An Historical Essay on the Dress of Ancient and Modern Irish; addressed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Charlemont. To which is subjoined, a Memoir of the Armour and Weapons of the Irish. Illustrated with numerous plates (one hand-coloured). Dublin: Printed for the Author by George Grierson, 1788. First edition. Quarto. pp. vii, + errata, [iii], 180, 1 (directions for the binder), 14 (plates). Wanting half-title. From the library of James Graves with his signature dated 1843 on titlepage and emendations in his hand. Later half calf over marbled boards. A very good copy. Rare.
First edition of the second major work by the noted Irish antiquary and original member of the Royal Irish Academy.
Joseph Cooper Walker (c.1762-1810), antiquary, was born in Dublin, son of Cooper Walker, merchant, and educated by Thomas Ball. He suffered from asthma, which prevented his attending college; instead he travelled to Italy, where he may have had some private tuition in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish. He took a special interest in Italian literature and Irish antiquities, and on his return to Ireland (where he was employed in the Irish treasury as third clerk in the upper department) resided in an Italianate villa, St. Valerie, on the road from Bray to Enniskerry, County Wicklow.
In 1785 he was elected one of the original members of the Royal Irish Academy and in 1786 was requested to sit on its committee of antiquities. In this capacity he submitted several essays to the Academy’s ‘Transactions’. Despite his linguistic skills, he had little knowledge of Irish, yet Walker (a member of the Anglo-Irish elite) was consistent in his praise of Gaelic culture, portraying it as sophisticated and literate; and although he highly romanticised his work, he did help to challenge negative appraisals of the Irish character. Walker was part of a literary circle that included Edward Ledwich, Charles O’Conor, Edward Berwick, John Philpot Curran, and Henry Grattan.
The current work was undertaken after having heard the Earl of Charlemont’s paper on the antiquity of woollen manufactures in Ireland, and he dedicated it to his friend the Earl. It presents a detailed survey, based on both artefacts and written sources, accompanied by several appendices printing related primary documents and correspondence for which Walker interviewed the older generation, consulted manuscripts, and even visited tombs to examine the clothing of corpses, and admitted he had received copious aid from Lady Moira. He died in 1810 at St. Valerie, leaving a fine gallery of pictures, a library containing Irish manuscripts, and a collection of antiquities.