Edward O’Reilly

Life
?1770-1829; lexicographer, b. Cavan; came to Dublin c.1790 [var. 1791 DIH]; learned Irish; asst. secretary to the Iberno-Celtic Society; wrote prize essays on Brehon laws (1823), and the authenticity of Macpherson’s Ossian (1828-30); worked in TCD and other Dublin libraries preparing Irish manuscript catalogues, with others; used material collected by William Haliday to compile Sanas Gaoidhilge/Sags-bhearla: An Irish-English Dictionary (1817), supplement by John O’Donovan, prefixed by concise grammar; A Chronicle Account of Nearly 400 Irish Writers (1820), financed by the Iberno-Celtic Society and commonly known as O’Reilly’s Dictionary of Irish Writers; edited An Biobla Naomta for the Hibernian Bible Society (1830); wrote on Brehon law and the Ossianic poetry of Macpherson; employed in Ordnance Survey of Ireland [at the time of his death] and hence became the first toponymic field-worker of the Commission, dying within six months, to be succeeded by John O’Donovan. ODNB RAF DIB DIH OCIL

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Works
Sanas Gaoidhilge-Sagsbhearla, An Irish-English Dictionary
(Dublin: John Barlow 1817), and Do., reiss. as An Irish-English Dictionary [ ] A new edition [ ] corrected, with a supplement [ ] by J. O’Donovan (Dublin: James Duffy 1864, 1877; [1910]), 725pp.; 4o.; A Chronological Account of Nearly Four Hundred Irish Writers [ ] with a descriptive catalogue [ &c.], by Edward O’Reilly (Dublin: Iberno-Celtic Society 1820), ccxxxiiipp., and Do., introduced by Gearóid S. MacEoin [facs. rep.] (Shannon: IUP; NY: Barnes & Noble 1970), [7], [8], ccxxxviipp [233pp.], & index [3pp.]; An Essay on the Brehon Laws (Dublin: Graisberry 1823), 88pp.; Essay on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian, in Transactions of the RIA, XVI (1828-30) [q.pp.

Transactions of the Iberno-Celtic Society / for / 1820. / Vol. I - Part I. / A Chronological Account of Nearly Four Hundred / Irish Writers, commencing with / the Earliest Account of Irish History / and carried down to the year of Our Lord 1750; / with / a Descriptive Catalogue / Of such of their works as are still extant in Verse or Prose, consisting of / upwards of One Thousand Separate Tracts. By Edward O’Reilly, Esquire / Author of the Irish-English Dictionary and Grammar, &c. &c. &c. and Assistant Secretary to the Society / Dublin: / Printed, for the Society, / By A. O’Neil, at the Minerva printing-Office, Chancery Lane. / 1820], ccxxxiiipp. [Title Page 1820 Edn.]

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Commentary
Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael (Amsterdam 1986), p.437, Edward Reilly who read to the RIA in 1824 a paper on Brehon Laws, which defended the justness and equity of the ancient Gaels as evinced by their legal system, later published with a catalogue of Irish legal documents in TCD. See also, ftn., The Ulster king of arms, Sir William Betham supported Vallancey’s theories of Phoenician origin of the Celts; his position in the RIA made untenable by [George] Petrie’s historical enquiries; O’Reilly assisted Betham’s genealogical work; one James Scurry contributed a grammatical/lexico-logical survey of Irish studies to the RIA in 1828, which was caustic about O’Reilly’s work. See Transactions of the RIA, vol. 15, section ‘Antiquities’, p.1-86.

