History of the Museum

Maynooth College Museum was established as a Museum of Ecclesiology in 1934 by a resolution of the Trustees of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Dr William Moran, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, was appointed as the first curator. The Museum was to be a repository for various objects of Ecclesiastical and College interest, especially those which were linked with the researches and pioneering work of former Maynooth Professors. It has also been enriched by the benefactions of former Maynooth students and friends. Noteworthy amongst the many benefactors was Very Rev. John O’Ryan, Parish Priest of St. Nicholas in Dublin, himself an ardent collector of ecclesiastical material – who bequeathed his very fine collection to the College Museum. At present, the Museum has two sections, one devoted to Ecclesiology and the other to Science, each catalogued. The science section is published under the title The Scientific Apparatus of Nicholas Callan and other Instruments by Maynooth College and Samson Ltd.

Vestments presented by Her Imperial Majesty Elizabeth, Empress of Austria in 1880
Vestments presented by Her Imperial Majesty Elizabeth, Empress of Austria in 1880

In 1942 on the resignation of Professor William Moran, the Trustees appointed the Very Rev. Dr Patrick J. McLaughlin, Professor of Experimental Physics and later Vice-President of the College, to be curator. He held this post until 1957. McLaughlin transferred the Callan apparatus, including induction coils, electromagnets, the ‘repeater’, condensers, electric motors and batteries – amongst these his cast-iron cells, which were also manufactured by E.M. Clarke of London, who sold them commercially. These items had been stored in the basement of Stoyte House.

Maynooth battery (1850)
Maynooth battery (1850)

Professor McLaughlin also carried out extensive research on Callan’s publications in Sturgeon’s Annals of Electricity, in the Philosophical Magazine and also in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. In Studies (1936, Volume 25, pp. 253-269) he gave an account of these and in 1965 to mark the centenary of Callan’s death, he published Nicholas J. Callan – Priest Scientist, 1799-1864. It can be truly said that he rescued Callan’s pioneering work from oblivion and established beyond doubt that Callan was the inventor of the induction coil.

In the 1950s the Curator, the Rev. Michael T. Casey, O.P., Professor of Chemistry was appointed. He made an inventory with detailed measurements of all scientific instruments in the Museum. This inventory was incorporated in Dr Mollan’s Irish National Inventory of Historic Scientific Instruments (Interim Report, 1989), and may be regarded as the beginning of the scientific catalogue.


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