George Sigerson (1836-1925)

[pseud. “Erionnach”;] b. 11 Jan., Holy Hill, nr. Strabane, Co. Tyrone, 11 Jan.; ed. Letterkenny Academy, at St Joseph’s College, Montrouge, and QUG and QUC; gave surgery lectures at St. Cecilia’s [Cath. Univ.]; won prize in special ad hoc Celtic exam in final year; grad. Cork, 1859; studied under Charcot (who was Freud’s teacher at the Salpêtrièrie) and Duchenne in Paris; m. Hester Varian, 1865, living in Synge St. and later at 3 Clare St.; appt. Professor of Botany and later Zoology, Catholic University, and later at NUI, giving lectures at St. Cecilia’s School of Medicine, attended by James Joyce who cites him in Ulysses (‘our national has yet to be written’);
issued pamphlet proposing large-scale production of hemp [Cannabiculture in Ireland: Its Profit and Possibility, 1866]; trans. Jean-Martin Charcot’s Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System [1877]; he persuaded John Mitchel to pose for a photograph, which Sigerson kept in his house; also a death-mask of Charles Kickham, from an impression which he himself made; as “Erionnach”, he edited The Poets and Poetry of Munster, 2nd series (John O’Daly 1860), in succession to the ‘first series’ produced by O’Daly on the basis of Mangan’s translations (1850); repudiated charges of drunkenness laid against Mangan on the basis of the steady handwriting in Mangan’s manuscripts connected with the work; contrib. journalism to Freeman’s Journal and Irishman; also North British Review;
issued History of Land Tenures and Land Classes of Ireland (1871), which attracted the attention of Gladstone; corresponded with Lord Acton on education; Fellow of the Royal Univ.; fnd.-member Irish Literary Society in Dublin and inaugural speaker with “Irish Literature, its Origin, Environment and Influence”, given on 16 August 1892; involved himself in welfare of Fenian prisoners in Britain; member of Royal Commission on Prisons, 1884, leading to Amnesty Act of 1885; author of a work impugning the prison regime (Political Prisoners &c); attended Maud Gonne when sick in Dublin in 1893; issued Bards of the Gael and Gall (1897, rev. edn. 1907), showcasing Irish poetry considered as ‘the sole representative … of that great world, which lived and thrived outside the classic camp’; donated the inter-varsity Sigerson Cup for GAA football, 1911;
issued The Easter Song of Sedulius (1921); acted as director at St. Patrick’s Hospital, and administered electro-shock treatment to Austin Clarke in 1919; lived at 3 Clare St., where he hosted evenings for men of letters incl. John O’Leary, Patrick Pearse and Roger Casement; d. at home, 17 Feb.; his dgs. were Hester (Mrs. Clement K. Shorter) and Dora (Mrs. Donn Piatt); a commemorative plaque was unveiled at 3 Clare St. in Feb. 2011; there is a portrait by John B. Yeats [NLI] and another from Lepracaun (May 1913), given in Ken McGilloway, George Sigerson (2011). PI JMC NCBE DIB DIW DIL FDA OCIL

Sigerson Plaque
Plaque to George Sigerson at 3, Clare St., Dublin.
Photo supplied by Frank Callery on Facebook.

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Anthologies & Irish translations
  • The Poets and Poetry of Munster [trans.] by ‘Erionnach’ [George Sigerson] [2nd ser.] (Dublin: John O’Daly 1860).
  • Bards of the Gael and Gall: Examples of the Poetic Literature of Erinn (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: T. Fisher Unwin 1897), xv, 431pp. : ill. [21 cm.]; Do. [2nd Edn., enl.] (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1907), xv, 431pp.; Do., with ‘Memorial Preface’ by Douglas Hyde [3rd Edn.] (Dublin: Phoenix [Talbot] Press; London: T. Fisher Unwin 1925), xxviii, 431pp., ill. [port.; 22 cm.].
  • Saga of King Lir (1913).
  • The Easter Song of Sedulius: Being the First of Christendom / by Sedulius; with introduction, verse-translation and appendices including a schedule of Milton’s "debts," (Dublin: Talbot Press 1922), vii, 269pp. [23cm.; appendix includes Milton’s "debts" to Sedulius, Dracontius, Victor, and Avitus, Christian Latin poets, and Virgil].
  • Songs and Poems, with an introduction by Padraic Colum (Dublin: Duffy & Co. 1927), vi+72pp.
  • Seapray, Poems from German and Irish (q.d.).
Medical papers
  • Note sur la paralysie vaso-motrice généralisée des membres supérieurs (Paris 1874).
  • trans. Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System: Delivered at la Salpêtrière by J[ean]-M[artin] Charcot [i.e., Leçons sur les maladies du syste`me nerveux, Paris : A. Delahaye, 1872-83], 3 vols. New Sydenham Soc. Nos. 72, 90, 128] (1877-89) [Vol. 1: trans. by Sigerson, 1877, xiii, 320pp.; Vol. 2 / 2nd Ser., trans. by Thomas Savill, ed. by Sigerson (1881), xvi, 399pp., ill. [10 lvs. of pls.]; [Vol. 3 / 2nd Ser., as Clinical lectures on diseases of the nervous system, delivered at the infirmary of La Salpêtrière ... trans. by Thomas Savill (1889), 438pp.; Do. [facs. rep. of London 1881 edn.], with introduction by Walter Riese [New York Academy of Medicine, No. 19] (NY: Hafner 1962), [iii], xvi, 399pp.
  • The Law and the Lunatic: a paper read before the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, 19th January, 1886 (Dublin : Hodges, Figgis & Co. 1886), 52pp. [8°].
Political Commentary
  • [as anon.] Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, by an Ulsterman [by George Sigerson] (London: Longmans, Green, Read & Dyer; Dublin: R. D. Webb & Son [printers] 1868), xiv, 435pp. [8°]; and Do. [2nd edn.] (London: Longmans [... &c.] 1869) [also as 5 microfiche by Chadwyck-Healey, 1994].
  • History of the Land Tenures and Land Classes of Ireland [with an account of the various secret agrarian societies (Dublin: McGlashan & Gill 1871; London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer), xiv, 333, [1]pp. [19cm.].
  • Political Prisoners at Home and Abroad (London: Kegan Paul Trench, Trubner & Co. 1890).
  • “Custodia Honesta”: Treatment of political prisoners in Great Britain [...] With introduction by Henry W. Nevinson (London: Woman’s Press [1911 or 1913]), 18pp., 8°.
  • The Last Independent Parliament of Ireland (Dublin: Gill 1918), pp. xxxv. 207pp. [8°]; orig. pub. as two chapters for R. B. O’Brien, ed., Two Centuries of Irish History (1907)]; and Do., trans as Saor-páirlimint d’eireannacna h-Éireann, Seóirse Sigerson ... a scri´ob i mBéarla ar tús. Donn Piatt a rinne an Leagan Gaedhilge [1938].

See also his contrib. to The Revival of Irish Literature, Addresses by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Dr George Sigerson, Dr Douglas Hyde (London: Fisher Unwin 1894; rep. Lemma 1973).

Translations [set to music]
  • Battle Song: Four-part Song, arranged by T. R. G. Jozé; words by George Sigerson (“Defence of Dublin”) [Novello’s part-song book, 861; 2nd ser.] (London: Novello [1901]), 1 score (4pp.) [27cm.; for mixed voices].
  • The Heather Glen: Irish air arranged by Edgar M. Deale; words by George Sigerson [Oxford Choral Songs W25] (Oxford: OUP 1958), 1 score [8pp.; 26cm.; mixed voices; piano acc. S.S.A.].
  • The Heavenly Pilot: traditional Irish [tune], arr. Havelock Nelson; words by Cormac, Bishop of Cashel, trans. by George Sigerson Eboracum choral ser., 209 York: Banks Music [1992], 3pp. [1 score; 2-part sacred song for SS or SA and piano English words]

