Diary 1: P32 Henry William Massy, Massy collection

P32 Pages from Henry William Massy’s diary, 1839–1842


P32 The Massy Diary

While a standalone item, Massy’s diary contains a number of clues that allow us to trace more details about his background, family and wider social circle.

According to Burke’s Peerage, Massy was born in January 1816, to Reverend William Massy and Elizabeth Evans. He was appointed a Major in the Tipperary Artillery Militia, and served as a Justice of the Peace (JP), or magistrate, for the counties of Limerick and Tipperary (January 1841–). He also served as President of the [?Limerick] Mechanic’s Institute in 1841.

Grantstown Hall, Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary. Image via National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Massy married Maria Cahill in 1838, and had eight children. According to the English census in 1861 and 1871, Massy and his family spent some time living in Kensington, Middlesex, and Lee, Kent, respectively. Records relating to one of Massy’s sons, Lieutenant-General William Godfrey Dunham Massy (1838–1906), are much more abundant, owing in no small part to his established military career, serving with the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

At the time of Griffith’s Valuation, Massy was associated with Grantstown Hall in the barony of Clanwilliam, Co Tippeary.


P32 Mottled cover of Henry William Massy’s diary, 1839–1842

Massy’s diary
A man of leisure, Massy’s diary contains many philosophical (and often grandiose) reflections on his life in 1840s Ireland.

I believe the life of every man is happy and miserable by turns & that few sink into the grave after passing their days calmly & contentedly, except those persons of dulled sensibility & blunted feelings who seldom suffer violently & can never enjoy exquisitely… in the cup of life, the bitters preponderate over the sweets – for what are all those blessings held dear with us, but the forerunners & causes of woe?… For instance, riches, love or ambition can we enjoy (or rather attain) any of those without causing pain & sorrow to others…

The first page of Massy’s diary outlines what he believes constitutes a good diary: it should be more than merely ‘an account of departures from home & returns’; it should contain ‘detail[s] of my thoughts and actions or even the occurrences (I might often call them adventures) of my ordinary life’; and ultimately, it should be unhurried, and unaffected by ‘that greatest of bores, a bad pen‘.

As a source of social history, Massy’s diary contains many incidental references to events attended by him and his contemporaries – including a meeting at the Corn Exchange, Dublin, to ‘advocate the introduction of railroads in Ireland’, which was attended by ‘great men’, such as the Archbishop of Dublin, the Duke of Leinster, Earl of Charlemont and William Henry Grattan. His entries provide an alternative commentary on various meetings he attended in his official capacity as a magistrate. Following an exhibition and concert at the Rotunda, Dublin, in April 1841, where he saw the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he noted only that one female guest, Miss McGrath Gogerty from Co Tipperary was ‘small but exceedingly pretty’. Likewise, after his attendance at a meeting of Poor Law Guardians in October 1841, he remarked that among the attendees were ‘a few men of intelligence and a number of the most ignorant old brutes I ever met’.

This diary P32 was written between 17 February 1839 and 1 January 1842, and runs to over 130 pages.

Kirsten Mulrennan and Rachel Murphy, 'Opening a window to the past: Researching archival diaries', University of Limerick Special Collections and Archives Department website (https://specialcollections.ul.ie/research-diaries/) (Date accessed).