Two Recent Acquisitions by Burns Library

What makes a job worthwhile? Burns Librarians David Richtmyer and Kathleen Williams often discuss this question, and both agree that the work they do is not only worthwhile because it promotes discovery and access to valuable research materials, but because they get to walk alongside their fellow brothers and sisters - rich or poor, famous or infamous, well-known or obscure, from earliest times to the presentday - through all the vicissitudes that life can offer. Two recent Burns acquisitions will illustrate this point.

This past summer The Linen Hall Library in Belfast published limited edition facsimiles of a unique manuscript, The Genealogy of the Very Ancient and Illustrious House of O'Reilly, Formerly Princes and Dynasts of Brefny O'Reilly, Now Called the County of Cavan in the Kingdom of Ireland. Belfast: Published by Rademon House in partnership with Linen Hall Library, [2014]. The Burns Library purchased number forty-seven of two hundred and fifty copies.

Professor Nikolaus Grüger, husband of Belfast born opera singer, Dr. Angela Feeney, discovered and purchased the eighteenth-century manuscript at a rare books auction in Munich in 2008. Written by the Chevalier Tomás O'Gorman, an expatriate Irish nobleman living in France, for a fellow expatriate, the Count O'Reilly, living in Spain, the previously unknown manuscript is rich in genealogical detail due to the fact that O'Gorman used traceable references and contemporary research culled from the Books of Ballymote and Lecan, both written around 1400.

What were these aristocratic Irishmen doing on the Continent, and why was one of them employed by the other to write up his family's genealogy?

Cover image of The Genealogy of the House of O'Reilly

These men were Jacobites, backers of the claim by James II, Duke of York, for the throne of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In 1688 the Roman Catholic James II of England (who was also James VII of Scotland) was deposed - in what was called the "Glorious Revolution" - in favor of his daughter Mary II ruling jointly with her husband William III. James, along with the rest of the Stuart family, had fled to exile in France.

For a variety of reasons, some relating to religion, others to social systems of power, and in particular the belief that parliamentary interference in the lines of succession was illegal, various populations of England, Scotland and Ireland were opposed to William and Mary and sought to restore the throne to the Stuarts. This loose party of operatives were termed "Jacobites" after the Latin form of the name James - "Jacobus."

Geographically speaking, sources of this unrest included Scotland, parts of Northern England, and Ireland. Amongst the Irish nobility who found themselves a part of the Jacobite party were the aforesaid Count O'Reilly and the Chevalier O'Gorman. The former became a very highly rated military commander in the Spanish Army, while the latter found his way into the court of Louis XV. Like other members of the nobility - an international organization - O'Reilly sought to marry his progeny to the sons and daughters of the nobility of the lands in which they currently found themselves. To do that he had to prove his lineage past 300 years, and that is where O'Gorman comes into play: he was an accomplished genealogist who would spend years in the service of a client to meticulously uncover and describe the client's lineage.

An extremely learned man, O’Gorman, while pursuing genealogical histories, became aware of manuscripts related to ancient Irish history, both in Ireland and abroad. In 1686 The Book of Ballymote was in Trinity College, Dublin. It was lent out and not returned. The manuscript traveled around Ireland in several hands and was used by scribes who copied material from it. In 1785 O’Gorman procured it and presented it to the Royal Irish Academy where it resides to this day along with manuscripts created by O’Gorman for those seeking proof of nobility through Irish genealogies.

In the case of O'Reilly, the Chevalier spent 5 years doing research and writing, and thereby went 3 years over the limit he had agreed to when the cash parted hands. The wait proved decisive, however: O'Reilly managed to marry his eldest son, Pedro Pablo, to Maria Francisco Calvo de la Puerta, 3rd Countess Buenavista. One hopes that the couple lived happily ever after ...

However, that was not the case with many of the Irish expatriates, including the two principals of this book. Both O'Reilly's and O'Gorman's fortunes had taken a turn for the worse by the time of the marriage. In O'Reilly's case, he was relieved of all command due to court intrigue, and spent part of his time in confinement. Not until Spain and France went to war in 1793 was O'Reilly's career resuscitated, and by the time he could reach his command Napoleon had overtaken the town he was billeted to defend and he had suffered what ultimately proved to be a fatal stroke.

