Theophilus O’Flanagan

Life

1762-1814; b. Tulla, Co. Clare, ed. TCD; he worked as a a school-teacher, with his own establishment in Carrick-on-Suir, before coming to Dublin, where he opened a school at Upr. Ormond Quay, 1808; he assisted Charlotte Brooke with her Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789), and Rev. James Hely with his trans. of Roderick O’Flaherty’s Ogygia (1793); also issued Advice to a Prince (London 1808), and Deirdre, The Lamentable Fate of the Sons of Usnach, trans. (Lon. 1808);
 
fnd. with others the Gaelic Society of Dublin, 19 January 1807 (‘an opportunity is now, at length, offered to the learned of Ireland, to retrieve their character among the Nations of Europe, and shew that their History and Antiquities are not fitted to be consigned to eternal oblivion’); acted as its first Secretary; wrote a letter to Charles Vallancey purporting to have discovered a ogham stone inscription dating from 1,400 years (the Mount Callan Stone - now known to have been a hoax);
 

ed. Transactions of the Gaelic Society (1808), and contrib. a translation of John Lynch’s Cambrensis Eversus (1662) and a topographical poem by Tadg mac Dáire Mac Bruaideadha as well as an attack on James Macpherson, and published some translations by William Leahy; there is a full account of him in Warburton History of Dublin, 2 vols. (London 1818). PI IF RAF OCIL

 

Works
  • trans. John Lynch, Cambrensis Refuted (Dublin: John Hill 1795), 98pp;
  • ed., Transactions of the Gaelic Society, Vol. 1 [first & only] (London 1808), 398pp. [containing his trans. of Cambrensis Eversus; ‘Advice to a Prince’, being a trans. of poem by T. Mac Brody (Tadhg mac Dáire Mac Bruaideadha) addressed to Donogh O’Brien [earl of Thomond]; his own (O’Flanagan’s) attack on James Macpherson, and and translations by William Leahy];
  • ed. The Annals of Innisfallen (Dublin: Christie 1822), 64pp.

Query: Deirdri or, The Lamentable Fate of the Sons of Usnach (Dublin: John Barlow 1808).

[ top ]

Bibliographical details
Dominic Daly
, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974) - cites titles in Hyde’'s library: Theophilus O’Flanagan, ed., Déirdre, or, the Lamentable Fate of the Sons of Usnach, an ancient dramatic Irish tale, on of the three tragic stories of Erin ..’ (1808); a copy acquired by Douglas Hyde at the auction of John O’Daly’s books in 1878. ALSO Cambrensis refuted or rather Historic Credit in the Affairs of Ireland taken from Geraldus Cambrensis, who is proved to abound in most of the blemishes, while destitute of most of the qualifications, of a legitimate historian. By Gratianus Lucius, a Native Irishman. Translated from the original Latin ... by Theophilus O’Flanagan, A.B., some time scholar of Trin. Col. Dublin (printed by Joseph Hill, No. 36, Denmark-Street. M.DCC.XCV.)

Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality, Its Development and Literary Expression Prior To The Nineteenth Century (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co. 1986), cites Ogygia, or, a chronicle account of Irish events by Roderic O’Flaherty, 2 vols. (Dublin 1793), published in translation by James Hely, TCD, assisted by Theophilus O’Flanagan, and dedicated to ‘The Irish Nation’ [for extract, see Hely, supra; see also extracts from Leerssen, op. cit., infra].

Seamus Deane, Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing since 1790 (OUP 1997) cites Theophilus O'Flanagan, Advice to a Prince, by Thaddy Mac Brody, or Mac Brodin, Son of Dary; being the inauguration ode of Donach O'Brien, Fourth earl of Thomond, when elected prince of his nation, according to ancient Irish Usage ... from Transactions of the Gaelic Society, Dubin, established for the investigation and revival of Ancient Irish Literatre (Dublin: J. Barlow 1808). - quoting: ‘It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that the most ancient historical accounts, and legal institutios of the earliest associations of men, were committed to the sacred and enchhanting custody of versification.’ ( p.7; Deane, Notes, p.206,) [Remarks anent the Macpherson controversy that ‘[a]uthenticity in the Irish texts had to be asserted in order to reaffirm priority, and priority was more easily claimed for poetry’ (Deane, op. cit., p.43.)

