Vallancey, Charles (DNB00)

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VALLANCEY, CHARLES (1721–1812), antiquary, whose name is spelt Vallancy in the army list, was born in 1721 at Windsor, where his father, a French protestant, who ceased to call himself De Vallance on the general change of foreign names in the reign of Queen Anne, held a post in the royal service. He joined the engineers, and on 26 Jan. 1762 became engineer in ordinary in Ireland. In 1798 he became lieutenant-general, and in 1803 general. While on the Irish establishment he was employed in a military survey, and became interested in the history, language, and antiquities of Ireland. He never acquired the vernacular or a real knowledge of the Irish of old manuscripts, of which he says that he made himself ‘master as far as his leisure would permit,’ nor did he ever read any of the chronicles. In 1772 he published an ‘Essay on the Celtic Language,’ accompanied by a grammar of the Irish language, dedicated to Jacob Bryant [q. v.] A fuller and better printed edition of the grammar, with a preface containing parts of the essay, was published in Dublin in 1773 as ‘A Grammar of the Iberno-Celtic or Irish Language,’ and dedicated to Sir Lucius Henry O'Brien [q. v.], who must indeed have been ignorant of his own language to suppose that Vallancey knew anything of it. The address in Irish to the learned of Ireland, the vocabulary, and the examples were written by a native whose name is not given, and the part composed by Vallancey is the assertion of the close resemblances between Punic, Kalmuck, the language of the Algonkin Indians of North America, and Irish. The statements made in some passages show that the asserted author was ignorant of what had been said in others. The first edition contains copies, probably printed from some Cavan manuscript, of the Plearaca na Ruarcach, of which Swift wrote an English version, and of Carolan's poem, ‘Mas tinn no slan atharlaigheas fein,’ and these are probably the first printed editions of the poems. They were replaced in the second edition by the hymn of St. Fiacc of Sletty, from Colgan's text (‘Trias Thaumaturga’). The ‘Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis,’ 1770–1804, in six volumes, ‘Vindication of the History of Ireland,’ 1786, ‘Ancient History of Ireland proved from the Sanskrit Books,’ have the same defects. Their facts are never trustworthy and their theories are invariably extravagant. Vallancey may be regarded as the founder of a school of writers who theorise on Irish history, language, and literature, without having read the original chronicles, acquired the language, or studied the literature, and who have had some influence in retarding real studies, but have added nothing to knowledge. His last work, ‘Prospectus of a Dictionary of the Language of the Aire Coti, or Ancient Irish,’ appeared in 1802, and can only be compared to the writings of La Tour d'Auvergne on Breton. It dwells upon the likeness of Irish to Egyptian, Persian, and Hindustani. He was secretary to the Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1773, and in 1784 was elected F.R.S. He designed the plans of the Queen's Bridge in Dublin, and prepared a scheme for the defence of Dublin in 1798. He died in Dublin on 8 Aug. 1812. His portrait is in the Royal Irish Academy.

Besides the works mentioned, Vallancey was the author of two translations from the French:

  1. ‘Essay on Fortification,’ Dublin, 1757, 8vo.
  2. ‘The Field Engineer,’ by the Chevalier de Clairac, Dublin, 1760, 8vo.

[Works; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography, Dublin, 1878.]

N. M.