The Library regularly organises exhibitions highlighting its rich collections of books, prints, drawings and manuscripts. Exhibitions are free and open to the public
An exhibition featuring a selection of Dublin manuscripts from the Haliday Collection.
Exhibition on view at the Royal Irish Academy Library, 9 January - 5 May 2017
January 2017 marks 150 years since Charles Haliday’s vast collection of books, pamphlets and manuscripts was donated to the Royal Irish Academy Library.
Charles Haliday, MRIA, c.1798-1866, was a Dublin merchant, banker, historian, health reformer and avid collector. Haliday’s collection of books and pamphlets spans almost 300 years covering Irish and British social, economic, cultural and religious history. His collection of manuscripts is just as varied and ranges from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
This exhibition will feature a selection of these manuscripts with particular emphasis on Dublin. Documents from the medieval Guild of St Anne, a sixteenth-century Privy Council book, an eighteenth/nineteenth century Secret Service money book and other highlights of the collection will be on view. For more information read the latest Library Blog Post 'A handsome donation'.
Exhibition on view at the Royal Irish Academy Library, 9 January - 5 May 2017.
Opening hours: 10am-5pm, Monday-Friday, except on conference days (please check the Library homepage for exceptions). Free admission. No individual booking required. Group bookings please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / 01-6090620
Book of Fenagh 500th anniversary
An exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of the making of the Book of Fenagh
Exhibition on view at the Royal Irish Academy Library, 22 August - 22 December 2016
The Book of Fenagh (RIA MS 23 P 26), an Irish manuscript commissioned in 1516, tells the story of the life of St Caillín, founder of an early Christian monastic community at Fenagh. The manuscript reflects the politics of early sixteenth-century north Connacht, with the saint’s life being used for propaganda purposes. It is the work of an expert scribe, Muirgheas Ó Maoilchonaire, and is an excellent example of late medieval Irish manuscript production. The exhibition in the Academy Library tells the story of scribes and scholars associated with the manuscript.
Two lunchtime lectures on topics related to the Book of Fenagh exhibition will be held in Academy House on the following Wednesdays at 13.00 hours ─
14 Sept. Dr Pádraig Ó Riain, MRIA, Professor Emeritus, UCC ‘St Caillín and the Book of Fenagh, 1516-2016’
21 Sept. Dr Paul Mullarkey, National Museum of Irelan ‘The shrine of St Caillín of Fenagh and its place in Irish late medieval art’
Individual booking not required for any of the above. Group bookings: please contact: email@example.com / 01-6090620. Exhibition opening hours: 10.00–16.30, Monday–Friday, except conference days (please check website in advance www.ria.ie/library). Admission free.
Representations of Jews in Irish Literature
Exhibition examining the portrayal of Jews and Jewishness in Ireland from the medieval period to the present day
Exhibition on view at the Royal Irish Academy Library, 4 July to 5 August 2016
Funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Representations of Jews in Irish Literature is a landmark project between Ulster University and the National University of Ireland, Galway. It examines the portrayal of Jewishness through an exhibition and publications which include a selection of key Irish-Jewish writing and Irish literature about Jews. Adopting a thematic and chronological approach, it investigates the depiction of Jews and Jewishness in Ireland from the Annals of Inisfallen in the medieval period, then through to centuries of poetry, prose and drama to the present day. Exploring the relationship between Jews and Ireland as found in the literary record, it reveals both the prejudices of writers who often had little or no direct contact with Jews and, later, an emerging Irish-Jewish literary sphere that shows a vibrant, vocal community at ease with its hyphenated sense of identity and culture. It also acknowledges the fraught past faced by a minority culture in Ireland and how this culture sought recognition and found accommodation on this island, and ultimately, found its place in the pantheon of Irish history, writing, and society.
