Sir James Ware

Ware, Sir James, an eminent Irish antiquary, the writer on the antiquities, history, and biography of Ireland whose works have been most largely drawn upon by subsequent authors, was born in Castle-street, Dublin, 26th November 1594.

[His father, Sir James Ware, came to Ireland in 1588, in the train of Sir William FitzWilliam, Lord-Deputy. Amongst other appointments, he secured a patent for the lucrative post of Auditor-General of Ireland, which, with the interval of a few years during the Commonwealth, continued in his family for three generations. He was knighted by James I., and in the Parliament of 1613 sat as member for Mallow. “Having lived a very strict and truly religious life, he died suddenly (which was his constant wish for many years before) as he was walking home through Fishamble-street to his house in Castle-street, in 1632.” The family mansion of the Wares stood in Castle-street, on the ground now occupied by Hoey’s-court and the Castle steps.]

Young James Ware was carefully educated by his father, entered Trinity College in 1610, remained there six years, took out his M.A. degree, and then resumed his home studies.

His literary and antiquarian tastes were fostered by friendships with Dr. Ussher, then Bishop of Meath, and Daniel Molyneux, “a very curious antiquary, between whom the similitude of their studies had cemented a strict friendship.”

“At an early age,” says Harris, “his father, thinking it convenient he should marry, procured him a match to both their satisfactions. It was Mary, the daughter of Jacob Newman of the City of Dublin, Esq. But this alteration in his condition did not in the least take him off from his beloved studies. He had begun to gather manuscripts, and make collections from the libraries of Irish antiquaries and genealogists, and from the registries and cartularies of cathedrals and monasteries, in which he spared no expense. … When he had gleaned all he could for his purpose at home, he resolved to take a journey to England, not doubting but he should reap a plentiful harvest by consulting the libraries both publick and private there.”

This tour, made in 1626, was the first of his many visits to England.

It would be a mistake to suppose that Ware’s life was devoted entirely to literature.

He was knighted in 1629 by the Lords-Justices. His father was still living; so that there were two knights of the same name and surname residing together in one house at the same time, “they always living together.”

On his father’s death, three years afterwards, he succeeded to the office of Auditor-General, which necessarily occupied a good deal of his time.

At this period he was writing some of his most valuable works. We are told by Harris of his attachment to the Earl of Strafford during his government of Ireland.

He was returned member for Dublin University to the Irish Parliament of March 1639.

He closely attended to the business of the Council upon the breaking out of the Irish war in October 1641, and became one of the sureties for the loans advanced by private individuals to the Government.

He advocated the cessation of arms with the Irish in 1643, and was one of the council of seventeen appointed to assist the Marquis of Ormond in negotiating the treaty with them. He was also one of the deputation sent over by Ormond to Charles I. at Oxford, “to inform his Majesty of the posture of affairs in Ireland.”

Sir James spent all his spare time in the libraries at Oxford, where “he was complimented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law, and highly caressed by most of the considerable men at Oxford.”

The vessel in which he and his brother commissioners, Lord Edward Brabazon and Sir Henry Tichborne, were returning to Ireland, was captured by the Parliamentarians, and he suffered imprisonment for ten months in the Tower of London.

On an exchange of prisoners of importance, he was permitted to return to Dublin, where he lived undisturbed until June 1647, when, on the surrender of the place to the Parliament, he consented to be sent to England as one of the hostages for the due performance of the engagements entered into by Ormond. The agreement being fully executed, he was licensed to return to Dublin, where he lived some time in a private condition, having been deprived of his employment of Auditor-General.

Subsequently, Michael Jones, Governor of Dublin, objected to the presence of such a leading loyalist, and in April 1649, with his eldest son and one servant, Ware retired to France, where he resided two years, between St. Malo, Caen, and Paris.

“The frequent conversations he had with the famous Bochart [in Paris] delighted him extremely; in whose company he could have been contented to have spent the residue of his life.”

