John Pentland Mahaffy is renowned as one of the more colourful characters in the history of Trinity College Dublin. A classicist who ended his career as Provost (1914-1919), his interest in music is less well known but had considerable beneficial impact on the development of the Library’s music collections.
When Sir Robert Prescott Stewart died in 1894 it was Mahaffy who proposed to the Board that Ebenezer Prout should succeed him as Professor of Music, submitting several of Prout’s books on music theory as testimonials. Prout held the post until his death in December 1909, and in his will stipulated that Trinity College should be given the option of purchasing his extensive music library “at a reasonable price”. Prout had valued the collection at £1000, but Mahaffy on behalf of the College agreed to buy it for half that amount. He raised over £300 from friends for the purpose, and the Board supplied the remainder. The Bursar paid a further £60 out of College funds for a new bookcase to house the collection: this was placed down the centre of the Long Room where it remained until the 1960s, when the collection was transferred to the Berkeley Library basement and the bookcase was removed to the basement of Townley Hall.
This was Mahaffy’s most important contribution to the Library’s music holdings, but it was not the first. In June 1903 he had paid 30 shillings for the manuscript of ‘Caractacus’ by the Earl of Mornington, written in 1764, the year of Mornington’s appointment as the first Professor of Music. The manuscript is currently on display in the ‘In Tune’ exhibition.
Mahaffy may also have had a hand in the deposit of James Goodman’s collection of folk tunes in 1897. When the Irish folk music scholar Donal O’Sullivan attempted to consult the Goodman collection in the 1940s he discovered that the terms of the deposit stipulated that the volumes could only be seen in the presence of Professor Mahaffy. As Mahaffy had died in 1919, it was found necessary to make contact with Goodman’s grandson, who formally presented the manuscripts to the College in September 1944.
You can listen to an interview with Roy Stanley about the In Tune exhibition on the Arena show on RTE Radio 1 14 January 2014. The interview begins at 23.30.