Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Brien, Paul
O'BRIEN, PAUL (1750?–1820), professor of Irish at Maynooth, was born near Moynalty, co. Meath, about 1750. He was a great-grandnephew of Turlough O'Carolan [q. v.] the harper, and great-grandson of William O'Brien, a poet, of co. Clare, who married a daughter of Betagh, the owner of Moynalty, and whose poems in Irish on the exile of John and William Betagh to France in 1720 are still remembered in the district. His father was a well-to-do farmer. In the district of Meath, in which his boyhood was spent, Irish literature flourished, so that during the last century, within a circuit of ten miles round Moynalty, eight Irish poets, three English poets, and several excellent Irish scribes were to be found, and he thus early formed a taste for Irish verse. After school education he was ordained priest, and in July 1802 he was appointed to the professorship of the Irish language which Mr. Keenan had founded at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. The endowment was only 60l. a year. The professor became an active member of the Gaelic Society of Dublin, and when the first and only volume of its transactions appeared in 1808, he wrote for it an introductory address of seventeen four-line stanzas of Irish verse. In 1809 he published a ‘Practical Grammar of the Irish Language,’ of which the manuscript had been completed and sent to H. Fitzpatrick, the publisher, in 1806 (Fitzpatrick's advertisement). Seven stanzas of Irish verse by the professor are prefixed, in which Fodhla or Ireland is made to incite her children to the study of their ancient speech. It is curious that, though a native of Meath, he speaks of Tara as the chief place of Leinster as Eamhain was of Ulster and Cruachan of Connaught, an error of scholarship; for in Irish literature Tara, the capital of all Ireland, always appears as the enemy of Leinster, and never as part of it. John O'Donovan (Irish Grammar, Preface) speaks of O'Brien's work as the worst of Irish grammars, but it has some interest as illustrating the dialect of Meath. It was intended for the clerical students of Maynooth, and this is probably the reason that the author only gives two examples from the poetic literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with which he was so well acquainted that he could repeat a greater part of the works of O'Carolan, Cathaoir MacCabe [q. v.], Brian O'Clery (1730), Colla MacSeaghain (1726), Brian O'Reilly (1725), John O'Neill (1722), Fiachra MacBrady [q. v.], James MacCuairt [q. v.], William MacCartain [q. v.], William O'Ciarain (1750), and Maurice O'Dugan (1660). He was generous to other scholars, and gave Edward O'Reilly [q. v.] much valuable information, and wrote an introductory poem in Irish for his ‘Irish-English Dictionary.’ He continued to be Irish professor at Maynooth till his death, on 20 May 1820.
[O'Reilly's Chronological Account of Irish Writers, Dublin, 1820, and Irish-English Dictionary, Dublin, 1821; Anderson's Historical Sketches of the Native Irish and their Descendants, Edinburgh, 1830, pp. 100, 125; Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Dublin, 1808, vol. i.; O'Donovan's Grammar of the Irish Language, Dublin, 1845, p. lxi.]