Tuesday 4 February 2020

Digging for Emmet: Ghostly Images From Dublin’s Past

The RCB Library's Archive of the Month for February tells how a baffling puzzle relating to a collection of old glass images came to be solved.

Lantern image from St Peter's Dublin in 1903,
from the collection rescued by Colin O'Riordan
and donated to the RCBL.
Colin O'Riordan, a photographer for Independent New and Media, had rescued the 13 slides many years ago. They showed a church and a cemetery, and Colin set out to identify their location. He focused on the side windows of the church and compared these with vintage images of Dublin churches, determining that the church in question was St Peter's, which was formerly positioned on Aungier Street.

Having donated the collection to the RCB Library's permanent safe-keeping, the slides were subsequently digitised by the Irish Architectural Archive. They were dated to 1889 at the earliest due to the presence of an advertisement for Bovril on a building wall overlooking the cemetery; the Bovril Company was founded in this year.

With 1889 as a starting point, the library began to research any leads from parish and other resources in its holdings. A recurring theme during this research was the excavation of the graveyard of St Peter's around the time of Robert Emmet's anniversary in 1903. As revealed by the vestry minute books, the Select Vestry of St Peter's Church met on Thursday 19 March 1903 to discuss a letter from Dr Thomas Addis Emmet 'requesting permission to open the ground covering the Emmett (sic) vault in the Church Yard'.

Dr Emmet (1826-1919) was the grandson of Thomas Addis Emmet, a member of the United Irishmen who had been arrested in 1798 and was the elder brother of Robert Emmet.

Newspaper reports from the time – written by Dr Emmet himself – confirmed that an excavation of the graveyward of St Peter's occurred on 6 July 1903. Other photographic evidence held by the National Library of Ireland allowed the RCB Library to identify many of the people in the glass slides.

You can find out more about the images and view all of them in the Archive of the Month.