seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of The Reverend Edward Hincks

edward-hincksThe Reverend Edward Hincks, Anglo-Irish clergyman best remembered as an Assyriologist and one of the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform, is born in Cork, County Cork on August 19, 1792. He is one of the three men known as the “holy trinity of cuneiform,” with Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and Jules Oppert.

Hincks is the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Dix Hincks, a distinguished Protestant minister, orientalist and naturalist. He is an elder brother of Sir Francis Hincks, a prominent Canadian politician who is also sometime Governor of Barbados, and William Hincks, the first Professor of Natural History at Queen’s College, Cork and afterwards University College, Toronto.

Hincks is educated at home by his father and at Midleton College before entering Trinity College Dublin. He is elected a Scholar of the College in 1810, and in 1812 wins the Gold Medal and Bishop Law‘s Prize for Mathematics. He is elected a Fellow of the College in 1813 and four years later takes his M.A. In 1819, following the death of Thomas Meredith, he is presented to the Rectory of Ardtrea in County Tyrone. Though Ardtrea is a valuable and highly prized Rectory, it is also isolated for a young bachelor and he resigns the position in 1826, taking up the Rectory in nearby Killyleagh, County Down, an office he holds for the remainder of his life.

The undemanding nature of his clerical duties leave him with more than enough time to pursue his interest in ancient languages. His first love is for the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt. His greatest achievement is the decipherment of the ancient language and writing of Babylon and Assyria: Akkadian cuneiform.

Hincks deduces correctly that cuneiform writing had been invented by one of the earliest civilisations of Mesopotamia, who then bequeathed it to later states such as Babylon, Assyria and Elam. In 1848 he is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his achievements.

By 1850 Hincks comes to a number of important conclusions regarding the nature of Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform. He also discovers that cuneiform characters are “polyphonic,” by which he means that a single sign can have several different readings depending on the context in which it occurs. However, not everyone is convinced by the claims being made by the Irishman and his distinguished colleagues. Some philologists even suggest that they are simply inventing multiple readings of the signs to suit their own translations.

In 1857 the versatile English Orientalist William Henry Fox Talbot suggests that an undeciphered cuneiform text be given to several different Assyriologists to translate. If, working independently of one another, they come up with reasonably similar translations, it will surely dispel the doubts surrounding their claims.

As it happens, Talbot, Hincks, Rawlinson and Oppert, are in London in 1857. Edwin Norris, secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, gives each of them a copy of a recently discovered inscription from the reign of the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser I. A jury of experts is impaneled to examine the resulting translations and assess their accuracy.

In all essential points the translations produced by the four scholars are found to be in close agreement with one another. There are of course some slight discrepancies. The inexperienced Talbot makes a number of mistakes, and Oppert’s translation contains a few doubtful passages due to his unfamiliarity with the English language. But Hincks’ and Rawlinson’s versions are virtually identical. The jury declares itself satisfied, and the decipherment of cuneiform is adjudged a fait accompli.

Hincks devotes the remaining years of his life to the study of cuneiform and makes further significant contributions to its decipherment. He dies at his rectory in Killyleagh on December 3, 1866 at the age of 74. He is survived by a wife and four daughters.


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Birth of Poet Charles Wolfe

charles-wolfeCharles Wolfe, Irish poet, is born at Blackhall, County Kildare, on December 14, 1791. He is chiefly remembered for “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna” which achieves popularity in 19th century poetry anthologies.

Wolfe is the youngest son of Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall and his wife Frances, who is also his cousin and daughter of the Rev. Peter Lombard of Clooncorrick Castle, Carrigallen, County Leitrim. He is a brother of Peter Wolfe, High Sheriff of Kildare. His father is the godfather, but widely believed to be the natural father, of Theobald Wolfe Tone and the first cousin of Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden.

Not long after he is born, his father dies and the family moves to England. In 1801, Wolfe is sent to a school in Bath but is sent home a few months later due to ill health. From 1802 to 1805, he is tutored by a Dr. Evans in Salisbury before being sent to Hyde Abbey School, Winchester. In 1808, his family returns to Ireland, and the following year he enters Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1814.

Wolfe is ordained as a Church of Ireland priest in 1817, first taking the Curacy of Ballyclog in County Tyrone before transferring almost immediately to Donaghmore, County Tyrone. There he develops a close friendship and deep respect for the Rev. Thomas Meredith, Rector of nearby Ardtrea, and a former Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. Wolfe writes two epitaphs for Meredith, one on his memorial in the parish church of Ardtrea, and another intended for his tomb.

Wolfe is best remembered for his poem “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna”, written in 1816 and much collected in 19th and 20th century anthologies. The poem first appears anonymously in the Newry Telegraph of April 19, 1817, and is reprinted in many other periodicals. But it is forgotten until after his death when Lord Byron draws the attention of the public to it. Wolfe’s only volume of verse, Poetical Remains, appears in 1825 with “The Burial of Sir John Moore” and fourteen other verses of an equally high standard.

Wolfe remains at Donaghmore until 1820 but, rejected by the woman for whom he gave up his academic career, and with Meredith, his only real friend in County Tyrone, now dead, he moves to Southern France. Shortly before his death he returns to Ireland and lives at Cobh, County Cork, where he dies at the age of 31 of consumption, which he catches from a cow. He is buried in Cobh at Old Church Cemetery. There is also a plaque to his memory in the church at Castlecaulfield, the village where he lives whilst Curate at Donaghmore, as well as a marble monument to him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

(Pictured: Bas-relief of Charles Wolfe in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin)