17th C. Irish Catechism Added to Rare Book Collection

January 2020—Parrthas An Anma

An unusual 17th-century Gaelic catechism, has been added to Raynor Memorial Libraries' rare book collection.

The book, recently added to the rare books collection in the library's special collections department, is both a rich historical artifact produced at a momentous time in Catholic and Irish history as well as a beautiful manifestation of 17th-century Catholic devotion.

Parrthas An Anma was written by Antoin Gearnon, a man born into a landed English family in Ireland in the 1610s and who gave up his inherited wealth to become a Franciscan friar. Gearnon pursued his spiritual training not in Ireland but at St. Anthony's College in Louvain, Belgium. St. Anthony's was one of many Irish outposts in Europe that were established to maintain the Catholic, Gaelic traditions that were under fire in Ireland following the country's conquest by the Anglican English in the late 16th century.

By the time Gearnon penned his Parrthas An Anma at St. Anthony's in 1645, the college was an important hub of Irish scholarship and religious training, with its own Gaelic printing press. Gearnon's book was written in simple, easily understood Gaelic vernacular with many illustrative woodcuts, making it an ideal devotional reader for both educated and uneducated Catholics back in Ireland.

Gaelic printing was in its infancy at the time that Gearnon's book was published. The press at St. Anthony, launched in 1616, was among the first Gaelic printing presses and was the first that was authentically Irish. The press's type was designed to look similar to handwritten manuscripts and is said to have been inspired by the manuscripts of Irish Franciscan Giolla Brighde ÓhEoghusa, otherwise known as Bonaventure O'Hussey. The type style influenced Irish typography for centuries thereafter.

 Adam and Eve from Parrthas an Anma  Cross from Parrthas an Anma  Last page of Parrthas an Anma

Images of the library's copy of Parrthas An Anma by Antoin Gearnon, 1645.

Explore Further

Contact Amy Cooper Cary, Head of Special Collections, for questions about the book.

Find out more about the library's rare book collection.

Read more about the historical context of Parrthas An Anma and Antoin Gearnon: