index = Catholic Record Society of Ireland

The Catholic Record Society of Ireland 

From The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 4th Series, No. 30, 1911. [1]

THAT the nineteenth century has witnessed a remarkable development in historical studies more especially in historical criticism is evident to every careful student. In proof of this statement, if proof were needed, it would be enough to point to the place assigned to history at present in the curriculum of the leading universities in the world, to the multitude of learned societies, denominational and secular, which have been founded to promote inquiry in special departments of historical research, and the numerous reviews established for publishing and preserving the fruits of those inquiries, to the valuable critical editions of the great sources of ecclesiastical and civil history and the publication in the Papal Registers and State Papers of the secrets long guarded so jealously in the archives of the Popes and of the Governments, to the serious attention that is being paid to the auxiliary and kindred subjects, such as Paleography, Diplomatics, Epigraphy, Numismatics, Geography and Philology, and finally to the large number of well-compiled bibliographies dealing with the sources and literature in different sections of history that have been published to aid and direct the student in his historical researches. In all this revival and in every single department of historical investigation it is satisfactory for us to note that Catholic scholars lay and clerical have played an honourable and important part. They have shown that the Catholic Church has no reason to fear honest history and honest criticism. By keeping faithfully to the instructions laid down by Leo XIII. in his celebrated Brief on Historical Studies (1883) that the first law for the historian is not to dare to say what is false, the second not to be ashamed to say what is true, and the third to avoid in his writing all suspicion of partiality or hatred, they have rendered an invaluable service not alone to the cause of history, but also to the cause of religion.

Naturally enough in this revival scholars pay special attention to the history of their own country. In the German universities and the historical Seminars carried on in connexion with the university lectures it is the history of Germany that is kept principally in view, and though other countries must come in for treatment still it is upon the relation of these countries to Germany and their influences upon the historical development of the modern empire that the greatest emphasis is laid. What is true of Germany is true of Austria, Belgium, France, Italy--in a word, of all really cultured and progressive nations. Nor is the study of the national records in these countries abandoned entirely to private exertions and private generosity. The Governments understanding in most cases the value of such studies in promoting the patriotism of the citizens, and national pride and self-respect--two most important guarantees for the advancement and stability of any country--have generously contributed to the assistance of scholars and have provided funds to ensure that the national records are catalogued, edited, and criticized by men who know their value and are competent to interpret them.

Here in Ireland we have a country with a history of which all classes of Irishmen may feel justly proud. It is a small country from the point of view of material boundaries, but yet small as it is its influence has proved at certain critical stages of European civilization the decisive factor. In recent times thanks largely to the researches of Continental scholars, people are beginning to appreciate not only the history of Ireland itself but also the part which it has played in the spiritual and intellectual progress of Western Europe, notably in the spread of the Gospel and the development of certain distinctive religious organizations and practices, as well as in the progress of the classical studies, the rise of the national literatures, the script and illumination of manuscripts, law, art, science and music. Ireland's history is not the untarnished page of which some authors so eloquently boast, nor yet again is it the black chapter which ignorant critics tell us we should gladly seal. It has its lights and its shades like the history of any other country but whether it makes us blush with shame or hold our heads erect with honest pride, the history of Ireland ought to have an interest for us higher far than that which can be created in us by the story of the fortunes of any other nation. Ireland is our own land and it does not cease to be such for us because we have become ecclesiastics. Nay, more, I might go further and say with confidence that because we are ecclesiastics we have a special interest in Ireland above all others, and that the history of our country proves that though the clergy, like the laymen could be mistaken at times about policies and methods, the progress and the betterment of Ireland were always dear to their hearts.

Nor are the sources wanting for the scientific study of the civil and ecclesiastical history of Ireland. The written records, historical, hagiological, and literary, the monuments of all kinds--Pagan and Christian--the names of the provinces, the counties, the baronies, the townlands, of the mountains, lakes, rivers and streams, the tradition and language of the people--all are ready to help us in our historical researches, if only we had the desire and the capacity to interpret them. Yet with such a history and such an abundance of sources to draw upon, how comparatively little progress has been made in the scientific and scholarly study of Irish history.

