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Moore Letters spanning 50 years of trans-Atlantic correspondence acquired by Trinity College Dublin

May 12, 2023 - A collection of some 830 letters written by members of two related families, the Moores and Hughes, who resided in Derry and Baltimore, has been acquired by Trinity College Dublin. On Wednesday 10th May at the Trinity Long Room Hub, this valuable correspondence was the subject of a discussion organised by the School of Histories and Humanities in association with the Library of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Galway, and the Trinity Long Room Hub.

Spanning the years 1798 to 1846 the bulk of this vast archive consists of a two-way flow of letters between eight principals (some based in Derry, some in Maryland), with several of them continuing to correspond for over forty years. The letters were kept in an attic belonging to the family and, after being rediscovered, were quickly recognised for their significance. As a result, they have become the subject of the decade-long Moore Letters Project led by Professor David Dickson (TCD) and Professor Breandán Mac Suibhne (University of Galway). This project has involved the meticulous transcription of the letters which are now being prepared for full publication by the Irish Manuscripts Commission. It is expected that the collection’s publication will inform research on the practices of long-distance letter-writing and shed light on wider studies of diasporic communities.

Image: Sam Moore at his desk in Baltimore in 1834, sketch by his brother-in-law from TCD MS 11697

The forced departure in 1798 of Robert Moore, a leading Derry United Irishman, was the catalyst for the scattering of a large family, and the letters document how cousins and siblings managed to keep in touch during the half a century up to eve of the Great Famine.  They reveal a vast exchange of news and opinion, documenting what Professor David Dickson describes as “a network of great survivors”.  On the U.S. side, the letters recount anecdotes of high society in Washington and scandals in the boom-town of Baltimore;  the Irish letters trace the mixed fortunes of their relatives in many parts of the country. Women feature prominently and almost half of the 105 letter writers are female. The letters also provide insights into literary networks, theatre and other elements of middle-class culture in the early nineteenth century.   The collection also provides rich information on child rearing and gender relations in Ireland and America, and on the disappearance of Irish Presbyterian radicalism after 1798.

Image from left to right: Laura Shanahan, Claire Connolly, Amy Prendergast, David Dickson, Pippa Moore, Robert Moore, and Breandán Mac Suibhne.

This week, members of the Moore family and others interested in the current plans for publication of the letters heard from speakers Professor Claire Connolly (School of English, University College Cork), Dr Jane Maxwell (Manuscripts Curator, TCD Library), Professor Ciaran O’Neill (Deputy Director Trinity Long Room Hub, Department of History TCD), Professor Amy Prendergast (School of English, TCD), Professor Breandán Mac Suibhne (Acadamh na hOllscolaiochta Gaeilge, University of Galway, and Project Co-editor) and Professor David Dickson (Trinity Long Room Hub Emeritus Research Fellow, and Project Co-editor).

Announcing the official acquisition of the letters by Trinity College Dublin, Laura Shanahan, Head of Research Collections spoke of what this near 50-year record means to the Library:

“This collection is of great importance to the Library. It is particularly special because of the nature of the multiple two-way correspondences across the Atlantic within and beyond this significant family. Its survival in this form is extremely unusual, and its completeness more so. With the Moore’s foresight, we are thrilled to be able to say that this collection will remain on the island of Ireland, here in Trinity, and will be made accessible to a global network of researchers and the wider public.

...we are thrilled to be able to say that this collection will remain on the island of Ireland, here in Trinity, and will be made accessible to a global network of researchers and the wider public.

There is no doubt of the historical value of this collection which places the human experience so immediately in place and time. As we continue to recognise the critical role of arts and humanities research for society, The Moore Papers Project again reminds us of the value of the archive and the library in preserving, maintaining and providing supported access to the historical record for such research, which in turn facilitates understanding of our heritage and indeed ourselves.”

Professor David Dickson commented: “This is a unique archive, almost unknown to historians and literary scholars, which will open up multiple opportunities for research into culture and class in pre-Famine Ireland and will illuminate the remarkably strong connections between north-west Ulster and the early United States.”


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