National Library of Ireland

After a rather discouraging several hours at Trinity College, I was feeling a little less than enthusiastic as I approached the National Library in Dublin. I got there early– so early in fact that I had to wait outside while they opened up for business. It turns out that even public government buildings operate on Irish time here (that is to say, 10-20 minutes behind schedule). Once they were ready for me I went in, and proceeded to get my second readers card of the week. This one came complete with a horrible ID picture that they took in the gift shop, but without a chain to hold it around my neck, as they happened to be out that day. Oh well.

Readers card in hand, I entered the manuscript library, which was housed in a separate building a little ways down the street. There were some interesting displays set up in the lobby, and I looked around for a bit before asking the guard at the front desk where I was supposed to go. He sent me out to a locker room where I had to dump my bag before I was allowed up to see the rare books. Bag disposed of, I headed into the lift with my notebook and pencil to try my luck with some more 16th century handwriting.

The manuscript in question was a proclamation issued by Lord Deputy Sidney in 1567, and consists of a list of instructions to the Commissioners of Connacht regarding the treatment of Ireland and the Irish. I was very excited to find an injunction against vagabonds and other unsavory characters, possibly including traveling rhymers and musicians. I got a copy made using their epic/amazing/fancy-schmancy copier, and moved on to a Calendar of State Papers I found on the bookshelf. For those of you unfamiliar with such a volume, it is basically a listing of all the documents belonging in a collection, arranged chronologically and accompanied by a short summary of the document. To my great excitement, there were several mentions of rhymers and bards in said calendar, including a small group of letters from the Council of Ireland to Shane O’Neill, who had evidently complained about something a bard somewhere had written about him. The council wrote to him twice, first assuring him that the accused rhymer would be punished according to law, and again a month later, telling him that said rhymer denied all responsibility for the rhymes in question.

Other items of interest in the Calendar included a reference to “Elizabeth’s care to have religion preached in the Irish language” and orders to the Duke of Ormond in 1563 regarding the suppression of rhymers, bards and dice players. The importance of the second document is fairly obvious, but I found the first one more intriguing. One of the more obvious explanations that have been put forth for the suppression of the bards is that the English were trying to stamp out Irish culture, but if that were the case, why would the Irish language be encouraged? Of course, it is a possibility that Elizabeth’s desire to spread the Church of England to the Catholic Irish would have outweighed her desire to eliminate the Irish tongue. However, Elizabeth has never had the reputation of being a religious fanatic. If she was supporting the Irish language, then there must have been some other reason for her targeting the bards.

So that’s it for now– all in all, a very successful morning spent in the National Library– I highly recommend it to anyone doing research in Ireland!