On February 9, 2023, Project Gutenberg posted its 70,000th title, Wakeman’s Handbook of Irish Antiquities (3rd ed.). Congratulations to all the Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who made this milestone possible!
In 1848, W.F. Wakeman, a young Irish draughtsman who had helped to map Ireland for the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, published a ground-breaking study of Irish archaeology, Archaeologia Hibernica. It featured numerous drawings he had made of the ancient buildings, monuments, and objects that he had come across in the course of his mapping work. The selling point of his book was that these archaeological wonders were “within easy access of Dublin.” He noted that a whole host of monuments, such as burial mounds, stone circles, cromlechs, and other artifacts, “lie within a journey of less than two hours from our metropolis.”
In 1891, Wakeman published an updated edition of his handbook. He died in 1900, but his work remained in the forefront of Irish archaeology. John Cooke, a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland, took up the challenge of further updating Wakeman’s handbook, publishing a much expanded third edition in 1903 under the title Wakeman’s Handbook of Irish Antiquities, which is the edition now available at Project Gutenberg. Following Wakeman’s lead, Cooke’s edition uses decorative capitals at the start of each chapter that were taken from the famous Book of Kells. And it adds 60 illustrations to the already extensive list of Wakeman’s original drawings, for a total of 185. It even brings Wakeman’s work into the 20th Century by adding several photographs. (Cooke himself may have taken some of these photographs; he is best known today for his 1913 photographs of the slums of Dublin for a report on housing conditions among the poor.)
Many monuments omitted from the previous editions of Wakeman’s handbook are featured in Cooke’s edition, such as Knockmany Chamber, a photograph of which (above) is the frontispiece of that edition. Of course, archaeology continues to march on — that monument is now known as Knockmany Passage Tomb, and rather than dating from 500 B.C., as Cooke has it, it is now believed to date from about 3000 B.C. But Wakeman’s and Cooke’s patient groundwork in documenting these antiquities made further study possible, and, even more importantly, prevented them from being overlooked or even inadvertently destroyed by the unknowing.
The e-book version of Wakeman’s Handbook of Irish Antiquities is an outstanding example of the important books that the volunteers of Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders work hard to preserve and make freely available to the world. It is a fitting way to celebrate the milestone of Project Gutenberg’s 70,000th title.
This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.