seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of George Petrie, Painter & Musician

george-petrieGeorge Petrie, Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era dies on January 17, 1866.

Petrie is born and grows up in Dublin, living at 21 Great Charles Street, just off Mountjoy Square. He is the son of the portrait and miniature painter James Petrie, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who had settled in Dublin. He is interested in art from an early age. He is sent to the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools, being educated as an artist, where he wins the silver medal in 1805 at the age of fourteen.

After an abortive trip to England in the company of Francis Danby and James Arthur O’Connor, both of whom are close friends of his, he returns to Ireland where he works mostly producing sketches for engravings for travel books including among others, George Newenham Wright‘s guides to Killarney, Wicklow and Dublin, Thomas Cromwell‘s Excursions through Ireland, and James Norris Brewer‘s Beauties of Ireland.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalises the Royal Irish Academy‘s antiquities committee. He is responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong. His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture are of great significance, especially his essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appear in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland. He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology.” His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

From 1833 to 1843 Petrie is employed by Thomas Frederick Colby and Thomas Larcom as head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Amongst his staff are John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest ever scholars, and Eugene O’Curry. A prizewinning essay submitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 1834 on Irish military architecture is never published, but his seminal essay On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill is published by the Academy in 1839. During this period Petrie is himself the editor of two popular antiquarian magazines, the Dublin Penny Journal and, later, the Irish Penny Journal.

Another major contribution of Petrie’s to Irish culture is the collection of Irish traditional airs and melodies which he records. William Stokes’s contemporary biography includes detailed accounts of Petrie’s working methods in his collecting of traditional music: “The song having been given, O’Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie’s work began. The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down …”

As an artist, Petrie’s favourite medium is watercolour which, due to the prejudices of the age, is considered inferior to oil painting. Nonetheless, he can be considered as one of the finest Irish Romantic painters of his era. Some of his best work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, such as his watercolour painting Gougane Barra Lake with the Hermitage of St. Finbarr, County Cork (1831).

Petrie is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s prestigious Cunningham Medal three times: firstly in 1831 for his essay on the round towers, secondly in 1834 for the now lost essay on Irish military architecture, and thirdly in 1839 for his essay on the antiquities of Tara Hill.

The closing years of Petrie’s life are devoted to the publication of a portion of his collection of Irish music. He dies at the age of 77 at Rathmines, Dublin, on January 17, 1866. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

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Death of John O’Donovan, Irish Language Scholar

john-odonovanJohn O’Donovan, Irish language scholar, dies at his residence at 36 Upper Buckingham Street in Dublin on December 10, 1861.

O’Donovan is born in County Kilkenny on July 25, 1806 and is the fourth son of Edmond O’Donovan and Eleanor Hoberlin of Rochestown. His early career is likely inspired by his uncle, Parick O’Donovan. He works for antiquarian James Hardiman researching state papers and traditional sources at the Public Records Office. He also teaches Irish to Thomas Larcom for a short period in 1828 and works for Myles John O’Reilly, a collector of Irish manuscripts.

Following the death of Edward O’Reilly in August 1830, O’Donovan is recruited to the Topographical Department of the first Ordnance Survey Ireland under George Petrie in October 1830. Apart from a brief period in 1833, he works steadily for the Survey on place-name researches until 1842, unearthing and preserving many manuscripts. After that date, O’Donovan’s work with the Survey tails off, although he is called upon from time to time to undertake place-name research on a day-to-day basis. He researches maps and manuscripts at many libraries and archives in Ireland and England, with the intent to establish the correct origin of as many of Ireland’s 63,000 townland names as possible. His letters to Larcom are regarded as an important record of the ancient lore of Ireland for those counties he documents during his years of travel throughout much of Ireland.

By 1845, O’Donovan is corresponding with the younger scholar William Reeves, and much of their correspondence to 1860 survives.

O’Donovan becomes professor of Celtic Languages at Queen’s University Belfast, and is called to the Bar in 1847. His work on linguistics is recognised in 1848 by the Royal Irish Academy, who award him their prestigious Cunningham Medal. On the recommendation of German philologist Jacob Grimm, he is elected a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Prussia in 1856.

Never in great health, he dies shortly after midnight on December 10, 1861 at his residence in Dublin. He is buried on December 13, 1861 in Glasnevin Cemetery, where his tombstone inscription has slightly incorrect dates of both birth and death.