George Boole: Academic, Author, Husband and Father

Sepia coloured studio photograph of George Boole in a long-coat suit with dickie-bow tie standing with his hands at his side, his head slightly turned to the left as we look at it.

In 2015 University College Cork and UCC Library celebrated the life and scientific achievements of George Boole, first Professor of Mathematics, Queens College Cork (QCC), with George Boole 200*.

You may wonder why George Boole is the subject of a blog in 2021. UCC Library Archives has recently listed material dating from the 19th and 20th centuries that is now open to researchers as the George Boole Ancillary Collection. It contains Boole-related material that was housed in Special Collections, UCC Library, on permanent loan from the Royal Irish Academy, and original letters by George Boole and related material donated by Emeritus Professor Des MacHale (School of Mathematics, UCC) to UCC library after the main Boole Collection was listed.

The original letters and related material of George Boole (BP/1/A/2) show his dedication to scholarly pursuit and his joy of family.  We learn a little more about his lodgings in Cork close to College when he first arrived in 1849.

Part of a letter written by George Boole in Oct 1849 from Queen's College Cork to his sister, Mary Ann.

“I have got lodgings close by the Colege {sic} in a delightful situation quite indeed like the country”


Ever dedicated to his classes he closes this letter with his having to attend to the copying out of papers in preparation of an examination.

There are lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society “On a district in the south of Ireland” published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851 (BP/1/A/2/2).

First page of handwritten lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society given by Boole, published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851.

“I have selected this subject partly because it is an interesting, and in some respects a misunderstood subject, but still more, because it is one of the very few subjects…of which I possess any personal knowledge.”

Second page of lecture notes by George Boole given to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society in 1851.

“The lofty Galtee range of mountains protecting the region overlooked by their Southern slopes from the extreme & violence of the north & east winds…the southern & western shores are washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic, which [can] retain some portion of the temperature imparted to them by the Gulf Stream.”

There is an example of student / lecturer difference of opinion on examination results in 1858, the student [Thomas Henry Marmion] and George Boole write to Sir Robert Kane, President of Queens College Cork arguing their case on the matter.

[Marmion] writes “a letter from the Registrar to me intimating that I had received a qualifying mark in Mathematics, Dr. Boole…appears to be under some misconception as he declined to sign my certificate until I should have passed a supplemental examination.”

Extract from a letter from Thomas H. Marmion to President Kane, QCC, questioning the actions of “Dr. Boole” (BP/1/A/2/4)

Boole’s response is fairly matter-of-fact “the value of Mr. [Marmion’s] answering as calculated from the marks which he obtained was 2…as his answering did not appear to me to be sufficiently good to qualify him for passing I added a recommendation for a supplemental examination which I should be ready to give him if [decided] to do so.”

Letter by George Boole in 1858
Extract from a letter from George Boole to President Kane, QCC, on the results of one of his students [Thomas H. Marmion] – (BP/1/A/2/5)

Within a heavily used original copy of Purcell’s Commercial Cork Almanac (1865) is a newspaper cutting in which its author praises Boole’s lecture on Newton to the Lincoln Mechanics’ Institute when Boole was only nineteen years old (BP/1/A/2/6).

I mentioned a little earlier that from this material we also get a deeper insight into George Boole ‘the person’ from a letter addressed to a “dear friend“, who I suspect is Dr. Bury after checking The Papers of George Boole. Boole writes as a proud father and husband, relaying the birth of his eldest daughter, Mary Ellen, in 1856.

First page of a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, announcing that he has become a father for the first time.

“…I am now a father. My little first born – a daughter – came with the [world] two days ago. It is a fine healthy child and its dear mother is wonderfully well”.


He describes his wife’s health during the pregnancy “…she was able to take an amount of exercise very unusual for person in her situation up to the very day of her confinement. Her step remained as light as ever…” He goes on to describe her labour, how she was afterwards and breastfeeding “the only sypton {sic} she noticed…was a little giddiness at the moment when the child first began to suck.” He is of the mind that;

Excerpt from a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, describing how well his wife and baby are.

