Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aloysius O'Kelly Lecture

Professor Niamh O'Sullivan of the National College of Art and Design will give the last in our current series of lectures on 16th November at 6.30 pm in the library. Her topic will be the Dublin-born painter Aloysius O'Kelly (1853-1936).

Professor O'Sullivan's extensive research on O'Kelly culminated this year in the publication of her book Aloysius O'Kelly : Art, Nation, Empire which combines a biography of the painter with an illustrated catalogue of his work.

O'Kelly's Mass in a Connemara Cabin (shown above) is perhaps one of his most familiar images today. The story of how an Edinburgh priest, alerted via an internet article that Prof. O'Sullivan was trying to locate this painting, contacted her to say that he had a work signed by O'Kelly hanging in his sitting-room, is well known. The archbishop of Edinburgh, once the work had been identified, generously offered it on permanent loan to the National Gallery in Dublin.

Interestingly, as Fintan Cullen has noted, the painting was originally exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1884: the first painting of an Irish subject to be included since the Salon's inauguration in the early 18th century.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Our Newman Lecture

As announced in my last posting, Dr Teresa Iglesias was due to give a lecture on Newman on October 19th. She had to withdraw at the last moment, and Dr Angelo Bottone kindly agreed to replace her. (Copies of Teresa Iglesias's edition of Newman's Idea of a University are available for loan from our Lending department).

Dr Bottone focused on Newman's Dublin writings, and on his general experiences as founding rector of the Catholic University. The talk drew on Dr Bottone's recently published book The Philosophical Habit of Mind : rhetoric and person in John Henry Newman's Dublin writings". If you would like to know more about Angelo's work as a lecturer and author, see his blog at

Our Newman exhibition, with a number of first editons and some interesting visual material on display, continues until 21st November, due to public interest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Newman's Literary Workmanship

The Central Catholic Library is marking the recent beatification of John Henry Newman with two events. The first of these is an exhibition of early editions of Newman's writings, and is a collaboration between our Honorary Librarian, Peter Costello, and Newman scholar Dr. Angelo Bottone. (1st - 22nd October).

Secondly, Professor Teresa Iglesias (a founding member of the Newman Society) will give a lecture in the Library on 19th October. She will speak about her editorial work on a new edition of Newman's The Idea of a University, published to mark the 15oth anniversary of University College Dublin.

The essays contained in The Idea of a University are of perennial interest. They are also a very good introduction to Newman's work for those readers who are not sure par quel bout prendre this prolific thinker. To focus on just one aspect, the essays offer a perfect example of Newman's "silver-veined prose" (as Joyce called it). And in fact, they also contain a commentary on that prose, encapsulated in the concept of "literary workmanship".

Newman uses the phrase in the essay entitled "Literature", as he works out a theory of literary creativity. He understands the act of writing as being aligned with plastic arts such as sculpture. The writer works words into texts as a potter works clay. For why, asks Newman "should not language be wrought as well as the clay of the modeller?" He imagines the writer shaping a text, drafting, correcting, redrafting, "taking pains", constantly learning his craft, devoloping a personal style as he thinks his way in words. For style, as Newman defines it, is "a thinking out in language", and the dedication to faithfully and appropriately expressing his thought is the essence of the writer's creative integrity.

This understanding of the literary act underpins Newman's achievements as a literary stylist and hence, we might say, as a thinker. One of his biographers, Brian Martin, describes the cardinal as one of the greatest of English nineteenth century prose stylists, and this is a judgement shared by many, including Joyce.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ireland's Foremost Romantic


In Siberia's wastes
The Ice-wind's breath
Woundeth like the toothèd steel.
Lost Siberia doth reveal
Only blight and death.

These lines are from the poem by James Clarence Mangan (1803-49), who has been called Ireland's foremost Romantic poet. Mangan's handling of rhyme and metre fuse with his dramatic imagery to give his poem the intensity which Yeats considered Mangan's most important characteristic.

