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Jane Maxwell on Stephen De Vere's Diary

Interior shot of two-storey old library with shelved books and sculptural busts at end of each row, a descending stairway in the central foreground, and glass cases with people around them in background.

The room we are standing in is The Old Library. It is a three hundred year old library or a four hundred year old university.

Exterior, overhead shot of steeple and cross in foreground with old buildings, two of which have columns in background, of Trinity College Dublin campus.

Interior shot of old library, with woman standing in foreground at second storey level, wearing glasses and a light blue top, holding a red-leather bound volume between her hands.

Screen text: Jane Maxwell, Principal Curator, Manuscripts and Archives Research Library

This library is the target destination of our many visitors, many visitors who come to see the Book of Kells, and of course to enjoy this beautiful building. But it is a working library, and there are two departments currently hosting readers as we speak.

Interior shot with camera panning right past a column in foreground, wooden panel with Reading Room inscribed over open double door with overhead view of readers at desks.

Interior shot of two rows of old books on wooden shelves, one being pulled out with only hand visible in foreground.

One is the Early Printed Books and Special Collections, and the other is my own department, the Manuscripts and Archives Department.

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Interior shot of Jane Maxwell to camera.

In my hand I have one of the artifacts from the Manuscripts Collection: it is the diary of Stephen De Vere, who travelled on a coffin ship with Irish emigrants, leaving Ireland during the Great Famine.

Black and white engraving of women and children huddled on dock with their belongings in foreground, lots of people gathered in background, about to board a steamer visible behind them. Camera pans slowly downwards.

Interior shot of Jane Maxwell to camera.

He was concerned as were many other people with the experience that they were having, with the fact that they were being so poorly treated, and were dying in such huge numbers.

So rather than take his information on hearsay and report, he did a rather unusual thing.

Black and White engraving of emigrants huddled and very cramped in berths below decks of ship. Camera pans right across image.

In 1847 he joined the poorest of the Irish emigrants as they travelled from Limerick to Canada.

Dark blue paper cover of volume appears on screen, with caption Sir Stephen Edwards De Vere’s Letter to T.F. Elliot – The Old Library Trinity College Dublin. The cover of the volume reads: First Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Colonization from Ireland; Together with the Minutes of Evidence. 1848. Camera pans from diagonal to centred image of volume and diagonal again.

He then made a reportwhich had an immediate practical impact of improving the situation, and the experience of these people who were leaving the country under these conditions.

Interior shot of Jane Maxwell to camera.

An artifact such as this, and the other artifacts, written artifacts, in the Manuscripts Department, have an incredible effect on people who see them, because you can read the history of the Irish Famine, you can read De Vere’s report, and you can read a transcribed version of this diary.

But to hold in your hand an item that travelled

Image of red-leather bound volume appears on screen, slightly scuffed, open clasp on right, slightly frayed binding on left. Camera pans from diagonal to centred image of volume.

in 1847, aboard a coffin ship

Interior shot of Jane Maxwell to camera.

bringing hundreds of starving Irish emigrants to the new world, is to take you back almost physically

Black and White engraving of emigrants huddled and very cramped in berths below decks of ship. Camera pans right across image.

to the darkest period in Irish recorded history.

Interior shot of Jane Maxwell to camera.

There’s nothing quite like looking at, touching, and being in the presence of an artifact that is over a century old, and which was carried through that awful period.

And this is part of the mission of the library of Trinity College, the University of Dublin, to collect, protect this material for the nation and for the world. But also, increasingly, to make it widely and easily available, so whether you come here in person, or increasingly whether you wish to access it on-line, opening this material to the wider research community, and informing research based on primary sources, is one of the strategic missions of this library.

Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.