 folios made the planning slightly easier. Overall, the most difficult part of the digitisation process was creating the correct lighting to accurately show the course gold highlights which are seen within many of the illustrations, whilst not washing out the pastel green colourisation.

Lighting set up for pastel colours and gold

For most of the photography conducted within our Digital Collection studios we use a standard twin lighting set up with one flash head placed on either side of the subject positioned 90 cm above the subject and placed at a 35-degree angle towards the subject plane. The standard lighting set up was used for the lighting set up whilst digitising the Book of St Albans manuscript. In addition, a large silver reflector was placed over the top of the camera and over the top of the two flash heads and directly above the subject plane. The large silver reflector covered the entire diameter of the subject area and lighting circumference. The large reflector was kept in place directly above the subject throughout the entire shoot. Whilst shooting the miniatures with gold illumination an extra light was placed in front of the subject and pointed directly upwards towards the large silver reflector, this light was also set to the lowest setting. The purpose of using the extra light whilst photographing the miniatures with the gold illuminations was to help bring out the gold highlights which are often hard to capture with the standard lighting set up alone. The large reflector was kept in the same position throughout the shoot to avoid image exposure and the white balance changing too much once the extra lighting was temporarily added. The extra light was kept on the lowest setting also for this reason and to avoid flattening the green pastel colourisation seen throughout the manuscript.

TCD MS 177 f57r, example of gold illustration

The raking light set up

There are some distinct features in the illustrations in the Book of St Albans that are not easily seen by the unaided eye and are not obvious on the collotype facsimile. These hidden features are the modeling of the surface of parts of the uncoloured vellum. This effect can be seen on the folds of draped clothing, the necks, and haunches of the horses (fol. 49r, Figure 3b.3) as well as the brick work of the abbey church (fol. 60r, Figure 3b.4) and on the laths of the boat (fol. 62r). These effects that were created by Matthew Paris can only be seen by casting a raking light across the illustrations. (Wogan-Browne & Fenster, 2010).

From left, raking light image of folio 60r and close-up of the hidden texturing in the brick work, which can only be seen when using raking light.

The idea behind the raking light set up was to show the hidden texture and detailing in the tinted illustrations which have hidden modelling effects that cannot otherwise be seen with standard lighting. When using the raking light set up the raised parts of the parchment and detailing in the illustrations facing the light are illuminated whilst the parts facing away from the light are shadowed. This allows one to see how rough and rigid parts of the illustrations are, which can give researchers a better insight into the techniques used to create parts of the detailing in the illustrations.

Senior Digital Photographer Caroline Harding with raking light set up and with TCD MS 177 the Book of St Albans on the motorised cradle,

At the very end of the shoot where I was using the original lighting set up, I still had a small bit of time with the manuscript to capture a selected number of folios with a raking light set up. Alison Ray, the Archivist/Project Manager on the Carnegie Medieval Manuscript digitisation project created a list of the selected folios with illustrations showing the unique surface modelling, which I referred to. To capture the raking lighting images the manuscript was positioned on the motorised conservation cradle in the exact same way as it was in the previous set up, whilst only one flash head was used with the diffusing soft box removed. The flash head was positioned to one side of the manuscript 15 cm (about 5.91 in) above the surface of the manuscript. The raking light was pointed downwards slightly, for the light to be skimming across the page. To carry out a raking light shoot it is ideally best to have a light set up on either side of the manuscript and take a shot with each light individually. The two shots would then be comparable in what extra detail and texture they show. Unfortunately, we were quite limited in our lighting set-up and extremely limited on time with the manuscript, therefore we did not have the flexibility of using an extra raking light at a different angle. However, in future this would be our raking light set up of choice. In addition to having two flash heads set up on either side of the manuscript with extra time I would like to experiment with capturing raking light images with the flash heads set up at slightly different angles and distances from the subject to determine which set up produces the most ideal results.

By Caroline Harding

Senior Digital Photographer Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project

The work of the Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project has been supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation New York.

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.


Wogan Browne, J., Fenster, T. S., (2010), The Life of St Alban by Matthew Paris, Vol 2.

Eileen C. Booth, Cuala Press artist.

Billy Shortall.

In 1927 an English newspaper referred to the “Cuala group of artists”, these were artists mainly women who provided designs for Cuala Industries, primarily for prints published by the Press. 1 Of the nearly forty artists in this group over two-thirds were female. A number of these artists have faded from Irish art historiography and the visual history of Cuala Press is often only discussed in terms of the Yeats family members, Elizabeth the Press’s founder, her sister and Cuala embroideress Lily, artist brother Jack who provided designs, and William the Press’s literary editor.

One of the most prolific designers for Cuala during the 1930s was Eileen Constance Booth (nee Peet) (1906-2000) who created more than twenty illustrations for reproduction on cards and for individual prints. Born into a Quaker family in Dalkey, Co. Dublin in 1906 she studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, and for a short period at the renowned Slade School of Art in Britain’s capital, and most interestingly from a Cuala Press point of view as a printmaker specifically in photo-engraving, the method of reproduction used by the Press for its prints. The Cuala Press Business archive holds Booth’s student card associated with the “London County Council School of Photo-Engraving & Lithography” for 1931/2 (TCD MS 11535/9/11/4). The card records that she won first prize for a landscape design in a student exhibition. Traditional Irish rural scenes would become a mainstay in her work and was her preferred subject matter for the Press. It is likely the Eileen first came to Cuala’s attention when she won first prize at the 1926 National Art Competition in ‘Illustration in colour’.