Mangan will feature in the library's exhibition for Culture Night, which takes place later this month. Our exhibition, curated by the hon. librarian Peter Costello, will focus on "Writers and Artists of the South Georgian Quarter". Mangan was associated with the area through his early training as a scrivener in York Street, and his work on the staff of the library at Trinity College. One of the items on display will be a 1904 edition of "Irish and Other Poems" by Mangan.

Mangan's reputation was greatly enhanced by the publication of a new scholarly edition of his complete works between 1996-2002. These seven volumes include a full bibliography by Jacques Chuto, and a fascinating biography by Ellen Shannon-Mangan.

In a life marked by financial distress, periodic unemployment, illness and alcoholism, Mangan's prolific literary output shows his skills as a linguist, and his love of game-playing (with language and with identity). Also evident is his knowlege of English and continental Romanticism, and the ways in which he appropriated the themes and idioms of this movement for his own use.

Baptized simply James, he used the added "Clarence" constantly to sign his poems during the eighteen years of his professional life, quoting Shakespeare's Richard III: "Clarence is come, false, fleeting, perjured Clarence". As James Clarence Mangan, he was free to pursue the "perfection of the work", both expressing and transcending the suffering that marked his life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Books 1

This year has seen the publication of new titles by three regular contributors to religious debate in Ireland. They are Michael Paul Gallagher SJ, Mark Patrick Hederman OSB, and journalist John Waters.

Fr Gallagher's book is called Faith Maps : ten religious explorers from Newman to Joseph Ratzinger. The idea of a "map of faith" is a potent one. The historian of cartography G.R. Crone once defined the purpose of map-making as being "to express graphically the relations of points and features on the earth's surface to each other". The key term here, feeding into map-making in the figurative sense, is "relation". Through what might be called "conceptual" maps we can detect, define, observe and create relationships. We can show where one element is in relation to others. We can plot an emotional, intellectual or spiritual landscape.

Fr Gallagher explains that each chapter of Faith Maps "takes a major religious thinker and asks how he or she would point us in the direction of Christian faith". His ten "map-makers" range from John Henry Newman to the present Pope, and include theologians such as Hans Urs Von Balthasar, artists such as Flannery O'Connor and philosophers such as Charles Taylor. Fr Gallagher is addressing both reflective believers and questing unbelievers. His book is an invitation to enrich our theological awareness, or (as he puts it), our knowledge regarding "the long tradition of pondering the strangeness and surprise called God".

The value of a "thinking faith" is to the fore also in the books by Fr Hederman and John Waters. In Underground Cathedrals, Fr Hederman assesses the role that art and artists could have in the renewal of religious faith in Ireland. In Beyond Consolation, Waters takes as his starting point the radio interview given by Nuala O'Faolain a month before her death from cancer in 2008. The bleakness of O'Faolain's despair prompts Waters' exploration of what we believe as Christians, why we believe, how we believe. On of this major themes is the impoverishment of the language with which faith is discussed in contemporary Ireland.

These are three very different books, but each one in its own way encourages us to maintain a state of faith through reflection, never taking belief for granted, never resting on the laurels of tradition, working on our own "faith maps".

All three titles are available for borrowing here in the library. For details of these and other recent accessions click on the Library Thing link in our accessions page at

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lough Derg - the French Connection

Still on the theme of Lough Derg, Laurence Flynn reproduces this image, in which Christ gives Saint Patrick his pastoral staff, and also shows him the purgatorial cave. The staff is known in Irish as the Bacall Íosa or staff of Jesus.

The first French connection is that the image is contained in a manuscript held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A second connection is provided by the French actor and writer Antonin Artaud (1896-1948). Troubled throughout his life by depression, drug addiction and mental instability, Artaud was a compelling actor and a visionary writer of plays, poems and essays. In the Paris of the 1920's he carved out a role in avant-garde theatrical productions, in cinema (playing the part of Jean-Paul Marat in Abel Gance's Napoleon), and with the surrealist movement. In the following decade he would further develop his ideas on theatre, and produce his innovative adaptation on Shelley's verse drama The Cenci.