Many of our most valuable manuscripts which if belonging to any other country would long since have been published at the expense of the Government are still buried in libraries not even properly catalogued, or if they have been edited, the editors are in some cases so uncritical that they are deprived of much of their value. In Ireland itself an immense mass of material invaluable for the ecclesiastical and general history of Ireland is to be found in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, in the Royal Irish Academy, in the Public Record Office, Dublin, in the Library of the Franciscan Fathers, Merchants' Quay, in Marsh's Library, and in the libraries and archives of many other public institutions in Dublin and throughout the country. The archives, too, of the various dioceses in Ireland contain much that is of the greatest importance for the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland, especially during the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. But in addition to these very important collections are in the hands of private individuals, as can be seen by a glance at the Reports of the Historical Manuscripts Commissioners in the case of those which have been examined.

Outside Ireland the archives of the Irish institutions on the Continent, such as the Irish Colleges in Rome, Paris, and Salamanca, are rich in material for Irish ecclesiastical history. In Rome, especially in the archives of the Vatican and of the Propaganda, is to be found a collection of documents and reports indispensable for the proper study of the medieval and modern history of Ireland; and yet while nearly every nation in Europe has scholars supported by public resources or by private societies at work in the Vatican, Ireland is practically speaking unrepresented. In the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the Bibliotheque National, Paris, the Burgundian Library, Brussels, and in the various centres on the Continent with which Ireland was closely connected in former days precious materials await the attention of scholars.

In the past the Irish Catholic clergy took a leading part in the advancement of Irish historical studies. Passing over the work they did in compiling, transcribing, or preserving many of our most highly-treasured manuscripts, we might direct attention to the labours they willingly undertook for the elucidation of our country's history, even during the worst days of the religious persecution. We might point with pride to the spirit and courage that prompted the exertions of the compilers of the Annals of Ireland to leave behind them this monument of their country's glory at a time when their race and religion seemed marked out for destruction and when less unselfish men might reasonably have felt dismayed. We might recall to our critics the labours and sacrifices of men like Colgan and Ward, Wadding and Keating, Roth and French, Lynch, Porter, and De Burgo. These are only a few of the ecclesiastics who struggled manfully to keep the story of Ireland before the eyes of Irishmen and foreigners; but the list is sufficient to justify the statement that even in the darkest days of persecution the study of Irish history and Irish records was not neglected by the Irish Catholic clergy. These men had great difficulties to overcome in the absence of libraries and of everything which is required to make smooth the path of the historian. Their books are not without their limitations and imperfections, yet, admitting all that, it is confessed by scholars that much of their work is of striking and permanent value. Nor have the clergy in modern times proved themselves unworthy of such noble traditions, though it must be conceded that the obstacles that were to be overcome were of a peculiarly serious character.

Somehow or another, the break with the old traditional native schools--hedge schools if you will--was ruinous to the proper study of Irish history. The teachers in these schools were not universal specialists like some of the products of the Intermediate and the Royal University, but they were heirs to the teaching methods that had been perfected by centuries of usage, and in their knowledge of the traditions, the history, the poetry, the manuscripts of their country, above all, in the thoroughly national spirit which permeated their entire instruction, they possessed an educational system which was likely to develop enthusiastic scholars where more modern methods might inspire disgust. In their knowledge of the language, of the consecrated technical words and formulas, of the paleography of Irish script they held the key to the correct interpretation of our national records; and just as in France when the Benedictines, the great masters of paleography and of manuscript lore, were dispersed by the storms of the Revolution, it seemed for a time as if the key to the literary treasures of the past had been lost for ever, so, too, in Ireland the disappearance of the old native schools and all that they represented dealt an irreparable blow to the study of Irish history.