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Quotations
A Chronological Account of Nearly Four Hundred Irish Writers [ ] with a descriptive catalogue [ … &c.], by Edward O’Reilly ([Dublin: Chancery Lane 1820), ccxxxiiipp. The volume is prefixed by a subscription list and Rules and Regulations [of the Society], to be governed by a president and six Vice Presidents, with an unlimited number of Members, life-membership for 10 guineas, monthly committee meetings, four annual meetings (one on St. Patrick’s Day), election by open but anonymous ballot, rules relating to funds and expenses, and a non-sectarian rule, viz., ‘No religious or political debates whatsoever shall be permitted in any of the meetings of the Society; such subjects being foreign to the objects of the Institution’ (Rule XI) - which objects are defined in the Resolution of 28th Jan. 1818, copied in the Preface, viz., “Resolved, That the principal objects of this Society shall be the repservation of the venerable remains of Irish Literature, by collecting, transcribing, illustrating, and publishing the numerous fragments of the Laws, History, Topography, Poetry and Music of Ancient Ireland; the elucidation of the Language, Antiquities, Manners and Customs of the Irish people; and the necouragement of Works tending to the advancement of Irish Literature.” (p.vi). The Preface gives an account of the impermanent foundation of the Cóimhthional Gaoidhilge or Irish Society, and the publiccation about the same time of the ‘first edition of O’Connor’s [sic] Dissertation on the History of Ireland’. Reilly goes on: ‘The publication, however, attracted a good deal of notice and drew from the celebrated Doctor Johnson a letter to the author, on the subject ofIrish literaure, from which the following extract may not be considered impertinent: “I have long wished that he Irish literature were cultivate. Ireland is known by tradition to have been the seat of piety and learning; and surely it would be very [i] acceptable to those who are curious either in the original of nations, or the affinities of languages, to be further informed of the revolutions of a people so ancient, and once so illustrious. I hope you will continue this kind of learning which has lai so long neglected, and which, if it be suffered to remain in oblivion for another century, may perhaps never be retrieved.’ In the year 1777, Dr. Campbell, autor of Stricktures on the Ecclesiastical and Literfy Hisoty of Ireland”, was the bearer of another letter from Johnson to Mr. O’Connor, from which, it becomes necessary to give the following extract, as it appears in the Lifeof Johnson, by Boswell, who may be presumed to have fairly gibven the letter as it was written by its illustrious author.- “What the Irish languate is in itself, and to what language it has affinity, are very interesting question which every man wishes to see resolved, that has any philological or hsitorical curiosity. Doctor Leland begins his History too late. the ages which deserve an exact inquiry, are those those, for such times there were, when Ireland was the School of the West, the quiet habitation of sanctity and literature. If you could give a history, though imperfect, of the Irish nation, form its conversion to Christianity, to the invasion of England, you would amply knowledge with new views and new objects. Set about it, therefore, if you can; do what you can easily do without anxious exactness. Lay the foundation, and leave the superstructure to posterity.” / After the extinction of the Irish Society [of 1752], nothing appears to have been done towards the publication of our History of Antiquities by any collective body, until about the year 1782 or 1783 when some essays having appeared under the name of Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, induced the highly talented authors to co-operate and found the Society of Antiquaries. The principal person of this Society, and the publication of those tracts, was the late General Vallancey; and the specimens he gave of some of our ancient laws excited much curiosity, and a desire for further information on so interesting a subject. Amongst those who were particularly charmed with its novelty and importance, was the late celebrated Edmund Burke. That Gentleman felt the matter of such vast moment to literature, that he prevailed on Sir John [ii] Seabright to restore to this country many of her ancient records that had fallen into his hands, and he accordingly presented to the library of Trinity College, Dublin, an invaluable treasure of Irish MSS. that had been collected form various parts of Ireland about the beginning of the last century, but the learned and indefatigable antiquary Edward Lhuyd, author of Archæologia. /What were the views of Mr. Burke in this interference, and what his expectations from the University and the Society of Antiquaries, will best appear from his letter of 15th August, 1783, addressed to General Vallancey. In this he says, “I shall tell you what a judicious antiquary, about twenty years ago, told me concerning the Chronicles in verse and prose, upon which the Irish histories , and the discussion of antiquaries are founded, that he wondered that the learned of Ireland had never printed the originals of these pieces, with literal translations into Latin or English, by which they might become proper subjects of criticism, and by comparison with each other, as well as by an examination of the interior relations of each piece within itself, they might serve to shew how much ought to be retained, and how much rejected. They might also serve to contrast or confirm the histories which affect to be extracted from them, such as O’Flaherty’s and Keating’s. All the history of the middle ages, which have been founded in other countries, have been printed. The English have, I think the best histories of that period. I do not see why the Psalter of Cashel should not be printed, as well as Robert of Glouster. If I were to give my opinion to the Society of Antiquaries, I should propose that they should be printed in two columns, one Irish and the other Latin, like the Saxon Chronicle, which is a very valuable monument, and above all things, that the translation should be exact and literal. it was in the hope that some such thing should be done, that I originally prevailed on Sir John Seabright to let me have his MSS. and that I sent them to Doctor Leland in Dublin. You have infinite merit in the taste you have given of them in several of your collections. But these extracts only increase the curiosity and the just demand of the public for some entire pieces. until something of this kind is done, that ancient period of Irish history, which precedes official records, cannot be said to stand upon any proper authority. A work of [ii] this kind, pursued by the University and the Society of Antiquaries, under your inspection, would do honour to the nation.’ [iv]. / Dean Swift, also (though fond of abusing the Irish) in a letter to the Earl of Eoxford, gives much praise to our ancestors for the care with which they preserved the “memory of times and persons” so much greater than is used “in this age of learning, as we are pleased to call it;” and in a letter to the duke of Chandos, dated 31st August, 1734, he requests that nboleman to restore to Ireland, by presenting to the library of Trinity College, Duiblin, then newly erected, a large quanity of her ancient records, on paper and parchment, then in his Grace’s possession, that had been formerly collected and carried off frin this country by the Earl of Clarendon, during the time of his government here. The Duke, however, did not comply with the Dean’s Request, and the manuscripts still remain in an English Library. / That the ancient Annals of Ireland are of vast importance and value to the Historian, is an opinion not cinfined to the natives of these islands. Several learned men on the continent have felt and acknowledged their credibility and utility. The Journal des Sçavans for October 1764, has these words: “C’est un principe incontestable, que, sur l’histoire de chaque pays, les annales nationales, quand elles sont anciennes, authentiques, et reconnues pour tell par les etrangers, meritent plus de foi que les annales étrangeres” - “Plusieurs scavan étranger, reconnoissent que les irlandois [sic] , ont des annlees d’une authenticité à toute épreuve.” The author proceeds to quote uopon this point the authority of Stillingfleet and Innes, “qui ná [sic] jamoais flatté les Irlandois.”’ [iv; note that Reilly’s printer does not have accents at his disposal] O’Reilly lists gives an account of the work being carried on by members of the Gaelic Society, formed in 1807 (and which published Teige M’’Daire’s Instructions to a Prince, in the original language and character … and the tragic tale of the Children of Usnach, also in the original languae and character, with a strict literal translation into English’. He goes on to speak of the works they they have published not ‘as a Body, but individual Members’, incl. ‘Doctors O’Brien and Neilson, the late Mr. Patrick Lynch, and the late Mr. Halliday, a youth of extraordinary acquirements’, and cites the example of the Highland Societies of Edinburgh in preservation of Gaelic literature and antiquities’, many ‘in the original language of their country between which and our native [v] tongue there is scarcely any difference, being only a provincial varioation.’ Declares it the intention of the Iberno-Celtic Society to publish the ‘venerable remains of Irish learning’ [vi] in manuscripts awaiting attention, whether originals or copies, viz., din Seanchas, the Ulster Book, the Book of Leinster, the Book of the Eoganachts, the Book of Meath, the Book of the Conallians, the Book of the Oirgiallans, the white Book [sic], the Book of Leacan, the Book of Ballimote, the Book of Fermoy, the Book of Hua Conghabhala, the Book of MacPartholan, the Book of Conquests, the Bookf of Cavan; &c. &c. &c.m and in the Annals of Tigernach, of Senat Macmaghus, of Inisfallen, of Boyle, of Conaght [sic], of the four masters, &c. &c.&c. and also in the Reim Riograidhe, and in the Registries of several ancient families, still preserved by their descendants.’ He cites the causes of the destruction of manuscripts as, ‘First, that immediately after the introduction of Christianity, most of the then existing books were burned, in order to destroy the vestiges of Pagan superstition contained in them. Several, however, were completely copied into the Psalter of Tara …’. Secondly, That the Danish and invaders, who infested and obtained a temporary power over our country in the ninth and tenth centuries, commited great devastation on our ancient Record. Barbarous and ignorant themselves, they took delight in the destruction of every thing connected with learning and science. / Thirdly, that ever since the invasion of the island by the Anglo-Normans, under Henry the Second, the destruction or loss of the ancient historic monuments of the country has daily increased, partly from the policy of Princes; partly form the indifference of the new settlers to the subjects recorded; and partly by removal of the natives to other lands. / After the reign of James I of England, when numbers of chiefs and clergy were deprived of their ancient inheritance and obliged [...; vii]. Of the copies of ‘our ancient Laws’, he writes, those ‘extant are not numerous, though we are told by Archbishop Usher [sic] that in his days the Irish had large volumes of their Laws in their own language; and so late as the beginning of the last century, copies of them were common in Ireland, as we are assured by Thady O’Rody, an excellent scholar, who, in the year 1699, shewed several volumes of those Laws to Sir Richard Cox, who had entertained an opinion that our law was arbitrary, and to fixed or written.’ He shortly goes on, ‘The invasion of Ireland by Henry II, of England, and the partial domination [viii] exercised over the island by his successors, had scarcely any influence on the people, or produced any change in the laws, until the reign of James I. The Irish chiefs, therefore, succeeded to their principalities, and governed their tribes according to the ancient laws enacted by their ancestors, in the early period of the monarchy; and many of the Anglo-Normans who had obtained settlements amongst them, adopted the laws and manners of the inhabitants. Hence Ireland might furnish, what perhaps no other European nation is able to afford, a complete view of ancient Celtic legislation.’ [ix]. Ends by noting that the libraries in which each book, tract, or poem is to be found, are pointed out’, requesting that any Gentleman having copies of these notify the secretary, ‘that the Gaelic scholar may know where these Works may be consulted.’ [x; END]

