Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Clery, Michael
O'CLERY, MICHAEL (1575–1643), Irish chronicler, was the fourth son of Donnchadh O'Clery, son of William O'Clery, son of Tuathal O'Clery, who died in 1512, chief of the sept of O'Clery of Donegal. He was therefore third cousin once removed of his colleague Cucoigcriche O'Clery [see under O'Clery, Lughaidh], third cousin of Lughaidh O'Clery [q. v.], and ninth in descent from Cormac O'Clery, who migrated in 1382 from Tirawley, co. Mayo, to Donegal. He was born in 1575 at Kilbarron, on Donegal Bay, was baptised Tadhg, a name which, according to O'Davoren's ‘Glossary’ (Stokes's edition, p. 121), means a poet, and which had been borne by two chiefs of his sept—his great uncle, who died in 1565, and his great-great-grandfather, who died in 1492—and was generally known as Tadhg-an-tsleibhe or of the mountain, till, on his entrance into the Franciscan order, he took the name of Michael. His elder brother, Maolmuire, had entered the order before him, took the name of Bernardin, and afterwards became his ecclesiastical superior. Michael had studied Irish history and literature under Baothghalach Ruadh MacAedhagain in East Munster, and was already esteemed one of the first Irish antiquaries of his day (Colgan, Preface to Acta Sanctorum) when he entered the Franciscan convent of Louvain. The guardian of the convent, Macanward [q. v.], was able to appreciate his learning, and sent him in 1620 to collect Irish manuscripts, and especially lives of saints in Ireland. He worked for fifteen years in this way, transcribing and collecting everything he could find of historical or hagiological interest. On 3 Sept. 1624 he began to compose a book called ‘Reim Rioghraidhe’ (‘The Royal List’) in the house of Conall Mageoghegan [q. v.] at Lismoyny, co. Westmeath. The book was to contain the succession of the Irish kings and their pedigrees, the lives of Irish saints and their genealogies, with other transcripts from old manuscripts, such as ‘Leabhar na gCeart,’ the treatise on the dues of the kings of all the principalities of Ireland. Another Franciscan, Paul O'Colla, who was also a guest of Conall Mageoghegan, made some additions, and further help was given by Fearfeasa O'Maolconaire of Baile Maelconaire, co. Roscommon, and Cucoigcriche O'Duigeanain of Castleford, co. Leitrim, two learned Irish scholars, and by the editor's kinsman, Cucoigcriche O'Clery. The book was finished in the Observantine convent at Athlone on 4 Nov. 1630. It is dedicated to Toirdhealbhach MacCochlain, chief of Delvin, King's County. The dedication is followed by an address to the reader, signed first by O'Clery, and then by his fellow-workers. The original manuscript is in the Burgundian Library in Brussels, in which many Irish manuscripts, taken by the French from Louvain, have been deposited; and there is a copy, made in 1760 by Maurice O'Gorman, in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, and another made by Richard Tipper in 1716, in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. In 1627, encouraged by Brian Maguire, lord Enniskillen, and aided by the same scholars as before, with the addition of Gillapatrick O'Luinin of Ard O'Luinin, co. Fermanagh, Maguire's senachie, O'Clery finished on 22 Dec. 1631 a revised edition of the ‘Leabhar Gabhala,’ or ‘Book of Invasions,’ an account of the several settlements of Ireland. It was dedicated to Brian Maguire, and was written in the convent of Lisgoole, co. Fermanagh. Francis Magrath, the guardian of the convent, wrote an approval of it from a theological point of view, and Flann MacAedhagain, of the famous family of hereditary brehons and men of letters of Ballymacegan, co. Tipperary, wrote an approval of it as a piece of Irish learning. There is a copy in the handwriting of Cucoigcriche O'Clery in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. The next work undertaken by O'Clery was the great collection and digest of annals called ‘Annales Dungallenses,’ or ‘Annala Rioghachta Eireann’ (‘Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland’), but better known by the title given to it by John Colgan [q. v.] of ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ (Preface to Acta Sanctorum). This was begun in the convent of Donegal on 22 Jan. 1632, and finished there on 10 Aug. 1636. The convent, of which the ruins still remain, had been unroofed by fire in 1601, and the book was written in a cottage within the precincts (O'Donovan, Preface, p. xxix). The ‘Annals’ have been translated and edited by John O'Donovan [q. v.], and fill six volumes 4to. Fragments had before been translated by Dr. Charles O'Conor (1764–1828) [q. v.] and by Owen Connellan [q. v.] Michael O'Clery signs the dedication to Fearghal O'Gara, M.P. for Sligo in 1634, and is mentioned first in the approbation signed by the guardian of the convent, Bernardin O'Clery. The same approbation states that the other chroniclers and learned men engaged in the work were Muiris and Fearfeasa O'Maolchonaire, Cucoigcriche O'Clery, Cucoigcriche O'Duibhgenáin and Conaire O'Clery, and mentions the chief manuscripts used by them. Many of these are extant, and demonstrate the fidelity of the compilers. The ‘Annals’ begin with the coming of Ceasair, granddaughter of Noah, to Ireland in a.m. 2242, and at first contain only brief statements of names and acts and explanations of nomenclature. Obits, battles, and successions, with occasional quotations from the historical poets, form the substance of the events of the year, and the entries become fuller and fuller as time advances, till in the later years up to 1616 the authors often write as literary historians, and not as mere chroniclers. Their style is somewhat stilted, and a diction more archaic than the literary language of the time is often used. The poetical quotations are generally brief; very rarely, as in the history of the battle of Killaderry in 866, there is a passage of verse long enough to suggest comparison with the Brunanburh song in the ‘Saxon Chronicle.’