The young candidates for the priesthood educated like their lay companions along the lines of the newer but from the point of view of Irish history far less satisfactory methods, approached the investigation of the history of Ireland in later life with hardly any of the equipments required for the successful historian. They had not a knowledge of the Irish language, or if they had their knowledge was confined to the language of the day without any appreciation of historical grammar or philology. They could not decipher the contractions of the manuscripts and they had no dictionary at their hands that could throw light upon the technical expressions and ancient forms, which would have been intelligible only by the living tradition. Nor were there any means of acquiring the proper methods of historical criticism or historical investigation in Ireland. History was regarded as a purely literary department, where a knowledge of dates and names was supposed to be the acme of perfection, and where nothing higher was aimed at than an acquaintance with the facts as set forth in some out-of-date manual. An examination of the sources and a criticism of their value, or any attempt at original research, were not supposed to form any portion of the work of the history class, and as a result students completed their historical training with the impression that if Lanigan or Macaulay stated any proposition as true there was no escape from it. It rarely occurred to them to ask where did these authors get their information, and what reliance could be placed upon the value of their sources.

Had there been a university in Ireland with a proper appreciation of its responsibilities towards the country from which it derived most of its resources such a condition of affairs would have been well-nigh impossible. But unfortunately Dublin University held aloof from the current of Irish life, remaining and boasting of remaining a foreign institution hostile to everything native. Not that I wish to say for a moment that many men connected with Trinity College have not done excellent work for Irish history; but they did so not through any exertions of their college but rather in spite of it, and they owe nothing of their success to their university. The Queen's Colleges and the Royal University were probably worse in their treatment of Irish history but for a different reason with which we are not called upon to deal at present.

Maynooth was hampered in its progress by almost insuperable difficulties. Its first staff, excellent men though they undoubtedly were, were either foreigners themselves or Irishmen educated in foreign colleges at a time when history had almost completely disappeared from the curriculum of most of the seats of ecclesiastical learning. For two reasons therefore they had no special inclination to promote Irish historical studies, but even had they felt inclined it was impossible for them to do so. The miserable pittance grudgingly doled out to the college was hardly sufficient to provide professors even in the indispensable professorial departments, and consequently the duties imposed upon the small group of professors were too onerous to permit them to cultivate other branches of ecclesiastical science. There were no funds to buy in manuscripts or costly books for the library or to procure the really valuable antiquarian treasures that might then have been acquired for a national museum; in a word, the trustees were powerless to provide materials and the implements required for successful historical work.

Had Maynooth been equipped from the beginning with a library containing a valuable collection of national manuscripts and literature, had it had its museum stocked with a good proportion of the treasures and monuments of national art, as other institutions in Ireland were equipped, the pent-up natural patriotism of our professors and students would long since have been turned into the channel of national historical research, and our religious records would not be in the sad plight in which they are to-day. Yet, in spite of these drawbacks, Maynooth, as we shall see, has done valuable work for Irish ecclesiastical history in the past, and, please God, it shall render a better account of itself in the future.

Again, when the young priests left Maynooth and went out to labour amongst the people at home, or abroad, the duties of their sacred office left them little time for serious study. The Catholic Church in Ireland depending upon the voluntary offerings of the people could not afford like certain richly-endowed religious institutions to set aside rich sinecures in order to reward and encourage scholarship. The clergy had no libraries at their disposal nor had they the means of purchasing the costly scientific books necessary for original work. Even if they succeeded in exceptional circumstances or by dint of extraordinary perseverance in overcoming these obstacles and in collecting the materials for a book they had not the means of publishing. Whilst by the assistance of certain learned bodies which it is unnecessary to designate others were acquiring fame not unfrequently through the work of underpaid Irish scholars and scribes whose brains and abilities they utilized, the Catholic clergy received the cold shoulder and were left without any encouragement to do valuable literary work. Finally, I might add that even by their own class such labours were not always sufficiently appreciated or rewarded. Yet in spite of these serious obstacles the Irish Catholic clergy have done much for Irish historical studies.

