The Annals of the Four Masters

In his search for authentic records from which to compile the Annala Rioghacta Eireann (or “The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland”) now known as the The Annals of the Four Masters, Michael O’Clery, their chief author, and a monk of the Order of St. Francis, appears to have found the most important of the ancient Irish records; for, he states that he compiled the Irish Genealogies “from the ancient and approved chronicles, records, and other books of antiquity of the Kingdom of Ireland.”

Addressing his friend Fargal (or Farrell) O’Gara, lord of Moy-O’Gara and Coolavin (“one of the two knights elected to represent the county Sligo in the Parliament held in Dublin, this present year of our Lord, 1631”), to whom the Annals of the Four Masters were inscribed, Michael O’Clery says in his Dedication page:

“On the 22nd January, A.D. 1632, this work was undertaken in the Convent of Donegal, and was finished in the same Convent on the 10th day of August, 1636; being the eleventh year of the reign of Charles, King of England, France, Scotland, and Ireland.”

O’Clery proceeds:

“In every country enlightened by civilization, and confirmed therein through a succession of ages, it has been customary to record the events produced by time. For sundry reasons nothing was deemed more profitable and honourable than to study and peruse the works of ancient writers, who gave a faithful account of the chiefs and nobles who figured on the stage of life in the preceding ages: that posterity might be informed how their forefathers employed their time, how long they continued in power, and how they finished their days.”

O’Clery continues:

“In consequence of your uneasiness on the general ignorance of our civil history, and of the monarchs, provincial kings, lords, and chieftains, who flourished in this country through a succession of ages; with equal want of knowledge of the synchronism necessary for throwing light on the transactions of each, I have informed you that I entertained hopes of joining to my own labours the assistance of antiquaries I held most in esteem for compiling a body of Annals, wherein those matters should be digested under their proper heads; judging that, should such a compilation be neglected at present, or consigned to a future time, a risk might be run that the materials for it would never again be brought together.”

And O’Clery adds:

“In this idea I have collected the most authentic Annals I could find in my travels (from A.D. 1616 to 1632) through the kingdom; from which I have compiled this work, which I now commit to the world under your name and patronage.”

The Annals so collected by O’Clery were digested as follows: One portion of them is an historical abridgment of the Irish Kings, their reign and succession,[1] their genealogies and death; another portion is a tract on the genealogies of the Irish saints, called Sanctilogium Genealogicum; the third treats of the first inhabitants and different conquests of Ireland, the succession of her Kings, their wars, and other remarkable events from the Deluge until the arrival of the English in the twelfth century; another of the works was called the Annals of Donegal; and another, the Irish Genealogies.

From O’Clery’s Irish Genealogies, and other sources, O’Ferrall, who was Irish Historiographer to Queen Anne, translated into English, A.D. 1709, his Linea Antiqua: a Manuscript copy of which was deposited in the Office of Arms, Ireland, and another in the Royal Library at Windsor; but which does not contain all the Irish pedigrees given by O’Clery. It would appear that it gives the pedigrees of those families only who were of note in Ireland in O’Ferrall’s time. In Sir William Betham’s edition of the Linea Antiqua, however, many Irish genealogies are given which are not mentioned by O’Ferrall, but which are contained in O’Clery’s Book of Irish Pedigrees, and recorded by Mac Firbis.


[1] Succession: It may be reasonably asserted that the people who were able to appreciate the importance of recording the names of their kings, their reign and succession, and who possessed a written language to enable them to do so, cannot be said to have been "uncivilized."