Michael O'Clery

O'Clery, Michael and Conary, brothers, and Cucogry (Peregrine), their cousin, were three of the annalists known as the Four Masters, the fourth being Ferfeasa O'Mulconry. Michael, originally known as "Teige-an-Tsleibhe" — (Teige of the Mountain), was born about 1575, at Kilbarron Castle, the ruins of which overhang Donegal Bay. His ancestors had for generations been historians and lawyers. Early in the 17th century, through confiscations, the family were reduced to poverty, and Teige entered the order of St. Francis as a lay brother, assuming the cognomen of Michael.

Soon after joining his order at Louvain he was sent back to Ireland by Hugh Ward, Guardian of the monastery, to collect materials for a work upon the lives of the Irish saints. Michael O'Clery was eminently qualified for this task, and pursued his enquiries for about eighteen years, visiting distinguished scholars and antiquaries, and transcribing ancient manuscripts. Ward did not live to avail himself of these materials, but they were of essential service to the Rev. John Colgan in the compilation of his great work, Acta Sanctorum.

During O'Clery's stay in Ireland he compiled the following works: Reim Rioghraidhe, a list of the Irish kings, and genealogies and festivals of Irish saints: finished in the Franciscan convent at Athlone, 4th November 1630; the autograph original is in the Burgundian Library at Brussels, and a copy in the Royal Irish Academy. Leabhar-Gabhala, or Book of Conquests: completed 31st August 1631; a copy in the writing of Cucogry O'Clery is in the Royal Irish Academy. Annala Rioghachta Eireann, the Annals of Ireland, hereafter mentioned. He also wrote, and printed at Louvain in 1643, Sanas an Nuadh, a dictionary or glossary of difficult or obsolete Irish words, which Lhwyd transcribed into his Irish Dictionary. He is supposed to have died in 1643.

Concerning CONARY O'CLERY very little is known. He was not a member of any religious order, and appears to have acted simply as scribe or copyist.

CUCOGRY O'CLERY was the head of the Tirconnell sept of the O'Clerys. He wrote in Irish a life of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, afterwards transcribed into the Annals of the Four Masters. In 1632, "being a mere Irishman, and not of English or British descent or surname," he was deprived of the small remaining portions of his lands in Donegal, and removed to Ballycroy, in the barony of Erris, and County of Mayo.

In his will, dated 1664 (preserved in the Royal Irish Academy), he says: "I bequeath the property most dear to me that ever I possessed in this world, namely, my books, to my two sons, Dermot and John. Let them copy from them without injuring them, whatever may be necessary for their purpose, and let them be equally seen and used by the children of my brother Carbry as by themselves." John O'Clery, fifth in line of descent from Cucogry, removed to Dublin in 1817, carrying with him a number of valuable manuscripts in the handwriting of his ancestor.

Concerning the fourth annalist, FERFEASA O'MULCONRY, nothing is known but that he was a hereditary antiquary, and a native of the County of Roscommon. The Annals of the Four Masters were written in Irish by these four men in the monastery of Donegal, between 22nd January 1632 and 10th August 1636. We are told that the brotherhood supplied the annalists with food and attendance, and the work was carried on under the patronage of Ferral O'Gara, Prince of Coolavin, to whom it is dedicated. Many of the materials from which the Annals were compiled are no longer in existence. No perfect copy of the autograph is now known to exist, though portions scattered through Europe would make one perfect copy and almost another.

Of the First Part, from A.M. 2242 to A.D. 1171, there is a copy in Michael O'Clery's writing in the library of the Franciscans in Dublin — removed thither with other valuable manuscripts relating to Ireland, from St. Isidore's in Rome, in 1872. There is another autograph copy of this part in Lord Ashburnham's library. Of the Second Part, from 1172 to 1616, there is a copy in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. The first translation of the Annals was of the First Part, by Rev. Charles O'Conor in 1826. The Irish is given in Roman-Italic characters, and the translation and occasional notes are in Latin. It fills the third volume of his Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores — a quarto of 840 pp. O'Curry says "this edition is certainly valuable, but it is very inaccurate." No one being allowed access to the original of the First Part at Stowe, O'Donovan was obliged to take the text for his translation from O'Conor.

An English translation of the Second Part, made by Owen Connellan from a copy of the autograph in the Royal Irish Academy, with notes by Dr. MacDermott, was published by B. Geraghty in Dublin in 1846. It occupies a quarto of 720 pp. The first complete printed edition of the work — the Irish original, with an English translation and ample notes — was given to the world by John O'Donovan in 1851, being the most important single contribution ever made to the study of Irish history. Including index, the work fills seven quarto volumes. [See O'DONOVAN, JOHN.] The notices of events in the Annals are in the main bald, and entirely wanting in colour or picturesqueness.


134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

260. O'Curry, Eugene: Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History. Dublin, 1861.