Mícheál Ó Cléirigh (1557-1643)


Life
[O’Clery, Ó Cleirigh, Ó Clerigh; var. c.1645;] b. Donegal 1575, third cousin of Cucoigriche, bapt. Tadhg and known as ‘Tadhg an tSléibhe, member of learned family to O’Donnells, taking the name Mícheál in religion; ed. East Munster; ed. Louvain; Franciscan lay brother, known as Poor Brother Michael; sent to Ireland to collect MS materials for the Acta, c.1620 [ODNB; DIW c.1627-1642] on advice of Fr. Hugh Ward;
 
consulted An Leabhar Breac at Franciscan convent nr. Duniry, 1629; compiled with assistance of Cúchoigríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maolchonaire, and Cúchoighcríche Ó Duibhgeannáin the Annála Rióghachta Eireann and thereby became known as the “Four Masters”, a term coined by John Colgan in the Introduction of Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae (1645) - in which, however, the text was not included;
 
Ó Cléirigh commenced work on the Annals, 22 Jan. 1932 and completed in 1636, working under the protection of Ferghal Ó Gadhra (O’Gara), Lord of Magh Uí Gadhra (Moy Gara and Coolavin), Donegal, and MP in the Irish House of Commons; two copies were made, one for Louvain and the other for Ó Gadhra to whom the work was dedicated; Ó Cléirigh also compiled a descriptive king-list, ‘Réim Ríoghraidhe’, ed. and copied Leabhar Gábhala (Book of Invasions), and a lexicon of difficult words (Sanasán or Foclóir, Louvain 1643);
 
he also compiled the Martyrologium Sanctorum Hiberniae (Martyrology of Donegal); the recurrent Irish-Ireland epigraph ‘For The Glory of God and the Honour of Erin’ occurs as a passing phrase in the celebrated dedication of the Annals of the Four Masters addressed to Ó Gadhra; the 6 extant manuscript copies of the Annals are held at the Royal Irish Academy (RIA - i, iii, & vi), University College Dublin (UCD - ii; formerly at Franciscan Library, Killiney), and Trinity College Library (TCD - iv & v). RR CAB ODNB DIW FDA OCIL

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Works
  • Annála na gCeithre Máistrí/The Annals of the Four Masters - a manuscript compilation of extant Irish annals made during 1632-36 [so named by John Colgan, q.v.]
  • [with others,] Annála Rióghachta Eireann; trans. by O’Donovan as The Annals of the Four Masters, 7 vols. (Dublin 1848-51) [6 vols. + index];
  • Mícheál O’Cléirigh, ‘Foclóir nó sanasan nua’, ed. A. W. K. Miller, in Revue Celtique 4 (1879-80), pp.349-428, 5 (1881-83), pp.1-69;
  • The Martyrology of Donegal, a Calendar of the Saints of Ireland, eds., J. H. Todd & W. Reeves (Dublin 1864);
  • [with others,] Genealogiae regum et sanctorum Hiberniae, ed. P. Walsh (Maynooth: St. Patrick’s Coll. Record Soc., 1918). Also
Query
  • The Four Masters (rep. 1975), 327pp. [paper reissue].

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Translations of The Annals of the Four Masters
  • Charles O’Conor (ed.) Rerum Hibernicarum scriptores veteres iii: Quatuor Magistrorum Annales Hibernici usque ad annum M.CLXXII. ex ipso O’Clerii autographo in Biblioteca Stowense servato, nunc primum uersione donati ac notis illustrati (Buckingham: [Stowe] 1826) [Seriously defective although based on the MS used by Dubhaltach Mac Fir Bhisigh and said to have belonged to Fearghal Ó Gadhra - now in the RIA].
  • John O’Donovan, ed. & trans., Annala Rioghachta Eireann: Annals of the kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. Edited from MSS in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy and of Trinity College Dublin with a translation and copious notes, 7 vols. (Dublin: Hodges Smith & Co., Grafton St. 1848-51); Do. [2nd. edn.] (Dublin: Hodges Smith & Co. 1856), and Do. [rep. edn.] (Dublin: De Burca 1990) [see details]
  • Owen Connellan, The Annals of Ireland, translated from the original Irish of the Four Masters (Dublin, 1846) [Annals from 1171 to 1616].
  • Henri Lizeray, Le livre des quatre maîtres: Annales du royaume d’Irlande, depuis les origines jusqu’à l’arrivée de saint Patrice (Leroux, 1882).

