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Macalister collection

Irish manuscripts, drawings and books donated by Robert Macalister, MRIA (1870–1950). The Academy’s ‘Macalister collection’ comprises manuscripts, antiquarian drawings and books that he had collected rather than his own research notes.

R.A.S. (Robert Alexander Stewart) Macalister (1870–1950), archaeologist, epigraphist and Irish scholar, was professor of Celtic Archaeology at the National University of Ireland. His archaeological research included work on Palestine as well as Ireland. He served as President of the Royal Irish Academy from 1926 to 1931.

Among the Irish language works he edited for the Irish Manuscripts Commission were facsimiles of two medieval manuscripts, the Book of Uí Mhaine and the Book of Lismore, published in 1942 and 1950. He also prepared a five-volume composite edition of the verse and prose texts known as Lebor gabála Érenn for the Irish Texts Society (London, 1938–56). His monograph publications included: Studies in Irish epigraphy. A collection of revised readings of the ancient inscriptions of Ireland, with introduction and notes (3 vols, London, 1897-1907); A history of civilization in Palestine (Cambridge, 1912); The Philistines: their history and civilization (London, 1914); The language of the Nawar or Zutt the nomad smiths of Palestine (London, 1914); Ireland in Pre-Celtic times (London, 1921); The archaeology of Ireland (London, 1928, 2nd ed. 1949); A century of excavation in Palestine (2nd ed., London, 1930); Tara: a pagan sanctuary of ancient Ireland (London, 1931); Ancient Ireland: a study in the lessons of archaeology and history (London, 1935); The secret languages of Ireland, with special reference to the origin and nature of the Shelta language (Cambridge, 1937); Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum (2 vols, Dublin, 1945, 1949)

During the 1930s and 1940s Robert Macalister donated a varied selection of archaeological, literary and linguistic manuscripts, as well as some printed books and pamphlets, to the Royal Irish Academy Library. The Academy’s ‘Macalister collection’ comprises manuscripts, antiquarian drawings and books that he had collected rather than his own research notes. The Academy Library also holds a collection of his published books and articles. Details of individual items can be found on our online catalogues 

Robert Macalister’s portrait in oils, by Dermot O’Brien, PRHA, hangs in the Members Room of Academy House. Another portrait in oils, by Norman French Mclachlan, is also held by the Academy.

Archaeological manuscripts, antiquarian drawings and ephemera from the collection of R.A.S. Macalister

  • RIA, MS 3 B 57     Diagram used by Samuel Ferguson to illustrate his discovery of pictographs in the sepulchral monument called Mane Nelud, Locmariaquer, 1863. See Ferguson, ‘Account of inscribed stones’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 8 (1861–6), pp 398–405
  • RIA, MSS 12 W 2–12 W 6   Letters, transcripts, verses and historical and antiquarian sketches of Sir Samuel Ferguson, MRIA (1810–86). This collection includes correspondence and is mainly of biographical interest. Five boxes, presented 30 Nov. 1943
  • RIA, MS 23 P 27    Scrapbook of newspaper clippings re 1916
  • RIA, MS 24 C 62   St Ann’s Dawson Street, Church of Ireland hymn sheets for St Patrick’s Day (Macalister collection, 30)
  • RIA, MS 24 E 39   Illustrations of Ogham inscriptions by Richard Hitchcock (1824–56), presented to the RIA Library by R.A.S. Macalister in March 1942. This is a companion volume to Hitchcock’s ‘Notes of Ogham inscriptions’ (RIA, MS 24 E 13). These illustrations are catalogued in our online catalogue of prints and drawings. The catalogue entries incorporate thumbnail images of the individual drawings
  • RIA, MS 24 E 40   Inscribed stones of Ireland: a series of finely executed archaeological drawings by Richard Hitchcock (1824–56), drawn in the years 1845–7. Presented to the RIA Library by R.A.S. Macalister in March 1942. Dr Graves, bishop of Limerick was a former owner. These illustrations are catalogued in our online catalogue of prints and drawings, accompanied by thumbnail images of the individual drawings 

Irish language manuscripts from the collection of R.A.S. Macalister

Robert Macalister donated his collection of Irish language manuscripts to the Academy Library. These are itemised here and are described in more detail by Gerard Murphy and Elizabeth FitzPatrick in the printed Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy, fasciculus XXV (Dublin, 1940), nos 1163–1191. Most date from the nineteenth century, with a few eighteenth-century items. Some of these manuscripts had numerous owners in a relatively short period of time.  Some had been owned at one time by D. Fitzgerald and were purchased by Macalister from Alfred Nutt; some other items had been formerly owned by Charles Haliday, MRIA.

The condition of the smaller Irish language manuscripts varies; a few came to the Academy unbound and in poor condition.


