A Well-Travelled Collection

The Franciscan Book Collection at UCD Library Special Collections

In 2000 the Irish Franciscans (Order of Friars Minor: OFM) and University College Dublin (UCD) agreed a legal partnership, administered by the UCD-OFM partnership committee, whereby The Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute for the Study of Irish History and Civilisation was established. It was agreed that some Franciscan archival and printed collections would be moved to UCD. This was by no means the first journey made by most of these books.

The provenance of the books reflects the presence of Irish Franciscan Friaries in continental Europe from the early 17th century. In 1606, Florence Conroy (Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire) established St. Anthony’s College in Louvain (Leuvan) Belgium. St Anthony’s was the first of a network of Irish Franciscan colleges in continental Europe. St Isidore’s, Rome, followed in 1625 and the College of the Immaculate Conception at Prague in 1631. All these foundations were engaged in teaching and scholarship and had extensive libraries. The books’ provenance evidence also indicates movement of whole collections over the centuries between the colleges in Europe and to and from Ireland.

The reasons for this movement lie in the many turbulent periods in the histories of both Ireland and the Continent. Upheavals in Europe at many periods led to fears for the safely of the books. Louvain was suppressed and taken over by the French revolutionary army in 1798-1800 and eventually passed out of Franciscan ownership in 1822. Richard Francis Walsh, O.F.M. succeeded in getting many of the books in the Louvain library back to Wexford, by buying them officially from the last guardian there, James Cowan, and putting his own name on them. R. F. Walsh’s bold signature is visible throughout much of the collection.

In the 1870s, after the unification of Italy, it was feared that valuable books and manuscripts were not safe at St Isidore’s. A new library was built in the friary at Merchant’s Quay, Dublin and in 1872 much of the material from St Isidore’s was deposited there. In 1946 a new house of studies, Dún Mhúire, at Killiney, Co, Dublin, was established and became a centre for the preservation and study of Franciscan books and manuscripts from the friaries in Ireland and Europe.

The Franciscan collection at UCD contains materials dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The collection includes theology with emphasis on the Scholastics especially Duns Scotus, general religious and devotional works, Franciscana (teachings of St. Francis and the history and organisation of the order), Irish history, Irish language (including some very early publications in Irish), with smaller collections of English literature, travel and science. The collection contains many examples of the works to the great Irish Franciscan scholars like Florence Conroy, Luke Wadding and John Colgan. Included are many rare items and some unique publications. Books published before 1501 are given the name ‘incunabula, from the Latin word for ‘cradle’. The collection has twenty-four of these books from a period that was indeed the ‘cradle’ of the printed word. The Franciscan Manuscripts, which include the Annals of the Four Masters, are held in UCD archives.

UCD Special Collections staff are currently engaged in the wondrous job of cataloguing these collections. Full processing of the book collection is underway, but to do full justice to material of such value, the cataloguing of it is, of necessity, a protracted process. Much of the pre-1801 material is suitable for inclusion in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) which will both highlight rarities and bring them to the attention of scholars worldwide.  The library catalogue holdings currently represent a small but increasing percentage of the total book collection. We look forward to the time when a full and detailed catalogue will be available to researchers.

  • This post was researched and written by Eugene Roche, Assistant Librarian, UCD Special Collections.



A list of the Franciscan incunabula held in UCD Library Special Collections is available in: Fennessy, I. (2001)” Alphabetical indexes for Irish Franciscan incunabula in Rome and Dublin”. Collectanea Hibernica: 43. (available through JSTOR on campus or through a UCD account).

For further provenance information see: Bhreathnach, Edel (2007), ‘The Franciscan Library Killiney: the journey of a valuable historical repository from 1607 to 2007′ Irish Archives, the Journal of the Irish Society for Archives: 14.

Bhreathnach, E., McMahon, J., McCafferty, J (eds.) (2009). The Irish Franciscans, 1534-1990. Dublin : Four Courts.

Conlan, P.(1988). Franciscan Ireland. Dublin : Lilliput Press.

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