Research guide: The Dunraven Papers

This guide provides an in-depth overview of the Dunraven papers held in the Special Collections and Archives department at the Glucksman Library.

Click to expand the Table of Contents on this page to jump to individual research themes within the collection.

black-and-white image of Dunraven Castle
Postcard, Leonard collection: Dunraven Castle in Glamorganshire, South Wales, home of the Wyndham family

1. Overview

The Dunraven Papers (D/3196) is among the largest and most frequently consulted collections in the Special Collections and Archives Department. It comprises over 15,000 documents and some 225 volumes ranging from the early 17th to the early 20th century, with a notable concentration of material for the period 1830–1870. The collection relates to the Wyndham Quin family, Earls of Dunraven, of Adare Manor, County Limerick.  A short but comprehensive family history by the Knight of Glin can be found in vol. 1 of Christie, Manson & Woods’ auction catalogue Adare Manor Ireland (1982). Another good source of family history, particularly its Welsh side, is Dunraven Castle Glamorgan: Some Notes on Its History and Associations (London, 1926) written by Windham Henry Wyndham Quin, 5th Earl of Dunraven. In addition, Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage (Stokesley, 2003) contains pedigrees of the Quin and Wyndham families.

The material in this collection relates to the Dunraven family’s Irish estates and affairs. Material relating to their Welsh and English estates is deposited in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. The related catalogue can be searched and downloaded here. Hard copies of the catalogue are also available in the Special Collections reading room. Additional material, mainly correspondence of the Randall family of solicitors in Bridgend, Glamorganshire, who for much of the 19th century acted as agents to the Dunravens, is available at Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff and can be found by searching the archives’ online catalogue, Canfod.

It is important to note that the collection at present is on loan to the University of Limerick and items cannot be reproduced by photocopying, photographing, scanning or any other mechanical or electronic means without written permission from the Dunraven estate. Handwritten transcripts are permitted. Requests for reproduction must be made by post. For further information and assistance, please consult with a member of staff.

The collection is accompanied by a catalogue and a more detailed calendar prepared by A.P.W. Malcomson in 1996. However, the catalogue is limited in scope and contains artificial divisions which make it somewhat confusing to navigate. It also contains descriptions of documents that have been retained by the Dunraven family and therefore are not available in the reading room. These include most notably two scrapbooks compiled by Caroline, Countess of Dunraven and other family members (N/1–2); an outsize volume of maps of the County Limerick Estate (K/8/6/1); and series of architectural and other drawings (J/22–30), mainly by PC Hardwick, for the house and parterre at Adare Manor and for the Christian Brothers’ monastery and Roman Catholic Church in Adare. Requests can be made to the Dunraven estate to view these items – please ask a member of staff for assistance.


A number of items in this collection require conservation treatment and are too fragile to safely handle. Please be aware that not all of these documents are highlighted in the catalogue and the material you wish to see may not be available for consultation.

2. Research themes


The Dunraven collection is a rich source of research material on an exceptionally broad range of subjects. Some of the most important themes are listed and described below. The list is by no means comprehensive. If your particular research topic is not included, please don’t hesitate to make enquiries to a member of staff.


black-and-white illustration of the north doorway of Cormac's Chapel in Notes on Irish Architecture
Leonard collection S/63 Vol 2, p 76: Illustration of the north doorway of Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel from Notes on Irish Architecture


Archaeology and Antiquarianism

Edwin the 3rd Earl of Dunraven (1812–1871) was a prominent antiquarian and a pioneer of the emerging science of archaeology. He was a co-founder of the Irish Archaeological Society in 1840 and the Celtic Society in 1845, both of which were established to publish early Irish records and scholarly works on Irish antiquities. In 1865, the 3rd Earl and his mother Caroline, Countess of Dunraven published Memorials of Adare Manor, a compilation of historical notices on the manor, castle and monasteries of Adare and other sites of antiquarian interest in the vicinity. Working notes and drafts of the book can be found at I/24.

