Virtual explorers: access to rare artefacts at National Library

Rebecca O'Connor, Hollie Payne and Nadia Burke, from Scoil Caitríona, Baggot Street, using the interactive technology to view rare and valuable collections at the National Library yesterday.

Rebecca O'Connor, Hollie Payne and Nadia Burke, from Scoil Caitríona, Baggot Street, using the interactive technology to view rare and valuable collections at the National Library yesterday.

Thu, Jan 21, 2010, 00:00

FARM DEEDS signed by the man credited with bringing the potato to Ireland are among the rare artefacts featured in a hi-tech virtual exhibition which opened at the National Library of Ireland yesterday.

A heartfelt letter written by 1916 leader Éamonn Ceannt to his wife hours before his execution, cigarette cards painted by Jack B Yeats and cartoons depicting Ireland’s role in the Napoleonic War are also included.

The exhibition features a range of rare items from the library’s collection of documents, letters, maps and art, many of which were deemed too valuable, light or air sensitive to be placed in regular display cases.

To overcome the problem, the National Library teamed up with Microsoft which has developed an interactive touch sensitive screen allowing the public to magnify and examine artefacts dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.

“A lot of the items are very delicate and fragile,” said Elizabeth Kirwan an assistant keeper at the National Library of Ireland. “Traditionally if you wanted to see them you had to make an appointment with a section curator, get a reader’s ticket, put on a pair of white gloves and go to the relevant section to look at the material.

“What we have been able to do now with the technology is enable detailed access to the items both in the library and online.”

The exhibition will be updated with new material every four months this year and should eventually consist of thousands of digitally chronicled items.

Among the artefacts on show is a map dated circa 1200 drawn up by roving Welsh cleric Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales). The primitive map depicts a bean-shaped Ireland as the end of the earth and Rome as a top and central fulcrum of what was the known world at that time.

“Cambrensis was a cousin of some of the Norman invaders who were plundering Ireland at the time and he recorded what he saw,” Ms Kirwan said. “The map reflects his clerical world view with Rome at the top and Ireland at the uncivilised outer extremity.”

A 1588 deed for a 1,135 acre farm at Mogeely in Co Cork let by Sir Walter Raleigh to Denis Fisher also features in the exhibition.

Queen Elizabeth I gave Raleigh, who was credited as the first man to plant potatoes in Ireland, some 40,000 acres of land in Munster which had been confiscated following the Desmond rebellions.

Other items featured include a 14th century poetry manuscript entitled the Book of Maguaran, an 18th century Leinster lottery ticket issued by Walker and Disraell of Grafton Street in Dublin, and a book of 300 drawings of abbeys and castles, dated 1782, by former British military paymaster Austin Cooper.

The Ceannt letter, dated May 8th, 1916, is addressed to his wife and sweetheart Áine and was written as he was “calmly awaiting the end” in Kilmainham Gaol.

Access through www.nli.ie