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Enduring Everest

TCD MS 10484/4/4
TCD MS 10484/4/4

In the aftermath of the First World War, many seasoned soldiers turned to a life of adventure, seeking out new adrenalin-fuelled challenges to replace the heroics of the battlefield, or to suppress the memory of its atrocities, or both. The conquest of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, became an attractive objective, and three attempts were made in the early 1920s by British mountaineering teams. These included the Irishmen Charles Howard Bury (the 1921 ‘Reconnaissance’ Expedition) and Richard William George Hingston (1924). Both had served with distinction in the war (Howard Bury in France, Hingston in the Middle East), and their war diaries form part of the Library’s First World War resource, ‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails’.

10484/4/11 members of the 1924 expedition, Hingston is standing second from left
10484/4/11 members of the 1924 expedition, Hingston is standing second from left

The 1924 expedition, which Hingston joined as a medical officer and naturalist, is famous for resulting in Everest’s greatest mystery: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine broke off from the group to make a final attempt on the summit on 8 June 1924, and were spotted near to the summit only to then disappear into the cloud cover, never to return. Mallory’s body was only recovered in 1999 at 26,755 ft (8,155 m) – what caused their deaths, or whether they actually made it to the summit remains a matter of conjecture, despite the fact that this attempt was the best documented of its time.

TCD MS 10484/4/1 member of the climbing team with oxygen tanks
TCD MS 10484/4/1 member of the climbing team with oxygen tanks

The official photographer, John Noel, devoted himself to recording a filmed record of the expedition. The result, The Epic of Everest, is one of the most remarkable pieces of documentary film-making of the early 20th century. With Noel preoccupied with filming (as well as the logistical nightmare of transporting bulky equipment up the slopes alongside its own team of mules and porters), the remainder of the group dutifully compiled still photographs with their ‘tourist variety’ cameras. Their published report, The Fight for Everest, details the travails of the Himalayan photographer: the tendency to ‘under-expose in tropical Sikkim and over-expose in arctic Tibet’; the unwelcome effects of the lack of oxygen on development times and their ingenious solution to the problem of drying negatives in sub-zero conditions:

10484/4/15 Everest Base Camp
10484/4/15 Everest Base Camp

‘We threaded as many as 50-60 [negatives] on cotton as soon as they were washed and suspended them in rows in the apex of Noel’s double-walled tent. Then we brought in great glowing trays of smouldering Yak dung and set those on the floor so that the heat might rise and circulate about the films and prevent them from freezing … Noel complained that he had to sleep in the tent; we complained that he was the only man to have a fire in his bedroom.’

TCD MS 10484/4/2
TCD MS 10484/4/2

Given such challenges, it is remarkable that so many enduring images made it back, including those taken by Hingston and now housed in M&ARL. Hingston not only took images of his fellow mountaineers, sherpas, and the region itself, but also birds and insects as part of his work as a naturalist. M&ARL also holds Hingston’s annotated maps of the area, correspondence with colleagues at Camp II, and letters he sent to the Natural History Museum on his return. These include taxonomical lists of the specimens he collected, including a species of Black Attid spider. He discovered this creature living at 22,000 feet – the highest known habitat for any animal.

TCD MS 10473 f 36 recto Hingston's journal for 7 to 10 June 1924 describing the tragic summit attempt
TCD MS 10473 f 36 recto Hingston’s journal for 7-10 June 1924 describing the tragic summit attempt

One of the most emotive items in the collection is the notebook Hingston took with him to record the expedition, TCD MS 10473, which was then worked up into a more legible copy, TCD MS 10474. With echoes of the diary of Scott of the Antarctic, this is both a record-keeping exercise and a personal notebook, with each entry written in pencil commencing with location and height in feet, but betraying little of the extreme conditions. A single page 36 recto, datable to 8 June, describes the final ascent by Mallory and Irvine: ‘eyes glued to the mountain. There is just a chance of Mallory and Irvine getting to the summit’, but finishes sombrely on 10 June, ‘there can be no doubt; the worst has happened.’

A full list of the Hingston papers is available on the Manuscripts and Archives online catalogue. The Hingston papers were fully digitised in 2010 as part of the EuropeanaTravel project funded under European Commission’s eContentplus programme, and are available via the Library’s Digital Collections site.

Estelle Gittins

WW1 diaries and letters online publication

Lieutenant Arthur Nickson Callaghan (1893-1917). (Private collection)
Lieutenant Arthur Nickson Callaghan (1893-1917). (Private collection).

