[An tAthair] Peadar Ó Laoghaire (1839-1920)


Life
[anglice Fr. Peter O’Leary]; b. Liscarrigane, parish of Clondrohid, Co. Cork; ed. Carriganima Nat. School;, Macroom, Kanturk, St., Colman’s College, Fermoy, and Maynooth, 1861; ord. 11 June 1867; curate and priest in parishes of diocese of Cloyne ( Glountane, 1862-72 and 1882-84; Rathcormac, 1872-78, Macroom, 1878-80, Charleville, 1880-82, Doneraile, 1884-89, and Castlelyons, PP, 10 Feb. 1891; Canon, 1906); supported Michael Davitt and the Land League; founded small libraries and administered schools; a native speaker, his faith in the literary potential of the Irish language was encouraged by Archbishop John MacHale who reproached him for failing to mention Irish writers in a prize-winning essay on literature; fnd-mbr. Gaelic League, 1893, and began writing in Irish soon after;
 
issued Ar nDóithín Aroan (1894) for young readers; became chief advocate of the use of the living speech (‘caint na ndaoine’), quarrelling with Eoin MacNeill devoted to a pseudo-classical style, though Bergin and others later chose his approach as a model for the emerging modern literary Irish, and greet enthusiastically by Pearse (‘here at last is literature’) and others; a play in Irish by Ó Laoghaire was performed in Macroom, 13 May 1900; contrib. frequently to Irish-language periodicals; stories in Séadna (1904), first published as a serial in The Gaelic Journal for 1894-97, tells of a cobbler’s struggles with the devil to whom he has sold his soul; and Niamh (1907); declared for a specific Irish essance and criticised the ‘Pan -Celtic humbug’, even in An Claidheamh Soluis, which he deemed to be ‘possess of a dumb devil’ on the subject;
 
also modernisations of tales from the older literature, carefully bowlderised for young readers, An Craos-Deamhan (1905), Eisirt (1909), An Cleasaidhe (1913), Lughaidh Mac Con (1914), Bricriu (1915), and Guaire (1915); translations of Classics, Aesop a Tháinig go hEirinn (1900-1902, 1903), Caitilína (1913), Aithris ar Chríost (1914), Na Cheithre Soisgéil as an dTiomna Nua (1915), Don Cíchóté (1921), Gníomhartha na nAspol (1922), and Lúcián (1924); also Ag Séideadh agus ag ithe (1918); Críost Mac Dé (1925), and the Imitatio Christi of Thomas à Kempis; also a number of plays and the autobiography Mo Sgéal Féin (1915); received the freedom of Dublin and Cork in 1912; d. 21 March, Castlelyons; a bibliography of his writings itemising 487 pieces appeared in Celtica in 1954. DIW DIB DIH FDA OCIL

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Works
  • Papers on Irish Idiom by the late Canon Peter O’Leary, PP [Peadar Ua Laoghaire], together with a translation into Irish of part of the First Book of Euclid, ed., Thomas F. O’Rahilly, MA (Dublin 1929), (Dublin: [s.n.] 1922), 123pp. [rep. of articles printed in the 1890s. incl. ‘The Irish of Keating’s Time’ pp.86-87, et al.];
  • Mion-chaint: An Easy Irish Phrase-Book (q.d.);
  • O. J. Bergin, ed., Aesop a Tháinig go hEirinn: Aesop’s Fables in Irish, trans by Peter O’Leary (Dublin: Irish Book Co. 1911), 61pp.
  • [Rev. Peter O’Leary, P.P.,] trans., An Soísgéal ar Leabhar an Aifrinn [The Gospel from the Missal] (Dublin: Irish Book Co. [Cahill & Co.] 1902), [4], 107, [1]pp.