[ top ]

Criticism
  • Review of ‘An Account of an Ancient Inscription in Ogham Character on the Sepulchral Monument of an Irish Chief’, Transactions of the RIA, I (1787);
  • Máire bn. I Sheanacháin, ‘Theophilus Ó Flannagáin’, in Galvia 3 (1956), pp.19-29.
  • ‘Antiquities’ [section], p.7, in Russell Alspach, Irish Poetry from the English Invasion to 1798 (1959), p.82-83;
  • Herbert V. Fackler, ‘Nineteenth-Century Sources for the Deirdre Legend’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 4 (Winter 1969), pp.56-63.

For comments on the Callan Stone hoax, see Siobhán de hÓir, ‘the Mount Callan Ogham Stone and Its Context’, North Munster Antiquarian Journal, Irisleabhar Seandáluíochta Tuahd-Mhumhan, XXV (1983), pp.43-57, cited in R. E. Ward & C. Ward, eds., Letters of Charles O’Conor of Belanagare (Cath. Univ. of America Press 1988), p.439, n.2.

[ top ]

Commentary
Joep Th. Leerssen, ‘Antiquarian Research: Patriotism to Nationalism’, Cyril J. Byrne & Margaret Harry, eds., Talamh an Eisc: Canadian and Irish Essays [Irish Studies St. Mary’s Coll.] (Halifax Can.: Nimbus Publ. Co. 1986), pp.71-83, quoting O’Flanagan’s dedication of his translation of John Lynch, Cambrensis Eversus, to Henry Grattan: ‘in vindication of the national character and constitutional independence of Ireland against the outrageous calumny and opproprius [sic] traduction of all unprincipled adversary writers, one of whom is particularly designated, the false and flimsy Giraldus Cambrensis.’ (Gratianus Lucius [i.e. John Lynch], Cambrensis Refuted ... Translated from the Latin, with notes, by Theophilus O’Flanagan, Dublin 1795, p.iii.)

[ top ]

Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality, Its Development and Literary Expression Prior To The Nineteenth Century (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co. 1986): RIA members were Vallancey, O’Conor, Walker, Parsons, and O’Flanagan.

Theophilus O’Flanagan, young antiquarian employed at TCD, issued his translation of John Lynch’s Cambrensis eversus as Cambrensis refuted (1795), which he represents anachronistically as a ‘vindication of the national and constitutional independence of Ireland, against the outrageous calumny and opprobrius [sic] traduction of all unprincipled adversary writers, one of whom is particularily designated, the false and flimsy Giraldus Cambrensis’ (p.iii). Leerrsen comments that this sort of timelessness - or anachronism - is not unlike the one created by the eighteenth century aisling or vision-poem [418]. The main enemy identified in the notes added by O’Flanagan is Edward Ledwich, whom O’Flanagan here calls ‘one ... of Giraldus’s followers’ in the effort ‘to degrade the character of our nation, and to endeavour, by every possible calumny, to bring us into disgrace and disrepute not only with the generality of the enlightened world, but even with ourselves’ (p.iii) [418].

[ top ]

Joseph Th. Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael, 1986) - cont.: Theophilus O’Flanagan, trans. Lynch’s Cambrensis eversus [417f., supra]; fell under grave and unfounded suspicion of forgery. See ftn., His account of Ogham in Co. Clare published in the first vol. of Transcriptions of the RIA (1787, sect. c., p.1ff.; and cf. Archaelogia 7, 1785, pp.276-85. The imputation that he actually forged the inscription which he so fancifully misread was reputed by Samuel Ferguson in a vigorous defence, in Proceedings of the RIA, 2nd ser. Vol. 1 [1808], 265ff, 315ff. [recte Transactions.]

[ top ]

Joseph Th. Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael, 1986) - cont.: He translated the Annals of Innisfallen; employed as Irish language expert at TCD & RIA; and had a widespread if unobtrusive influence on contemporary antiquarianism, his help being acknowledged by Charlotte Brooke [1789, p.ix], J. C. Walker [1786, pref.], and James Hely 1793, p.xi], while Campbell mentions in 1787 the help of Mr Flanagan, a student of Trinity College, greatest adept he [the librarian there] knew in the Irish language’ (Campbell to Percy, 27 Feb 1787) while Percy though his ‘the very ablest assistance of this kingdom’ that he could offer to John Pinkerton was that of Campbell and O’Flanagan (Percy to Pinkerton, 28 Feb. 1787). [Cont.]

