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Jesuit Letters book launched

The two-volume Irish Jesuit Annual Letters, 1604-1674, edited by Vera Moynes (centre in picture), was launched on 13 September by the publishers, The Irish Manuscripts Commission, at their premises on Merrion Square, Dublin. This was the second part of a larger project, covering the translation and editing of Jesuit correspondence in the 17th century, which was conceived as a way of marking the bicentenary of the restoration of the Jesuits in 1815. The first book in this archival project was a Calendar of Correspondence 1566-1752, published by the Roman Archive of the Society of Jesus in Rome earlier this year.

Irish Jesuit Annual Letters contains the twenty-five 17th century letters which have survived. These were epistolary reports which every Jesuit mission and province was expected to send to Rome each year, reporting in an informative and inspiring way on the conditions of the place and the progress in ministries. The letters in these volumes are published here for the first time, along with translations from Latin and Portuguese into English. Not only do they give insight into the dynamic and influential mission of the Jesuits in Ireland, but they also provide unique information on the social, political, cultural, religious, sexual and linguistic realities of the time. The writers of the letters were confident and detailed observers of conditions in Ireland during one of its most violent and turbulent centuries. They include first-hand accounts of plague in Clonmel, famine in Connacht, massacre in Drogheda, and exorcisms and miracles throughout the country.

Prof. Simon Ditchfield, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of York, launched the work. He gave an informative address, situating the Jesuit story in these volumes in the broader story of the Counter-Reformation. Fr Todd Morrissey SJ also spoke, representing the Irish Jesuit Province. He gave a broad descriptive account of the kinds of material to be found in the annual letters.

Editor Vera Moynes then spoke briefly. She thanked the many collaborators she had in seeing the project through, including the translators of the letters and the director of the Jesuit Roman Archive Brian Mac Cuarta SJ (left in picture), “whose brainchild this project was”. Vera also noted with gratitude the work that had been done long ago by two Irish Jesuits, Edmund Hogan (1831-1917), who translated four of the letters, and whose translations served as benchmarks for the new translations (early modern glossary), and the renowned scholar John Mac Erlean SJ (1870-1950), both of whom were province historians.

The host for the event was Professor John McCafferty (right in picture) of the School of History, University College Dublin, who is Chair of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.