John Colgan (1590-1658)


Life
[Seán Mac Colgan;] b. Muff [var. Pierstown], near Carndonagh, Co. Donegal; left Ireland for Spain about 1612, ord. 1618; entered Franciscan Order at Louvain, 1620; taught in colleges in Germany, and later formed a team to compile Acta Sanctorum Veteris et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae, Sanctorum Insulae (1645), with Fr. Aodh Mac an Bhaird, whom he succeeded to the Chair of Theology at St. Anthony’s College, Louvain; incorporates lives of Irish saints celebrated in the Roman calendar between Jan. 1-March 30, and based on the late 14th century Latin MS Vitae Sanctorum Hibernicorumi, otherwise the Codex Armachanus, now in Marsh’s Library (MS of 122 fols.);
 
issued Triadis Thaumaturgae seu Divorum Patricii, Columbae, et Brigidae, Trium Veteris et Maioris Scotiae, seu Hiberniae, Sanctorum Insulae (1647), devoted to Brigid, Patrick, and Colum Cille [Columba], the ‘wonder-working saints’, both the foregoing all being part of a projected six-vol. compendium of early Irish history and hagiography; poss. prepared four vols. of same in MS, two of these were being printed at the time of his death, the other two being still unwritten; Luke Wadding wrote that Vol. 4 was actually in the press when Colgan died;
 
trans. into Latin of the Irish-Latin Bethu Phatric [Vita VII, called by him “Vita Tripartita”, latterly the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick], which he included in the Triadis Thaumaturgae, and which was subsequently translated into English by Whitley Stokes (1887) from the copy in the British Library [Rawlinson B 512]; consulted Bishop Ussher’s Religion of the Ancient Irish (1631) and Primordia (1639), for information about the earlier lives of Patrick by Tirechán and Muirchú; also had access to three manuscripts, one belonging to the O’Clerys of Kilbarron, the other to the O’Dorans of Leinster;
 
he retired in 1645 but went on to write a brief Tractatus de vita, scriptis Johannis Scoti (1655), claiming Erigena as an Irishman; Colgan gave the name ‘Four Masters’ to the Franciscan annalists Micheál Ó Cleirigh, and his associates. RR ODNB DIW DIB FDA OCIL

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Works
  • Acta Sanctorum Veteris et Maioris Scottiae seu Hiberniae, Sanctorum Insulae (1645);
  • Triadis Thaumaturgę seu Diuorum Patricii Columbę et Brigidę : trium veteris et maioris Scotię, seu Hibernię sanctorum insulae ... acta, a varijs ... authoribus scripta, ac studio R.P.F. / I. Colgani ... collecta Complectitur tomus secundus sacrarum eiusdem insulę antiquitatum, etc. (Acta sanctorum veteris et maioris Scotię, seu Hibernię sanctorum insulę, partim ex variis per Europam ms. codd. exscripta, partim ex antiquis monumentis ... congesta; omnia notis & appendicibus illustrata, per R.P.F. I. Colganum. Tomus primus, qui de sacris Hibernię antiquitatibus est tertius, Ianuarium, Februarium & Martium complectens, 2 tom. [vols.] (Louvanii: Apud C. Coenestenium, E. de Witte M.DC.XLVII[1645-47]), fol.;
  • Tractatus de vita, scriptis Johannis Scoti (1655).
Reprint
  • Triadis Thaumaturgae, seu Divorum Patricii, Columbae et Brigidae, trium veteris et maioris Scotiae, seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae, Communium Patronorum Acta, a Variis, iisque pervetustis, ac Sanctis authoribus Scripta, ac studio R.P.F. Joannis Colgani, in Conventu FF Minor, Hibernor. strictior. observ. Louanii, S. Theologiae Lectorius Jubilati. Ex variis Bibliothecis collecta, Scholiis et commentariis illustrata et pluribus Appendicibus aucta: complectitur Tomus Secundus Sacrarum ejusdem insulae Antiquitatum [Louvain, 1647], with an introduction by Pádraig Ó Riain (Dublin: Edmund Burke[Eamonn de Burca] 1997), 740pp., ill. [1 lf. of pls.; ltd. edn. of 300 copies], fol./36cm.

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Criticism
  • William Reeves, ‘Colgan’s Works’, in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1 (1853), pp.295-302 [Do., rep. as Irish Library, No. 1 (Dublin 1922)]
  • Brendan Jennings, ed., The ‘Acta Sanctorum Hiberniaeof John Colgan (1948);
  • Terence O’Donnell, ed., Father John Colgan O.F.M. 1592-1658, Essays in Commemoration of the Third Centenary of his Death (Dublin: Assisi Press 1959);
  • Richard Sharpe, Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives, An Introduction to Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (Oxford, 1991), pp.46-61.

Triadis Thaumaturgae seu Divorum Patricii, Columbae, et Brigidae, Trium Veteris et Maioris Scotiae, seu Hiberniae, Sanctorum Insulae (1647). Note variant versions of the Colgan’s titles in chief reference works: Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae, and Trias Thaumaturga [DIW]; Acta Sanctorum and Triadas Thaumaturgae [DIB]; Acta Sanctorum ... Hiberniae and Trias Thaumaturga [ODNB].