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Criticism
  • “Maol Muire”, An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire agus a Shoathar (Dublin 1939);
  • Pádraig A. Breathnach, ‘Séadna, Saothar Eilaíne’, in Studia Hibernica 9 (1969), pp.109-24;
  • Cristóir Mac Aonghusa, ‘an tAth. Peadar Ó Laoghaire’, in Ros Muc go Rostov (Dublin 1972), pp.178-88;
  • Tomás de Bhaldraithe, ‘An tAthair peadar agus an Craobhín: Conspóid faoi Phádraic Ó Conaire’, in Phádraic Ó Conaire, Chocha ar a Charn, de Bhaildraithe (Dublin 1982), pp.101-06;
  • Peter O’Leary, Séadna, The Classic Modern Irish Tale, trans. Cyril & Kit Ó Céirín; foreword by Kieran R. Byrne (Dublin 1989);
  • Michael Cronin, ‘Peadar Ua Laoghaire and the Speech of the People’, in Translating Ireland: Translations, Languages, Cultures (Cork UP 1996), pp.146-50;
  • Seán Ó Tuama, ‘The Other Tradition: Some Highlights of Modern Fiction in Ireland’, in The Irish Novel in Our Time, ed. Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon (Université de Lille 1975-76), p.31-45; espec. p.32f.

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Commentary
Patrick Pearse: ‘The formative influence of Séadna is likely to be great. Some of the distinctive writers have declared that it was the early chapters of Séadna which first taught them to write Irish. Not that they admit themselves mere imitators of Father O’Leary, but rather that Séadna showed them how to be themselves.’ (Review; quoted in Brian Ó Cuív, ‘Irish Literature and Language, 1845-1921’, in William Vaughan, ed., A New History of Ireland, Vol. VI: 1870-1921, OUP 1996, p.420.)

W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan 1955) - in London Yeats meets Gaelic Leaguers with ‘an obvious look of the country’ who ‘told me with wonderful brogues that they were on their way to the Paris Exhibition, and wanted to shake hands with me. They had a great deal to say about the Movement and talked very fast for fear I might go before they had said it. What they said was chiefly about a play in Irish to be acted in Macroom next Monday.’ [Here Yeats is copying a letter to George Pollexfen]. ‘It is by one Father Peter O’Leary, and is about a man who lived in Macroom and arranged his own funeral to escape the bailiff. There was immense local enthusiasm over it, and deep indignation among the descendents of the bailiff.’ (p.411.)

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Alan Titley, reviewing Séadna, The classic modern Irish tale, Peter O’Leary (An tAthair Peadar) trans. by Cyril & Kit Ó Céirín (Glendale Press), in Books Ireland (Dec. 1989), calls it ‘lovingly rendered into English’. Titley refers to the recent masterly edition of the original, edited by Liam MacMathuna (Carbad 1987).

W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894): [Peter O’Leary] ‘a son of the people, belonging to an earlier generation, and deep in ideas upon ancient Ireland’ [24]. Further, [ibid.], Chap. VII: “Ecclesiastics, Eve and Literature”: ‘Canon O’Leary suggests a man who came out of an old saga, but after sixty years or more of rural Munster experience, has grown homely and racy without losing anything of the saga spirit, while at the same time he has acquired a veneer of conservative Irish ecclesiasticism.’ Note that it was in Ryan’s The Irish Peasant, that O’Leary declared: ‘It was not till the start of the Gaelic League that I began to live in a worthy sense. (See Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed. Seamus Deane, 1991, p.364.)

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W. P. Ryan, The Pope’s Green Island, 1912, p.92ff; extensive remarks on him, indicating both his cultural contributions, as well as his occasional outbursts of public intolerance, and his deep personal tolerance, in Viz, ‘his Seádna ‘began in a spirit of revolt against Anglo-Irish fiction - not the faithful and penetrative work of writers like Miss Barlow and Shan Bullock, but earlier varieties, which critics and others had begun to believe were even as Irish life’ [95]. O’Leary’s ‘greatest literary raid’ in 1908, with the article, “Is the English Language Poisonous?”, a question which he decides in the affirmative [96]. In the Battle of Portarlington, 1905, concerning mixed classes in the Gaelic League, O’Leary was at loggerheads with Douglas Hyde in appearing to suggest that the young ladies would be passing their time elsewhere if the streets were well enough illuminated. Further: ‘Canon O’Leary himself wrote a play about sheep-stealing, making, if I remember rightly, rather a hero of the sheep-stealer; what I distinctly remember is that the sheep was brought on the sta[g]e’ [300].

