Seán Ó Neachtáin

Life
1655-1728 [sometimes Norton]; b. Co. Roscommon, d. Co. Meath; son of land-owners, left home and became day-labourer, and married his master’s daughter; wrote comic prose stories, and poetry in a degenerate form of dan direach, in imitation of classical epics, as well as dramatic poems, with separate characters, in verse; his Irish was free from local dialects; James Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy (Dublin 1831); Una Ní Fhaircheallaugh, Filidheacht (Dublin 1911); a sone Tadhg, living in Dublin, produced Irish-English Dictionar, 1734-39, MS in TCD; also poetry revealing a Gaelic sub-world. CAB DIW FDA OCIL

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Criticism
T. F. O’Rahilly, ‘Irish Scholars in Dublin in the Early 18th century’, Gaeldica, Vol. I, pp.156-62 [edition of the Irish poem written by Tadhg, 1726-29, being (RIA) MS H.4.20, p.113].

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Commentary
William Grattan H. Flood, A History of Irish Music (Dublin 1905) - Chap. XIX [‘Irish Music in the Seventeenth Century, 1650-1700’: ‘One thing is certain, that John O’Neachtan, about the year 1676, wrote the original Irish song of “Maggie Laidir, of which [James] Hardiman, in 1831, published a version from a transcript made in 1706. However, Hardiman merely relied on tradition for the Irish origin of the air to which the song was set, and could give no proof. Fortunately I have succeeded in tracing the tune as far back as the year 1696, when it was sung by the Anglo-Irish actor, Thomas Dogget, in his comedy of A Country Wake, and again by him, in the variant of the same play, under the title of Hob, or the Country Wake, at Drury-lane, in 1711. / It was utilised in the Quakers’ Opera, in 1728, and again by Charles Coffey, in 1729, in his Beggar’s Wedding, under the title “Moggy Lawther. The Scotch version was first printed in 1729 in Craig’s Collection, the melody being set to words in celebration of Maggie Lauder, a reigning courtesan of Crail. / The English diarist Evelyn writes under date of November 17th, 1668: “I heard Sir Edward Sutton play excellently on the Irish harp; he performs genteely, but not approaching my worthy friend, Mr. Clarke, who makes it execute lute, viol, and all the harmony an instrument is capable of. Pity it is that it is not more in use; but, indeed, to play well takes up the whole mart, as Mr. Clarke has assured me, who, though a gentleman of quality and parts, was yet brought up to that instrument from five years old, as I remember he told me’. (p.202.) [Available at Library Ireland online - accessed 10.05.2011.]

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References
Charles A. Read, The Cabinet of Irish Literature (London, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast & Edinburgh: Blackie & Son [1876-78]); John Ó Neachtan (fl. c.1695-1720; chiefly known for ‘Maggy Laidir’, and ‘A Lament’; ‘a learned man and enriched his native language with many original compositions and translations’, according to Hardiman, who possessed several of these at the time of compiling his Irish Minstrelsy, the most importing being ‘a copious treatise in Irish on general geography extending to nearly five hundred closely written pages, and containing many interesting particulars’; he also possessed O’Neachtan’s Curious Annals of Ireland from 1167 to the Beginning of the last [17th] Century. Regarding the absence of biographical information and obituaries, Read adds, ‘in his days the death of a bard was a thing not worth notice, or if noticed to be only a subject of gratulation as ridding the world of one more pest.’ The translations are Hardiman’s (Irish Minstrelsy), with one of his notes attached. Hardiman asserts that O’Neachtan ‘holds the same rank in Irish literature that Dr. Young, author of Night Thoughts, occupies in English. With equal genius and learning the Irish bard’s compositions are more equal and correct and his style less diffuse, than those of the favoured English author.’ “Maggy Laidir is regarded by Hardiman as superior to “O’Rorke’s Feast, so humorously translated by Swift; here the chairman only speaks throughout; in the poem he toasts Old Ireland as Maggy Laidir, and then the chief families of the four provinces the clergy, and finally wishes disappointment to foes and success to friends of Ireland; a quarrel ensues which the chairman ‘in true Irish style of commanding peace’ settles by knocking down the combatants, and concludes by alluding to his noble family and claim to obedience. After remarks on the use of Maggy Laidir as a personification, Hardiman adds: ‘By an easy change of the adjective laidir (strong), was converted into Lauder, the patronymic of a Scotch famiy, and the air was employed to celebrate a famous courtezan of Crail.’ [n.p.] “A Lament is for Mary D’Este, queen of James II, who died at St. Germaine, 26 April 1718, her son James Francis Edward, the Chevalier de St George much beloved of the Irish’ [quoting Hardiman?].

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1: Seán Ó Neachtain, p.277 [see editorial, infra]; ‘Rachainn fón choill’ [p.291] , Stair Eamainn Uí Chléire (The Story of Eamonn O’Clery) [p.324], this poem taken to be a comic autobiography which shows him teaching in Meath, and overcoming enemies whose names are those of types of drink, in the wooing of Una; the passage selected is a burlesque of bilingualism featuring an Irish-speaking student whose vocabulary only is English]. BIOG, pp.325-26, b. c.1650 Co. Roscommon; with his family came to Dublin after 1690 and spent the rest of his life there, and school-teaching in Co. Meath; competent scribe and poet; prose work has original features, including bilingual, bicultural puns; died March 1729. General (sect.) bibl. incl. Eoin Ó Neachtain, ed., Stair Eamuinn Uí Chéire (Conradh na Gaeidhilge 1918). Note, there is no reference to his “O’Rorke’s feast in the FDA1 Index.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1 - see editorial essay on “Literature in Irish 1600-1800: ‘[...] from the middle of that [the 18th] century there were many Irish speakers in Dublin and in the early eighteen hundreds a coterie of scholars and writers were working there. These writers came from every part of Ireland and some of them belonged to the remnants of the traditional learned families; for example, MacCruitín (McCurtin, Curtin) from Clare, Ó Duinnín from Kerry, Ó Luinín (Lyneger) from Fermanagh. Others it seems learned to read and write Irish in Dublin. ... the pivotal member of this coterie was Seán Ó Neachtain (Naughton, Norton) and his son Tadhg; about 1926 Tadhg wrote a poem naming 26 scholars who were working in Dublin at this time. Although these writers did not produce any great works of literature, they did represent a writing and reading urban public; a study of their works shows us the literary potential of the tensions between the members of a bilingual community. Seán Ó Neachtain is by far the best literary artist from this group and his poetry and especially his prose works are lively and erudite in Irish, English and Latin.’ [p.277]

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Notes
Origins of Dublin: See George A. Little, Dublin Before the Vikings ( 1957): ‘[Seán] Ó Neachtáin in his Eolas ar an Domhan mentions the pastures of Druim Chollchoille, i. Ath Cliath (on p.126-27). He states that this area is now Thomas Street. Further: ‘The modern name for Dublin’s river, we think, was derived from Abha (na Magh) Life, the River of the Liffey Plain, but of old it was Ruirthech, the “tempestuous, the “ever-flooding. As late as the eighteenth century Ó Neachtain mentions it by this name.’ (Cited in Hennessy, ed., Chronicon Scotorum, p.7.)

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