The Russell Library at Maynooth University is home to many unique treasures. In amongst cuneiform tablets from the Babylonian period, incunabula from 1470 onwards, and medieval manuscripts, resides a lesser known collection of significant importance – the Furlong Collection. Comprised of the personal library of the former Bishop of Ferns, Thomas Furlong (1802-75), this collection is a unique treasure of the Russell Library.
|Handwritten catalogue of the Library of the House of Missions Enniscorthy - Picture courtesy of Mick O Dwyer|
An improvement in the college grant in 1845 resulted in better pay for Maynooth staff and PhD students. Thomas Furlong was one of the many who used these extra funds to create substantial personal libraries. His collection was so comprehensive that he reported to the 1853 Maynooth Commission that “having endeavoured to provide myself with nearly all the works which I require in my department, I rarely visit the Library with the view of consulting writers on divinity” (as cited in Neligan, 1995, p.14).
Bishop Furlong was an astute and discerning collector. His library contains approximately 1,349 antiquarian books, with items ranging in date from the 16th to the 19th century. It is a rich representation of Christian doctrinal and theological literature, containing works of ecclesiastical history, scripture, theology, philosophy, ethics and liturgy.
The collection includes many continental imprints and nearly 100 Irish imprints. Several of the books are first editions of sixteenth and seventeenth century works. The earliest item in the collection is dated 1540 (Concordantiae maiores sacrae Bibliae: summis uigilijs iam denuo ultra omnes editiones castigatae). Many items have ornate bindings and most feature the bookplate of the “House of Missions Enniscorthy”.
|Manuscript fragment in printed book from the Furlong collection - Picture courtesy of Mick O Dwyer|
|Visitors from St John of God Health Care, Australia at the Russell Library - Picture courtesy of Mick O Dwyer|
The Furlong collection provides a unique window into the contents of a personal library of an Irish nineteenth-century theologian. It is held at the Russell Library, Maynooth University and can be viewed during normal opening hours (Mon, Weds & Thurs from 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm).
With thanks to Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives, Maynooth University for her assistance with this article.
Neligan, A. (Ed). (1995)The library: looking back, 1995-1800. In A. Neligan(Ed). Maynooth library treasures: from the collections of Saint Patrick’s College (p.14) Dublin. Royal Irish Academy