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Seán O’Tuama [sic], ‘The Other Tradition: Some Highlights of Modern Fiction in Ireland’ (1975-76): ‘The basic story of Séadna is the international type folktale ... The writing ... is somewhat uneven: it contains some longueurs and a few awkward passages as well as many beautiful stretches of lucid folktale type narrative. But what is most impressive is the manner in which the author, while observing the folktale conventions, manages to sustain a complete development of theme and character from beginning to end. ... Fr. Ó Laoghaire in his voluminous writings never again achieved the creative level reached in Séadna. It is probably that the main reason for whatever success he had with Séadna was that the only mode of narration he felt comfortable with was the traditional folktale type which he had inherited naturally by his own fireside. His efforts at more orthodox novel-writing or fiction were consequently a failure.’ (In Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time, Université de Lille 1975-76, p.31-45, espec. p.32f.; p.33).

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Quotations
Caint na ndaoine: ‘In order to preserve Irish as a spoken tongue, we must preserve our spoken Irish. That is to say we must write and print exactly what the people speak ... I am determined to write down most carefully every provincialism I can get hold of. Then I shall be sure to have the people’s language.’ (Quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Story-Telling: The Gaelic Tradition’, in Terence Brown & Patrick Rafroidi, eds., The Irish Short Story, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979, p.18, citing T. F. O’Rahilly, [ed.,] Papers on Irish Idiom, Dublin 1920, p.138.)

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Papers on Irish Idiom (1929): ‘Read over the English matter carefully. Take all the ideas into your mind. Squeeze the ideas clean from all English froth. Be sure that you allow none of that oozy stuff to remain. English is full of it. You must also get rid of everything in the shape of metaphor. When you have the ideas cleared completely of foreign matter put them into the Irish side of your mind and shape them in the Irish language, just as you would if they had been your own ideas from the start’ (p.92.)

Papers on Irish Idiom (1929): ‘If you are not able to do it [i.e., translate into English] yet, aim at it, and you very soon will. But do not torture us with your translations. They are by far the most deadly element in the disease which is killing out language. They effectually disgust and repel the most courageous of native Irish speakers.’ (Idem.)

Papers on Irish Idiom (1929) [speaking of the autonomous form of the verb ‘dúntar:]: ‘The Irish mind and this capability of the Irish verb have interacted on each other throughout aall the time of the existence of both. When I think in Irish, I can let my verbs work in a mode entirely independent of the agents or objects of the actions which the verbs express. When I think in English I find I cannot do that.’ (ibid., p.83; the foregoing all quoted in Michael Cronin, Translating Ireland: Translation, Languages, Cultures, Cork UP 1996, p.147; also, in part, in Chris Morash, review of same, in Irish Literary Supplement, Boston, Fall 1996, p.7.)

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References
DIAS Catalogue (1996) lists Shán Ó Cuív, Materials for a bibliography of the Very Reverend Peter Canon O’Leary, 1839–1920 (DIAS 1954) [First published as a supplement to Celtica 2 pt 2 1954], 39 pp. pbk.

Hyland Books (Oct. 1995) lists Peter O’Leary, Papers on Irish Idiom (2nd Edn. n.d.)

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Notes
D. J. Doherty & J. E. Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History Since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), quote Ó Laoghaire’s comment: ‘It was not till the start of the Gaelic League that I really began to live in a worthy sense’ (The Irish Peasant, July 1906; citing Kieran R. Byrne, op. cit., Dublin 1989).

Namesake: Patrick Leary of Chicago was the husband of Kate O’Leary, owner of the cow who allegedly knocked over the lamp that started the Chicago Great Fire of 1871 destroying 200 acres of buildings at a cost of 200-300 lives, and leaving 94,000 homless with nearly 16,000 buildings in ruins at damages of perhaps 3000 million dollars. He himself lost six cows, barn, wagons, and a horse, and testified that he wouldn’t blame any man in America for hanging him if he had been responsible for the blaze. A son, being a gambler called Big Jim, later claimed that the fire had been started by local tramps smoking near the barn.

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