The publication of the Ecclesiastical History of Ireland by Dr. Lanigan, in 1822, marked a new era in the study of Irish history. It was the first serious attempt to apply the principles of modern criticism to the sources of the history of Ireland and in many respects the learned author was far in advance of his times. Though he made many mistakes principally in regard to the relative value and dates of his materials, and though his work shows evident signs of the sad disease which in his later years dimmed his great intellectual powers, yet Dr. Lanigan pointed the way and made it less difficult for others to follow. We might point, too, to the great work done by Cardinal Moran, who not to speak of his other books has given us, in the Spicilegium Ossoriense and his Life of Oliver Plunkett, a collection of original documents indispensable for the study of the penal days in Ireland. Nor can we forget the services rendered to Irish history by men connected with our own College, such as the Archbishop of Tuam, Professor Carew, Drs. Russell, Renehan, Kelly, and M'Carthy, by Dr. M'Carthy, of Cloyne, one of the most accomplished students of our native records, by the Jesuits, Murphy and Hogan, by Father Meehan, Canon O'Hanlon, and Canon O'Rourke. If we turn to diocesan histories, we find that much has been done by Father Cogan, in his History of Meath, by Monsignor Laverty, in his History of Down and Connor, by Dr. Carrigan, in his monumental work on the Diocese of Ossory, by Father Begley, in his History of Limerick, by Dr. Comerford, in his Notes on the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, by Dean Monahan, in his History of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, by Monsignor Fahy, in his History of Kilmacduagh, by Father Coleman, in his re-edition of Stuart's History of Armagh, by Cardinal Moran's History of the Archbishops of Dublin, by Dr. Donnelly's Histories of Dublin Parishes, and by Father M'Loughlin, in his History of the Bishops of Derry. Valuable studies have been published, dealing with particular places, such as Father M'Kenna's works on Devenish Island and the Shrines of Lough Erne, Canon O'Connor's History of St. Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg, Father Hogan's History of Glendalough, etc.; while on the history of the religious orders and congregations in Ireland we have a mine of information in the works published by Fathers Hogan, Coleman, Boyle, and Rushe.

Again, if we turn to the pages of the journals published by the various archaeological societies, notably the Ossory Archaeological Society founded by Cardinal Moran when Bishop of Ossory, the Waterford Society, the Cork Society, and the Louth Archaeological Society, and to works such as the History of Sligo by Canon O'Rourke, of Queen's County by Canon O'Hanlon and Father O'Leary, of the Dalcassian Clans by Dean White, of Clonmel by Father Bourke, of the Place Names in the Dési by Father Power, and lastly, but not least, to the History of Ireland by Dr. D'Alton, which is the best general history of Ireland yet published, we can see that the clergy have not been neglectful of either the ecclesiastical or civil history of Ireland. Nor is this summary of names and of books anything like complete. In a paper like this I could only pick out a few individuals here and there as they occurred to me, but I have mentioned enough to prove my main contention.

Still, though much has been done, much remains to be accomplished. Some people complain of the fact that there is no good up-to-date ecclesiastical history of Ireland, and wonder is expressed that somebody does not undertake such a work; but until the manuscripts and various records and documents which serve to throw light upon the religious history of the country are thoroughly examined no man who understands the elements of historical method would care to undertake such a responsibility. Without the proper materials such a complete and accurate generalization as is demanded in an ecclesiastical history of Ireland would prove too much for the most gifted individual. Hence the date of the appearance of a reliable history of the Catholic Church in Ireland is dependent entirely upon the examination and publication of the sources of our ecclesiastical history.

How, then, is this work to be accomplished ? The work of editing and of re-editing cannot be left to individual initiative and enterprise for few Irish Catholic scholars whether lay or cleric are blessed with the superfluity of wealth required for such an undertaking. Even though an individual might be willing to give his labour gratis, yet the expense of procuring photographs and copies of documents from libraries and the cost of publication would be so high, while the chances of a rapid or general sale would be so infinitesimal, that he would soon find himself in the bankruptcy courts as the results of his studies. Nor would it be fair at the present time to expect any Irish publisher no matter how well disposed and enterprising he might be to undertake such serious financial responsibility.

