Prints & Drawings in the National Library

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Archives, Features, Issue 2 (Summer 1995), Volume 3

19 June 1850 -from Mullingar to Kenagh.

19 June 1850 -from Mullingar to Kenagh.

The Prints and Drawings Section alone houses at least 90,000 prints, drawings and water-colours and for the past five years an active programme to develop and properly exploit the collection has been ongoing. Only about five per cent of the material had been listed previously and currently stock checking and item-recording are regular features of the Section’s everyday work.

Sketchbook NLI 2003TX

The recent discovery of a fragmented sketchbook (NLI 2003TX) illustrates the richness of this collection as a historical source. Consisting of eighty-three pages, some of them loose, it dates from 1849-1850. Its anonymous author made a record in water-colour, pencil and pen-and-ink of his or her travels, mainly in the western and northern parts of Ireland, in much the same way as a contemporary traveller might use a portable video camera. At some stage the sketchbook appears to have fallen into the hands of a child intent on uninhibited exploration in inks, pencil and crayon, often over the careful and neat drawings of the adult traveller. How the sketchbook arrived at the National Library has yet to be established.
Initially, the author sketched the drawings in pencil, accompanied by descriptive notes and sometimes specified the colours to be used in the finished sketch. Most were finished at a later stage, in pen and ink and/or water-colour over the pencil, and the descriptive notes were penned over also. Some of the drawings were sketched while the traveller was actually en route, from a horse-drawn car or from a boat, or from such varied locations as schoolrooms, gardens and in one case, a graveyard. Though most date from 1850, two sketches are from 1849. One, dated 16 July, is of the High Cross at Moone (called here Columbkille Abbey), County Kildare, and the cross is noted as being fourteen feet high. The other, of the round tower at Castledermot (a few kilometres from Moone), is dated 19 July 1849. The sketchbook is not paginated.

Inexhaustible traveller

The traveller seems to have been inexhaustible because relatively huge distances were covered, by land and water, in a short time. The outward (westward) journey is first recorded on 19 June 1850 from Mullingar to Kenagh, County Longford (Fig. 1); on to Athlone on 29 June; across the Shannon and on to the church at Ballinasloe, County Galway on 4 July (Fig. 2). Cong (Galway/Mayo border) was sketched on 8 July from near the subterranean river in Mr Elwood’s. A sketch of a stone circle, title indecipherable, but most likely one of four at Glebe na Cong, County Mayo, along the Ballinrobe road, was possibly drawn at this time also (8-19 July). The journey continued on to Tuam and the  Roman Catholic cathedral was sketched on 12 July; from Tuam back to Lough Mask on July 15; to the hills around Kinlough near Shrule, County Mayo, on 19 July; and from there westwards to Connemara. From this date, for some time, the sketches reveal surprisingly rapid criss-crossing of County Galway.
After about 12 August, the traveller moved back to Cong, visiting the abbey on 20 August; on to Crossmolina near Ballina, County Mayo, on the same day, sketching Lough Conn and Mount Nephin along the way; on to Sligo Abbey and Benbulben which was sketched from the car on the road to Bundoran, and into County Donegal to Lough Eske and the Barnesmore Gap on 21 August; on to Lough Swilly up to near Malin Head and back to Carrowkeel on Lough Foyle on 22 August (Fig. 3); and finally, on to Twinabratty near Ballycastle, County Antrim.

Converts and classrooms

In Carrowkeel, Co Donegal 22 Aug 1850

In Carrowkeel, Co Donegal 22 Aug 1850

The traveller-sketcher was interested especially in the children and adults of western Connacht, one of Ireland’s most disadvantaged areas, and affected severely by the Famine. A number of these sketches refer to converts, classrooms of children being examined, and to orphanages. Given the current interest in the Famine and the problem of finding previously unused visual material relating to this period, these sketches (Figs. 4-11) are of particular interest.
Since the sketchbook is unsigned it is not possible to be certain about the identity of the traveller nor about his or her intention in recording these scenes. Five sketches, dated between 9-12 August 1850 (four of them of Ballinaboy School), bear the initials ‘D.M.’ faintly on the top corners of the pages. What these initials mean is uncertain but it seems plausible to suggest that they refer to the ‘Miss Mason’ of fig. 10. If this is the case, then it seems likely that the artist was in contact with schools authorities and inspectors, and was accompanied by some of them on the sketching/observation trip, one of these being, perhaps, Miss Mason. The Revd A.R.C. Dallas, in The story of the Irish Church Missions (1867) refers to a Miss Mason as one of the leading lights of the Association of Employing Scripture-Readers/The Ladies’ Auxiliary to the Irish Society, and says of her that ‘her earnest zeal overcame the difficulties in her way…with indefatigable diligence…’ (pp. 169-170).
Although it is not possible to be certain about the eventual intention of the artist, it seems clear that the sketches were not intended for subsequent reproduction in a published report on the economic, educational and/or religious circumstances of some of the areas worst affected by the Famine of the 1840s. This does not rule out the possibility that the artist’s findings were presented at some aural hearing.
In the biography of the Revd A.R.C. Dallas by his widow, she records that their honeymoon (his second marriage) was a tour of Ireland in July 1850. She states that ‘it was one of no little toil, but a tour among the Missions [which] well repaid all inconveniences. Often after long days of rough travelling, Mr Dallas had to meet the agents and confer with the clergy until a very late hour’ (p.390).