In 2014 President Micheal D Higgins suggested that the Irish commemoration of the First World War should include ‘the forgotten voices and the lost stories of the past’. He was alluding to the fact that the voices of the Irish soldiers in the British army have been subdued in Irish history. Some of their stories may be found among Trinity College Library’s collection of wartime diaries and letters and a major project has just been launched to make this fascinating and moving material freely available online.

Continue reading “WW1 diaries and letters online publication”

CERL Dublin Manuscripts Conference 25-27 May 2016

The 7th conference of CERL’s (Consortium of European Research Libraries European Manuscript Librarians Expert Group, hosted by the cerl logoLibrary of Trinity College Dublin will take place 25-27 May 2016.

The primary aims of the Group are to act as a forum for curatorial concerns, and to enhance understanding and practical cooperation among curators across Europe. The conference will focus on these themes:

Commemorations and Anniversaries; Materiality; Post-digital issues and concerns.

Draft programme:

Wednesday 25 May, 1315 – 2000

  • Estelle Gittins, ‘Commemorating 1916 in the Library of Trinity College Dublin’
  • Bernard Meehan, ‘The Faddan More Psalter’
  • Susie Bioletti, ‘Early Results from the “Early Irish Manuscripts” Project’
  • Jennifer Edmond, ‘CENDARI: what next?’
  • Jane Ohlmeyer, ‘The 1641 Depositions: what now?’

Reception in Old Library with Book of Kells and exhibition of treasures

Thursday 26 May, 0930-1900

  • Ad Leerintveld, ‘Authenticating the coat of arms in a Gruuthuse manuscript’
  • Birgit Vinther Hansen, ‘Exhibition and fading of manuscripts: microfadometry and a lighting policy to increase exposure and reduce risk’
  • Nicholas Pickwoad, ‘Ligatus:  the importance of bindings and their description’
  • Claire Breay, ‘Commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015’
  • Allen Packwood, ‘The Churchill Papers: a modern historical epic’
  • Gerhard Müller, “Understanding Archival Metadata and Shaping Perspectives on the Benefits of Standards beyond the Simple Search.”

Reception at Royal Irish Academy and viewing of early medieval Irish manuscripts. Conference dinner, 1930

Friday 27 May, 0915-1200, private visits to Marsh’s Library and the Chester Beatty Library


Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

Eight decades of testimony- the Hall of Honour in TCD

In 1928 the Hall of Honour, which acts as the entrance to the 1937 Reading Room, was officially inaugurated. It was built to house the Roll of Honour, the names of Trinity staff, students and alumni who lost their lives in the First World War. On 26 September this year a specially-commissioned memorial stone will be unveiled on the plinth in front of the building to commemorate those whose names are inscribed within.

The order of service for the opening of the Hall of Honour in Front Square in 1928. (Gall.S.13.40)
The order of service for the opening of the Hall of Honour in Front Square in 1928. (Gall.S.13.40)

The Library began planning a new reading room before the War. In 1918 it was decided to build the portico first to serve as an immediate memorial to those who had died. The whole building was designed by architect Sir Thomas Manly Deane (1851-1932); it was one of the few architectural works he undertook after the death, at Gallipoli in 1915, of his son Thomas. The building work was overseen by John Good and the carving of the names was the work of a Mr. Harrison. The Reading Room itself was finished in 1937.

It had always intended to have some additional sculptural element on the central plinth in front of the Hall but this was never completed. The College Archives, which are kept in the Library, contain the drawings for the Hall, and the correspondence with the architect in which he discusses the addition of a sculptural element.

One of architect Thomas M Deane's drawings for the Hall of Honour and the Library reading room. (TCD MUN MC 42 p 11)
One of architect Thomas M Deane’s drawings for the Hall of Honour and the Library reading room. (TCD MUN MC 42 p 11)

The Hall of Honour was officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor Lord Glenavy in the presence of Provost E. J. Gwynn and invited guests. A two-minute silent black and white film of the event, by British Pathé, may be see on YouTube

In 2014 Provost Patrick Prendergast decided that one of the key Decade of Commemorations events would be the commissioning, installation and unveiling of a memorial stone, to be placed at the front of the Hall of Honour, drawing attention to nature of the building behind it. Sculptor Stephen Burke  accepted the commission and, in consultation with the Hall of Honour Memorial Stone committee, undertook to produce a Portland stone with the following text:

Tionscaíodh an Halla Onóra sa bhliain 1928 in onóir mball foirne, na mac léinn agus na gcéimithe de chuid Choláiste a fuair bás sa Chéad Chogadh Domhanda. Cuireadh críoch leis in 1937 le tógáil seomra léitheoireachta nua don leabharlann.