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  • Ken McGilloway, George Sigerson: Poet, Patriot, Scientist and Scholar (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation 2011), 156pp.
  • David James O’Donoghue, ‘The Literature of ‘67’, in Shamrock, 30 (1893).
  • Terence O’Hanlon [study of Sigerson], in Capuchin Annual (1954-55), pp.95-97.
  • J. B. Lyons, ‘Medicine and Literature in Ireland’, in Journal of the Irish Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, 3, 1 (1973), pp.3-9.
  • Robert Welch, A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1988), espec. ‘The 1850s, W. H. Drummond, S. H. O’Grady, Sigerson’ [Chap. 7], pp.144-46; ‘George Sigerson’s Bards of the Gael and Gall’ [Chap. 12], pp.162-72.
See also H. W. Nevinson, Changes and Chances (1923) and Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962); Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (London: Verso 1995), p.7f.; Michael Cronin, Translating Ireland: Translations, Languages, Cultures (Cork UP 1996), pp.117-22 [infra], and Luke Gibbons, ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 1997) [quoting varous passages as [infra].

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Sundry views: Sigerson was considered egregious by some leading members of Literary Revival [see Yeats, infra].

Thomas MacDonagh: MacDonagh dedicated his Literature in Ireland (1916) to Sigerson, acknowledging his liberal attitude towards ‘Gael’ and ‘Gall’ as constituents of Irish identity - though the text reflects it only in a small degree.

Douglas Hyde wrote the introduction to the section with Sigerson’s translations in A Treasury of Irish Verse, ed. T. W. Rolleston & Augustus Stopford Brooke (1900).

Robert Farren treats Sigerson quite dismissively in The Course of Irish Verse in English (1948). See also George Moore’s Hail and Farewell, Bk. 1.

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W. B. Yeats, “Autobiography”, in Memoir, ed. Denis Donoghue (London: Macmillan 1972): ‘Then there was John O’Leary’s friend, Dr Sigerson, who had edited a patriotic paper in his youth and lost patients through some theological opinions. At first I was impressed by him, though never without a sense of comedy. He spoke with a curious broken accent, cut his hair as if after [the] frontispiece of Sartor Resartus [by Carlyle], and made upon me the impression of having played before ignorant men the part of a great savant, a great Foreign Servant. Some newspaper, indeed, had just published an essay upon some Danish Sigerson because, as the editor told me, it was a cousin of his, and he would become hot in defence of the Danish invaders of Ireland and deny that they had burned churches. His family had come to Ireland in the ninth century with those invaders, and had no other connexion with Denmark. He flew into every argument, always evading its thought, and one soon discovered that he never disclosed any conviction of his own and that he was exceedingly timid in action. “He burned his fingers long ago with liberal Catholicism,” people would say. I always found him kind and even generous, but soon discovered that he had, whenever I could follow him, erudition without scholarship, and that he had among historical events the thoughts of a child. He thought himself a judge of art and returned always from his rare visits to the Continent with portfolios full of forgeries. / Those with whom I was to have the most lasting sympathy were [54] a rule the least effective, the least honoured in the world of hard logic.’ (pp.53-54.) See also Autobiographies (1955) , on Sigerson : ‘learned, artificial, unscholarly, a typical provincial celebrity, but a friendly man’ (q.p.).