Opening hours: 10.00-17.00, Monday-Friday, except on conference days (please check the Library homepage for exceptions). Free admission. No individual booking required. Group bookings please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / 01-6090620
Intellectual life in Ireland, 1910-1920
15 February – 24 June 2016, Monday-Friday 10-5pm
This exhibition examines aspects of scholarship and intellectual life that helped shape cultural understandings of what it meant to be Irish in the early twentieth century. It focuses on authors and published works that helped shape public opinion in diverse, subtle ways in the decade of revolutions and beyond. It also offers insights into what changed and what continued much as before. Though the material that makes up this exhibition has seldom made headlines, it was still fundamental to the emerging Irish nation in all its diversity.
The roots of the 1916 rising go back a long way. The thinkers of the 1848 Young Ireland rebellion were influential, with the writings of Thomas Davis and John Mitchel being particularly important. James Fintan Lalor, too, was highly regarded by those who drafted the 1916 Proclamation. Ballads and songs, published by James Duffy and others in the nineteenth century, popularised nationalist political sentiment.
The work of Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League), from its foundation by Eoin MacNeill MRIA in 1893, with Douglas Hyde MRIA as its first president, was fundamentally important in promoting cultural nationalism. Hyde’s seminal lecture of 1892 on ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland’ set the tone for much that followed. The nationalist, Catholic education, with its emphasis on the Irish language, provided by the Christian Brothers was formative in the ideology of Patrick Pearse and his generation. The place of the Irish language in the education system was hotly debated, revealing the extraordinary political significance of the language, and the extent to which it was a contested issue.
Historians as diverse in their interests as Eoin MacNeill and Alice Stopford Green were drawn into political activism, but their writings were their most effective weapon. In Dublin scholarly circles, the Dublin College of Modern Irish and the School of Irish Learning educated a generation of teachers and academics who would promote teaching and research in medieval and modern Irish language and literature. Meanwhile, in London the Irish Texts Society published key texts that nurtured a sense of the significance of the Irish cultural past.
Even in the year of the Rising, scholarship and cultural activities went on. Learned bodies such as the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland continued their schedule of lectures and publications, even while some of their members were drawn into the rebellion and others vehemently opposed it. Conradh na Gaeilge hosted its regular (but increasingly politicised) annual cultural gathering in Dublin in August 1916.
The 1916 Rising did not happen in a vacuum; rather there existed a very complex set of overlapping political, military, economic, social, religious and cultural influences that determined its timing, its form, and its outcome. Much has been written about the military and political situation in early twentieth century Ireland, and about the military leaders of the Rising. This exhibition explores some aspects of intellectual life in Ireland in the decade of revolution so as to highlight some less tangible elements of Irish life that shaped public sentiment in the 1910s.
A series of six lunchtime lectures (March – May 2016) accompanies the exhibition. For more information see Events
Views of Dublin: original watercolours by George Petrie, MRIA, 1790-1866
19 January - 15 February 2016, Monday-Friday 10-5pm (View the online exhibition)
To mark the 150th anniversary of the death of George Petrie, MRIA, this exhibition showcased the Academy Library’s collection of framed original views of Dublin, which were presented to the Library by the Marquis of Kildare in 1866. Also on display are several engravings of Petrie’s drawings of Dublin and its environs, which featured in several nineteenth-century travel guidebooks to Ireland, held in the Library’s collections.
The exhibition was accompanied by a lunchtime lecture whcih took place on Wednesday 3 February, 1pm : 'From Dublin Westward: Petrie, Clonmacnoise and Aran.' / Tom Dunne, Professor Emeritus of History, University College Cork.
Petrie, a gifted landscape artist and illustrator, was the son of Dublin portrait painter, James Petrie. He began his life-long series of tours of Ireland in 1808, sketching Irish scenery and antiquities, including ruined castles and churches, stone crosses and sepulchral monuments. He visited Clonmacnoise for the first time in 1818 during a tour of the West of Ireland, copying the inscriptions on the monuments there and making drawings of over 300 of them. From this time on, Petrie applied himself to the study of Irish history and antiquities.
Petrie contributed topographical drawings to many guidebooks in the early part of the 19th century, which were illustrated with steel engravings. These include Thomas Cromwell’s Excursions through Ireland (London, 1820), John James McGregor’s New picture of Dublin (1821) and G. N. Wright’s Historical guide to ancient and modern Dublin (London, 1821).