The 3rd Earl counted among his closest friends the Irish artist and antiquary George Petrie (1790–1866), whose writings on early Irish architecture formed the cornerstones of Irish archaeology. When Petrie died in 1866, the 3rd Earl formed a committee to oversee the sale of his collections and the publication of his unfinished manuscripts. One manuscript in particular, on the subject of Irish ecclesiastical architecture, caught his interest to such an extent that he took personal responsibility for its completion. Notes on Irish Architecture was published in two volumes in 1875 and 1877 under the editorship of Margaret Stokes following the 3rd Earl’s death in 1871. Correspondence to and from George Petrie can be found at I/3-6 and 14, and letters to and from Dr William Stokes and his daughter Margaret Stokes at I/22.

The Dunraven collection also contains letters on antiquarian topics from prominent names of the day, among them John O’Donovan and Thomas Larcom of the Ordnance Survey (I/6 and I/ 9, respectively), scholar and educator James Henthorn Todd (I/10), artist and geologist George Du Noyer (I/12) and mathematician and academic Charles Graves (I/13).


coloured drawing of Adare Manor and surrounding park
Drawing of the 19th-century view of Adare Manor, Co. Limerick, Leonard collection



In 1832, the 2nd Earl of Dunraven and his wife commenced the building of Adare Manor, a Gothic Revival house, to replace the original family home of Classical design. A number of prominent designers and architects of the day were involved in the building works, including the stained-glass artist Thomas Willement and architects James and George Richard Pain, Lewis Nockalls Cottingham and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. The building was completed some thirty years later by the 3rd Earl of Dunraven and his architect of choice, Philip Charles Hardwick. For good summaries of the building works, see John Cornforth, ‘Adare Manor, Co. Limerick – The Seat of the Earls of Dunraven’, published in Country Life 165 (1969), 15 May (pp. 1230–4), 22 May (pp. 1302–6) and 29 May (pp. 1366–9); Judith Hill, ‘Gothic in Post-Union Ireland’, in Terence Dooley and Christopher Ridgeway (eds.), The Irish Country House: Past, Present and Future (Dublin, 2011), pp. 58–89; and David Lee’s biography James Pain Architect, ed. Debbie Jacobs (Limerick, 2005), pp. 208–18.

Material in the Dunraven Papers relating to building works include letters from Pugin (J/5) and Hardwick (J/6), six account books relating to purchases of rough stone and stonemasons’ work during the 2nd Earl’s building activities (J/3A) and a large collection of bills, estimates and accounts relating to the 3rd Earl work on the house (J/7–20). References to building works can be found in the 2nd Earl’s letters to his wife (E/3), the 3rd Earl’s letters to his mother (E/7–9) and the journals of Caroline, Countess of Dunraven (E/2).



The Dunravens were also seminal in the reconstruction of Adare village in the early 1800s. The leases in K/6 reveal the pace at which this development occurred, and the conditions attached to the building of new houses in terms of their size and building materials. In addition, J/16 contain plans, estimates, bills and correspondence relating to the construction of Adare Court House. Files J/16–17 also contain material relating to the construction of the stables at Adare Manor, the agent’s house at Mondellihy and various building works in County Kerry undertaken by the 3rd Earl in the 1860s.

It is important to note that all architectural drawings relating to the building of Adare Manor, the conversion of the Fever Hospital to a Christian Brothers’ School and Monastery and the restoration of the Trinitarian Church have been retained by the Dunraven family and are not available in the reading room. Requests can be made to the Dunraven estate to view these items – please ask a member of staff for assistance.


detail of a lease of property in Adare, featuring a sketch of the site
D3196/K/6/1/44: Detail of a lease of property on Park Street, Adare, 1809, courtesy of the Dunraven Estate


Estate Management

The Quin family has been associated with Adare since at least the early 17th century. This is reflected in the abundant if rather complicated range of title deeds (K/3–5) relating to the family’s estates in Counties Limerick, Clare and Kerry, which spans from 1614 to 1864. There are also some two hundred leases (K/6) relating to townlands in Co Limerick, dating from 1712 to 1873. Both title deeds and leases have been arranged in approximate alphabetical order by townland name. Useful information concerning land ownership can also be found in the wills and marriage and other settlements (K/1–3) pertaining to the family.