In the late 1930's Artaud travelled, to Mexico, Brussels and .... Ireland. Dr. Douglas Smith of University College Dublin presented a paper on Artaud's Irish visit at a conference held in Dublin in 2007. Dr Smith discussed the three reasons given by the French writer for his trip, and explained that only the first of these came from a shared intellectual experience. This was Artaud's search for the living roots of an ancient Western tradition, that of the Celts. His motivation here was in tune with the early twentieth-century feeling about Celtic culture, which influenced contemporaries such as J. M. Synge and Robert Flaherty (director of the film Man of Aran). Artaud's other motives, while also linked to the culture of ancient Ireland, reveal his mental isolation and vulnerability. He believed that a decorated walking stick he had been given in Paris was the Bacall Íosa, the staff of Saint Patrick himself, and he wanted to return it to Ireland. Lastly, Artaud wanted to find the "cup of Christ", the Holy Grail, which he was certain could be discovered in the National Museum in Dublin.

The full story of Artaud's stay in Ireland is related by Stephen Barber in his 1993 study Antonin Artaud : blows and bombs. Arriving in Cobh on 14th August 1937, Artaud was deported from the same port as an "undesirable alien" on 29th September. He had stayed in the West, both on the island of Inis Mór and in the city of Galway. With little English and very little money, he left behind him a string of unpaid bills, and ended up in Dublin, where he slept rough until he was arrested for vagrancy. He was imprisoned for six days in Mountjoy prison before his deportation. The cane, the Bacall Íosa, disappeared during his arrest. While in Dublin Artaud had visited both the National Museum and Saint Patrick's cathedral with the aim of returning it to the Irish.

This French connection to the Purgatory of Lough Derg is completed by a letter Artaud wrote from Galway to a friend in Paris, mentioning that he would like to extend his journey north, to Donegal, because of the county's connection to Patrick. It is likely that he had the Purgatory in mind.

Friday, July 16, 2010

St Patrick's Purgatory, Lough Derg

One of our recently acquired books is a volume from the Irish Heritage Series. Written by Laurence J. Flynn, it describes the pilgrimage site known as St Patrick's Purgatory, on Lough Derg in County Donegal.

A Lough Derg motif has been running through library events in the first half of 2010, as we had a lecture on the topic in May from Professor Jean-Michel Picard of University College Dublin, and also organised an exhibition with displays of maps, guidebooks, histories, illustrations and literary references to the site.

Lough Derg, with its cave, exemplifies the medieval conception of purgatory as a physical place, rather than merely the "state" of church teaching. According to medievalist Jacques Le Goff, this emphasis on "place" rather than "state" occured between 1170 and 1200. Le Goff calls the development "the birth of purgatory". The cave known as St Patrick's Purgatory is one of the oldest of these sites, and its location on an island in the middle of a lake illustrates the medieval motif of water (whether lake, river, or well) constituting a border between this world and the spiritual world, allowing passage from one to the other.

Professor Picard, during his talk, discussed the wealth of medieval descriptions of the Lough Derg pilgrimage which were produced throughout Europe. These include Hugh of Saltry's Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii (The Legend of St Patrick's Purgatory), written in 1184. Hugh described a pilgrimage of thirty days, undertaken once the authorities on the island had made clear the trials to be undergone. The pilgrim would fast for fifteen days, after which he would attend Mass and receive communion. He would then be lead to the entrace of the purgatorial cave, and warned of the devils and other dangers to be faced. If his resolve held, Benediction would be said, the pilgrim would enter the cave, and the door would be bolted after him. He would expect to see visions of the otherworld, of the pains of purgatory and the joys of heaven. Once released from the cave the next morning, the pilgrim spent another fifteen days on the island, and thus completed his pilgrimage.

The modern pilgrimage is, of course, very different, and information on this can be found at But the medieval belief that Purgatory had "a local habitation and a name", where the worlds of human experience, temporal and spiritual, could intersect, continues surely to resonate.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New from the Central Catholic Library

This blog is a new feature for the Central Catholic Library site.

I've called it Frontispiece because I imagine it as having the same relationship to our web pages as an illustration or frontispiece has to the title page of a book.

I'll be using the blog to situate aspects of our activities, collections and services within the wider cultural world of which the library is a part.