Of Norman descent, the De Vescis were a leading Anglo-Irish family. John Vesey (1638–1716), who was born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, was a prominent figure in the Church of Ireland, becoming Bishop of Limerick in 1673 and Archbishop of Tuam in 1679. His son Thomas Vesey (1672–1730) was made a baronet in 1698. Ordained a priest in 1700, he immediately became Archdeacon of Tuam and later Bishop of Killaloe (1711) and Bishop of Ossory (1712). His grandson, Thomas Vessey (1735–1804) was created Viscount De Vesci of Abbey Leix in the Irish peerage. His sister Elizabeth Vesey (1715–1791) was a notable literary hostess in London and Dublin and a close friend of the writer and patron of the arts Elizabeth Montagu. In subsequent generations, members of the family served in the Irish House of Commons, the British House of Commons, the House of Lords and the British Army. Yvo Vesey (1881–1958), the 5th Viscount, established the well-known Abbey Leix Carpet Factory in 1906.
Abbey Leix, beside the River Nore in Queen’s County (renamed Laois in 1922), had been a Cistercian monastery. The abbey lands were granted to the Earl of Ormonde in 1562 and were acquired by the Vesey family in the early eighteenth century. The 1st Viscount commissioned James Wyatt to build a house in the style of Robert Adam. Completed in 1774, it is one of the finest country houses in Ireland. The 2nd Viscount enlarged the estate, while Thomas Vesey, the 3rd Viscount, and his wife Lady Emma extended the house, adding a fourth storey, dormer windows and a balustraded parapet. Abbey Leix was sold by the 7th Viscount in 1994.
Many of the books in the De Vesci Collection in the Library were originally owned by Archbishop Vesey and his son Sir Thomas Vesey and were housed at their home at Hollymount in County Mayo. In the nineteenth century there was a substantial addition to the library at Abbey Leix, mainly consisting of travel books, scientific works and general English literature.
The De Vesci Collection was purchased by the Library in 1967 from John Vesey, the 6th Viscount De Vesci.
The De Vesci Collection, like the Clifford Collection, is a fine example of a country house library assembled by a family over several centuries. It contains 1648 books (about 2900 volumes) and 54 serials (about 390 volumes). The serial holdings were originally much greater, but a large number of duplicates were made available to other libraries.
The collection contains six incunabula, including the earliest complete published book held in the Library:
Jacobus, de Voragine, Legenda aurea, Venice, 1478
Rainerus de Pisis, Pantheologia, Venice, 1486 (incomplete)
Angelus Carletus, de Clavasio, Summa Angelica de caribus conscientiae, Venice, 1487
Paulus de Castro [Concilia antiqua et nova], Venice, 1493
Pope Innocent IV, Apparatus super libros Decretalium, Venice, 1495
Ubaldi, Angelo degli, Consilia, Pavia, 1498.
There is considerable strength in English and French publications of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, more so than in any of the other formed collections. Most of the principal classical writers are represented in the collection, including Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Demosthenes, Euripides, Herodotus, Homer, Horace, Juvenal, Livy, Marcus Aurelius, Ovid, Plato, Plutarch, Sophocles, Tacitus, Terence, Thucydides, Virgil and Xenophon. The collection is equally strong in the field of religion, including editions of the Bible and the Church Fathers, works by Thomas Aquinas, Louis Bourdaloue and other Catholic thinkers, and sermons and writings of Protestant churchmen such as Lancelot Andrewes, John Calvin, Miles Coverdale, Jean Daillée, Martin Luther, Jeremy Taylor, William Tyndale and James Ussher. There are also books by seventeenth-century jurists such as Edward Coke, John Godolphin and Hugo Grotius.
The publications of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are more varied, encompassing works on philosophy, religion, law, politics, political economy, agriculture, science, literature, belles lettres, travel, biography and history. In addition, there are many books and pamphlets, mostly dating from the nineteenth century, on the government, church, economy and social conditions in Ireland.
Among the philosophers and theorists whose publications are held in the De Vesci Collection are Edmund Burke, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart and Voltaire. There are many historical works by such writers as Thomas Arnold, Gilbert Burnet, Lord Clarendon, Edward Freeman, David Hume, John Motley, William Prescott, William Robertson, Philip Stanhope, Tobias Smollett and Adolphe Thiers.
The collection contains works on mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology and biology, as well as some of the applied sciences. Examples are books by William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, James Ferguson, Antoine François de Fourcroy, Justus Liebig, Isaac Newton, Anne Pratt, Joseph Priestley, Peter Roget and William Whewell.
Travel writings include books by William Coxe, Lady Herbert, August von Kotzebue, Charles Murray, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, John Moore, James Stuart, Anthony Trollope and Arthur Young. Finally, there is considerable strength in the field of literature, with editions of Joseph Addison, Robert Browning, Fanny Burney, Lord Byron, Pierre Corneille, Charles Dickens, Maria Edgeworth, Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Gray, Samuel Johnson, John Milton, Molière, Samuel Richardson, Walter Scott, Jonathan Swift and James Thomson.
Most of the serials in the De Vesci Collection are short runs, but the following are more substantial:
Country life (1898–1918)
Illustrated London news (1877–1914)
Journal of natural philosophy, chemistry and the arts (1797–1813)
Mechanics’ magazine (1859–72)
Mirror of Parliament (1831–41)
New monthly magazine and literary journal (1836–70)
Philosophical magazine (1798–1801)
Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art (1858–66)
The books and older journals in the De Vesci Collection are kept together as a formed collection in the Rare Books Collection. They have been catalogued individually; the call numbers have the prefixes RB De Vesci, RBq De Vesci, RBf De Vesci and RBef De Vesci. Two bound volumes containing copies of the preliminary processing slips for the books are held at RB De Vesci 1.
The later periodicals have been integrated in the general collection.
The archives of the De Vesci family are held in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin.
Barnard, Toby, Sir Thomas Vesey, Oxford dictionary of national biography, vol. 56, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, pp. 392–3.
Barrett, Suzanne, Irish great houses: golden age of the aristocracy, www.irelandforvisitors.com/articles/greathouses.htm.
Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage, vol. 1, Burke's Peerage & Gentry, London, 2003, pp. 1116–18.
Connolly, S.J., John Vesey, Oxford dictionary of national biography, vol. 56, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, pp. 391–2.