  • RIA, MS 24 C 33 (catalogue no. 1163), Live of St Margaret and miscellaneous items, penned by James Neville, 1817 (Macalister collection, 1)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 34 (catalogue no. 1164), Miscellaneous poetry, penned by James White (Seamus do Faoidht), 1775–6 (Macalister collection, 2)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 35 (catalogue no. 1165), notebook by Tomás Ó Conchubhair, 1847, containing vocabulary and historical notes (Macalister collection, 3)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 36 (catalogue no. 1166), 19th century, miscellaneous verse, tales and notes, penned by Michael Ó Beraginn (or Ó Meriginn), County Tipperary (Macalister collection, 4)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 37 (catalogue no. 1167), Irish grammar of Thomas Hyde, penned by John Sifeld Hyde (Seaghan Ó Sethechain), 19th century, and later owned by his son Stephen Christopher Hyde (Macalister collection, 5)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 38 (catalogue no. 1168), Prose tales, 18th century (Macalister collection, 6)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 39 (catalogue no. 1169), verse and devotional texts, 18th century (Macalister collection, 7)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 40 (catalogue no. 1170), Contention of the bards, penned by Seaghan Ó Haoidhe, 1828 (Macalister collection, 8)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 41 (catalogue no. 1171), Irish poetry and miscellaneous notes, penned by Tomás Ua Conchubhair and Edmond Copely (Macalister collection, 9)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 42 (catalogue no. 1172), Devotional prose, penned by T. FitzPatrick, 1762–3 (Macalister collection, 10)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 43 (catalogue no. 1173), Miscellaneous verse, penned by John O’Daly, 1827–8 (Macalister collection,11)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 44 (catalogue no. 1174), Miscellany, mainly verse, 19th century (Macalister collection, 12)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 45 (catalogue no. 1175), Historical prose, including items on Battle of Clontarf; the Fianna; St Colum Cille (Macalister collection, 13)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 46 (catalogue no. 1176), Irish grammar, 19th century (Macalister collection, 14)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 47 (catalogue no. 1177), Miscellaneous verse and prose, 19th century (Macalister collection, 15)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 48 (catalogue no. 1178), Miscellaneous verse and notes, penned by Tomás Ua Conchubhair, 19th century (Macalister collection, 16)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 49 (catalogue no. 1179), Proses tales and genealogies, penned by Thomas Geoghegan, 1823 (Macalister collection, 17)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 50 (catalogue no. 1180), Eochair sgiath an Aifrinn, penned by Donochadh Mhurchoideach Ua Sganuill, 1830. Former owners included Peter Riordan (Macalister collection, 18)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 51 (catalogue no. 1181), Párlement Chlainne Tomáis, penned by Pádraig Stúndún of Cork, 1896 (Macalister collection, 19)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 52 (catalogue no. 1182), Life of St Patrick, penned by Pádraig Stúndún of Cork, 1895. Former owners included Robert Day (Macalister collection, 20)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 53 (catalogue no. 1183), Contention of the bards, penned by Pól Ruillis, 1726 (Macalister collection, 21)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 54 (catalogue no. 1184), Tale of Balor and the Formorians on Tory Island, penned by Edmond O’Donovan, 1848 from a MS of John O’Donovan (1835), recording a story dictated by Shane O’Dugan (Macalister collection, 22)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 55 (catalogue no. 1185), A large Irish miscellany, with 18th and 19th century items bound together, formerly owned by David Fitzgerald (1879) who compiled an index (Macalister collection, 23)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 56 (catalogue no. 1186), A large Irish miscellany, with 18th and 19th century items bound together, formerly owned by David Fitzgerald who compiled an index. A companion volume to 24 C 55 (Macalister collection, 24)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 57 (catalogue no. 1187), An Irish miscellany penned by Seosamh Ó Diomsaigh, 1796. Annotated by David Fitzgerald, former owner (Macalister collection, 25)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 58 (catalogue no. 1188), Foras feasa ar Éirinn, penned by Michael Magamana, 1800, incomplete transcript (Macalister collection, 26)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 59 (catalogue no. 1189), Notes arranged alphabetically, possibly intended to form a dictionary, compiled by [John] O’Donovan (Macalister collection, 27)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 60 (catalogue no. 1190), Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh, penned by Aindrias Ó Suiliobháin, 1780 (Macalister collection, 28)
  • RIA, MS 24 C 61 (catalogue no. 1191), Devotional prose, probably early 19th century (Macalister collection, 29)

Printed books

R.A.S. Macalister also donated printed books to the RIA library at various times, including numerous Irish language items. Among the other curiosities in the collection is a Cornish grammar and vocabulary (1790). These printed works form part of the core collections of the Academy Library and are itemised in the Main catalogue which is available online.


March 2021

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