Friday, July 19, 2013

Building the ultimate Library of Irish archaeology and history. Part I: The Annals

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I’m afraid that I’m becoming ‘that’ guy. I’m becoming the old dude who harangues the younger generation about how they don’t know how good they’ve got it. I’m turning into a one-man version of that famous Monty Python sketch. But it’s true! The younger generation don’t know how good they’ve got it! Take books, for example. These days there are any number of places where you can find the latest research on line. Admittedly, all too frequently, it’s held just out of reach behind a pay wall … but it is there and it can be found. When I was first in university the only way to search for a particular volume was by trawling through the card index. One of the disadvantages of this system was that you pretty much had to know exactly what you were looking for. The cabinets, filled with individual hand-written and typed cards, were sufficiently vast to make it prohibitively difficult to search through by hand. In the early 90s I spent quite a bit of time hanging about the James Hardiman Library at UCG (now the National Universityof Ireland, Galway). Ostensibly, I was working on my Master’s thesis, but, in reality, I was just reading anything that took my fancy. On many days my routine would be to immerse myself in the card index for several hours, flitting form author to subject index, and back again, all the while taking careful note of bibliographical details and shelf location numbers. When it came to volumes not publicly available, all relevant details (and many not so relevant ones) had to be carefully transcribed onto pre-printed library cards and handed to a (generally) less than enthused librarian for collection from … The Basement!

For an awful long time the term ‘The Basement’ represented a number of things to me. It was a place where all the old books were kept – the good stuff! In terms of my personal interests, it was where they hid all the writings by the luminaries of early Irish archaeology and history … that’s where you’d find anything written by GeorgePetrie, John O’Donovan, Whitley Stokes, William Copeland Borlase, and (my favourite) Thomas Johnson Westropp. It was a place where only the librarians could go. With that came the realisation that anything requested from the depths would, invariably, take some time to retrieve. Somewhere along the way, I must have become enough of a fixture (or exasperation) around the library that one day one of the librarians said: ‘look, we’re pretty busy – why don’t you go down and get it yourself?’ After that, things moved pretty quickly. At first, I asked permission every time I wanted to get into the basement. This was eventually reduced to just waving and pointing at the descending spiral staircase, mouthing ‘basement? Ok?’ In time this was cut back to simply greeting any member of staff that happened to be about – they all knew where I was going and that, once installed, would cause little trouble and no damage. It was there, down in that quiet, dusty cathedral of the printed word that I learned to truly appreciate old books. It was such a joy to be able to perch on top of a ladder and browse row after row of beautifully preserved, but largely forgotten, volumes. I became used to the privilege of being able to go down there and settle in for a quiet trawl through an armful of rare volumes at any time I liked – within library hours, anyway. And therein lay the problem. These were rare volumes, not on public display, and for reference only. While I may have been granted an exemption that allowed me access to The Basement, no amount of nodding friendship with the library staff would grant me the right to bring these volumes home. Rather than stealing these wonderful books – and it did cross my mind – I decided that I’d buy my own copies. Unfortunately, in the real world, the amassing of a collection of rare volumes does not go hand in hand with being an unemployed graduate student and my dreams lay unfulfilled. As the years have passed, I’ve collected some lovely volumes, but hardly the impressive library I’d once envisioned. However, time and technology have moved on from the card index and the dusty shelves that fueled the imagination of my much younger self. This is why I say that researchers entering the field have a much easier time accessing these older volumes than ever before. It’s probably not an overstatement to say that getting your hands on a PDF copy of a 19th century volume is easier today than it ever has been – even easier than on the day it was published!

A number of institutions have selflessly engaged in the scanning of tens of thousands of volumes in their collections and made them freely available to anyone interested – all that’s necessary is an internet connection and the will to find them. At this time my plan is to share a set of links to some of the volumes I’ve found, over a series of blog posts. It is in no way exhaustive, so I’m happy to add links to volumes that may have escaped my attention. In this way, you too can amass an important repository of archaeological and historical knowledge, without expending anything more than your electricity bill and your broadband download allowance.

In this first instalment, I want to concentrate on some of the volumes closest to my heart: the Irish annals

The Annals of the Four Masters
The description in Wikipedia reads: “The annals are mainly a compilation of earlier annals, although there is some original work. They were compiled between 1632 and 1636 in the Franciscan friary in Donegal Town. The entries for the twelfth century and before are sourced from medieval annals of the community. The later entries come from the records of the Irish aristocracy (such as the Annals of Ulster), and the seventeenth-century entries are based on personal recollection and observation.”

The definitive edition is John O’Donovan’s, published in 1856 in seven volumes:

Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616

There’s also Owen Connellan’s earlier (1846), but less regarded, single volume edition:

The Annals of Loch Cé cover events, mainly in Connacht and its neighbouring regions, from 1014 to 1590. It takes its name from Lough Cé in the kingdom of Moylurg - now north County Roscommon - which was the centre of power of the Clan MacDermot. For its earliest centuries it used the Annals of Boyle (source: Wikipedia). William Maunsell Hennessy edited a two volume collection in 1871.

The Annals of Loch Cé. A chronicle of Irish affairs from A.D. 1014 to A.D. 1590

The Annals of Ulster span the years from AD 431 to AD 1540. The entries up to AD 1489 were compiled in the late 15th century by the scribe Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín, under his patron Cathal Óg Mac Maghnusa on the island of Belle Isle on Lough Erne in the province of Ulster. Later entries (up to AD 1540) were added by others. Previous annals dating as far back as the 6th century were used as a source for the earlier entries, and later entries were based on recollection and oral history. T. M. Charles-Edwards has claimed that the main source for its records of the first millennium AD is a now lost Armagh continuation of The Chronicle of Ireland. (source: Wikipedia).

Annals of Ulster. Otherwise Annala Senait, Annals of Senat. A chronicle of Irish affairs from A.D. 432, to A.D. 1540
Volume I (1887 W. M. Hennessy ed.)
Volume II (1893 B. Mac Carthy ed.)
Volume III (1895 B. Mac Carthy ed.)

The Annals of Clonmacnoise are an early 17th-century Early Modern English translation of a lost Irish chronicle, which covered events in Ireland from pre-history to A.D. 1408. The work is sometimes known as Mageoghagan’s Book, after its translator. (source: Wikipedia). Denis Murphy published them in 1896.

The Annals of Tigernach is a chronicle probably originating in Clonmacnoise, Ireland. The language is a mixture of Latin and Old and Middle Irish. (source: Wikipedia) These were published by Whitley Stokes in Review Celtique (1895-1897, 15-19).

There are a number of other annals that are also worth investigation, and are available online: (see the Wikipedia article on Annals of Ireland for more information)

Annales Hiberniae (1842) edited by James Grace
The annals of Ireland (1849) edited by Richard Butler

If I’ve missed out any, or there are better versions available, let me know and I’ll incorporate them into the text.

OK ... I may be turning into 'that' guy who harangues the youth about how they've never had it so good ... but I'm not jealous - I'm joyous!  After 20 years I now have my own collection of these beautiful and endlessly fascinating volumes - for free. I'll always prefer the smell and heft of a real book, but PDFs have their attractions too. If I've introduced even one person to these volumes for the first time, that will be something special, too.

So ... go ... explore! There's so much to see! You, lucky, lucky people!

Update: Lisa Spangenberg reminds me that there is a treasure trove of early Irish literature and related materials available from the CELT (Corpus of Electronic Texts) website, and can be made into searchable ebooks.

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