In the display case
The Oireachtas Library & Research Service exhibits selected treasures from the Oireachtas collection in a display case in Leinster House with a new selection each month.
This month we are showing a first edition of a controversial pamphlet by William Molyneux, an Irish writer, philosopher, scientist and member of the Irish Parliament in Dublin.
This year marks the 320th anniversary of the death of William Molyneux. Shortly before his death in 1698 he published a controversial pamphlet entitled The Case of Ireland’s being bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated.
During the latter half of the 17th century a series of laws had been passed by the English Parliament that damaged Irish trade and commerce – particularly the wool trade. Prompted by the increased regulation and by the writings of his great friend John Locke on human rights, Molyneux’s publication argued for Ireland’s autonomy in law-making:
“For tis the cause of the whole race of Adam that I argue: liberty seems the inherent right of all mankind.”
Molyneux’s legal argument was founded on the basis that Ireland had not been taken by conquest in 1172, but by a voluntary submission of the Irish kings to Henry II, who had then granted them the right to a legislative parliament. There was no precedent, therefore, for the English Parliament to circumvent those long-established legislative rights since the mid 17th century. Though not intended by its author – who was arguing for ‘home rule’ rather than separation from England – the book proved highly controversial. The House of Commons of England condemned the publication as dangerous, and petitioned the king to punish Molyneux, but no action was taken. He died only a few months after its publication, in October 1698, and was buried in St Audoen’s Church in Dublin.
The impact of the work was much greater than Molyneux could have anticipated, with reprints continuing throughout the following century and beyond. After the foundation of the Irish Free State the Oireachtas Library inherited five copies of the book from the Dublin Castle and London Irish Office libraries. References in the writings and speeches of prominent Irish Protestant figures, including Jonathan Swift and Henry Grattan, demonstrate its influence on the growing revolutionary consciousness of the 18th century.
Kelly, P. H. (2009) Molyneux (Molyneaux), William. In: McGuire, J. and Quinn, J. ed. Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Kelly, P. (1988) William Molyneux and the Spirit of Liberty in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Eighteenth-Century Ireland/Iris an Dá Chultúr, 3, pp.133-148.
Luce, J. V. (1986) William Molyneux of Dublin. Trinity Monday Memorial Discourse, accessible at https://www.tcd.ie/Secretary/FellowsScholars/discourses/discourses/1986a_J%20V%20Luce%20on%20W%20Molyneux.pdf
McBride, I. (2005) The nation in the age of revolution. In: Scales, L. and Zimmer, O. ed. Power and the Nation in European History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.248-272.
Front page of 1698 pamphlet
Portrait of William Molyneux by Sir Godfrey Kneller
Maps combine art, history and geography but also commercial interests and can take on agendas as well. The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World) by Abraham Ortelius was a sublime combination of these and was the first effort to bind together maps in a universal format with descriptive text, what we now know as an atlas. The name atlas is used for a collection of maps or charts usually bound together and derives from a custom which was initiated by cartographer Gerardus Mercator in the 16th century of using the figure of Atlas, shown holding a globe, as a frontispiece for books of maps. We are fortunate in having a map of Ireland from the 1592 edition of the Theatrum in our collection but we also have some later maps of interest