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Commentary
P. W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland [ ... &c.], Vol. I (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1920), p.254, cites Colgan on the name side (shee) for fairies: ‘Fantastical spirits are by the Irish called men of the side, because they are seen, as it were, to come out of beautiful hills to infest people; and hence the vulgar belief that they reside in certain subterranean habitations within these hills; and these habitations and sometimes the hills themselves, are called by the Irish side’ (Colgan; n. ref.). Joyce adds a ftn. to the effect that this superstition is shown to live on in Scotland, as evidenced by Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (Chap. XXVIII) [Note that the ‘Rob Roy’ theory of Irish clan systems and related versions of Irish society are dismissed as ‘moonshine’ with particular reference to Joyce in the preface to Eoin MacNeill’s Early Irish Laws.] There are several further refs. to Colgan in Joyce, op. cit., Vol. I., pp.50, 507, 577, but none in Vol. II.

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George A. Little, Dublin Before the Vikings, 1957; notes that the Irish word baile as in ‘Baile Ath Cliath’ is explained as villa, vicus, and vel burgum, [by] John Colgan in his Acta Sanctorum (p.554, w.2). Also, quotes Colgan on the Liffey, in Trias Thaum., p.112, n.71: Pars enim Liffei fluminis, in cujus ripa est civitas, Hibernis olim ovabatur Dublinn, i.e., nigricans alveus sive profundus alveus.’ Note also, Jocelyn of Furness, Life of St Patrick, in Trias Taumaturgae [sic] [Pt 1], contains details of a cess [tax] on the wealth of Dublin due in gratitude to the saint, including goods such as wine, honey, and ironworks from ships, and shoes, gloves, and combs, from shops. (p.9 seq.) [90]

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Mrs. Thomas Concannon, Life of Patrick, 1931), gives an account of Colgan’s sources: Trias Thaumaturgia [sic Triadis Thaumaturgae] contains five ancient lives of St. Columcille, six of Brigit, and seven of St. Patrick, collected by Patrick Fleming, Father Stephen White S. J., Brother Michael O’Clery, et al., but does not include the Confessio or the Letter to Coroticus of St. Patrick, although Colgan knew of its existence in the St. Vaast MS of these, later edited by Fr. Andreas Denis S. J., for the Bollandists; he was also limited to his information about the lives of Muirchu and Tirechan to what he could glean in Jocelin, Ussher, and Ware, having found it listed in Elenchus Codicum Belgii of Anthonius Sanderus (see Trias Thaum., p.214). [An account of all this is given in (Concannon, op. cit., p.xvii.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography, sets his obiit at ?1657 [sic]; born Ulster, Franciscan friar and divinity prof. at Louvain, publs. Acta Sanctorum ... Hiberniae (in the Eccles. Calendar, January-March); cites Trias [sic] Thaumaturga (1647) and life of Duns Scotus (1655). See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. I, p.483.

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Muriel McCarthy, ed., Hibernia Resurgens [Catalogue of Marsh’s Library Exhibition] (Dublin: Marsh’s Library 1994), lists Acta sanctorum veteris et maioris Scottiae [sic], seu Hiberniae (Lovanii: apud Everardum e Witte 1645), folio; from the Bishop Stearne Collection; work of entire school of hagiography which he helped to form; contains all the saints who died during the first three months of the year [Jan.-March]; also a second vol., Trias thaumaturgae, containing lives of three major Irish saints, Patrick, Brigid, and Columba (Louvain 1647); copy in Stillingfleet collection; cites annotation in endpaper of former vol.: ‘Revierendissimo Domino Fri Boetio Egano Epo Elphinensi. Reverendissimus Do: Ephinesis hunc dedit Conventui de Kilconnall anno do. 1649’, noting that Boetius Egan OFM was bishop of Elphin, d.1650, who spent two years in the monastery of Kilconnell. Note however, Vitae sanctorum Hibernicorum, otherwise Codex Armachanus and sometimes called Codex Kilkenniensis, partially edited by Charles Plummer in his Vitae sanctorum Hibernicae (1910). [Chk err., McCarthy, op. cit.].

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, counts him among the more ‘scientific’ historians of the age [237]; Acta Sanctorum ... Hiberniae, January, February, and March only, selects section on St Muranus, in trans. by Andrew Smith, UCD, e.g.,. ‘the lack of ancient relics (because of the disturbances of time) has deprived us of the knowledge of the schooling and of the other deeds of Saint Muranus, nevertheless it is agreeed that the abbot did exist and rule a community of monks in the monastery of Fothad, in the diocese of Derry ... [a] monastery ... richly endowed ... and held in great reverence’ [261-62]; reference in Sir James Ware (trans. Harris): ‘So Aid the Black King likewise of Leinster, of a King was made Monk, Abbot and Bishop of Kildare, says Jo. Colgan, and dyed on the Tenth of May ... DCXXVIII’ [264]; Biog. & Criticism [272; as supra].

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De Burca Catalogue (Cat. 44; 1997) lists rep. edn., [John Colgan,] Triadis Thaumaturgae, seu Divorum Patricii, Columbae et Brigidae, trium veteris et maioris Scotiae, seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae, Communium Patronorum Acta, a Variis, iisque pervetustis, ac Sanctis authoribus Scripta, ac studio R.P.F. Joannis Colgani, in Conventu FF Minor, Hibernor. strictior. observ. Louanii, S. Theologiae Lectorius Jubilati. Ex variis Bibliothecis collecta, Scholiis et commentariis illustrata et pluribus Appendicibus aucta: complectitur Tomus Secundus Sacrarum ejusdem insulae Antiquitatum - Louvain, 1647. Dublin, by Eamonn de Burca, 1997; introduction by Padraig O Riain [ltd. edn. 300], blue quarter morocco, title in gilt on spine, top edge gilt, red silk marker; Fine in slipcase. [£135]

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