W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894), A meeting was held at the Rotundo [sic] in June, 1892, to formally inaugurate the National Literary Society. Dr George Sigerson ... was in the chair. Miss Maud Gonne, WB Yeats, the Chairman, the Rev TA Finlay SJ, John O’Leary and John T Kelly explained and urged the new departure. ... Dane, Norman and Celt were here represented, and difficult it were to tell which was the most Irish [127]. In August, 1892, the inaugural lecture was delivered by Dr Sigerson at the Ancient Concert Rooms, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, then on his visit to Ireland (already noticed) being in the chair. The origin, environment and influence of Irish literature formed the subject of the Doctor’s address - in all respects worthy to be taken as indicative of the studies and lines to be pursued by the new association in the metropolis [129]. Dr Sigerson may well have the first place [among society litterateurs] ... He is the strong right hand of the movement in Dublin today, but his labours for our national lore have extended over some four decades. ‘Erionnach’ is an honoured name with those who have followed the Irish muse through our periodical literature since the fifties. The Poets of Munster (second series) which say the light in 1860, exhibited Dr Sigerson’s powers as a Gaelic translator ... contributing to the Harp in 1855 [at sixteen] ... [The] Nation ... The Irishman ... Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine ... [191] ... anthologies ... The fine poem signed ‘Patrick Henry’ in Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland was from him. His prose works deal with Irish land questions, political prisoners, and other home subjects ... he has driven home of late the influence for good of which the Danes, their thought and literature exerted upon [Irish literature] in early stages ... the Danes ... an elevating force in Irish life. Most Irish readers are inclined to question this at first, but the Doctor’s facts are not to be lightly thrust aside. The Danish strain is strong in him, and he is proud of it. We could well make room for many such Danes in Ireland. [132]

F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (1971), [Sigerson] author of Poets and Poetry of Munster (1860), the sequel to Mangan’s work, and was later to produce Bards of the Gael and Gall (1897), which Lyons calls ‘an astonishing feat of exact, yet musical, translation from Irish into English’. (p.223n.)

Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘Dr. George Sigerson compared the discovery of the ancient Irish heritage to finding a buried treasure, and it must have been with considerable pride that members of the newly formed Irish National Literary Society in Dublin heard him advance the claims of this literature, including that of the introduction of rhyme into poetry. In his lecture, reprinted in The Revival of Irish Literature (1894) and in his anthology Bards of the Gael and Gall (1897), Sigerson outlined some of the varied rhythms of early Irish verse, with its wide use of assonance and consonance, alliteration, and combinations of internal and end rhymes. Except for the pioneer anthology of Charlotte Brooke, the Reliques of Irish Poetry (1788), the richness of this literary heritage had been untapped. Miss Brooke had remarked that “It is scarcely possible that any language can be more adapted to lyric poetry,” for the language itself “is indeed already music,” because of “the smoothness and harmony of its cadences.”’

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Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974), on Sigerson, for Hyde the outstanding figure of the early revival group; had succeeded James Clarence Mangan as a translator and versifier of Irish poems which John O’Daly published in Poets and Poetry of Munster, Second Ser. (1860); completed medical studies in Paris; published several medical tracts and treatises; Bards of the Gael and Gall (London 1897), which Hyde described as ‘a contribution to the so-called Celtic revival the importance of which it would be difficult to over-estimate, adding ‘his translations may be better [84] relied on by the English reader for their accuracy than those of any other who has ever attempted to turn Irish into English verses.’ (Hyde’s Introduction to a selection of Sigerson in A Treasury of Irish Poetry, ed. Brooke and Rolleston, London 1900). In the dedication to Love Songs of Connacht, Hyde wrote, ‘Allow me to offer you this slight attempt on my part to do for Connacht what you yourself and the late John O’Daly, following in the footsteps of Edward Walsh, to some extent accomplished for Munster, more than thirty years ago [...] not for its intrinsic worth, if it has any, but as a slight token of gratitude from one who has derived the greatest pleasure from your own early and patriotic labours in the same direction [...].’ [84]. Sigerson dedicated Bards of the Gael and Gall to ‘Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, President of the Irish Literary Society of London, a representative of the Gael, and to Dr Douglas Hyde, President of the Gaelic League of Dublin, a descendent of the Gall.’ [84] Further, Daly makes it clear that in the alignments of the Irish Library quarrel, Yeats and O’Leary were confronted by Taylor and Sigerson - hence the animosity of his profile of Sigerson in the Autobiographies, an unkind portrait. [n., 219]