Continue reading “Eileen C. Booth, Cuala Press artist.”

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.

John of Worcester’s ‘Chronicula’, TCD MS 503

TCD MS 503 is principally comprised of John of Worcester’s ‘Chronicula’, a text which describes itself as having been derived from the more celebrated and much more elaborate Worcester Chronica chronicarum, a twelfth-century chronicle, the authorship of which has been attributed variously to Florence and/or John, both Worcester monks. As the diminutive form of its Latin title suggests, the Chronicula itself is of diminutive size, perhaps designed to be easily portable. Its text has never been printed before and those interested in its contents have previously been obliged either to order a microfilm copy or to visit the archives attached to the magnificent Long Room of Trinity College, Dublin (not a hardship!). The manuscript has now been digitised and made available online   Sixteenth-century annotations in the manuscript, as shown in the image below, record that in 1573 the manuscript was sold to the antiquary William Lambard and then, in 1594, Lambard gave the manuscript to another English antiquary, William Howard. Both men were connected to a circle of antiquaries who had various interests in the literature of the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman periods, including such figures as William Camden, Laurence Nowell, Henry Spelman and Robert Cotton. William Howard had, in 1592, published an edition of the Worcester Chronica chronicarum,which presumably indicates why he was also interested in TCD MS 503.

TCD MS 503 1r showing sixteenth-century marks of ownership

Although we do not know the exact date of the Chronicula’s composition, the late 1130s has recently been suggested. For the most part the work is derivative of the main Chronica chronicarum, a text which, itself depending on a range of sources, gives in annalistic form a history of the world to the year 1140. In deriving its information from the Chronica chronicarum, the Chronicula heavily summarises and abbreviates events and omits much detail. The Chronica chronicarum is set out in annalistic form, whereas the Chronicula is arranged according to the reigns of the Roman emperors and the year in which they came to power (reckoned according to a system developed by Marianus Scotus in his Chronicon who sought to re-date the Dionysian system by 22 years, a chronicle which itself provides an important model for the Chronica chronicarum). Information that can be found in separate annals in the Chronica chronicarum can therefore seem lumped together in the Chronicula.

It is probably the derivative and abbreviated nature of the Chronicula that means it has so far attracted relatively little attention. But there are important reasons why it deserves further notice. The first is that it seems to have been written, for the most part, in the hand of John of Worcester himself. Given John’s authorial role in the writing of at least parts of the Chronica chronicarum, we are therefore being given access to an associated work, a text that is less formal than, but nevertheless complementary to, the main chronicle. A second is that the Chronicula is not entirely derivative in form and actually contains unique information. Its main text opens with a geographical description of Britain, not found in the Chronica chronicarum and which is closely connected to a similar passage in the F manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It also invokes the work of Hugh of Fleury to a greater extent than the Chronica chronicarum, and, perhaps most strikingly of all, contains a range of poems that cannot be found elsewhere. Three poems in particular stand out: those that celebrate the deaths of Edward the Confessor in 1066, of Harold, son of Godwine, also in 1066, and of Bishop Wulfstan II in 1095, the very man who was credited in Worcester texts with initiating various historical projects. The poems are not accomplished in literary terms. But they are striking for their wistful attention to the Anglo-Saxon past and for a degree of anti-Norman sentiment. If they were composed by John himself, some 70 years after the Norman Conquest, they provide important evidence for the sort of nostalgia for the past and the sort of anti-Norman hostility that could continue to be voiced by at least one Worcester inhabitant. We are left to wonder why they were not included in the main Chronica chronicarum.    

TCD MS 503 95r showing the poem about Edward the Confessor

For whatever reason, John ceased writing his Chronicula once he reached the annal for 1123, on line 23 of fol. 113v. A new hand (one of four in total that have been identified as working on TCD MS 503) continues the story, copying annals down to 1141. Because the annals from 1123 to 1141 have material with a clear Gloucester focus, it is possible that the Chronicula had travelled to Gloucester where it was then updated. John’s motivations for writing the Chronicula remain elusive. At one point in the manuscript he says that anyone wanting to find out more details about a certain historical episode ‘will find them written in chronological order and more fully in the chronicle of chronicles [i.e. the Chronica chronicarum]’, suggesting that he anticipated that the Chronicula would reach at least some kind of audience. Was this an audience within Worcester itself? Or, given the later connection with Gloucester, was it designed to be sent there? We will probably never know John’s precise motivations, but the Chronicula is important as an extra example of this twelfth-century historian’s working methods. Scholars are at present re-doubling their efforts in connection with Worcester historiography. An edited volume on the cartularies and chronicles (and other texts) produced at Worcester in this period is forthcoming in May 2022, entitled Constructing History Across the Norman Conquest: Worcester, c.1050-c.1150. And the Chronicula itself is actively being edited for the Oxford Medieval Texts series. In the meantime it is an enormous boon for scholars around the world to have access to these high-quality images of TCD MS 503 so that they can engage directly with John’s work for themselves.

D. A. Woodman

Robinson College, Cambridge

Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.