Annual General Meeting
On Saturday 25th May 2019 the Annual General Meeting of the Irish Section was held at Marsh’s library, Dublin, by kind invitation of the Director and staff.
Following an opportunity for members to catch up on news over coffee and cake, the AGM convened under the chairmanship of Dr John Maiben Gilmartin.
After the business of the AGM had been concluded, we were treated to a fascinating talk by our guest speaker, Professor Ruth Whelan, Professor of French at Maynooth University.
The professor presented “The hidden life of a manuscript letter (by René Barraud de la Cantinière)”. A single, original clandestine letter from the 17th Century, many times since copied and shared, told the horrifying story of the unfortunate Huguenots who were forced to work as galley slaves on ships in the Mediterranean. The letter also revealed details of a network of contacts throughout Europe who worked silently, at great personal risk, to support and assist those Huguenots who had been captured by the forces of the Crown during those shockingly cruel times.
Professor Whelan shared how careful analysis of the letter and its copies could, centuries later, tell us so much about the history of the Huguenots, the regime under which they were held and tortured and about the psychological resilience they constructed on the basis of their spiritual life. Intriguingly, the nineteenth-century copyists of the letter redacted from their transcriptions the prayer Barraud composed on the bench of the galley and integrated seamlessly into his letter to Jean de La Place, sieur de La Sauvagerie, a refugee pastor resident in Rotterdam.
Centuries later, the letter and the history of its transcriptions reveal more than the imprisoned writer could ever have hoped to share when he risked his life to write and then send that folded sheet of paper. Read by different readers in different social and political contexts, a letter that was vital to the ongoing survival of the French Protestant galley slaves turned into a historical document; it was rescued from oblivion but the vital connection to the mystery of the living was lost.
Our group was held spellbound as the Professor unveiled clues and presented evidence to build a picture of the remarkable life of that one letter, whilst simultaneously illuminating the remarkable lives of the many who suffered and of the wonderful network of those who sought to extend their help.
Photo: (L to R) Prof. Ruth Whelan, pictured with Dr John Maiben Gilmartin, Chair of the Irish Section of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain & Ireland, in the garden at Marsh’s Library, Dublin, May 2019.
Members will be sent details shortly of plans for our next outing.