Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.
Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
To continue our spooky journey through Spencer’s collections, this week I share Samhain or “All Hallowe’en.”: A Romantic Irish Cantata. As noted in the Concise Oxford Companion to Irish Literature, “Samhain had an important place in Celtic mythology as a time when the normal order is suspended to allow free passage between the natural and supernatural worlds.” As defined by Merriam-Webster, a cantata is “a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment.” This particular cantata was written and composed in 1902 expressly for the Dublin Musical Festival, or Feis Ceoil. Established in 1897, “Feis Ceoil Association promotes excellence in the learning and performance of music across all ages, levels and disciplines…Today, Feis Ceoil is an event of major significance in the development of musical talent in Ireland.” The festival now comprises 180 competitions with a diverse range of ages from seven years old and up.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week we are highlighting KU’s participation in Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. On June 30, 1922, in the midst of the Irish Civil War, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) was destroyed by an explosion and fire at the Four Courts in Dublin. As the Beyond 2022 website explains, seven centuries’ worth of Ireland’s historical records were lost in this fire.
To overcome this harm to “Ireland’s collective memory,” Beyond 2022 is undertaking an international collaboration to digitize copies of records held across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and beyond in order to launch a “Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access, virtual reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922.” One particularly exciting aspect of the initiative is its work with Transkribus to employ HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) to automate the transcription of manuscript records.
Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. A short video about Beyond 2022, explaining the project. Video available at https://beyond2022.ie/?page_id=171#videos. Photo Credits: UCD Archives; National Archives of Ireland; Irish Architectural Archive; NoHo; Trinity College Dublin; ADAPT Centre.
To assist in this ambitious effort, Spencer Research Library is digitizing several manuscripts from its collections that Beyond 2022 has identified as pertinent to its treasury. These manuscripts bearing on Irish history include volumes containing civil and military establishments for late 17th and early 18th century Ireland (MSD88, MS B86, and MS A42), a “Galtrim Parish tithe composition book,” Co. Meath, 1825 (MS P403A), and a volume containing “Copies of informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal,” 1863-1901 (MS E109). Such manuscripts are the types of records that might have once been held in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI).
Of these, MS E109 is particularly intriguing. The manuscript volume contains copies of depositions, informations, statements, and declarations of complainants, witnesses, and occasionally defendants taken between 1863 and 1901 in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district of Co. Donegal, a county in the northwest of Ireland bordering the Atlantic ocean. Petty Sessions were “courts held by the justices of the peace to try minor criminal offences summarily—i.e. without a jury.”[i] More serious cases would also be referred to other court proceedings, such as quarter sessions and assizes. (For a brief overview of the legal system in Ireland during the 19th century, visit the “History of the Law in Ireland” page on the website of The Courts Service of Ireland.)
Manuscripts such as the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district copy book can be particularly interesting to historians and genealogists alike because they offer views of the experiences and conditions of individuals for whom other types of written evidence may not exist or survive. For example, a significant number of those providing sworn informations and depositions in the Dunfanaghy copy book are recorded as having signed with their mark—the x or symbol that individuals unable to write would use in place of their signature. Such individuals are unlikely to have left other written documentation of their lives, such as letters or diaries, so their statements (though filtered through the clerk’s transcription) may be all that survives of their voices. Of course, it is worth remembering that a volume like the copy book for the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district isn’t necessarily capturing everyday life, but the experiences of individuals—whether complainants/victims, defendants, or witnesses—as their lives intersect with the legal system and crime.
Details from the sworn “informations” of James Gallagher (Item 5) and James Lindsay (Item 6) concerning the theft of clothes hanging in their respective gardens in December of 1863. The notations in the copy book suggest that Gallagher (left) signed with his mark, whereas Lindsay (right) used a signature. “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copybook, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click here to see the full page containing the sworn information of both Gallagher and Lindsay.