Likewise, the French Revolution proved fatal to O'Gorman's noble aspirations on a number of fronts. Being of aristocratic background was justification enough to the revolutionaries for his estate to be confiscated (for the second time; the first being when his estate in Ireland was expropriated). If that wasn't enough his livelihood dried up as well; nobody was interested at that point in proving their aristocratic background. Avoiding separation of his head from his body, O'Gorman had fled to Dublin where he unfortunately became impoverished. The book provides a contemporary description:

He was one of the individuals who seem to have been born to exhibit in his period of existence the strange fluctuations of human events and the wonderful instability of the affairs of man ...

It was these aristocratic Irish expatriates that William Makepeace Thackeray used as a model for the principal characters in his novel, Barry Lyndon. Barry Lyndon tells the story of an Irish rake who falls in with a noble Irish expatriate who styles himself the "Chevalier de Balibari." The Chevalier, a mountebank, fleeces his fellow aristocrats at the card table. One such victim was in the household of the Lord and Lady Lyndon; while the Chevalier is manipulating the card table Barry ends up winning the heart of Lady Lyndon, who is many years the junior of her husband. After Lord Lyndon's untimely death Barry eventually marries Lady Lyndon and ends up with his estate. Stanley Kubrick made an exquisite movie based on this novel; here and here are two clips that provide a feel for the time period and the lives that the protagonists of The genealogy of the very ancient and illustrious House of O'Reilly must have lived.

Many bookseller catalogs come to the Burns Library each week. One such catalog intrigued Kathleen. The black and white cover was plain, but for illustrations around all edges. Kathleen recognized it as the work of artist Harry Clarke (1889-1931) who illustrated, painted, and designed stained glass windows, and who was a significant contributor to the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement. His work will be featured in an upcoming "Irish Arts and Crafts" exhibit in the McMullen Museum (Spring 2016). This intrigue led to an immediate and careful inspection of the catalog. Soon the reason for the illustrated front cover became clear. One of the offerings was Ireland's Memorial Records, 1914-1918: Being the Names of Irishmen Who Fell in the Great European War, 1914-1918. Dublin: Privately printed for the Committee of the Irish National War Memorial by Manusel and Roberts 1923.

Only 100 copies of this massive work were originally made, intended for the major libraries within Ireland. The 8 volumes of this set are comprised of 39 cm.-tall oversize folios, with decaying library bindings but with sharp and clear pages in each volume. Each page of every one of these volumes was illustrated by Clarke; the illustrations remind David a bit of Aubrey Beardsley's. Below is an image of a page from volume 3 of this set:

Ireland's Memorial Records

Here is a snippet from the above page, the first-named individual. This format is used throughout the book:

Here is a snippet from the above page, the first-named individual. This format is used throughout the book

The term "observer" signified that 2nd Lt. Falkiner was a passenger in a two-seater airplane (or aeroplane as it would have been called at the time); his job was to perform reconnaissance of the enemy behind enemy's lines. Below is a picture of an observer photographing enemy troop movements:

picture of an observer photographing enemy troop movements

2nd Lt. Falkiner was killed either by an enemy fighter plane or by anti-aircraft fire; doubtless the hapless pilot also perished as well.

Of course, these books only outline the thousands of Irish who died during those four horrible years: a fraction of the Allied side, much less the totality of all casualties on both sides, estimated at 9 million combatants. A strange outcome for those who thought that they would be "home before the leaves fall."

While these books can be invaluable for personal, genealogical research - David found a relative of his wife's maternal grandfather amongst the listing of the dead, for example - there is something about the mute testimony that these volumes provide that transcends a strictly parochial use. In fact, these volumes remind us of the effect of the Vietnam War Memorial: acres upon acres of the dead. Nothing is quite as effective in conveying the futility of war as these listings of the dead.

This was a story of two books, but thousands of people, intrigue, war, love, hatred, countries, friendships. Can their purchase and cataloging be considered a day's work? Hardly.

David Richtmyer
Rare Books Librarian and Senior Cataloger
Burns Library

Kathy Williams
Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer
Burns Library