Skip to main content

‘A handsome donation’

Celebrating 150 years of the Haliday Collection at the Royal Irish Academy #Haliday150

In January 1867 the Royal Irish Academy received a letter from Mr Richard Welch announcing that Mrs Mary Haliday had decided to donate her late husband’s collection of books, pamphlets and manuscripts to the Royal Irish Academy Library. The letter notes that Mrs Haliday is

‘desirous to pay this tribute to the memory of her late beloved and lamented husband, and at the same time to preserve to the Royal Irish Academy so valuable and unique a collection.’

Letter from Richard Welch to the Royal Irish Academy, 9 Jan 1867.

The collection was welcomed as

‘a handsome donation, which will form so important an accession to the Library of the Academy and prove so beneficial in future times to the students of Irish history’[i]


The collection consists of some 36,000 pamphlets, tracts & broadsides, 800 books and 290 manuscripts. If you visit the Reading Room of the RIA Library you will see Haliday’s pamphlets lining the walls of the Gallery. Mrs Haliday’s Monkstown house must have felt quite bare when the collection was moved into its new home in Academy House. Follow the Library Twitter account for a Haliday pamphlet every day throughout January #Haliday150.

To celebrate 150 years of this remarkable collection the Library has organised an exhibition highlighting a selection of Dublin manuscripts from Haliday’s collection. Online exhibition.

Library Exhibition: Dublin Documents – Highlights from Charles Haliday’s manuscript collection (9 January 5 May 2017)

Historical notes

Haliday devoted much of his time to historical research. He was particularly interested in the early history of Dublin. On behalf of the Ballast Board (The Corporation for Preserving and improving the Port of Dublin) he undertook extensive research on the history of Dublin port which led him to examine the Viking settlement of the city. The Scandinavian kingdom of Dublin (Dublin, 1882) was edited by his friend, the historian John P. Prendergast and published posthumously in 1883. The exhibition includes notebooks written by Haliday full of well-organized notes with references to books and manuscripts he consulted.

Reports on trades and manufactures, Dublin

A manuscript volume consisting of a copy of reports presented to Daniel O’Connell in1834. Over 37 trades are listed, describing the status of each trade before and after the Act of Union.Trades include ropemakers, hatter, bakers, coopers, shipwrights, cotton, wool and silk manufacturers, chandlers, tanners, printers, and book binders.

Secret Service Money Book

Known as the Secret Service Money Book, this manuscript consists of lists of payments made by the Government for secret information. It includes payments made to informers during the Rebellions of 1798 and 1803.

Secret Service Money Book, MS 23 D 44

Act of the Privy Council in Ireland, 1556-1571

In the sixteenth-century, the Privy Council acted as an advisory body to the Lord Deputy of Ireland (Chief Governor).

A volume recording the activities of the Council from 26 May 1556 to 22 March 1571. Subjects covered by the Council included defence, law and order, trade and financial policy and local government.

Registrum Monasterii St Thomas [Register of the Abbey of St Thomas, Dublin]

A register consisting of transcripts of documents connected to the Abbey of St Thomas copied by William Copinger of Cork in 1526. It is written in Latin in the chancery hand of the period, with some rubric headings. The large initial letters have a strap or ribbon decoration.

Registrum Monasterii St Thomas, MS12 D 2

Guild of St Anne

The Guild of St Anne was established in 1430 by charter of King Henry VI and a chantry chapel was established at St Audoen’s Church, Dublin. The collection includes over 200 documents relating to the Guild of St Anne with over150 deeds relating to guild property. The exhibition will highlight a small selection of items from this collection.

Lunchtime Lecture: Wednesday 1 March 2017, 1pm – Professor Colm Lennon, MRIA, will give a lecture on the manuscripts of the Guild of St Anne Charitable property: the manuscripts of St Anne’s Guild, Dublin’.

Who was Charles Haliday?

Charles Haliday was born in 1789 probably in Dublin. He was a merchant, banker, antiquarian, public health reformer and a prolific collector of books, pamphlets and manuscripts, particularly those of Irish interest. As a well known book collector, auctioneers sent him their catalogues and the waste-paper sellers of Dublin would wait for him outside his offices, bringing him books, pamphlets, broadsides and other ephemera. Most of the biographical information we have on Haliday comes from his friend John P. Prendergast, who describes him as:

“tall and well proportioned. His countenance was expressive of great animation and energy. He had a fine head and regular features with a brow indicative of capacity. His mein had something haughty; his manners though courteous, were rather distant and forbad familiarity; but to friends he was free and cordial.”

Portrait of Charles Haliday

Haliday lived and conducted his bark & timber business from a building on Dublin’s Arran Quay. It has recently been discovered that he may have been educated at Walker’s School on South William Street. He became a wealthy man but was by no means part of the idle rich! As a successful merchant he figured prominently in the Dublin business community, he was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and was a Director and Governor of the Bank of Ireland. Away from commerce Haliday dedicated much of his time to social and public health reform, campaigning for better living conditions for the poor of the city. He wrote numerous pamphlets and letters to newspapers on both social and business issues. He was an active member of the Mendicity Association of Dublin, personally administering to the sick during the cholera epidemic of 1832.

Haliday set out to make enough money and be comfortably well off so he could dedicate more of his time to social issues and also to historical research. He was particularly interested in the early history of Dublin and wrote a book entitled : The Scandinavian Kingdom of Dublin, which was published posthumously in 1881. He became a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1847 and served on the Committee of Antiquities for many years.

In 1834 he moved out to Monkstown, Co. Dublin and in 1843 he built himself a large villa to his own design. The house included a large library and study to house his ever-growing collection. Haliday died at Monkstown Park on the 14 September 1866 at the age of 77. In the last months of his life Haliday undertook a statistical survey of the slum areas of Kingstown – walking the streets and laneways compiling a detailed description of the buildings and living conditions of the poor. He was proofreading his work ‘A statistical Inquiry into the Sanitary conditions of Kingstown’ when he was taken ill. This work was published in 1867.

Sophie Evans
Assistant Librarian

Further Reading

T. Bartlett, ‘Charles Haliday’s Pamphlet collection’ in Cunningham & Fitzpatrick Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (RIA, 2009)
S. Evans, From Cromwell to cholera: a history of Ireland from the pamphlet collection of Charles Haliday (Dublin, 2011)
J. P. Prendergast, ‘Some notice of the life of Charles Haliday’ in Charles Haliday, The Scandinavian kingdom of Dublin (1882)
M-L. Legg, ‘Charles Haliday’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), vol. 24, 575-6
C.J. Woods, ‘Charles Haliday (1789?-1866)’ in Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009), v.4, 361-2

[i] RIA Academy Minutes 14 January 1867