The types of offenses recorded in the copy book include fights, theft (of clothes, of oats, of horses, sheep, and cattle, etc.), unlicensed guns, misappropriation of letters, threats of violence, and resisting the bailiff’s confiscation of a horse, to name a few. Occasionally the volume also contains accounts of more serious and violent crimes, such as assault and battery, murder, and rape. The witness and complainant statements for these matters can be quite harrowing to read. These cases would be referred to the assizes, the courts where the most serious offences (felonies) were addressed.
Several sworn statements offer glimpses into some of the difficult conditions of the lives of women. One example involves the case of Mary McBride, who in the spring of 1871 is accused of the concealment of the birth of a child. The sworn informations associated her case can be challenging to read, not only because of the difficult subject matter, but also because they make reference to no fewer than three Mary McBrides: 1) the woman who gave birth (sometimes referred to as Mary McBride junior); 2) that woman’s mother (Mary McBride senior); and 3) Mary McBride junior’s sister-in-law (Mary McBride, wife to Michael McBride). However, it is worth pushing through the confusion that the shared names might pose since the content of the statements is likely to hold much interest for researchers in the field of women’s history; women, gender, and sexuality studies; and the law.
Though most of the cases are non-political, a few have a larger political valence. One notable instance relates to William Harkin of Creeslough, who is accused of inciting a meeting (which some witnesses referred to as a Land League meeting) to violence. The Land League was political agrarian organization that campaigned against landlordism and its more predatory practices, seeking rights for farmer tenants, such as fair rents, rights to sale of occupancy, and security of tenure. The date of the incident recorded in the Dunfanaghy copy book, July 11, 1881, falls during a period of heightened agrarian agitation referred to as the Land War, and indeed, later that year, the Land League would be suppressed and several of its national leaders, including Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, jailed. The Dunfanaghy copy book contains witness statements of three members of the Royal Irish Constabulary against Harkin. Constable Joseph Lougheed’s brief deposition reports, “In [Harkin’s] address or in the concluding words of it, he said ‘have no mercy on Landlords. Kill them, send them out of the country into Boersland.[’],” although he also notes, “When the word kill was used some voices in the meeting said, ‘no-no.’” News of the charges against Harkin reached as far as New South Wales, where Sydney’s TheFreeman’s Journal reported on it a month and a half later as part of a section on the Land War, under the heading “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder.”[ii] The depositions surrounding Harkin’s case may appeal to students and scholars studying Irish nationalism, reform movements, and agricultural history alike.
In the coming months, the five selected manuscripts will be made available online through Beyond 2022’s Treasury and in KU Libraries’ own digital collections, enabling researchers around the world to make new investigations into Irish history. On this St. Patrick’s Day, following a full year during which so many of our activities have migrated online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s exciting to think that students, scholars, and members of the public will soon be able to read (and make discoveries with) several of Spencer’s Irish manuscripts from wherever they can access a computer.
We hope that you are all at home and safe and practicing good social distancing this St. Patrick’s Day. To help, we’re sharing four images from our Irish Collections for you to print out and color in shades of green (or really any color of the rainbow). Click here for the printable PDF file. The first two images are from the Supplement to TheIrish Fireside from July of 1885, and feature “Heroines from Irish History.”
The next two images are from Young Ireland: An Irish Magazine of Entertainment and Instruction, founded by the Irish Nationalist Alexander Martin Sullivan, and continued by his brother, T. D. Sullivan.
That painting, housed at the National Gallery of Ireland, draws its theme from a medieval Danish ballad. As the museum’s label explains, the ballad tells the story of “Hellelil, who fell in love with her personal guard Hildebrand, Prince of Engelland. Her father disapproved of the relationship and ordered her seven brothers to kill the young prince.” Burton’s painting captures a moment of longing: a final fleeting meeting between the ill-fated couple.
One of the more astonishing aspects of the painting is that it is a watercolor (Burton always worked in watercolors rather than oils). To protect the painting from light damage, the National Gallery of Ireland has it on display for just two hours a week, keeping it behind protective panels the remainder of the time.
A more modest example of Burton’s artistry in watercolors resides at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library in a series of costume designs he made for a play by the writer Theodore Martin (more on this soon).