4 July 1850 - Ballinaslone church

4 July 1850 – Ballinaslone church

Perhaps sketchbook NLI 2003TX was the work of the second Mrs Dallas. The long evenings she had to herself, once social engagements had been fulfilled, would have allowed her ample time to finish the sketches drawn during the day when she accompanied her husband on his missionary travels. Furthermore, the itinerary of their honeymoon tour as recorded by Mrs Dallas in the biography corresponds remarkably closely with the dates and places in the sketchbook.

The Irish Society and the Irish Church  Missions

1 Billy Joyce, 2 Paddy Kane 3 Donald Kane-converts.In great Killenny Bay 1st Aug 1850.

1 Billy Joyce, 2 Paddy Kane 3 Donald Kane-converts.
In great Killenny Bay 1st Aug 1850.

The Irish Society (for Promoting the Scriptural Education and Religious Instruction of Roman Catholics through the Medium of Their Own Language) was founded in 1818 and had been active in western Connacht, founding schools and winning converts. It was run by members of the Churches of Ireland and England. Its aim was to produce the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer in the Irish language and it also backed the move for a chair of Irish (established in 1838) at Trinity College, Dublin. The first Professor of Irish at Trinity was the Revd. Thomas de Vere Coneys, who had founded the Irish Society’s missionary school at Ballinasloe. Many Irish Society converts later reverted to Roman Catholicism, when circumstances were more opportune.
In March 1849, when militant prosletysation was temporarily in vogue, and just before the Ecclesiastical Titles Act (1851) in England, the Society for Irish Church Missions to Roman Catholics (ICM) was founded by the Revd. Dallas (1791-1869). The ICM had the backing of Thomas Plunkett, Church of Ireland bishop of Tuam and it evoked the hostility of the  Roman Catholic archbishop, John McHale. The ICM was based principally in the areas of the west of Ireland worst affected by the Famine of 1845-9. The ICM converts, known as ‘soupers’ in reference to the means by which they were converted, evoked great contempt on the part of Catholics. One of the sketches refers to children being attacked, near Ballinaboy School (which opened in May 1850), and to the absence of the Revd Dallas.
The Irish Society entered into an association with the ICM in 1853 but pulled out three years later as fears grew over the latter’s intense evangelical prosletysation. The ICM faded out on the Revd. Dallas’s death in 1869. The evangelical extremism of the ICM also evoked much hostility from members of the Church of Ireland who were opposed to evangelism. It is not clear whether the converts in the sketches are those of the Irish Society, or of the ICM. Prior to 1849 there were Church of Ireland schools at Sallerna, Ballyconree, Errislannon and Derrygimla before the ICM founded schools there. The schools provided education in English, Latin, Greek and mathematics, and the children frequently emigrated to America, India and Scotland, and many also went on to join the British army, navy and police forces. Migration to other parts of Ireland was also common.
The sketchbook deserves to be studied in detail in the context of the times and circumstances in which it is set. The original collections of the Prints and Drawings Section of The National Library of Ireland may be viewed during its opening hours by appointment with the Prints and Drawings Librarian.

E.M. Kirwan is the Prints and Drawings Librarian at the National Library of Ireland.

Further reading:

H.J. Monck Mason, History of the origin and progress of the Irish Society, established for promoting the education of the native Irish, through the medium of their own language (Dublin 1846).

Revd A.R.C. Dallas, The story of the Irish Church Missions (London 1867).

The Seventh Annual Report of the Irish Missionary School, Ballinasloe, for the year ended December 31, 1853 (Dublin 1854).

Incidents in the life and ministry of the Revd A.R.C. Dallas. By his Widow (London 1871).


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