[ top ]

Joseph Th. Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael, 1986): O’Flanagan dedicated his translation of Ogygia to Henry Grattan. His footnotes include an advocacy of the study of Irish, ‘Even to know the language, or to be more than superficially acquainted with the ancient history of this country, has been long considered, by frippery folly and ostentatious nonsense, with the very realm, an ungenteel and inelegant accomplishment - a mark of what contracted ignorance calls barbarism, and the fatal characteristic on which bigoted prejudice fixes its merciless talons ... This is the flattering picture of our national spirit, pride, and independence! - We reject national distinction, without advancing national prosperity’ (p.46-47 n.) [Cont.]

[ top ]

Joseph Th. Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael, 1986) - cont.: In 1807 he founded the Gaelic Society of Dublin, and edited its first and only volume, Transactions, the following year, containing his translations of the Deirdre saga, and a poem by Tadhg Mac Bruaideadha, etc. Leerssen sees O’Flanagan as an important link between pre-Union ascendancy antiquarianism and its nineteenth century successor, cultural nationalism, but also after O’Conor and before Eugene O’Curry between this antiquarianism and living Gaelic tradition. Himself Gaelic, he had close links with the lexicographer Peter O’Connell, with Richard McElligott, his Limerick-born colleague in the Gaelic Society, and poets like Aindrias Mac Craith, ‘an Mangaire Súgach’. (p.426.) [Cont.]

[ top ]

Joseph Th. Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael, 1986) - cont.: O’Flanagan ... followed in the footsteps of Vallancey, and used every opportunity to denounce Edward Ledwich, Vallancey’s old adversary, as the ‘Anti-Antiquary of Ireland’ whose writings are ‘deliberately designed and barefaced falsehoods’. The Advertisement reads, ‘The society recommends itself to every liberal, patriotic, and enlightened Mind; an opportunity is now, at length, offered to the Learned of Ireland, to retrieve their Character among the Nations of Europe, and shew that their History and Antiquities are not fitted to be consigned to eternal oblivion; the Plan, if pursued with spirit and perseverance, will redound much to the Honor of Ireland. (O’Flanagan, ed., Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Dublin, 1808, p.227) [435]. The society had a rule stipulating that ‘no religious or political Debates whatever shall be permitted, such being foreign to the Object and Principles of the Society’ (p.xvii).

[ top ]

References
Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), cites Vol. I; Theophilus O’Flanagan, ‘The Lamentable Fate of the Sons of Usnach’, in Transactions, p.50. O’Flanagan translated as verse the laments that mark each crucial moment in the saga.

[ top ]

Quotations
Cuckoo: ‘Sweet is the cuckoo’s note on bending bough / On the cliff over the vale of the two Roes.’ (Transactions of the Gaelic Society, 1806), p.51. See in Loreto Todd, The Language of Irish Literature (1989) - quoting same, with the remark: Theophilus O’Flanagan (1762-1814) uses alliteration in translating Deirdre’s lament on leaving Scotland for Ulster. (p.101.)

Transactions: The Advertisement to the ed., Transactions of the Gaelic Society, Vol. 1 [first & only] (London 1808), reads, ‘The society recommends itself to every liberal, patriotic, and enlightened Mind; an opportunity is now, at length, offered to the Learned of Ireland, to retrieve their Character among the Nations of Europe, and shew that their History and Antiquities are not fitted to be consigned to eternal oblivion; the Plan, if pursued with spirit and perseverance, will redound much to the Honor of Ireland. (O’Flanagan, ed., Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Dublin, 1808, p.227)

Quoted in Leerssen, op. cit. 1986, supra; also [in part] as the declaration of the Gaelic Society in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch, 1993, p.4 [viz., ‘an opportunity ... oblivion’].

Macpherson: In Transactions of the Gaelic Soc. (1808), O’Flanagan spoke of the faked originals of Macpherson’s Ossian as ‘a new-fangled post-original translation’ (pp.142-43; quoted in Robert Welch, Irish Poetry since Thomas Moore, Colin Smythe 1980, p.229, remarking that O’Flanagan had been one of Charlotte Brooke’s advisers.)

[ top ]

Notes
Longas Macc Uisnig’, [trans. attrib. to O’Flanagan?] quoted by E. G. Quin in Myles Dillon, Irish Sagas (1968), p. 58, with full-title as follows: Deirdre, or the lamentable fate of the sons of Ushnach, an ancient dramatic Irish tale, one of the three tragic stories of Erin; literally translated into English, form an original Gaelic Manuscript, with notes and observations, to which is annexed the old historic facts on which the story is founded (1808).

[ top ]