Annala Rioghachta Eireann [... &c.], trans. & ed. John O’Donovan (1848-51) - CONTENTS: Vols. i-ii: pp.v-vi - dedicatory letter of the editor; pp.vii-liv - introductory remarks, including original documents; pp.lv-lxi - epistle dedicatory of Míchél Ó Cléirigh; pp.lxiii-lxxi - contemporary approbations of the work; pp.2-1187 - text and translation; pp.1189-93 - addenda and corrigenda; Vols. iii-vi: pp.2-2375 - text and translation; pp.2377-2494 - a genealogical appendix, including original documents; pp.2494-8 - addenda et corrigenda; Vol. vii: pp.405 - indexes. Separate paginations for Vols. i-ii, Vols. iii-vi, and Vol. vii. The edition of Vols. i-ii (AM 2242-AD 1171) made from a corrected copy of Charles O’Conor’s 1826 edition being based on MS (i) which was not available to O’Donovan, who collated the text so derived with MS (v) and MS (vi) both 18th c. transcripts of MS (i). MS (ii) was not known to O’Conor or O’Donovan. The text of the remainder of the Annals (Vols. iii-vi) is edited from MS (iii) collated with MS (iv). [See notice at CELT online.]

There is a Wikipedia article on The Annals - online.

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Criticism
  • George Petrie [LLD, MRIA], Remarks on the History and Authenticity of the Autograph Original of the Annals of the Four Masters, now deposited in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, &c., in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Col. 16, Pt. 2 (q.d.), 4º.
  • Syvlester O’Brien, ed., Measgra i gcuimhne Mhícíl Uí Chléirigh (Dublin 1944) [incls. R. D. Edwards, ‘Church and State in the Ireland of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh’, pp.1-20].
  • [Q auth.,] ‘The Celtic Records of Ireland: An Analysis of Dr. O’Donovan’s Edition of the Annals of the Four Masters, in Irish Quarterly Review, (Dublin: W. B. Kelly 1852), q.pp.
  • Brendan Jennings, Michael Ó Cleirigh, Chief of the Four Masters, and His Associates (Dublin & Cork: Talbot Press 1936), and Do . rev. as Nollaig Ó Muráile, ed., Michael Ó Cleirigh, His Associates, and St. Anthony’s College, Louvain (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2007) [with four new essays];
  • Desmond Ryan, The Sword of Light: From the Four Masters to Douglas Hyde 1638-1938 (1939);
  • Brendan Jennings, ‘The Irish Franciscans in Prague’, in Studies, 28 (1939), pp.210-22;
  • R. J. Kelly, ‘The Irish Franciscans in Prague’, 1629-1786: Their Literary Labours’, in Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 52 (1922), pp.169-74;
  • Benignus Millet, The Irish Franciscans 1651-1665 (Roma: Gregorian UP 1964);
  • Benignus Millet, ‘Survival and Reorganization’, in A History of Irish Catholicism, ed. P. J. Corish, Vol. 3., Chap. 7 (Dublin/Sydney: Gill 1968).
  • Nollaig Ó Muráile, ed., Micheál Ó Cleirigh, His Associates, and St. Anthony’s College, Louvain (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2007), 288pp. [as supra].
  • Bernadette Cunningham, The Annals of the Four Masters: Irish History, Kingship and Society in the Early Seventeenth Century (Four Courts Press 2010), 348pp.
  • Bernadette Cunningham, ‘Annalists and Historians in Early Modern Ireland, 1450-1700’, in A Companion to Irish Literature, ed. Julia M. Wright (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2010), Vol. 1 [Chap. 5] .
See also under John Messingham [Florilingium insulae sanctorum seu vitae et actae sanctorum Hiberniae, quibus accesserunt non vulgaria monumenta (Parisiis 1624)].

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Commentary
Most Rev John Healy, DD, Archb. of Tuam, The Four Masters [paper prev. read as lect. to Maynooth students in aula Maxima] (no title-page; 16pp.) Healy quotes O’Curry: ‘It is no easy matter for an Irishman to suppress feelings of deep emotion when speaking of the Four Masters; and especially when he considers the circumstances under which, and the objects for which, their great work was undertaken.’ Kilbarron Castle is described in a sonnet by ‘poor D’Arcy M’Gee’ - quoting: ‘Never unto green Tirconnell / Came such spoil as Brother Michael / Bore before him on his palfrey. / By the fireside in the winter / By the seaside in the summer / When the children are around you / And your theme is love of country / Fail not then, my friends I charge you / To recall the truly noble / Name and works of Brother Michael / Worthy chief of the Four Masters / Saviour of our country’s Annals.’ The author concludes: ‘At the very time that the Masters were writing, Strafford was maturing plans in Dublin for the further despoiling the native chiefs, who had yet escaped the sword and halter. [... &c.]’ [16] [Pamphlet in the Library of Herbert Bell, Belfast.]

