Old Library, New Name: Russell Library, Maynooth University

St Joseph's House, Maynooth © Bart Busschots on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
St Joseph’s House, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
© Bart Busschots on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Maynooth University is the new name for the third-level institution located in the North Kildare town. Though formally established as an autonomous university in 1997, the university’s history stems from the establishment of the Royal College of St. Patrick on 5th June 1795 by Act of Parliament. Maynooth University has its origins in the seminary set up on the Duke of Leinster’s lands in 1795, St. Patrick’s College. It was intended “for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion” and, one assumes, in the hope of stemming ideas coming from Revolutionary France.

The seminary was first housed in the house built by the Duke’s steward, John Stoyte, with the lay students in Riverside House (until 1814. Lay students were not admitted again until 1966). Stoyte House was extended soon after by architect Michael Stapleton by adding two symmetrical wings, each with an archway to the grounds beyond (the Long Corridor). The other two sides of the square were completed in 1809 (New House) and 1824 (Humanity House/Dunboyne House), in a similar style to Stoyte House.

Russell Library interior © IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)
© IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)

The fourth side, St Patrick’s House, along with the buildings behind it bordering St Mary’s Square (excluding the chapel), was designed by Augustus Pugin. (For more detail on the architects and builders involved see the comment below.) This building effort was funded by the controversial Maynooth Grant. Pugin was a advocate for Gothic architecture and had designed many churches, the interior of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster and the clock tower for Big Ben. He was disappointed that his work in Maynooth was less ornate than he had planned due to cost constraints, and that he was not given the chapel to design. Russell Library, which is in this complex, was completed in 1861. Though bare by Pugin’s standards, it is far from unornamented to the modern eye.

Russell Library interior  © IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)
© IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)

The College already had a large collection of works to be housed; the professors of the college donated their own collections when they died so over sixty years worth of books had to be accommodated. Today the Russell Library houses a collection of national importance, containing approximately 34,000 printed works dating from the 16th to the mid-19th century, including rare items and first editions. The collection is weighted towards philosophy and theology which comprise about half the collection, but also contains works on music, travel, geography, history and science.

Globe and books, Russell Library  © IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)
© IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)

The pamphlet collection contains approximately 12,000 pamphlets covering all topics from theology to accounts of trials to recipes and innovations. There is a collection of medieval and Gaelic manuscripts, and a collection of incunabula (pre-1501 printing) such as a 1482 volume set on moveable type and illuminated. There are 2,500 bibles, including 493 long bibles. The library also holds a map collection, St Patrick’s College archives, the Salamanca Archive of the Irish Colleges in Spain, and papers from other Irish Colleges.

Border, Russell Library
© IrishPhilosophy.com (CC)

There is also one more unusual resource in the library. The walls are bordered with an intricate scroll pattern, which contains the names of theologians and philosophers from at least the first century AD, such as Irenaeus, Augustine, Bonaventure, Roger Bacon and Duns Scotus. (Can’t remember a Church Father’s name? Look up!) There are also the names of Irish scholars such as John Colgan and Luke Wadding immortalised in Pugin’s decoration. Just as those names invoke continuity between those scholars and the ones the library was built for, the library itself reflects a continuity of scholarship from Pugin’s time to today.


Maynooth University Campus maps

Russell Library webpage

Irish Philosophy on Flickr: Gallery of photographs of Russell Library, items from the Salamanca Archive and items from the Maynooth Archive.

Archiseek on St Joseph’s Square and St Patrick’s House.

Peter J. Lucas & Angela M. Lucas The medieval manuscripts at Maynooth: explorations in the unknowna book from Four Courts Press which provides an in-depth guide to the Maynooth medieval manuscripts (sixteen of them, plus fragments).

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