Christmas reading from Special Collections


Christmas Entertainments [1740]. This pocket sized item comes to us, like some many other titles in this field, from the Delargy collection. This, the personal library of the renowned folklore specialist, Seamus Ó Duilearga [James Delargy], includes many rare titles, and was originally acquired by the library in 1981. The original edition of this book was published in 1740 but, as it was intended to be used to entertain around a winter fire, it was, as the later publisher asserts “thumbed out of existence”. It is full of fantasy tales of conjurors, witches and fairies. This nineteenth century reprint is itself a rarity now and harks back to a time when household entertainment depended almost exclusively on the oral tradition and the idea of Netflix or Now TV was far in the future!

Alan Gailey. Christmas rhymers and mummers in Ireland (1968). In the same vein, this pamphlet reflects the work of one of the finest collectors of folk tradition in 20th century Ireland, the late Alan Gailey of the Ulster Museum. Most of the examples cited are from Ulster counties though Gailey does refer to the Wexford mummers’ tradition also. In County Galway, of course, we still have the New Inn Mummer’s Festival, which hopefully will be able to resume whenever such events are again permitted. 

Completing our trio of pamphlets, The Irish Christmas, was published in 1917 by The Candle Press, then operating from 158 Rathgar Road, Dublin. This publishing house went on to be known as The Three Candles Press. The pamphlet is a compilation of poems by contemporary Irish writers including Susan Mitchell and Joseph Campbell. The illustrations are by Sadb Trinnseach (Francesca "Cesca" Trench), a member of an Anglo-Irish family who was heavily involved  with the Gaelic League and sadly died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. 

The Dominican library collection, a gift to the library from the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Taylor’s Hill, Galway, in 2016 contains many items related to the Christmas season. Included here is an illustration from Noel en Provence, published in Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Paris in 1927 and now itself something of a rarity. It is regarded as a bibliographical mainstay for the study of the crèche or crib tradition of the Provence region of southern France. 

In John Goodall’s An Edwardian Christmas we have a wordless story with paintings depicting an idyllic Christmas in an English country house at the turn of the twentieth century. This title, now out of print, was published in 1977 but harks back to a nostalgic view of Christmas. It came to us through the donation of an anonymous collection, originating in Galway City, in 2000 and proves that unusual books can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

We will end this short survey of Special Collections books with a Christmas connection on a much more modern note. From the photo essay Christmas in America, images of the holiday season by 100 of America’s leading photographers, published in 1988, we see this extravagant twentieth century image. This title is part of the collection bequeathed to the library by Henry Ringling North, once a director of the Barnum & Bailey circus and a lifelong book collector. The Ringling North library includes many rare historical titles from the seventeenth century onwards but also boasts some extraordinary modern volumes.

Nollaig Shona agus fanigí slán!



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