A native of Co. Clare, Frederic William Burton was born to a wealthy land-owning family. He moved to Dublin at ten and by sixteen had exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy. His early career was as a miniaturist and portraitist, always working in watercolors.
Through his friendship with the Irish antiquarian, George Petrie, Burton was inspired to turn to the Irish landscape and consider Irish subjects in his paintings, as in his 1841 watercolor The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child.
Burton’s connection to another friend, Thomas Davis, a leader of the nationalist Young Ireland movement, resulted in his contribution of the illustrated title page for The Spirit of the Nation (1845), an anthology of ballads and songs by Davis and other writers associated with periodical The Nation. At the time, however, Burton kept his contribution anonymous, reluctant to enter into the fray of politics. In a memorial tribute, Lady Gregory would recall that Burton had been in favor of Ireland’s union with England and did not share Davis’s nationalist politics, but that he had undertaken the title page to please his friend, “ there was nothing in the world he would not have done for Davis” . Spencer Research Library’s multiple copies of The Spirit of the Nation deserve a St. Patrick’s Day post of their own. The copy pictured below contains two inserted leaves of inscriptions of Young Irelanders Terence Bellew MacManus, Thomas Francis Meagher, Patrick O’Donohoe, and William Smith O’Brien, signed from Clonmel Gaol in Tipperary, following their 1848 attempted nationalist rising. The signature of O’Brien is visible on the leaf tipped in next to Burton’s illustrated title page.
As noted earlier, Spencer Library’s collections also reveal another dimension of Burton’s career as an artist. We hold a copy of a special volume belonging to the attorney and writer Sir Theodore Martin (with his bookplate). It comprises pages of the 1860 privately printed second edition of Martin’s play Madonna Pia: A Tragedy juxtaposed with 11 original watercolors of costume designs. Though the sketches are not signed, Martin included in his special volume a manuscript letter from the artist signed “FWB” alongside a portrait of Burton, signaling his identity as the artist. The letter was sent in November 1855, the date of the first edition of Martin’s play, from Munich, where Burton was serving as curator of the Royal collection for Maximilian II of Bavaria.
In the letter, likely addressed to Martin’s wife, the actress Helena Faucit, Burton apologizes for the quality of his watercolors. He self-deprecatingly explains:
These hasty sketches are not indeed what I had intended – but just as I was engaged about them the Fine Arts were under a cloud from weather such as ever you Londoners need not have envied us. They are very scribbly & coarse — & I fear none of them will answer, – but you will gratify me by giving them to any little relatives you may have under five years of age to amuse themselves by sticking pins through them.
Fortunately for us, Martin preserved the watercolors and bound them together with a later edition of his play. Madonna Pia takes its inspiration from a passage in Dante’s Purgatorio to tell the story of Pia’s imprisonment and poisoning by her jealous husband, Count Nello della Pietra. It was a popular subject during the Victorian era; KU’s Spencer Museum of Art holds a later painting, Pia de’ Tolomei, by pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti that references the same tale from Dante.
Three years after Frederic William Burton executed his “hasty sketches,” he took up residence in London. There, he was part of the circle of Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelite artists, and it was during this time that he painted “Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs.” In 1874, Burton was made director of London’s National Gallery, and he retired from painting. Though he died in London on the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1900, Burton returned to Ireland in death. He was buried in Dublin’s Mount Jerome Cemetery, and his work was exhibited at Dublin’s National Gallery later that same year. In her remembrance, Lady Gregory wrote that despite his years spent abroad, which left him “almost forgotten” in Dublin, Burton’s “heart was Irish to the last” .
Come examine Frederic William Burton’s watercolor sketches for Madonna Pia at Spencer Research Library, and then continue on to explore other materials in our Irish Collections. Not certain where to start? Take a glance at some past blog posts or explore our Irish Collections LibGuide.