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P. W. Joyce, A Short History of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1608 (London: Longmans 1893)

The Annals of the Four Masters, also called the Annals of Donegal, are the most important [Irish annals] of all. They were compiled in the Franciscan monastery of Donegal, by three of the O’Clerys, Michael, Conary, and Cucogry, and by Ferfesa O’Mulconry; who are now commonly known as the Four Masters. The O’Clerys were for many generations hereditary ollaves or professors of history to the O’Donnells, princes of Tirconnell, and held free lands and lived in the castle of Kilbarron on the sea-coast northwest of Ballyshannon. Here Michael O’Clery, who had the chief hand in compiling the Annals, was born in 1575. He was a lay brother of the order of St. Francis, and devoted himself during his whole life to the history of Ireland. Besides his share in the Annals of the Four Masters, he wrote a book containing 1] a Catalogue of the kings of Ireland; 2] the Genealogies of the Irish saints; and 3] an Account of the Saints of Ireland, with their festival days, now known as the Martyrology of Donegal. This last has been printed by the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society, with translation by John O’Donovan, edited by the Rev. James Henthorn Todd, D.D., and by the Rev. William Reeves, D.D. Brother Michael also wrote the Book of Invasions, of which there is a beautiful copy in the Royal Irish Academy. It is a sort of chronological history, giving an account of the conquests of Ireland by the several colonists, down to the English Invasion, with many valuable quotations from ancient Irish poems.
  Conary O’Clery, a layman, acted as scribe and general assistant to his brother Michael. His descendants were for long afterwards scholars and historians, and preserved his manuscripts. Cucogry or Peregrine O’Clery was a cousin of the two former, and was chief of the Tirconnell sept of the O’Clerys. He was a layman, and devoted himself to history and literature. He wrote in Irish a Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell, of which his autograph copy is in the Royal Irish Academy. This has been translated, annotated, and published - text and translation - by the Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. The fourth Master, Ferfesa O’Mulconry, was a historian from Kilronan in Roscommon.
 The materials for this great work were collected after many years’ labour by Brother Michael O’Clery, who brought every important historical Irish manuscript he could find in Ireland to the monastery of Donegal; for he expressed his fears that if the work were not then done the materials might never be brought together again. His fears seemed prophetic; for the great rebellion of 1641 soon followed; all the manuscripts he had used were scattered, and only one or two of them now survive. Even the Four Masters’ great compilation was lost for many generations, and was recovered in a manner almost miraculous, and placed in the Royal Irish Academy by Dr. George Petrie. The work was undertaken under the encouragement and patronage of Fergall O’Gara, prince of Coolavin, who paid all the necessary expenses; and the community of Donegal supplied the historians with food and lodging. They began their labours in 1632, and completed the work in 1636. The Annals of the Four Masters was translated with most elaborate and learned annotations by Dr. John O’Donovan; and it was published - Irish text, translation, and notes - in seven large volumes, by Hodges and Smith of Dublin, - the greatest and most important work on Ireland ever issued by any Irish publisher.

(pp.30-31.)

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Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael (Amsterdam 1986), Messingham, Mac Ainghil, and Hugh Ward (Mac an Bhaird and professor of philosophy at the Irish College, Louvain) conceived the project which subsequently bore fruit as the Annals of the Four Masters, under the Ó Clerighs. Further: The title Annals of the Four Masters of Annála Rioghachta Eireann (‘Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland’) is a misnomer. John Colgan coined the term, but names Micheál Ó Clerigh [sic], Cucoigrighe Ó Clerigh, Cucoigriche Ó Duibhgeannáin, and Ferfeasa Ó Maolchonaire, as well as a fifth Conaire Ó Clerigh. John O’Donovan ousted Ó Duibheannain and includes Conaire Ó Clerigh; one Muiris Ó Maolchonaire was for a while a sixth. O’Donovan explains that Colgan was probably reflecting the classical reference to the Four Masters (Quattuor Magistri) of medical science, and Brendan Jennings, OFM, suggested in 1936 that a commentary on the rule of St Francis with its title the Expositio quattro magistrorum was a factor. [ftn 272, p.478]. Further: Together with its dedication to an English-recognised Protestant subordinate chieftain Fearghal Ó Gadhra, the dedication of 1636 is dated ‘an taonmadh bliadhain decc do righe an Righ Carolus os Saxain, Frainc & os Eirinn.’ The phrase ‘do chum gloire Dé & onóra ha hEireann’, widely used as a nationalist motto, and attached as the epigram to numerous Irish-Ireland books including editions of the Annals, occurs in parenthesis only as a decorative sentiment in the context of this dedication.