An original copy of the ‘Annals’ is in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, in two parts, of which that up to 1171 was formerly at Stow, and then in the Ashburnham collection; while the latter, 1172–1616, once belonged to Charles O'Conor (1710–1791) [q. v.], who received it in 1734 from his uncle, Bishop O'Rourke, to whom it had been given by Colonel O'Gara, a descendant of the Fearghal O'Gara of the dedication. Michael O'Clery's handwriting last appears in the nine lines which end the account of the year 1605 (O'Donovan, Introduction, p. xiv, note c).
After the completion of the ‘Annals’ O'Clery produced in November 1636 ‘Martyrologium Sanctorum Hiberniæ,’ a complete calendar of the saints of Ireland, giving short lives of the more famous saints, with some verse quotations; names and localities of others, and the names only on their feast-days of the remainder. He had enlarged this work from a shorter compilation made by himself in 1629, and both have as their basis a large collection of Irish hagiological literature, of which the chief compositions are the ‘Felire of Aengus,’ a metrical calendar, extant in a manuscript written about 1400 (edited by Stokes, with other texts and translation, Dublin, 1871); the ‘Martyrology of Tallaght,’ probably composed about 900, of which a twelfth-century copy exists; the ‘Calendar of Cashel,’ which Colgan states was written about 1030, but which is not known to exist; the ‘Martyrology of Marianus O'Gormain,’ written in Irish verse about 1167. Numerous early poems and more than thirty lives of saints were also consulted. When complete the work was formally approved by Flann, son of Cairpre MacAedhagain of Ballymacegan, co. Tipperary, Flann being the most learned living member of a family of hereditary men of letters (1 Nov. 1636), and by the head of another family of hereditary men of letters, Conchobhar MacBruaidedha of Kilkeedy, co. Clare (11 Nov. 1636). It was afterwards commended by four bishops, all of them famous as Irish scholars—Maolseachlainn O'Cadhla, archbishop of Tuam; Baothalach MacAodhagain, bishop of Ross; Thomas Fleming, archbishop of Dublin; and Ross MacGeoghegan, bishop of Kildare, who dated his approval 8 Jan. 1637. The original manuscripts of this ‘Martyrology’ are preserved in the Burgundian Library at Brussels (xvi. 5095–6). The text, with translation by J. O'Donovan, was published in Dublin in 1864, edited by James Henthorne Todd [q. v.] and William Reeves [q. v.] In 1643 O'Clery printed at Louvain ‘Focloir no Sanasan Nuadh,’ a glossary of difficult Irish words, dedicated to Baothghalach MacAodhagain, bishop of Elphin. This book was already very rare in 1686, when Patrick MacOghannain made the manuscript copy in the Cambridge University Library.
The Burgundian Library also contains, in O'Clery's hand, two volumes of lives of Irish saints, written in 1628 and 1629; a copy of the ‘Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh,’ or wars of the Irish with the Danes, made from a manuscript of Cuchonnacht O'Daly in 1635; a volume of poems on the O'Donnells of Donegal, from various sources; a volume containing a collection of Irish historical poems; and a copy of the ‘Félire of Aenghus Cele Dé’ He also translated into Irish the rules of the religious order of St. Clare, and there was a copy of this work in the Stowe Library (O'Reilly). Michael O'Clery's life was one of disinterested devotion to learning. He received in his own time no reward save the esteem of every one who cared for Irish learning. He lived in poverty, and wrote his longest book in an incommodious cottage. He sometimes laments the ruin of ancient Irish families and religious foundations, but never complains of his own discomforts or boasts of his performances (Preface to Leabhar Gabhala). He usually wrote in Irish characters of rather small size, in which every letter or contraction is perfectly formed, but with some inequality of height in the letters. O'Curry, in his ‘Lectures,’ has printed a characteristic page of his hand in facsimile. He died at Louvain at the end of 1643.
[Colgan's Acta Sanctorum Hiberniæ, Louvain, 1645; O'Donovan's Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Introduction, Dublin, 1851; O'Donovan's Genealogies, Tribes, and Customs of Hy Fiachrach, Dublin, 1844; O'Curry's Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History, Dublin, 1873; Todd's Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh (Rolls Ser.), London, 1867; O'Donovan, Todd, and Reeves's Martyrology of Donegal, Dublin, 1864; Transactions of Iberno-Celtic Society for 1820, ed. O'Reilly, Dublin, 1820; Patrick MacOghanain's manuscript copy of O'Clery's Glossary in Cambridge University Library, formerly the property of Edward O'Reilly, then of John Macadam, and then of Bishop Reeves; Miller and Müller's reprint of O'Clery's Focloir no Sanasan in Revue Celtique, vol. iv. Paris, 1879–80.]