Far less abundant than deeds and leases are rentals (K9). There are none of earlier date than 1855 and those after that date are incomplete, covering the dates 1855–56, 1870–73, 1875–76, 1881–94 (incomplete), 1897–99 and 1904–05. In addition, there are two volumes of rent books relating to Adare town covering the years 1902–37.

There is a good range of estate correspondence, primarily with the family’s Irish agents Windham and Gamaliel Fitzgerald (B/1/A–M, C/28, F/34 and G/9), J. Barry (F/33), Thomas Ball (F/18), Edward Curling (F/23) and Peter Fitzgerald (G/15–16 and G/28). Correspondence with the family’s Welsh agent John Randall can be found in M/3 and M/8; however, the bulk of the Randall family’s correspondence is deposited at Glamorgan Archives (see Introduction for details).

Accounts relating to estate management are scarce. Household accounts and other expenditure accounts relating to the wives of the 2nd and 3rd Earls can be found in K/10. In addition, K/11 comprises a large quantity of tradesmen’s accounts and receipts dating primarily from 1845–70. Returns of workmen employed in 1837 and 1851 can be found in J/3 and J/15, respectively.


coloured shield of arms of the 3rd Earl of Dunraven
D/3196/I/2  (unnumbered): The shield of arms of the 3rd Earl of Dunraven, courtesy of the Dunraven Estate



The Quins are one of the few families in the peerage of Ireland of unbroken Gaelic descent in the male line. Both the 2nd and the 3rd Earls took an interest in their antecedents and researched them in some detail. The 2nd Earl engaged the services of the herald and antiquarian Sir William Betham to design and prepare armorial bearings of seven generations of the Quin and Wyndham families for display in the gallery at Adare Manor. Betham’s genealogical research was also used on the gallery’s stained-glass windows, designed and executed by Thomas Willement, which depict the pedigree of the Wyndham family. A small number of letters from Thomas Willement and Sir William Betham can be found in J/3/1–31. Other files of the 2nd Earl’s correspondence relating to genealogy include I/7, I/8 and M/11.

The 3rd Earl continued his father’s research and included a chapter on Quin family history in Memorials of Adare Manor. The book also contains a helpful guide to the armorial bearings and stained-glass windows in the gallery at Adare Manor (see pp. 9–12 and 17–23, respectively). Files I/1/1–2 contain the 3rd Earl’s notes on genealogy together with bookplates and illustrations of the arms and quarterings of the Quin and related families. Letters from John O’Donovan to the 3rd Earl on the subject in I/6/1–27 are also worth noting. In addition, useful genealogical detail can be found in the wills and marriage settlements in K/1–2.

For a broader history of the Quin family and its various Irish septs, Quinn/ O’Quin: A History by Louis Quinn (Ennis, 2010) is a useful resource.



The 2nd Earl of Dunraven was MP for Co Limerick from 1806 to 1820 and in 1839 was elected a representative peer to the House of Lords. His appointment in 1820 as custos rotulorum (keeper of the rolls) for County Limerick embroiled him in a political scandal and resulted in a parliamentary inquiry, which found in his favour. Press cuttings relating to this affair are contained in C/5. The 2nd Earl’s speeches and correspondence relating to politics, albeit limited in quantity, can be found in C/4, C/5, C/13 and C/17. For a good potted account of the 2nd Earl’s early political career, see the History of Parliament website.


cover of William Monsell of Tervoe by Matthre Potter, featuring artwork of a man in a coat
Leonard collection B/3422: Cover of William Monsell of Tervoe 1812–1894: Catholic Unionist, Anglo-Irishman

The 3rd Earl of Dunraven sat in the House of Commons as MP for Glamorganshire from 1837 until the death of his father in 1850, when he was raised to the peerage and was obliged to resign his seat. In 1866, he was created Baron Kenry in the peerage of the United Kingdom, which granted him an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords. Here, he played a role in seeing through the Irish Church Act 1869, which made the Church of Ireland self-governing by breaking the link between church and state, abolished the tithes and barred the church from sending representatives to the House of Lords. Material relating to the 3rd Earl’s political career is not copious and is mainly limited to correspondence – for example F/4, F/5 and F/28. In addition, files M/7 and M/12–13 contain letters and papers relating to Glamorganshire elections and politics.