Michael Cronin, Translating Ireland: Translations, Languages, Cultures (Cork UP 1996), quotes Sigerson on an Irish poet in translation: ‘The following is a production of O’Lionan [Ó Lionáin], a man who could appreciate how much beauty and tenderness might eb lost having the opportunity he ad of hearing the inflexible, un-endearing language of the “porker” Saxons jarring upon the ear of his country’ (The Poets and Poetry of Munster, John O’Daly, 1860, p.viii; here 117.) Quotes further, ‘prejudiced foreigners, looking at the squalor in which their iniquitous laws have placed some of our people, and the exaggerating basely and lyingly that misery’ (Ibid., p.xx.) ‘In fact, every rural district where the Irish is spoken, curious gems of quaint humour, flashing of wit, and a keen knowledge of men and morals adorn that golden casket - a Celtic peasant’s heart’ (Ibid., xxiii.) Sigerson calls himself ‘an Ulsterman and of Viking race’ and professes it his only reason in publishing translation to gain ‘an increase of respect and love for the delicacy, devotion and chivalry of a much-maligned people’ (Ibid., p.xxvii; here 118.) Also quotes: ‘Many bards bear foreign names. their Fathers had crossed with the Norman, or with later settlers, yet they claimed the country’s history as their heritage, and they make appeal to all its ancient tradtions. So evey generation fuses with the great Past, in the adopted land they loved.’ (Bards of the Gall and Gael, 1897, p.91; here p.118), and comments: ‘Rather than seeing Ireland prior to the English Conquest as shackled by backwardness and underdevelopment, he sees the society as anticipating the ferment of modernity.’ Quotes: ‘the activity and restlessness of our own days were in their blood in all known time. Their contemporaries sometimes noticed this trait and complained of it. It is vain to blame them for outrunning their age. They [110] were in truth the Moderns of the Past - perhaps they are also fated to be the Moderns of the Future.’ (Bards of the Gall and Gael, 1897, p.2.) Cronin remarks: ‘His attempts, therefore [...] to reproduce the elaborate metrical structures of the original Irish poems in English could be seen not as a self-indulgent archaism but as offering the reader poetic materials for the construction of a new Irish modernity. The fact that Austin Clarke [...] responded to the challenge of Gaelic prosody [...] shows that the [Sigerson’s] ambitions were not totally without foundation’ (p.120).

Willa Murphy, ‘Throwing everything into the Irish mix’, review of George Sigerson, by Ken McGilloway, in The Irish Times (4 June 2011), Weekend Review, p.10: ‘[...] Sigerson belonged to that genus of Victorian scholar who discovered, or invented, the idea of the family tree across multiple disciplines. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Schleicher’s work in comparative philology are just two famous examples of a 19th-century explosion of root-and-branch thinking to explain everything from plants, rocks and animals to languages, cultures and “races”. Looked at from a distance, a tree diagram mapping connections between Sanskrit and Greek looks a lot like another showing that the tobacco plant and the potato belong to the same family. / It was this kind of thinking that inspired Romantic nationalists in Ireland and elsewhere to join in a race to excavate and chart the unique characteristics of their people. This helps explain the frantic dusting-down of the language and myths of “Celtic” Ireland during the Revival. If you can climb down the branches back to your roots, then your essential Irishness is as undeniable as the existence of the oak tree or the elephant. Despite his nationalist leanings, Sigerson, a true polymath, rejected any such arguments from blood. The Irish, like their poetry, are a mix of styles and forms. It is difficult not to hear echoes of Sigerson in Joyce’s later assertion that in the vast fabric of Ireland “it is useless to look for a thread that may have remained pure and virgin and without having undergone the influence of a neighbouring thread”. / So while many of his Revivalist counterparts were busy seeking out the clean roots of Irish identity, Sigerson was always more concerned to show the tangled branches. He once compared Ireland to the multiple interlocking colours of an illuminated manuscript, another place where threads are difficult to unravel and roots remain hidden.

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‘Our national epic has yet to be written ... ’ (in James Joyce’s Ulysses [“Scylla and Charybdis” - the Library Scene]
‘We dare not stand still, Ireland’s glorious literary past would be our reproach, the future our disgrace.’ (“Ireland’s Influence on European Literature”, p.vii; quoted in Sam Slote, ed. & annot. James Joyce, Ulysses, Alma Books 2015)]- regarding the librarian Lyster’s allusion to Sigerson’s view that ’our national epic has yet to be written’ - a view which Sam Slote attributes to him [Sigerson] in the same breath as the sentence quoted above. (Ulysses, 2015, annotations re Ulysses Gabler Corrected Edn. 1984, U9.309.)