“a great deal of suffering, certainly to mother & probably to child, is due to the neglect of natures [plainest] dictates…my wife took no medicine whatever – nor has she taken any since…”


If you are interested in learning more about these documents, or any other items in the Boole Collections, please contact

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Building Ireland’s Architectural Heritage: The Works of Rudolf Maximilian Butler and James Gandon

UCC Library is pleased to open to the public the R.M. Bulter Architect Collection, a small archival collection relating to prominent architects Rudolf Maximilian Butler and James Gandon.

Rudolf Maximilian Butler (1872-1943)

Rudolf Maximilian Butler was an Irish architect, architectural historian, academic, and journalist. Born in Dublin in 1872, he was educated in both Dublin and Germany. Following his studies, he apprenticed in Dublin under architects James Joseph Farrall, from 1889-1891, and Walter Glynn Doolin, from 1891-1896. After completing his training, he remained with Doolin, first as his assistant and then as his junior partner. With Doolin’s death in 1902, Butler formed an architectural partnership with James Louis Donnelly named Doolin Bulter & Donnelly. The partnership ended approximately five years later with Donnelly’s departure. Butler then operated as Doolin & Butler for several years before finally practicing privately under his own name.

Butler’s most well known architectural designs are Catholic ecclesiastical works. Notable examples include:

He was a member of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland; a founding member of Architectural Association of Ireland (formed in 1896); editor of the Irish Builder and Technical Journal, from 1899-1935; and professor of architecture at University College Dublin, from 1924-1942.

Title page of R.M. Butler's copy of The life of James Gandon, Esq.
Title page of R. M. Butler’s copy of The life of James Gandon, Esq.

The R.M. Butler Architect Collection primarily relates to Butler’s work as an architectural historian, containing correspondence, press cuttings, and other material, concerning his research into the renowned English-born architect James Gandon, best known for his design of Irish public buildings including the Custom House, the Four Courts, and King’s Inns in Dublin.

James Gandon (1743–1823)

James Gandon was born in London in February 1743. He was educated at Shipley’s Drawing Academy before apprenticing under the Scottish architect William Chambers, designer of the Casino at Marino and Charlemont House in Dublin, from 1758-1765. Following his apprenticeship, he set up an independent practice in 1765.

Portrait of James Gandon from The life of James Gandon, Esq.
Portrait of James Gandon from The life of James Gandon, Esq.

The collection includes correspondence from individuals such as Walter G. Strickland, author of A Dictionary of Irish Artists, and W. J. Jessop of Jessop & Son in Nottingham, touching on different periods of Gandon’s career. Early projects referenced include his engravings for Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus, a book of plans and drawings of Palladian revival buildings, and his design for the Shire Hall in Nottingham (built 1769-1772).

Gandon’s first major Irish commission came in 1780 when he was hired to design and superintend the construction of the Custom House in Dublin. It was a controversial project, receiving considerable opposition from the Corporation of Dublin, city merchants, and the public, largely due to its high cost and location. Despite the hostility, the project led to Gandon settling in Ireland where he was to remained the rest of his life.

Print of The Four Courts, Dublin [IE BL/CV/TP/DublinCity/39]
Print of The Four Courts, Dublin [IE BL/CV/TP/DublinCity/39]

Of Gandon’s other Irish projects, the collection includes two letters from R.M. Butler to the editor of the Freeman’s Journal, one in draft form and the other as a press cutting, concerning his work on the Four Courts and Parliament House in Dublin. In the draft letter, Butler outlines the design of the Four Courts by Gandon and Thomas Cooley (1740–1784). Cooley was the original designer but died after the western and southern portions of the quadrangle were finished. Gandon was then hired to complete the project and was responsible for the central part containing the Four Courts proper leaving “the impress of his genius on the whole beautiful edifice.” However, as with his other projects, things did not always run smoothly, with Butler noting that Gandon was forced to change his design for the portico by the Earl of Portarlington, which Gandon much regretted.

