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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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Death of Author & Journalist Standish James O’Grady

Standish James O’Grady, author, journalist, and historian, dies on May 18, 1928 at Shanklin, Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England.

O’Grady is born on March 22, 1846 at Castletown, County Cork, the son of Reverend Thomas O’Grady, the scholarly Church of Ireland minister of Castletown Berehaven, County Cork, and Susanna Doe. After a rather severe education at Tipperary Grammar School, O’Grady follows his father to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several prize medals and distinguishes himself in several sports.

O’Grady proves too unconventional of mind to settle into a career in the church and earns much of his living by writing for the Irish newspapers. Reading Sylvester O’Halloran‘s General history of Ireland sparks an interest in early Irish history. After an initial lukewarm response to his writing on the legendary past in History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878–81) and Early Bardic Literature of Ireland (1879), he realizes that the public wants romance, and so follows the example of James Macpherson in recasting Irish legends in literary form, producing historical novels including Finn and his Companions (1891), The Coming of Cuculain (1894), The Chain of Gold (1895), Ulrick the Ready (1896) and The Flight of the Eagle (1897), and The Departure of Dermot (1913).

O’Grady also studies Irish history of the Elizabethan period, presenting in his edition of Sir Thomas Stafford‘s Pacata Hibernia (1896) the view that the Irish people have made the Tudors into kings of Ireland in order to overthrow their unpopular landlords, the Irish chieftains. His The Story of Ireland (1894) is not well received, as it sheds too positive a light on the rule of Oliver Cromwell for the taste of many Irish readers. He is also active in social and political campaigns in connection with such issues as unemployment and taxation.

Until 1898, he works as a journalist for the Daily Express of Dublin, but in that year, finding Dublin journalism in decline, he moves to Kilkenny to become editor of the Kilkenny Moderator. It is here he becomes involved with Ellen Cuffe, Countess of Desart and Captain Otway Cuffe. He engages in the revival of the local woolen and woodworking industries. In 1900 he founds the All-Ireland Review and returns to Dublin to manage it until it ceases publication in 1908. O’Grady contributes to James Larkin‘s The Irish Worker paper.

O’Grady’s works are an influence on William Butler Yeats and George Russell and this leads to him being known as the “Father of the Celtic Revival.” Being as much proud of his family’s Unionismand Protestantism as of his Gaelic Irish ancestry, identities that are increasingly seen as antithetical in the late 1800s, he is described by Augusta, Lady Gregory as a “fenian unionist.”

Advised to move away from Ireland for the sake of his health, O’Grady passes his later years living with his eldest son, a clergyman in England, and dies on the Isle of Wight on May 18, 1928.

His eldest son, Hugh Art O’Grady, is for a time editor of the Cork Free Press before he enlists in World War I early in 1915. He becomes better known as Dr. Hugh O’Grady, later Professor of the Transvaal University College, Pretoria, who writes the biography of his father in 1929.