Ireland’s Influence on European Literature’, in Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington 1904), pp.vii-xiii [end Vol. III]; Shakespeare and Cailín Óg Astor, in Henry II, IV.4; alliteration in his poetry; Beowulf; Nibelungen Lied, et al.; Spenser [‘Whilome when Ireland flourished in fame / Of wealth and goodness far above the rest / Of all that bear the British islands name’; it may be said that Spenser was ignorant of the literature of the hostile Irish nation, and so could not be influenced by it. The case is otherwise’; quotes ‘sprinkled with some pretty flowers’ &c.]; ‘thus our ancient literature would be invaluable if for this reason alone, that it gives a new view-point and a new vista ... If such a deposit were not extant, European scholars might well desire to go as pilgrims, like the bereaved bards, to the grave of Fergus, son of Roi, with power to call him again on earth, that he might recite the famous Táin - the lost of a lost World.’

History of the Land Tenures and Land Classes of Ireland (London: Longmans & Green 1871): ‘Their land-laws, rents, and security were preserved from destruction exactly so far as they were able to enforce them [...] [through] the outlawed Kerns, Tories, Rapparees, to whom they gave aid and comfort, for good reasons. For these men were the guards and executive of the proscribed laws and Brehons; they were employed to enforce the ancient land-code, not only against undertakers, but against tenants [...] Whether they were called Wood-Kern, Tories, Rapparees, or Ribbonmen in successive ages, the part they played was the same - the enforcement of the ancient system and immemorial customs.’ (pp.36-37; quoted in Luke Gibbons, ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1997, 1997, p.12.) ‘The Irish People whom they oppressed with rack-rents and penal laws, had then to worship their God in caves, and to seek education in the wilds at the risk of liberty or life.’ (Idem.; Gibbons, p.13.) Also: ‘[Looking 20 years back] brings us close to the famine period, whent he tenantry were driven out at the point of the bayonet, with a remorseless cruelty .. The memory of such deeds lasts long. The transplantations of Cromwell was a merciful and considerate act in comparison with these ruthless devastations.’ (p.[32]; Gibbons, op. cit. 1997, p.18.)

How to Deal with Fenianism’, in Modern Ireland [ … &c.] (1869): ‘The surprise occasioned by the recent Fenian outbreak at Manchester is not a hopeful symptom … Men have been anxious to accept any view that could plausibly relieve them from the duty of studying what might reveal painful objects, and make action necessary. But the oftener … the rebellion has been broken … the more frequently the bubble has burst, the more palpable it has become that those causes remain which can send other like bubbles to the surface from the fermenting elements beneath.’ (pp.44, 41-42 [sic]; quoted in Luke Gibbons, op. cit., 1997, p.21.)

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Bards of the Gael and Gall (London: Fisher Unwin 1907): ‘It has not hitherto been observed that a great catastrophe may influence the character of a whole nation. Yet, I would attribute the pathetic strain in Scottish poetry largely to the cruel consequences of the Jacobite defeat [...] There can be no doubt, I believe, that the sad dirges of Ossian - continued as the note was by other bards and generally spread - did influence the character and sentiment of the Gael, and probably infused that tone of melancholy which, renewed by recurring disasters, is supposed to be an essentially Celtic peculiarity. Fortunately, there was a burst of sunshine when the Christian faith came forth upon the waters. Otherwise the refinement which sorrow produces might have been carried to enervation.’ (p.41; quoted in Luke Gibbons, op. cit., 1997, p.19.) ‘There are passages here, as in other ancient Gaelic legends, of interest to the physiological psychologist. Unwittingly, the writers have enumerated many signs of extreme nervous excitability in Cuchulainn, such as the distortion of his face in battle, his convulsive leaps, his long inexplicable debility [...] from which he rouses of  “induced lethargy” or hypnotic trance.’ (ibid., p.395; Gibbons, p.20.)