Also worth noting are letters (F/10–11) from the 3rd Earl’s brother-in-law William Monsell (1812–1894), later Baron Emly, a prominent figure in Irish politics from the 1830s to the 1890s. For a good biography of this multi-faceted man, see William Monsell of Tervoe 1812–1894: Catholic Unionist, Anglo-Irishman by Matthew Potter (Dublin, 2009). Additional material relating to Monsell in the Dunraven Papers is contained in files E/7/9, E/10 and F/4. The Monsell of Tervoe Papers are deposited in the National Library of Ireland and can be found by searching the library’s Sources database.

There are few surviving papers of the 4th Earl of Dunraven (1841–1926), politically by far the most significant member of the family. A constructive moderate Unionist and founder of the Irish Reform Association, he campaigned prominently for Home Rule and a peaceful solution to the Irish land question. To this effect, he published a book entitled The Outlook in Ireland, the Case for Devolution and Conciliation in 1897, which was reprinted ten years later. He chaired the 1902 Land Conference, which led to the enactment of the Wyndham Land (Purchase) Act (1903), named after the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, George Wyndham. The only file (G/3) containing the 4th Earl’s political and administrative papers comprises mainly routine correspondence of limited interest.


illustration of the Trinitarian Abbey from the convent garden from Memorials of Adare Manor
Leonard collection DS/222 Plate 14: Trinitarian abbey from the convent garden from Memorials of Adare Manor


Religion and Spiritualism

Thady Quin (c1645–1726), the progenitor of the Quin family of Adare, was able to amass and retain substantial landholdings during the Penal Times in spite of being a Roman Catholic. In 1739, as the grip of the Penal Laws tightened, his son Valentine Quin (1691–1744) converted to the Protestant faith, but the family remained supportive towards Catholics. The 2nd Earl was a strong advocate of Catholic emancipation and celebrated the passing of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 with the villagers in Adare. The 2nd Earl, his son and son-in-law William Monsell were involved in the Oxford Movement, which advocated for the inclusion of early Catholic doctrines into the Church of England liturgy and theology. In 1843, they co-founded St Columba’s College with Dr William Sewell, James Henthorn Todd and Augustus Stafford O’Brien and formulated its founding philosophy on the principles of the Oxford Movement. The foundation of the school is poorly recorded in the Dunraven Papers, but some related material, including letters from Sewell, Todd and O’Brien can be found in C/17, E/6, E/13, F/4, F/8–10 and F/21.

In spite of the family’s favourable attitude towards Catholicism, the conversion of William Monsell and the 3rd Earl to the Roman Catholic faith in 1851 and 1855, respectively, came as a shock. It caused a deep rift between the 3rd Earl and his wife and their arguments on the subject caused their son, the future 4th Earl to denounce religion in its entirety, as described in his autobiography Past Times and Pastimes (London, 1922). The dispute and the related question of the religious upbringing of the couple’s children also features prominently in family correspondence, particularly E/8/17, F/9, F/22, G/2 and G/9.

The 3rd Earl corresponded widely on religious topics. His correspondents included Cardinals Manning (F/13) and Newman (F/19) and the Roman Catholic Bishops of Kerry (F/24) and Limerick (F/26). Letters from his brother-in-law William Monsell (F/10–11) also often discuss the nature of the Roman Catholic religion. In spite of the religious differences between the 3rd Earl and his son, they shared an interest in spiritualism and mesmerism. File F27 contains a large selection of letters and papers on these subjects.