Writing in 1922, Butler ends the letter by laments the recent destruction of some Dublin’s most notable buildings, including the Four Courts, “which contributed so much to give it architectural dignity and charm as a metropolis.” He concludes: “It would be well if the Government would, when we once again enjoy the blessings of peace, appoint a commission to ascertain and report to what extent these beautiful buildings may, by careful restoration be recreated in whole or in part.” These restoration efforts are touched on in other items in the collection, including a notice from the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland containing a paper titled ‘Some Reconstruction Work at the Four Courts, Dublin.’ by T. J. Byrne from 1929.

The collection also includes a short article by Butler, from the Irish Builder, discussing Canonbrook House in Lucan, County Dublin, Gandon’s residence following his retirement in 1805. Canonbrook is described as a rural Georgian house “designed and embellish by Gandon himself.” While retiring from the stresses of large scale schemes, Gandon remained active, designing upward of forty residences in Lucan and putting forward a range of projects in connection with public improvements and national memorials. He died at Canonbrook on 24 December 1823.

The R.M. Butler Architect Collection is now fully listed, with further details and the complete listing available at


Butler, Rudolph Maximilian, Irish gothic architecture (Dublin : Sackville Press [c1916])

Duffy, Hugo, James Gandon and His Times (Kinsale : Gandon Editions, 1999)

Gandon, James, The life of James Gandon, Esq. : with original notices of contemporary artists, and fragments of essays (Dublin : Hodges and Smith, 1846)

Williams, Jeremy, A companion guide to architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (Dublin : Irish Academic Press, 1994)

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Political Prints: A Brief Look at 18th and 19th Century Visual Satire

Among the Cartographic Visual material currently being listed in Special Collections are two small collections of political prints, each representing two distinct periods in the history of visual satire and caricature in Great Britain.

Napoleonic Prints

The first set, titled ‘Napoleonic Prints’, contains thirteen engravings from the “Golden Age” of the political print (1760-c. 1830), dating from the end of the Seven Years War, in 1763, to the War of the Sixth Coalition during the Napoleonic era – the final print dating from 1813.

A range of social, political and technological factors aided the development of the political print in the latter half of the 18th century, with the medium truly coming into its own during the upheaval of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The period saw the emergence of a number of pioneering artists, including James Gillray (1756–1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827) and George Cruikshank (1792–1878). Gillray, in particular, is credited with transforming the medium through his distinct style and humour for which he has received the title “the father of the political cartoon”. Most prints at the time were sold as single sheets and produced from etchings or engravings, some using aquatint, while others were hand-coloured.

BL/CV/PolP/N/2 Billy a cock-horse or the modern colossus amusing himself (8 March 1797)
BL/CV/PolP/N/2 Billy a cock-horse or the modern colossus amusing himself (8 March 1797)

Members of the royal family, political figures, and other high-ranking members of society were all prime targets for Gillray and his fellow caricaturists, with images highlighting distorted or exaggerated features as the subject’s ambitions and moral shortcomings are mocked and scrutinised. A regular source of inspiration was the bitter rivalry between the Tories and the Whigs. The example above, from 1797, depicts a particularly arrogant William Pitt the Younger in Parliament bestriding the Speaker’s chair as he uses a spur on his left boot to stab Charles James Fox, Leader of the Opposition. The print is one of many focusing on Pitt’s management of finances to fund the war against Revolutionary France.