The Academy Library holds many of Petrie’s original manuscript papers, letters and sketches, including those illustrated papers for which he won the Academy gold medal three times, on the subjects of the Round Towers of Ireland (1833), Irish military architecture (1834) and the history and antiquities of Tara Hill (1837). The Library also holds the collection of framed original views of Dublin, which were on display.
Detailed records of Petrie’s works and selected accompanying images are accessible via our online Prints and Drawings Catalogue.
Read Robert O'Byrne's piece on this exhbition Images of the old days. (O'Byrne, Robert. "Images of the old days." Web blog post. The Irish Aesthete, February 10th 2016)
View the full exhibition online here
Gaelic Medical Manuscripts from the Academy Collections
3 November-23 December 2015, Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm
The Royal Irish Academy Library holds the largest collection of medieval manuscripts containing medical texts in Irish. Through these manuscripts, our new exhibition aims to highlight a lesser known aspect of medieval Irish society and the range of medical learning to which Irish doctors had access and which they made their own.
'Gaelic Medical Learning and its Cultural Afterlife'
A series of lunchtime lectures by the Royal Irish Academy Library and the Irish Text Society to accompany our latest exhibition 'Gaelic medical manuscripts from the Academy collections', 13:00 on Wednesday from 4 November to 2 December.
4 November Dr Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha, DIAS: ‘Medical writing in Irish, 1350-1650: treatises on pathology’
18 November Dr David Edwards, UCC: ‘The changing world of a Gaelic medic: Dermot O'Meara and early Stuart Ireland’
25 November Dr Clare O'Halloran, UCC: ‘Sylvester O'Halloran (1728-1807): romantic, antiquary and surgeon’
2 December Diarmaid Ó Catháin: ‘Dr John Fergus: eighteenth-century doctor and book collector’
View the full exhibition online here
Scribing for Ireland: the Ó Longáin family and the Royal Irish Academy
An exhibition at the Royal Irish Academy, 24 August-23 October 2015
Spanning four generations of scribal endeavour, the Ó Longáin family were based successively in counties Limerick and Cork, with later generations spending time in Dublin and farther afield.
- Micheál mac Peattair (c. 1693- 1770),
- his son, Micheál Óg (1766-1837) and his sons,
- twins Pól (1801-66) and Peattair (b. 1801), and
- Seosamh (1817-80),
- and his son Micheál (fl. 1870)
transcribed countless collections of stories, sagas, verse, historical and religious works, working from manuscript to manuscript, but also from printed publications. They also translated texts from Irish to English. Micheál Óg and Peattair composed poetry; Pól and Seosamh compiled catalogues and indexes, and Seosamh transcribed manuscript facsimiles for publication on behalf of the Royal Irish Academy.
The Ó Longáins participated in a wide network of scholarly endeavour in nineteenth-century Munster, primarily engaging in the production of copies of important texts for patrons. Scribing was their métier and their vocation. They were respected for their knowledge of the Irish language, their commitment to the preservation of the ancient texts and their scribal skills. Almost without exception the Ó Longáin scribes experienced periods of severe poverty, eking out a meagre existence, living hand to mouth. They had families to support through times of rebellion and famine. Recurring references in the Academy archives attest to their impecunious state and their precarious situations. They worked as agricultural labourers, toll clerks and school masters to support themselves but a love of the manuscript tradition and a compulsion to engage in the transmission of texts were their driving forces. Those who were in positions of influence, such as Bishop of Cloyne & Ross, Rt. Rev. Seán Ó Briain (1748-69), Bishop of Cork, Dr John Murphy (1815-47) and John Windele (1801-65), the Cork antiquarian scholar, assisted with commissions and encouraged others to do so. The Royal Irish Academy provided work for Pól and later Micheál, son of Seosamh. Seosamh was engaged as Academy scribe in 1865 in place of Eugene O’Curry whose death in 1862 had left a major gap in the Academy’s manuscript project. He worked for the Academy until his own death in 1880.