Religion also played a prominent part in the life of Caroline, Countess of Dunraven whose journals and other writings (E/1–2) are full of spiritual reflection. These have been explored in detail by Odette Clarke in her doctoral dissertation ‘Caroline Wyndham-Quin, Countess of Dunraven (1790–1870): An Analysis of Her Discursive and Material Legacy’ (University of Limerick, 2010) and in her chapter contribution ‘Divine Providence and Resignation: The Role of Religion in the Management of the Emotions of the Anglo-Irish Countess of Dunraven, Caroline Wyndham-Quin (1790–1870)’ in Willemijn Ruberg and Kristine Steenbergh (eds.), Sexed Sentiments – Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender and Emotion (Amsterdam, 2011).


illustration of the Franciscan Abbey ruins from Memorials of Adare Manor
Leonard collection DS/222 Plate 21: Franciscan abbey, church and tower arch, Adare from Memorials of Adare Manor



Between 1830 and 1833, the 3rd Earl of Dunraven studied astronomy at Trinity College, Dublin under Professor William Rowan Hamilton (1805–1865), the brilliant young mathematician whose work has contributed to the modern study of electromagnetism and the development of quantum mechanics. The two men developed a close friendship and maintained a lifelong correspondence (F/1). Some of this correspondence was published in vol. 3 of the Rev. Robert Perceval Graves’ biography Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Dublin, 1882–89). It was also used by Professor Thomas L. Hankins in his biography Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Baltimore and London, 1980).

Also of interest is the small file of letters (F/3) to the 3rd Earl from the explorer and geophysicist Sir Edward Sabine (1788–1883), famous for his arctic expeditions and magnetic survey of the globe. The letters concern the Ross and Franklin expeditions and also touch upon astronomy and geology.



Social and Cultural History

One of the Dunraven collection’s great strengths lies in its extensive quantity of diaries and family correspondence, which provide a rich insight into the social and cultural history of the Regency and Victorian eras. Of particular interest in this regard are the reflections and journals kept by Caroline, Countess of Dunraven (E/1–2) which span over six decades, from 1808 to 1870. The descriptive catalogue entries of these journals are limited to the dates they cover; for a more detailed description of the contents of each journal and related guidance notes, see Anna-Maria Hajba’s MSc dissertation The Research Value of the Journals of Caroline Countess of Dunraven and How to Optimise their Research Use (Aberystwyth University, 2011).

The diaries of Countess Caroline’s father Thomas Wyndham (D/1/1–21) span the years 1783–1814. They are rather sparse in content but provide glimpse views of life in South Wales at the turn of the 19th century. More interesting are the letters to Countess Caroline’s Welsh grandmother Charlotte Edwin (F/2) from a wide variety of correspondents, written primarily between 1789 and 1814.

By far the richest source of social and cultural history is to be found in the correspondence of the 3rd Earl of Dunraven which covers a broad range of subjects and writers, as outlined in sections above. Particularly noteworthy are the 3rd Earl’s letters to his mother (E/7–9), which span from 1821 to the death of Countess Caroline in 1870. This large volume of correspondence also incorporates letters from the 3rd Earl’s wife Augusta, his children and his younger brother Captain Windham Henry Quin. The 3rd Earl also kept a diary (F/6, F/31, F/56), but most of the volumes are so extensively damaged that they cannot be safely handled.


black-and-white picture of Lord Dunraven's cutter Valkyrie III
051a Valkyrie iii: Lord Dunraven’s cutter Valkyrie III during the 1895 America’s Cup race; from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons


In addition to his distinguished political career, the 4th Earl of Dunraven found fame as a yachtsman. Material relating to his two bids to win the America’s Cup with his yachts Valkyrie II and Valkyrie III in 1893 and 1895, respectively, can be found in G/18 and G/22. He also wrote a book about yachting entitled Self-Instruction in the Practice and Theory of Navigation (London, 1908), a copy of which is available in the Special Collections reading room. His autobiography Past Times and Pastimes (London, 1922) provides further insights into yachting, travel and big game hunting at the turn of the twentieth century.

Another diarist of note in the family was Lady Eva, wife of the 5th Earl of Dunraven. Her diaries have been retained by the family but typescript copies of those from 1885–1907 can be found in H/3. They document among other things her husband’s period of service as military secretary to the Governor of Madras in 1886–89 and provide an interesting glimpse into life in the furthest corners of the British Empire.