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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Charles O’Conor, Writer & Antiquarian

charles-o-conor-of-belanagareCharles O’Conor, Irish writer and antiquarian who is enormously influential as a protagonist for the preservation of Irish culture and history in the eighteenth century, is born on January 1, 1710 in Killintrany, County Sligo. He combines an encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish manuscripts and Gaelic culture in demolishing many specious theories and suppositions concerning Irish history.

O’Conor is born into a cadet branch of the land-owning family of O’Conor Don and is sent for his education to Father Walter Skelton’s school in Dublin. He grows up in an environment that celebrates Gaelic culture and heritage. He begins collecting and studying ancient manuscripts at an early age.

His marriage brings him financial stability so that he can devote himself to his writing, but he is widowed in 1750, within a year of his father’s death. When his eldest son Denis marries in 1760, he gives up the residence at Bellanagare to him and moves into a small cottage that he had built on the estate. He devotes the remainder of his life to the collection and study of Irish manuscripts, to the publication of dissertations, and especially to the cause of Irish and Catholic emancipation.

O’Conor is well known in Ireland from his youth as a civil-tongued, but adamant, advocate of Gaelic culture and history. He garners fame outside Ireland through his Dissertations on the ancient history of Ireland (1753), which is generally well received. When Samuel Johnson is made aware of it, he is moved to write a letter to O’Conor in 1755, complimenting the book, complimenting the Irish people, and urging O’Conor to write on the topic of Celtic languages.

The book is less well received in some Scottish circles, where there exists a movement to write Celtic history based upon Scottish origins. When James Macpherson publishes a spurious story in 1761 about having found an ancient Gaelic (and Scottish) cycle of poems by a certain “Ossian“, among the critics who rejects it as false is O’Conor, as an inclusion in the 1766 rewrite of his 1753 work. While the issue was laid to public rest by others, notably Samuel Johnson, the issue is laid to intellectual rest by O’Conor in 1775, with the publication of his Dissertation on the origin and antiquities of the antient Scots. The fact that the issue occurs provides O’Conor the opportunity to establish Ireland as the source of Gaelic culture in the minds of the non-Irish general public.

O’Conor’s later life is that of the respected dean of Irish historians. He continues to write as always in favour of ideas that he favours and are consistent with the historical record, and against any and all ideas that are inconsistent with the historical record, including those of other Irish historians. Such is his esteemed reputation that even those whom he challenges would include his challenges in the next edition of their own books. He continues to collect, study, and annotate Irish manuscripts. Upon his death in Bellanagare, County Roscommon on July 1, 1791, his collection becomes the first part of the Annals of the Four Masters at the Stowe Library. In 1883 these are returned to the Royal Irish Academy library.

His unfinished History of Ireland, that Johnson had encouraged in 1777, is destroyed on his instructions at his death.


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Birth of Irish Language Scholar Osborn Bergin

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Osborn Joseph Bergin, a scholar of the Irish language and early Irish literature, is born in Cork, County Cork on November 26, 1873.

Bergin is the sixth child and eldest son of Osborn Roberts Bergin and Sarah Reddin, and is educated at Queen’s College Cork, now University College Cork. He then goes to Germany for advanced studies in Celtic languages, working with Heinrich Zimmer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, now the Humboldt University of Berlin, and later with Rudolf Thurneysen at the University of Freiburg, where he writes his dissertation on palatalization in 1906. He then returns to Ireland and teaches at the School of Irish Learning and at University College Dublin.

Within one year of becoming Director of the School of Irish Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Bergin resigns both the senior professorship and his office of director. The reason for his resignation is never made public.

Bergin, who never uses the name Joseph except when signing with his initials, does not seem to have felt the need of institutional religion, and during his lifetime, he rarely attends religious services. He develops Irish nationalist sympathies and remains a firm nationalist all his life but without party affiliations. From the number of Irish-speakers living in Cork, he quickly masters the spoken Irish of West Munster. By 1897, his knowledge of spoken and literary Modern Irish is so strong that he is appointed lecturer in Celtic in Queen’s College, Cork. It is during this time that he becomes an active member of the Gaelic League.