Proud of their language and of the history, poetry and prose it conveyed over centuries, the Ó Longáin family by their tenacious adherence to the scribal tradition, ensured the preservation of hundreds of texts for generations to come. Their work is held in the collections of Maynooth University, the National Library of Ireland, University College Dublin and the Royal Irish Academy, as well as numerous other libraries in Ireland, the UK and beyond. The Academy holds in excess of 230 manuscripts composed or transcribed by the Ó Longáin family.
This exhibition is offered as a small tribute to the Ó Longáin family’s lasting legacy to Irish scholarship and is hosted by the Royal Irish Academy Library in association with Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, University College Cork.
A series of Lunchtime Lectures organised to accompany the exhibition ‘Scribing for Ireland: the Ó Longáin family and the Royal Irish Academy'. Listen to the lecture here
Another View: Gaelic manuscript culture in Edmund Spenser’s Ireland
An exhibition at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, Summer 2015
Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) was a renowned poet in the late Tudor era. He combined his literary activities with a government career in Ireland. Spenser probably arrived in Ireland in the late 1570s. He acquired land as a settler in south Leinster and Munster and from 1589 was an active promoter of the Munster Plantation. Under the plantation scheme he received a royal grant of 3,000 acres at Kilcolman in County Cork. His tenure of some of those lands was challenged successfully in the courts by the Roche family, barons of Fermoy. His house at Kilcolman was burned in 1598 at the height of the Nine Years War (1594-1603) and he and his family left Ireland.
Spenser was among those Tudor administrators who advocated the reform of Ireland. His View of the present state of Ireland was written c. 1596. It circulated widely in manuscript before being printed for the first time in 1633. It continues to be consulted for the insights it provides into the political attitudes of New English settlers in early modern Ireland.
A less-studied dimension of Edmund Spenser’s Ireland is the Gaelic literary culture that was prevalent in his day. Much of the work of the Gaelic learned class from this era – poets, historians, lawyers and others – is still preserved in Irish language manuscripts. This small exhibition draws attention to some of the literary and scribal activity of late sixteenth-century Irish poets, historians and other members of the professional learned class.
The work of bardic poets is represented by two manuscript compilations, RIA, MS A iv 3 and RIA, MS 23F 16, which include the work of Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird (d. c. 1618) and Giolla Bhridhe Ó hEodhasa (d.1614). The printing of Spenser’s View prompted an immediate reaction from an Irish historian, Geoffrey Keating (d. 1644), who took issue with the negative representations of the Irish people in the writings of Edmund Spenser, Meredith Hanmer, William Camden, Richard Stanihurst and others. Keating’s work, in Irish and in English translation, is displayed here, alongside the renowned Annals of the Four Masters. Also on view are some of the earliest printed works issued in the Irish-language which were the work of professional Gaelic poets and translators.
The centre-piece of the exhibition is the Book of Fermoy, also known as the Book of Roche (RIA, MS 23 E 29). This manuscript miscellany dates mainly from the mid-fifteenth century. The poetry and prose texts it contains focus primarily on the Roche family of the barony of Fermoy in north Cork. Its later contents include a significant number of sixteenth-century poems addressed to members of the Roche family. These provide ample evidence of the cultural patronage still available in that region in the decades immediately prior to the plantation of Munster. The poetry in the Book of Fermoy has been described as ‘heraldry in words and metre’.
View the full exhibition online here
Mapping city, town and country since 1824: the Ordnance Survey in Ireland
An Exhibition at the Royal Irish Academy 1 July 2014– 30 January 2015
An exhibition on ‘Mapping city, town and country since 1824: the Ordnance Survey in Ireland’ was on view in the Royal Irish Academy Library (1 July 2014– 30 January 2015). Organised by the Library and the Irish Historic Towns Atlas (IHTA), the exhibition focused on the Academy’s extensive collections relating to the ‘great national work,’ the mapping of Ireland at a scale of 6 inches to one mile. The 6-inch maps are an essential source for the investigation of nineteenth-century Ireland – city, town and country. Every headland, mountain, river, field, plot, bleaching green, public building, is recorded for posterity. These maps form the basis of two IHTA publications:
Frank Cullen, Dublin 1847: city of the Ordnance Survey (Dublin: RIA, 2015)
Rob Goodbody, Irish Historic Towns Atlas No. 26, Dublin, part III, 1756 to 1847 (Dublin: RIA, 2015).