Elspeth Healey Special Collections Librarian
 Gregory, Lady Augusta. “Sir Frederic Burton.” The Leader: A Review of Current Affairs, Politics, Literature, Art and Industry. Vol 1, no. 15 (8 December 1900): 231. Call Number: O’Hegarty E98.
With St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) just around the corner, grocery stores and pubs are suddenly awash in four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, and other trappings of the commercial elements of the holiday. But why fixate on leprechauns when the world of Irish fairy folk is so much broader? How well do you know your Irish fairies?
Title page and frontispiece from Yeats’s Irish Fairy and Folk Tales (1893),
an illustrated edition of his earlier Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888). Call Number: Yeats Y191. Click to enlarge.
The Irish poet W. B. Yeats wrote more than once about Ireland’s different varieties of fairies. In 1888, when Yeats was in his early twenties, he edited a volume titled Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, which collected stories and poems by a variety of writers on the supernatural elements of Irish folklore. In organizing the book, he assembled its pieces under several headings, including “Ghosts,” “Giants,” and “Saints, Priests.” However, he accorded fairies a place of particular honor (as is their due in Irish folklore) by beginning the anthology with them and including several short section prefaces detailing their ways. When a few years later Yeats published the anthology Irish Fairy Tales (1892) for T. Fisher Unwin’s “Children’s Library Series,” he penned an appendix offering a “Classification of Irish Fairies.”
It would be a mistake to confuse one’s Leprechauns with one’s Merrows, since fairies — or the “gentry” as they prefer to be called — are easily offended. Thus in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we share a shortened version of Yeats’s classification below.
Yeats begins his schema by dividing Irish fairydom into two classes: the sociable (or “Trooping Fairies,” as he named them in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry) and the solitary. Of these two varieties, he writes, “The first are in the main kindly, and the second are full of uncharitableness.”
The Sociable Fairies “go about in troops, and quarrel, and make love, much as men and women do.” They are subdivided into two main types:
The Sheoques (in Irish, Sidheog, “a little fairy”): Sheoques are land fairies, whom Yeats describes as “the spirits that haunt the sacred thornbushes and green raths.” While Sheoques are on the whole good, they have one “most malicious habit”: “They steal children and leave a withered fairy, a thousand or maybe two thousand years old, instead.” If this isn’t enough to inspire terror in Yeats’s child readers, he continues nonchalantly, “Now and then one hears of some real injury being done a person by the land fairies, but then it is nearly always deserved. They are said to have killed two people in the last six months in the County Down district where I am now staying. But then these persons had torn up thorn bushes belonging to the Sheoques.” I suspect Yeats’s proviso comes as little comfort to anyone who counts yardwork or landscaping among their chores!
The Merrows (in Irish, Moruadh, “a sea maid)”: These are water fairies. Yeats writes that Thomas Croker, the author of Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), suggests that “[t]he men among them […] have green teeth, green hair, pigs’ eyes, and red noses; but their women are beautiful and prefer handsome fishermen to their green-haired lovers.” Yeats, himself, is more skeptical and comments that he has never “heard tell of this grotesque appearance of the male Merrows” and judges it “probably a merely local Munster tradition.”
What type of fairy is that? Title page for W. B. Yeats’ Irish Fairy Tales (1892) with frontispiece illustration
by Yeats’s brother, Jack B. Yeats. Call Number: Yeats Y194. Click image to enlarge.
Yeats next delineates nine subcategories of Solitary Fairies, whom he characterizes as “nearly all gloomy and terrible in some way”:
The Lepricaun (in Irish, Leith bhrogan, “the one shoe maker”): Of this staple of St. Patrick’s Day, Yeats writes, “This creature is seen sitting under a hedge mending a shoe, and one who catches him can make him deliver up his crocks of gold, for he is a miser of great wealth; but if you take your eyes off him the creature vanishes like smoke.” Don’t expect to find him in outfitted in green, though. Yeats notes that according to McAnally, author of Irish Wonders (1888), the leprechaun wears “a red coat with seven buttons in each row, and a cocked-hat, on the point of which he sometimes spins like a top.” One wonders if Yeats’s leprechaun might also be responsible for other types of mischief, such as the fact that Yeats spells his name “Lepracaun“ in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) but “Lepricaun“ in Irish Fairy Tales (1892).
