Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/MacDonnell, John

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MACDONNELL, JOHN (1691–1754), Irish poet, called in Irish Seaghan Clárach MacDomhnaill, was born near Charleville, co. Cork, in 1691, and obtained the cognomen of Clárach, either because he was fostered in Clare, or because he was related to the MacDonnell family of Clare. He was persecuted as a Jacobite, and hated the English. He knew Greek, Latin, and Irish, and lived by poetry and by teaching. Among his pupils was Sylvester O'Halloran [q. v.], author of a ‘History of Ireland.’ He kept up sessions of the native poets, and presided over them at Rath Luirc, as Charleville is called in Irish. He began a translation of Homer into Irish and a ‘History of Ireland.’ He was encouraged by the MacNamara family in Clare. Many of his poems circulated in manuscript, and were stored in the memories of the peasantry of Munster till the general decay of Irish literature which followed the famine of 1847. The following have been printed: 1. ‘Aisling ar Eire,’ a dream, in which Ireland appears as a fairy, and the poet follows her to Cruachan, the Brugh na Boinne, Craebh ruadh, Tara, and other famous places, and finally finds her with Aoibhell of the rock, the banshee of the Dal Cais in the fairy hill of Firinn. He asks when the Gael will be free, and she vanishes. 2. ‘An bonnaire fiadna phuic’ (‘The cruel, lowborn Tyrant’), a poem urging the immediate expulsion of the English. 3. ‘Mac an Cheannaigh’ (‘The Merchant's Son’), in which help from Spain is foretold for Ireland. 4. ‘An Fhocain Breatain’ (‘Britain's Danger’), pointing out her foes on the continent. 5. To the tune of the ‘White Cockade,’ a lament of the woman of Scotland for her husband, King Charles, often called ‘Clárach's Lament.’

He died in 1754, and was buried in the old churchyard of Ballyslough, near Charleville; in the Latin inscription on his tomb he is called Johannes McDonald. John O'Tuama [q. v.] wrote a lament for him in Irish (Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy, ii. 252).

[John Daly's Reliques of Irish Jacobite Poetry, Dublin, 1844, pt. i.; J. Hardiman's Irish Minstrelsy, ii. 413-14.]

N. M.