In the course of the OS mapping, directed by Col. Thomas Colby, assisted by Lieut. Thomas Aiskew Larcom (later under-secretary for Ireland, 1853-68), the project expanded to include a range of activities. For example, a significant feature of the project was the compilation of Memoirs – information on the landscape, topography, features of antiquarian interest, population, economy and society, gathered systematically. The purpose of this information was to supplement the maps and ‘to collect and diffuse information for the benefit of every class in society.’ The Memoirs contain a fund of information and include 1,640 sketches of archaeological, antiquarian and architectural features. Funding for the Memoir compilation was cut in 1839-40, thus only the Ulster counties are fully documented. Intended for publication from the outset, the OS Memoirs were finally published in 40 volumes in the 1990s. The Academy has published a selection of the Memoir drawings:
Angélique Day, Glimpses of Ireland’s past – the Ordnance Survey Memoir drawings: topography and technique (Dublin: RIA, 2014)
This publication seeks to illustrate the skill of the OS artists/engineers and the scope of the material selected for sketching and recording.
The importance of placenames was recognised at an early stage and John O’Donovan, the renowned Irish scholar, was engaged at the Placenames & Topograpical Department which generated the Name Books (originals held at the National Archives), ‘the alpha of the memoir.’ The objective was to adopt names closest to the original Irish form. George Petrie, artist, antiquarian, musician and collector, ran the department from his house in North Great Charles Street, Dublin. This was the base from which O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry (lexicographer), James Clarence Mangan (poet and scribe), William Wakeman and George Victor du Noyer (artists) sallied forth on fieldwork of various kinds. O’Donovan, O’Curry and others, whilst dispersed around the country working on the placenames, reported back to Larcom, often on a daily basis. The resulting OS Letters, from 29 Irish counties (Antrim, Cork and Tyrone were not covered), concerned as they are with local families, antiquities and lore, form a major resource for antiquarian scholars, lexicographers and local historians.
Other material generated by the project, the OS Extracts, contain relevant material culled from primary sources, in Latin and Irish, some of which are not extant.
Our exhibition used all of these resources to illustrate the scope and depth of the OS engagement in nineteenth-century Ireland.
Mapping city, town and country lecture series
A series of lunchtime lectures was organised covering all aspects of the OS project. Lectures was held in the Meeting Room, Academy House and were recorded.
1014 The Battle of Clontarf
An exhibition at the Royal Irish Academy, March-June 2014
This exhibition drew on the Academy Library collections and displayed manuscripts relating to Brian Boru, and variant versions of the story of the Battle, told through the centuries. Antiquarian drawings and maps of the Clontarf area were also included in the exhibition. The exhibition ran from March until the end of June 2014.
A series of lunchtime lectures was organised. Listen back.
Tuesday 25 February 2014 Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, MRIA, NUI Galway ‘The Vikings in Ireland: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’
Tuesday 4 March Seán Duffy, TCD ‘Winners and losers at the Battle of Clontarf’
Tuesday 11 March Colm Lennon, MRIA, NUI Maynooth ‘The Battle of Clontarf in Irish history and legend’
Tuesday 18 March Meidhbhín Ní Urdail, UCD ‘The Battle of Clontarf story in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish manuscripts’
Tuesday 1 April Donnchadh Ó Corráin, MRIA, UCC ‘Dál Cais, Déis, Ó Briain – changing places, changing identities’
Tuesday 8 April Stephen Harrison ‘The Battle of Clontarf: the archaeological evidence?’
We were also pleased to present two lectures, hosted respectively by the Embassies of Denmark and Norway in Ireland on Thursday 22 May, 12.00-14.00.
