Reflections on the Bouhéreau Diary Project

Dr Amy Prendergast, Trinity College Dublin, shares her experiences of preparing the diary of Élie Bouhéreau, Marsh’s Library’s first librarian, for publication.

Dr Amy Prendergast with Bouhéreau's manuscript

I have long been intrigued by the relationship between Ireland and France, and much of my research career to date has focused on the links between the two countries during the eighteenth century. As such, I was delighted to get to work in Marsh’s Library on the project to publish the diary of Élie Bouhéreau, a French Huguenot refugee who relocated to Ireland after an interesting diplomatic career on the continent.

Bouhéreau’s 81,000-word French-language diary, written between 1689 and 1719, allows us to gain an insight into life at the time. In particular, readers can discover the experiences of those forced to flee France due to religious persecution following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Bouhéreau’s recording of his time in Ireland, where he was employed as Keeper of Marsh’s Library, offers wonderful depictions of life in Dublin, with much detail about the contemporary cost of goods and the education of his family members. Bouhéreau had trained as a medical doctor, and his diary records physical examinations of corpses, while also bearing witness to the dismally high level of infant mortality.

Page of Bouhéreau's diary recording his wife's death. The stain was made by a wine glass.

It was very interesting to read accounts of Bouhéreau’s time as secretary to the British Envoy to the Swiss Cantons. He records frequent instances of diplomatic sociability, noting details such as the hierarchical ordering of different events and the mixed-gender nature of certain gatherings. His travels across Europe are highly entertaining, offering glimpses of architectural wonders, different styles of dress, and observations on the quality of inns and lodgings across the different regions.

My time in Marsh’s as a research associate was a wonderful experience. It was a project of genuine academic collaboration and linguistic exploration, liaising with colleagues in Ireland and abroad on tricky issues relating to the transcription and translation of the diary. My colleague, Dr Marie Léoutre, and I enjoyed the opportunity to work on such an important historical document. The diary and accounts are now fully transcribed and translated, with accompanying scholarly apparatus such as explanatory footnotes in place to help readers’ enjoyment and understanding.

Although I am now lecturing in Trinity College Dublin, as Teaching Fellow in Irish Writing within the School of English, my experience of working on the Bouhéreau Diary Project has already helped to inform my approach to the new academic year. My next research project will investigate women’s life writing in Ireland in the eighteenth century.

Prior to my research position in Marsh’s I had visited the library with third and fourth year TCD students to engage with the library’s wonderful collections. This year I hope to visit the Smock Alley Theatre with Irish Studies students, as well as returning to Marsh’s with still more eighteenth-century enthusiasts.

I am a strong believer in the importance of public engagement as part of academic research and teaching. I hope to continue these links with Marsh’s into the future, and I look forward to the public’s response to the diary, and its engagement with Bouhéreau’s life and travels.

 

The Bouhéreau Diary Project was made possible by an award from the American Ireland Funds. The diary will be published in the summer of 2018.