In 1651 he was permitted to pass over to England, and ultimately to return home, where he resumed his antiquarian studies.

After the Restoration he was re-instated in all his offices, and was again unanimously elected member for the University of Dublin.

He was appointed on more than one commission in connexion with the settlement of the kingdom after the war; yet he is said to have refused both a baronetcy and viscountcy.

His latter days were principally occupied with the literary pursuits in which he so much delighted.

Of a charitable disposition, he devoted a good deal of time and money to relieving those in distress, especially the families of decayed cavaliers, and always forgave the fees of his office to widows, clergymen, and clergymen’s children.

Sir James Ware’s works were all written in Latin. His first was:

Archiepiscoporum Casseliensium et Tuamensium Vitæ, quibus adjicitur Historia Cœnobiorum Cisterciensium Hiberniæ (Dublin, 1626).

The following are those by which he is principally known:

De Scriptoribus Hiberniæ (Dublin, 1639); De Hibernia et Antiquitatibus ejus Disquisitiones (London, 1654); ib. Ed. Secunda Emendatior et Quarta Parte Auctior, ac Rerum Hibernicarum Regnante Henrico VII. Annales (London, 1658); Rerum Hibernicarum Annales, ab 1485 ad 1558 (Dublin, 1664); De Præsulibus Hiberniæ Commentarius (Dublin, 1665). The second was printed in London, the art of printing being in a low condition in Ireland at that time, on account of the recent war.

In 1656 he published his Opuscula Sancti Patricii; in 1644, Venerabilis Bedæ Epistolæ.

He caused to be printed in 1633, for the first time, Spenser’s View of the State of Ireland, and also editions of Hanmer’s Chronicle and Campian’s History of Ireland.

O’Flaherty says that Sir James Ware “could make a shift to read and understand” Irish, but “was utterly ignorant in speaking of it.”

He was accustomed to employ an Irish amanuensis to interpret and transcribe documents, and at the time of his death had in that capacity the learned Duald MacFirbis, who in Sir James’s house translated the Registry of Clonmacnoise, and other works.

Sir James Ware died at his residence in Castle-street, 1st December 1666, aged 72, and was buried in the vaults of St. Werburgh’s,

“without either stone or monumental inscription; but he had taken care in his lifetime to erect a monument for himself by his labours, more lasting than any mouldering materials. … He had a great love for his native country, and could not bear to see it aspersed by some authors, which put him upon doing it all the justice he could in his writings, by setting matters in the fairest light, yet still with the strictest regard to truth.”

[His eldest son, James, succeeded him in the office of Auditor-General, and died in 1689. His second son, Robert, was the author of numerous treatises, principally aimed against Catholics and their tenets. He made himself so unpopular with the large body of his countrymen that he saw fit to retire to England during the War of 1689–’91. He died in March in 1696. His granddaughter was the wife of Walter Harris.]

Lord Clarendon took Sir James Ware’s papers to England in James II.’s reign, and sold them to the Duke of Chandos, who was vainly solicited by Swift to restore them to Ireland. Some of them are now in the British Museum, a portion of the “Clarendon manuscripts;” and a still more valuable portion is in the Rawlinson collection of the BodleianLibrary, Oxford.

The first collected edition of Sir James Ware’s works was published in Dublin in 1705: The Antiquities and History of Ireland, by Sir James Ware, now first published in one volume, in English, and the Life of Sir James Ware prefixed. It was translated chiefly by Sir William Domvile and Robert Ware, and contains the Antiquities, Annals, Writers, and Bishops, also Sir John Davis’s Discovery, and several lists and historical documents relating to Ireland, added by the editors. Each division of the book has a separate title-page and is separately paged.

[For Harris’s expansion of Ware’s Antiquities, Writers, and Bishops, see Harris, Walter, p. 244.]


339. Ware, Sir James, Works: Walter Harris. 2 vols. Dublin, 1764.

339a. Ware, Sir James, Works. Dublin, 1705.