The Hall of Honour was inaugurated in 1928 in honour of the staff, students and alumni of the College who died in the First World War. It was completed in 1937 by the addition of a new reading room for the Library.

The formal handing over to the Provost of the key to the Hall of Honour was the first act in the inauguration of the Hall of Honour (TCD MS Object 27)
The formal handing over to the Provost of the key to the Hall of Honour was the first act in the inauguration of the Hall of Honour (TCD MS Object 27)

The unveiling of the Hall of Honour Memorial Stone will begin at 11.00 in Front Square and will be followed by a reception in the Dining Hall. All are welcome; please register your intention to attend here.

Jane Maxwell

A portrait of his love

It isn’t everyday that one finds oneself – as an archivist in an academic library – handling a piece of artwork by an internationally renowned painter. But that is what your humble author was doing recently.

Among our collections are the papers of Canon James Owen Hannay (1865-1950), Church of Ireland clergyman and, under the pseudonym George A. Birmingham, also a novelist. Hannay tried in his work to reflect with honesty the complex social circumstances he experienced in Ireland. However as a Protestant clergyman criticising any aspect of Catholic life, his early works attracted criticism. He was the target of a boycott, and he felt he had to withdraw from the Gaelic League in the wake of protests about the tour of his successful play General John Regan. Later Hannay found his métier when he deployed his comic voice; he was a gifted farceur whose philosophy was that ‘if we didn’t extract food for laughter out of failure we should go under’. Recently his reputation as a shrewd observer of the Irish society of his day has revived (Dict.Ir.Biog).

Photograph by Bassano, 23 March 1927. (The National Portrait Gallery).
Photograph by Bassano, 23 March 1927. (The National Portrait Gallery).

In 1889 he married his third cousin Adelaide Susan ‘Ada’ Wynne (d. 1933), with whom he claimed literally to have fallen ‘in love at first sight’. They had a happy marriage and four children. Adelaide shared her husband’s scholarly pursuits; his devotion to patristic study led to his appointment as Donnellan lecturer for 1901 at Trinity. These lectures, instituted in 1794 by the bequest of musician and woman-about-town Anne Donnellan, were initially held under the auspices of the School of Hebrew, Biblical and Theological Studies. Hannay’s lectures  were subsequently published as The spirit and origin of Christian monasticism (1903).

As part of the Library’s continuing engagement with the College’s Decade of Commemoration activities, the Hannay papers were prioritised for conservation treatment; Hannay served as an army chaplain from 1915 to 1918 and his experiences are described in A padre in France (1918). While the papers were being prepared for transfer to the Department of Preservation and Conservation an illustrated letter was noticed, in a strangely familiar hand; familiar in the sense of being almost illegible and yet recognisably the hand of Jack B.Yeats. The item had been correctly described by the cataloguer in the ’60s, but hadn’t been indexed under the artist’s name. So a would-be researcher would only find it if, like the Isla de Muerta in the Pirates of the Caribbean*, she already knew where it was.

Letter from J.B.Yeats to Ada Hannay. (MS 3457/28)
Letter from J.B.Yeats to Ada Hannay.
(MS 3457/28)

This is a letter to Ada Hannay in which Yeats thanks her for her criticism – not of his art surely? – and hopes that her husband will soon visit to give Yeats ‘a good opportunity’ presumably to sketch him. The postscript reads: ‘I send you here with suggestions for hanging those sketches’. When the letter is turned upside down we can see Yeats’ sketch of the Hannay family struggling to examine poorly hung paintings. While most of the figures are hurriedly drawn, the picture includes an attractive portrait sketch of Mrs Hannay, observing her young daughters.

'A certain kind of portrait should be hung either very high up or very low down'.
‘A certain kind of portrait should be hung either very high up or very low down’.

Irish writers, possibly particularly Anglo-Irish writers, have long been the subject of enthusiastic research by Japanese scholars. James Hannay is no different. One such scholar is Masahito Yahaka , Director of the Department of Community Studies, Beppu University Junior College, who has visited Trinity on several occasions and whom we hope to welcome again next year as a Long Room HUB Fellow. He says he was attracted to Hannay ‘because he wrote about the conflict between Nationalists and Unionists with humour. He teaches how important humour is to solve human conflicts and to lead a meaningful life’. Masahito Yahaka maintains a website dedicated to Birmingham.

* Popular cultural reference (!).

Jane Maxwell