Remarks on James Clarence Mangan: ‘Said Dr. George Sigerson, F.R.U.I., in a recent lecture before the Irish Literary Society: “It has been stated, in a letter given to the public some months ago, that Mangan’s writing was extremely irregular and erratic, owing to his drinking habits. O’Daly also had said that the versions of the Munster poets were often brought to him in different-colored inks, indicative of different hostelries or public-houses in which [22] they were composed. Now the specimens here shown prove that Clarence Mangan wrote a clear, legible, elegant hand, manifest in his earliest and latest manuscripts. The writing in these versions of the Munster poets was all in black ink. Very possibly, they were written in various public-houses, for Dublin offered little open hospitality, while there were no free libraries, and all the squares were closed. In Paris, and in London, many writers have used the coffeehouses ... . Mangan’s handwriting does not present the signs of one whose nervous system is shattered by alcohol.”’ (Quoted in Louise Imogen Guiney, introductory study James Clarence Mangan, His Selected Poems, Boston & NY: Lawson Wolffe & Co. 1897, pp.22-23.)

Lives of nations: ‘If our nation is to live, it must live by the energy of intellect, and be prepared to take its place in competition with all other peoples’ ( ‘Irish Literature, &c.’, in The Revival of Irish Literature, 1894, p.12; quoted in Mark Storey, Introduction, Poetry and Ireland since 1800, A Source Book (1988), p.18.)

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D. J. O’Donoghue, in The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912) remarks that Sigerson’s metrical translations do not seem to have implied a great knowledge of Irish .

Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), notes that ten of his poems were printed in Ralph Varian’s Harp of Erin (1869), among them ‘On the Mountains of Pomeroy’; MacDonagh’s Literature in Ireland (1916) dedicated to him.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; Thomas MacDonagh dedicated his Literature in Ireland to Sigerson (1916) [and see comments, Deane, ed., MacDonagh’s critical writing is an abortive attempt to absorb Sigerson’s wide tolerance within a too rudimentary theory], 723; Deane, ed. quotes at some length Sigerson’s opening lecture to the Irish National Literary Soc. in 1894, called ‘Irish Literature, [I]ts Origin, Environment and Influence’, in which he declared that ‘Irish literature is of many blends, not the product of one race but of several’ and confessed dismay that ‘some of my patriotic young friends’ were ready to decide ‘what is and what is not the Irish style in prose and the Irish note in poetry. We all know what is meant. But it is scarcely too much to say that you may search through all the Gaelic literature of this nation, and find many styles, but not this. If it ever existed, it existed outside of our classic literature, in a rustic or plebeian dialect. It must be counted, but to make it exclusive would be to impose fetters on literary expression. As in other countries, there were not one but many styles, differing with the subject, the writer, and the age.’

Refs. and rems.: His Modern Ireland (1868) from a man who recognises the importance of Fenianism but wished to restrict its power [Deane, ed.]; in particular, he opposes the ‘custom’ of speaking of the Irish as altogether Celts, [for] ‘even in the days of the native chiefs there were Norse and Anglo-Saxon settlers amicably established in various parts of Ireland’, 238 [recte, ‘too much the custom to speak of the Irish as altogether Celts, and then to construct the usual [i.e., Fenian] theory. Even in the days &c.’, from his Modern Ireland, Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, 1868; 2nd ed., 1869, ‘Irish Republicanism’ [FDA2 240]. (Cont.)