Bergin publishes extensively in the journal for Irish scholarship, Ériu. He is best known for his discovery of Bergin’s Law, which states that while the normal order of a sentence in Old Irish is verb-subject-object, it is permissible for the verb, in the conjunct form, to be placed at the end of the sentence. His friend Frank O’Connor writes humorously that while he discovers the law “he never really believed in it.” He writes poetry in Irish and makes a number of well-received translations of Old Irish love poetry.

Bergin is celebrated in Brian O’Nolan‘s poem Binchy and Bergin and Best, originally printed in the Cruiskeen Lawn column in The Irish Times and now included in The Best of Myles. He is noted for his feuds with George Moore and William Butler Yeats, but he enjoys a lifelong friendship with George William Russell. Frank O’Connor describes Bergin’s eccentricities affectionately in his memoir My Father’s Son.

Osborn Bergin dies in a nursing home in Dublin at the age of 76 on October 6, 1950, having never married.


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Birth of Kuno Meyer, Scholar of Celtic Philology

kuno-meyerKuno Meyer, German scholar distinguished in the field of Celtic philology and literature, is born in Hamburg, Germany on December 20, 1858. He was considered first and foremost a lexicographer among Celtic scholars but is known by the general public in Ireland rather as the man who introduced them to Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (1911). His brother was the distinguished classical scholar, Eduard Meyer.

Meyer studies in Hamburg at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums. He spends two years in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a teenager (1874–1876) learning English. From 1879, he attends Leipzig University, where he is taught Celtic scholarship by Ernst Windisch. He receives his doctorate for his thesis Eine irische Version der Alexandersage, an Irish version of the Romance of Alexander, in 1884.

Meyer then takes up the post of lecturer in Teutonic languages at the new University College, Liverpool, the precursor of the University of Liverpool, which is established three years earlier.

Meyer continues to publish on Old Irish and more general topics on the Celtic languages, as well as producing textbooks for German. In 1896, he founds and edits, jointly with Ludwig Christian Stern, the prestigious Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. He also cofounds Archiv für celtische Lexicographie in 1898 with Whitley Stokes, producing three volumes from 1900 to 1907.

In 1903, Meyer founds the School of Irish Learning in Dublin, and the next year creates its journal Ériu of which he is the editor. Also in 1904, he becomes Todd Professor in the Celtic Languages at the Royal Irish Academy. In October 1911, he follows Heinrich Zimmer as Professor of Celtic Philology at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. The following year, a volume of Miscellany is presented to him by pupils and friends in honour of his election, and he is made a freeman of both Dublin and Cork.

At the outbreak of World War I, Meyer leaves Europe for the United States, where he lectures at Columbia University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and elsewhere. A pro-German speech he gives in December 1914 to Clan na Gael on Long Island causes outrage in Britain and some factions among the Irish, and as a result, he is removed from the roll of freemen in Dublin and Cork and from his Honorary Professorship of Celtic at Liverpool. He also resigns as Director of the School of Irish Learning and editor of Ériu. Harvard University also had extended an invitation to Meyer to lecture on campus, but it subsequently cancels the invitation in the fall of 1914 on account of Meyer’s propagandist activity.

Meyer nevertheless accepts candidacy for the post of exchange professor at Harvard, at the recommendation of German professors there. However, when the April 1915 issue of The Harvard Advocate awards first prize to an anti-German satirical poem “Gott mit Uns” written by an undergraduate, Meyer sends the university and the press a letter of protest, rebuking the faculty members who served as judges for failure to exercise neutrality. Meyer also declines his candidacy from the exchange professorship in the letter. In a reply, President Abbott Lawrence Lowell says, in explaining Harvard’s policy, that freedom of speech includes pro-German and pro-Allied voices alike.

Meyer is injured in a railway collision in 1915 and meets 27-year-old Florence Lewis while he is recovering in a California hospital. They marry shortly afterwards. He returns to Germany in 1917 and dies in Leipzig on October 11, 1919.

Posthumously, in 1920, Meyer’s name is restored, both by Dublin and Cork, in their Rolls of Honorary Freemen. The restoration occurs on April 19, 1920 in Dublin, where Sinn Féin had won control of the City Council three months earlier, rescinding the decision taken in 1915 by the Irish Parliamentary Party. The restoration in Cork follows on May 14, 1920.