References
Dictionary of National Biography cites A Chronicle of Nearly 400 Irish Writers, commencing with the earliest account of Irish history and carried down to the year 1750 (Iberno Celtic Society 1820).

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English: The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), cites Sanas Gaoidhilge-Sagsbhearla, An Irish-English Dictionary (Dublin, printed by John Barlow 1817) [n.pp.], republished with corrig. by J O’Donovan (Duffy 1864, 1877); [Transactions ... for 1820 ... containing ...] A Chronical Account of Nearly 400 Irish Writers. commencing with the Earliest Account of Irish History and Carried Down to the Year 1750 (Dublin: Iberno Celtic Society 1820) [recently rep. IUP, c.1980]; An Essay on the Brehon Laws (Dublin: Graisberry 1823), 88pp.; Essay on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian (RIA Transactions, XVI 1828-30)

Hyland Books (Catalogue 214), lists An Irish-English Dictionary [1st ed. (sic)] (1864), carefully revised and corrected with a Supplement by John O’Donovan; this copy front board impressed ‘John Michael Gillman’, contemp. Cork historian and contributor [£75].

Belfast Central Public Library holds Irish-English Dictionary, with suppls., 9 parts (1817-64); Transactions of the Iberno-Celtic Society for 1820 containing a chronological account of nearly four hundred Irish writers (1820).

Belfast Linenhall Library holds Transactions, Vol. I, pt I, ed. E. O’Reilly (1820) being a chronological account of 400 Irish writers.

University of Ulster Library (Morris Collection) holds An Irish English Dictionary, containing upwards of twenty thousand words ... to which is annexed a compendious Irish grammar ... (Dublin [); another (1821).

COPAC lists ed., An Biobla Naomta: air na tarruing o na teangtaib bunadusaca go gaoigilig [1830] (Hibernian Bile Society 1852), 1573pp., in which the New Testament tile-page reads, An Tiomna Nuad ar dtigearna agus an Slanuigteora Iosa Criosd: air na tarruing go firineac as an ngreigis ugdarac / ris an tatair ondruigte a nDia Uilliam O’Domnuill, aird easpug Tuaim (1852), with a note to the effect that the words at the bottom of each pages reflect the 4o Edn. of 1681-85 [acc. verso first prelim.page]; An essay on the nature and influence of the ancient Irish Institutes, commonly called Brehon Laws […] with an appendix, containing a catalogue of the principal ancient laws, to be found in the MSS. library of Trinity College, and other libraries [...]. Paper read before the Royal Irish Academy, June 28, 1824 (Dublin: RIA 1824), 88p.; Sanas Gaoidhilge-Sagsbhearla. An Irish-English dictionary, containing upwards of twenty thousand words that have never appeared in an former Irish lexicon with copious quotations from the most esteemed ancient and modern writers, to elucidate the meaning of obscure words; and numerous comparisons of the Irish words with those of similar orthography, sense or sound, in the Welsh and Hebrew languages. In their proper places in the dictionary, are inserted, the Irish names of our indigenous plants, with the names by which they are commonly known in English and Latin ... To which is annexed, a compendious Irish grammar / by Edward O'Reilly (Dublin: John Barlow 1817), 4pp., l, iii, 28, [508]pp.; Do. [another edn.}, An Irish-English dictionary: To which is annexed, a compendious Irish grammar / By Edward O'Reilly; a new edition (Dublin: Printed for the author by A. O'Neil 1821), 5pp. l, 28, iii, [242]pp.; An Irish-English dictionary: with copious quotations from the most esteemed ancient and modern writers to elucidate the meaning of obscure words, and numerous comparisons of Irish words with those of similar orthography, sense or sound in the Welsh and Hebrew languages by Edward O'Reilly; a new ed., carefully rev. and corrected with a supplement by J. O'Donovan (Dublin: James Duffy 1864, 1877, 1882), 725pp.; ed. and rev., James Gallagher [.1751], Seventeen Irish sermons (Dublin, 1841) [q.pp.]; Letter of 1818 Aug. 18, Dublin, to David Laing [Edinburgh Univ. Library]; Letter of Oct. 17 1829, 2 Longford Row, Harold's Cross, Dublin, to W. & D. Laing, [3]pp. [Edinburg Univ. Library]; Catalogue of the library of the late Edward O’Reilly, Esq., of Harold’s Cross... embracing a fine collection of printed books... together with a unique collection of important and valuable Irish manuscripts... which are to be sold by auction […]on Tuesday, November 30, 1830 (Dublin: Charles Sharpe [1830]), 85pp., bound with ‘Catalogue of the valuable library [of] John MacNamara’[and] ‘Catalogue of the library of […]James Hardiman [held at Trinity College, Dublin].

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