BL/CV/PolP/N/12 Pacific Overtures - or - a Flight from St Cloud's - over the Water to Charley - a new Dramatic Peace now Rehearsing (5 April 1806)
BL/CV/PolP/N/12 Pacific Overtures – or – a Flight from St Cloud’s – over the Water to Charley – a new Dramatic Peace now Rehearsing (5 April 1806)

George III and Napoleon were other popular subjects of ridicule. The former was often depicted as a pretentious fool, while the latter’s political ambitions were satirised, with caricatures emphasising his stature and/or inflated head. The above print by Gillray, from 1806, depicts George III confronting Napoleon on a theatre stage. Napoleon stands on a cloud as he points to a scroll containing his terms of peace. Meanwhile, the orchestra in the pit below is composed of members of the new Ministry, each playing to their own sheet music. As was common, the image is filled with commentary, analogy, and allusion.

Daniel O’Connell Prints

The second set of prints, titled ‘Daniel O’Connell Prints’, contains eleven lithographs, dating from the 1830s and 1840s, and represents the work of two artists: John Doyle (1797–1868), who adopted the monogram H.B., and Henry Heath (fl. 1822–1842), who adopted monogram H.H..

By the 1830s, visual culture had changed, moving from the engravings and etchings of the earlier period to new techniques such as lithography. The new cheaper, and quicker, methods of production coincided with a shift from single sheet prints to serial formats. As Henry Miller notes: “Instead of being issued as single-sheet prints, caricatures, graphic satires and non-satirical political images increasingly came in a variety of formats that were published continually at regular intervals.” (p. 25) Both changes can be found in the set, with each of the prints numbered as part of a series – in the present case ‘Political Sketches of H.B.‘ and ‘Political Sketches by H.H.’.

BL/CV/PolP/DOC/4 New State Omnibus, or The Man wot is Cad to the Man wot was Cad to the Man wot drove the Sovereign (24 December 1834)
BL/CV/PolP/DOC/4 New State Omnibus, or The Man wot is Cad to the Man wot was Cad to the Man wot drove the Sovereign (24 December 1834)

The John Doyle, or H.B., prints primarily focus on the short period of Robert Peel’s first Ministry (1834-5). The image above reflecting the less than promising start to Peel’s first term as Prime Minster. It depicts an omnibus, lettered “Public Reform”, with the Duke of Wellington as the conductor, or cad, and Sir Robert Peel as the coachman. Unfortunately, it only carries a single passenger in the form of William IV. Meanwhile, John Bull, a personification of the nation, keeps watch as timekeeper. Indeed, Peel’s minority Tory government was forced to resign after approximately a hundred days in office, largely thanks to an alliance between the Whigs and Daniel O’Connell.

Only one of the Doyle’s prints contains the figure of O’Connell. Dating from 1837, it depicts him as the driver of a hackney-cabriolet, titled “Patent Safety”, dictating the direction of the cab and, by implication, the present Whig ministry under Lord Melbourne.

BL/CV/PolP/DOC/7 The Beggar and The Queen (c. 1844)
BL/CV/PolP/DOC/7 The Beggar and The Queen (c. 1844)

Conversely, Daniel O’Connell appears in all five of the Henry Heath, or H.H., prints which provide a short sequence focusing on his campaign for repeal of the Union. The image above, shows O’Connell kneeling before Queen Victoria disguised as a beggar as he presents the petition for repeal. A group of Irish beggars stand behind him while Prince Albert, Sir Robert Peel, and the Duke of Wellington accompany the Queen. In the dialogue boxes, the Queen indicates that she sees through O’Connell’s disguise and rejects the petition, while Wellington and Peel comment on the matter: “Dan has well disguised himself, but it won’t do, the Queen has her suspicions and appears determined not to listen to his blarney.” The remaining prints focus on O’Connell’s subsequent arrest, trial and imprisonment.

Both sets of political prints are now fully listed, with further details and the complete listings available on the Special Collections’ Cartographic Visual LibGuide.


George, Mary Dorothy, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Vol. VII (London : The British Museum, 1942)

McLean, Thomas, An illustrative key to the Political sketches of H.B.,from no. 1 to no. 600 (London : Thomas McLean, 1841)

Miller, Henry, Politics personified : portraiture, caricature and visual culture in Britain, c. 1830-80 (Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2015)

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