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2 - cont.: Sigerson gave details on the number of prisoners who died or were driven insane by the treatment meted out to them and described the administrative and other changes that gave jailers, rather than legislators, the power to govern the penal regime [Deane, ed.], 281; Douglas Hyde, ‘[...] Dr Sigerson has already shown in his opening lecture the debt of gratitude which in many respects Europe owed to ancient Ireland’, 529; the first epigraph to George Sigerson’s Bards of the Gael and Gall (1897; 2nd ed. 1907) is a quotation from Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland in which the beauties of Irish poetry are lauded by Iren[a]eus ... the imputation seems to be that in the 16th c. the two civilizations come together in mutual literary appreciation ... the origin of the tradition of Gael and Gall, a conception very difference from the notion of the Anglo-Irish tradition [Deane, ed.], 721-23.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2 - cont.: Aodh de Blacam cites Sigerson’s theory of the earliest immigrations as Teutonic; and ftn adds, Sigerson was among the first to attempt to sever Gaelic culture from the racial underpinning of Celticism, seeking to establish Teutonic as well as Mediterranean origins, a project not unrelated to his own northern European background [Luke Gibbon], 983; counted among ‘poets of the Irish Mode’ by Thomas MacDonagh, 990; [a further ref., ibid., 992];

Bibliography: The Poets and Poetry of Munster, 2nd ser. (Dublin: John O’Daly 1860); Modern Ireland, Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government (London: Longmans, Green, et. al. 1868; 2nd ed. 1869); History of the Land Classes and Land Tenures of Ireland (London: Longmans &c; Dublin: McGlashen & Gill 1871); Political Prisoners at Home and Abroad (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. 1890); Bards of the Gael and Gall (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1897; 2nd enlarged ed. 1907 [and see Talbot Press ed., supra]); The Easter Song of Sedulius (Dublin: Talbot Press 1922); Songs and Poems intro. by P[adraic] Colum (Dublin: Duffy 1927). Note: identical biogs. appear at 367 and 779 - as supra.

Seamus Deane, The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, pp.563-64 [remarks by Luke Gibbons, sect. ed.]: Sigerson had argued for a syncretic form of Irishness as early as 1868, and developed this approach in a lecture in 1893, ‘Irish Literature, Its Origin, Environment’, which accompanied and indeed was overshadowed by Hyde famous address on The Necessity &c [ftn, George Sigerson, Modern Ireland, Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1868); ‘Irish Literature &c’, in The Revival of Irish Literature (T Fisher Unwin 1894). He returned to the theme in his pioneering book of translations, Bards of the Gael and Gall, first published in 1897, ‘Though it is now common to apply the epithet Celtic to the older inhabitants of Ireland, I have preferred to write of them as the ‘ancient Irish’, that being a term less exclusive and more exact ... The Milesian [i.e. Celtic] invaders are now generally supposed to have superseded completely the former owners of the island. This is essentially a modern fancy, founded on ignorance; for the elder Irish historians - often the Milesians themselves - not only admit but emphasise the fact that the population of the country was composed of different races.’ (Bards of the Gael and Gall, Unwin [1st ed. 1897] 1925, p.377.)

Belfast Public Library holds Bards of the Gael and Gall (1897, 1907, 1925); History of the Land tenures and Land Classes of Ireland (1871); Last Independent Parliament of Ireland (1919); Modern Ireland (1869); Political Prisoners at Home and Abroad (1890); Poets and Poetry of Munster, by ‘Erionnach’, attrib. (1860); Saga of King Lir (1913). Also Seapray: Poems from German and Irish (?n.d.)

University of Ulster Library holds Bards of the Gael and Gall, examples of poetic literature or Erinn (Fisher Unwin 1897) 435pp.; The Last Independent Parliament of Ireland, with an account of the survival of the nation and its lifework (Gill 1918) 207pp. [DA948.4.S5]; Songs and Poems (Duffy 1927); also History of the Land Tenures and Land Classes of Ireland: with an account of (Dublin: McGlashan & Gill; London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer 1871).

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James Clarence Mangan: A poem by Mangan entitled “Oh, No one knows how much I sigh!”, said to belong to the MSS collection of George Sigerson, was printed in Evening Herald in 1903; another called ‘Brian’s Lament for King Mahon’, printed in M. J. Brown’s Historical Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1912), may also have been from Sigerson’s collection, now lost. (See Ellen Shannon-Mangan, Biography of James Clarence Mangan, IAP 1996.)

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