The Cleuricaun (in Irish, Clobltair-cean): Yeats notes that some writers “consider this to be another name for the Lepricaun, given him when he has laid aside his shoe-making at night and goes on the spree.” These fairies’ enthusiasms include “robbing wine-cellars” and “riding sheep and shepherds’ dogs.”
The Gonconer or Ganconagh (in Irish, Gean-canogh, i.e. love-talker): A “creature of the Lepricaun type” who, unlike his industrious cobbler brethren, is idle. Yeats notes he “appears in lonely valleys, always with a pipe in his mouth, and spends his time in making love to shepherdesses and milkmaids.”
[Would Yeats have concurred that modern St. Patrick’s Day celebrants perhaps possesses a touch of the Clericaun and Gonconer in their (admittedly sociable) revelry?]
The Far Darrig (in Irish, Fear Dearg, i.e. red man): This fairy is “the practical joker of the other world” whom Yeats deems a “lubberly wretch.” Like the Pooka (below), “he presides over evil dreams.”
The Pooka (in Irish, Púca, “a word derived by some from poc, a he-goat)”: Yeats notes that this fairy usually takes the shape of “a horse, a bull, a goat, eagle, or ass” and “most likely never appeared in human form.” He is of the “family of the nightmare” and “[h]is delight is to get a rider, whom he rushes with through ditches and rivers and over mountains, and shakes off in the gray of morning.”
The Dullahan: This fairy must be a relative of the headless horseman who appears in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Yeats explains that he “has no head, or carries it under his arm,” and can be seen “driving a black coach called coach-a-bower (Ir. Coite-bodhar), drawn by headless horses.” If you hear his carriage rumble by, keep your door closed, for if you open it “a basin of blood is thrown in your face.” As one might guess from such an unwelcome greeting, the Dullahan is “an omen of death to the houses where it pauses.”
The Leanhaun Shee (in Irish, Leanhaunsidhe, i.e. fairy mistress ): Yeats writes, “This spirit seeks the love of men. If they refuse, she is their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding one to take their place. Her lovers waste away, for she lives on their life.” He also refers to her as the “Gaelic muse” and asserts that many of the Gaelic poets have had a Leanhaun Shee, “for she gives inspiration to her slaves.”
The Far Gorta (man of hunger): An emaciated fairy who “goes through the land in famine time, begging and bring good luck to the giver.”
The Banshee (in Irish, Bean-sidhe, i.e. fairy woman): In addition to the Leprechaun, the Banshee is perhaps the other Irish fairy who will be familiar to American audiences. Yeats notes that like the Far Gorta (and unlike the other solitary fairies), the Banshee possesses a “generally good disposition.” He suggests that perhaps she isn’t really a solitary fairy after all, “but a sociable fairy grown solitary through much sorrow.” The Banshee wails over the impending the death of “a member of some old Irish family.” Yeats observes, “Sometimes she is an enemy of the house and screams with triumph, but more often a friend.” In Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, Yeats remarks that the “keen [caoine], the funeral cry of the peasantry, is said to be an imitation of her cry.” If more than one Banshee arrives to wail, it is a sign the dying person “must have been very holy or very brave.”
Yeats closes his taxonomy by alluding to other varieties of fairies “of which too little is known to give them each a separate mention.” Among these are the Bo men fairies of County Down, whom Yeats suggests are “Scotch fairies imported by Scotch settlers.” This last detail offers us some hope of encountering Irish fairies on American shores, for its seems that, like us, fairy folk can travel.
To read Yeats’s “Classification of Irish Fairies” in full click here to access the appendix in PDF form or visit Spencer Research Library’s reading room to explore further writings on the topic by Yeats, Lady Wilde, Thomas Crocker, Douglas Hyde, and others in Spencer’s Irish Collections. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!