Leerssen remarks: ‘[N]ationalistically-oriented scholars took the above-quoted parenthetical phrase [viz., ‘do chum gloire Dé & onóra ha hEireann’] out of its context and willed it to apply, not to the motive behind Ó Gadhra’s munificence but to Ó Clerigh’s own motivation in undertaking such historical labours; it could accordingly (and quite spuriously) become a kind of motto for nationalistically-motivated research into Ireland’s past, thus retrospectively attributing such attitudes to those 17th c. scholars. In a footnote, he reminds us that the phrase was finally the legend of a postage stamp issued in 1943.’ [310] (Cont.)

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Joseph Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986) - cont.: Extract from Annals, dedicatory preface, Vol 1, pp.lv-lvi, ‘It is a thing general and plain throughout the whole world, in every place where nobility or honour has prevailed in each successive period, that nothing is more glorious, more respectable, more honourable (for many reasons) than to bring to light the knowledge of antiquity [&] ancient authors, and a knowledge of the chieftains and nobles that existed in preceding times, in order that each successive generation might possess knowledge and information as to how their ancestors spent their time and life, how long they were successively in the lordship of their countries, in dignity and in honour, and what sort of death they met [...] I have calculated on your honour that it seemed to you a cause of pity and regret, grief and sorrow (for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland), how much the race of Gaedhal the son of Niul have gone under a cloud and darkness without a knowledge of the death or obit of saint or virgin, archbishop, bishop, abbot, or other noble dignitary of the Church, of king or prince, lord or chiefain (and) of the synchronism or connexion of one with the other.’ [‘Do brhaitheas ar char gur bhahbar truaighe, & nemhele, doghailsi, & dobroin libh (do chum gloire Dé & onora na hEireann a mbed do dheachattar sliocht Gaoidhil meic Niuil fo chiaigh & dorchadas, gan fios ecca na oidheasdha Maoimh, na nabbaoimhe Ardepiscoip, Epscoip, na abbad, na uasal graidh eccailsi oile, Righ, na Ruirigh, tighearna na toisicch, comhairsir na coimhsineadh neich dibhsidhe fri aroile .’ [Page refs. to see Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986].

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Robert Ward & Catherine Ward, ed., Letters of Charles O’Conor of Belanagare (1988), contains account of the composition of the Annals of the Four Masters in (pp.217-18): ‘set to work by one Fr. Ward of Louvain in 1630. He dying, their undertaking was patronised by Mr. O’Gara of Coolavin, one of the reps. in Parl. for the Co. of Sligo in 1634. That gentleman laid a scheme for transcribing into several volumes all that escaped the gradual destruction of our archives in the Danish wars of the ninth and tenth centuries. To this end, those four compilers sat down in the convent of Donegal and proceeded from time to time in their transcripts, as materials could be collected, till the fatal Rebellion of 1641 obliged them to desist and leave unfilled those many blanks we find in the work as it came out of their own hands. In their preface [218] they make mention of the originals they made use of ... .’

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Quotations
Evil days: ‘For [he said] as you well know, my friends, evil days have come upon us and upon our country; and if this work is not done now these old books of ours that contain the history of our country - of its kings and its warriors, its saints and its scholars may be lost to posterity, or at least may never be brought together again; and thus a great and irreparable evil would befall our native land’. (Quoted in De Burca Books, Cat. 44, 1997, p.10.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography compiled with others ‘The Royal List’ of Irish kings and their pedigrees, 1624-30; The Book of Invasions [ed.]; a digest of Annals of Kingdom of Ireland, or Annals of the Four Masters (1632-36); and Martyrologium Sanctorum Hiberniae (1636)

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1 selects Annála Rióghachta Eireann, 259-61. See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), p.479, Cleiri, or Cleirigh, Michael. NOTE, [CAB d. c.1645].

RIA: One of the Royal Irish Academy’s MS copies of the Annala Riogachta/Annals of the Four Masters is catalogued as MS. c.iii.3;

Belfast Public Library holds B[rendan] Jenning, Micheál Ó Cléirigh (1936), biog.

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Notes
Michael of Arabia? ‘[T]he closest parallel to the Annals of the Four masters is the recent history of Arabia’. (W. L. Renwick, ed., Spenser’s View of the Present State of Ireland, Commentary, p.184.)

Sources of the Annals: Compiled between 1632 and 1636 in the Franciscan friary in Donegal Town under the patronage of Fearghal Ó Gadhra, the Annals incorporate copies of material in several earlier annals and some original writing. Entries for the twelfth century and earlier derive from medieval annals in the possession of the Franciscans in Donegal; later material comes from the holdings of the Irish gentry, notably the Annals of Ulster; entries for the 17th century are exclusively based on the knowledge of the compilers and well-informed contemporaries in communications to them. (See Wikipedia online; accessed 19.10.2011.)

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