12:00-12.45 Dr Anne Pedersen, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, ‘ Power and Politics in late Viking-Age Denmark’
12.45–13.30 Jon Vidar Sigurdsson, University of Oslo ‘Ireland, Norway and Iceland in the second half of the 13th century ’
Aon amharc ar Éirinn
An exhibition at the Royal Irish Academy, July 2013 - February 2014
The Royal Irish Academy Library holds the world’s largest collection of Irish language manuscripts. Many of the late medieval and early modern Irish manuscripts preserved in the collections were long associated with particular learned families in Gaelic Ireland. The scholars who compiled these manuscripts produced fascinating cultural artefacts that are the key to understanding Gaelic scholarship and culture in the past. The manuscripts range across the full spectrum of medieval scholarship, with examples surviving of the work of members of the Gaelic learned class who specialised in law, medicine, history and poetry. Many of these same scholars also transcribed religious poems and texts, religious belief being integral to their world. Some of the most important manuscripts are miscellanies ─ the Book of Ballymote, the Book of Lecan, and the Book of Uí Mhaine ─ their contents reflecting many varied strands of medieval Gaelic learning.
Behind every manuscript in the Academy collection lie the very real people from the past, the scribes, compilers and patrons of those manuscripts with all their varied interests, ambitions, and their particular view of the world and their place in it. The manuscripts in our collection are the principal tools for understanding the world of those scribes, scholars, patrons, keepers and readers of manuscripts, the leading families of medieval Ireland.
The learned class formed part of the court of the native elite and they were accorded prominence in Irish society and were rewarded with hereditary tenure of land and other forms of wealth in return for their services. They maintained important schools of learning, where students were trained and manuscripts were copied. Many of them retained their privileged status down to the end of the sixteenth century.
The Academy Library curated an exhibition which explores the themes of Seanchas ─ ‘the memory and narrative of Irish history as preserved and written from the early medieval period to the writing of histories of Ireland in the seventeenth century’; Filíocht ─ poetry; Reacht ─ law; Leigheas ─ medicine; and Creideamh ─ religion, as well as the stories of those who made these great books of Ireland.
Manuscripts displayed in February 2014 included: Book of Lecan; Annals of the Four Masters; Ó Cléirigh Book of Genealogies; Book of O'Gara; Book of O'Loghlen; Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne; O'Hickey medical manuscript; O'Shiel medical manuscript; Brehon law transcripts (18th - 19th century).
A guide to the themes explored in the exhibition, B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Aon amharc ar Éirinn: Gaelic families and their manuscripts (Dublin, 2013), is available, at a cost of €5, from the Library or via RIA Publications.
These themes were further explored in a series of Lunchtime Lectures. Listen Back.
26 August 2013 Dr Elizabeth FitzPatrick, NUI Galway 'The O Davorens of Cahermacnaghten: a learned family of brehon lawyers and their scholarly networks'.
22 October 2013 Dr Raymond Gillespie, NUI Maynooth ‘The Book of Fenagh, or an imagined life’.
5 November 2013 Dr Liam Breatnach, School of Celtic Studies, DIAS ‘The Brehon Laws and medieval Irish society’
12 November 2013 Dr Edel Bhreathnach, Discovery Programme ‘Seanchas: the key to history in medieval Ireland’.
26 November 2013 Dr Damian McManus, Trinity College Dublin ‘Cormac mac Airt in Classical Irish poetry: young and wise but not entirely flawless’.
Colm Cille's Spirals
A seminar at the Royal Irish Academy, 21st November 2013
‘Colm Cille’s Spirals: art, history and legacy of Colm Cille’, was a seminar exploring places, objects, facts and myths connected with St Colm Cille (521-597 AD). The seminar included a paper on the Cathach manuscript (purportedly penned by Colm Cille) placing it in the context of other manuscripts of the period, with an opportunity to see the manuscript itself.
For full details of our seminar click
This seminar was part of Colm Cille: the Object, a Dublin City Council initiative which took place in November 2013. The City Council programme featured walking tours on 14, 15, 21 and 22 November and an especially commissioned art installation at St Mary’s Abbey. The Academy Library was the first stop on the walking tours.
This Dublin City initiative was part of a wider Colm Cille Spiral project, a creative collaboration taking place in Derry, Iona, London, the Hebrides, Northern England, Wales and Dublin. http://www.colmcillespiral.net/