The only hope of success in this direction lies in the establishment of an Irish Catholic Record Society. Similar societies have been organized, with happy results, in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, England, and the United States. The English Catholic Record Society was founded in 1904, with the object of publishing the documents that were of importance for the history of the Catholic Church in England, especially since the Reformation. It was in no sense aggressive or polemical, but aimed merely at giving the records to the public in a correct and scholarly form. Several volumes have appeared since then, all of them deeply interesting to Catholics and to non-Catholics, while many others are in course of preparation. This example will serve to show us the value of such organizations and the advantage that we may hope to derive from a similar body in Ireland.

This subject was discussed at the Annual Meeting of the Maynooth Union in June, 1910, and, as might be expected from a body which has given its patronage and support to every project which promises to make for the religious literary and social improvement of the country, the idea of founding a Catholic Record Society in Ireland was unanimously approved. The work of arranging the necessary preliminaries was handed over to the Publication Committee of the Union. This body presented its report in June, 1911, and it was decided to proceed at once with the organization of the Society.

The following have consented to act on the Committee:--

Patron: HIS EMINENCE CARDINAL LOGUE, Archbishop of Armagh.

President: MOST REV. DR. HEALY, Archbishop of Tuam.

Vice-Presidents: MOST REV. DR. DONNELLY, Bishop of Canea, MOST REV. DR. O'DOHERTY, Bishop of Zamboanga.

Committee: Canon O'Mahony, President, Maynooth Union; Canon Murphy, .Ex-President, Maynooth Union, The Rector of the Irish College, Rome, The Rector of the Irish College, Paris, The Rector of the Irish College, Salamanca, Dr. Windle, President, University College, Cork, Right Hon. M. F. Cox, M.D., Rev. John Begley, C.C., Dr. Joyce, Rev. Dr. Carrigan, Professor John MacNeill, Rev. A. Coleman, O.P., Dr. Sigerson, Rev. Dr. D'Alton, Barry O'Brien, Esq., Rev. Dr. Henebry, Professor Stockley, Rev. E. B. Fitzmaurice, O.F.M., Professor O'Maille, Rev. Thomas Gogarty, Professor O'Sullivan, Rev. A. Kelleher, Professor Merriman, Rev. John MacErlain, S.J., Dr. Grattan Flood, Rev. Patrick Power, M. J. M'Enery, Esq., Rev. Reginald Walsh, O.P., M. J. Kenny, Esq., Rev. Paul Walsh.

Editor: Rev. James MacCaffrey, Maynooth.

It has been arranged that in the beginning, at any rate, the Society should confine its attention principally to unpublished documents. Articles, except in so far as they may serve as an introduction to or an explanation of some text, will be excluded. In some cases translations will accompany the documents; in other cases it is hoped that a concise and accurate summary of the contents may suffice. All kinds of manuscripts, records, letters, etc., in Irish, Latin, English, etc., which serve to help the ecclesiastical historian of Ireland, will fall within the scope of the Society's operations.

It is hoped to publish these documents in the Journal of the Society, In the beginning the Journal will appear at irregular intervals, but at least once a year. Later on, if the funds of the Society permit, the Journal may appear twice or three times a year. The size of each number will depend entirely on the amount of the membership subscription; but it is intended that each issue will constitute a good-sized volume, provided with a complete and accurate index. The Journal of the Society will be sent to members free of cost.

The annual subscription of members has been fixed at 10s. Owing to the cost of printing a journal of the kind contemplated a smaller subscription would not suffice. If any person is inclined to think that the amount is too high let him remember that those who have undertaken to work for the Society have done so without hope of any payment or reward except the satisfaction of knowing that they have done something for their religion and country. Intending members may help the project not alone by their subscriptions but also by forwarding documents or letters which they may have in their possession and which they consider might fall within the scope of the Society. Such documents shall be returned as soon as copies of them have been made.

The Committee of the Catholic Record Society earnestly appeals especially to the priests of Ireland and to Irish priests in all parts of the world to aid them in carrying to a successful issue the difficult work which it has undertaken.

All communications to be addressed: The Secretary, Catholic Record Society of Ireland, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth.



1 The first portion of this article is reproduced from a paper read at the Annual Meeting of the Maynooth Union, June, 1910.