Hennessy, William Maunsell (DNB00)

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HENNESSY, WILLIAM MAUNSELL (1829–1889), Irish scholar, was born at Castle Gregory, co. Kerry, in 1829. After his school education he emigrated to the United States, where he resided for some years. He returned to Ireland and wrote in newspapers, but his favourite pursuit was Irish literature. The language was his mother-tongue, and he improved his knowledge of it by an assiduous study of manuscripts. In 1868 he obtained an appointment in the Public Record Office, Dublin. He rose to be the assistant-deputy-keeper, and held office till his death. His chief works were editions of Irish texts with introductions and translations which invariably display a wide knowledge of the Irish language and its literature.

He published in 1866 (Rolls Series) the ‘Chronicon Scotorum’ of Dubhaltach Mac Firbisigh, a summary of Irish history up to 1150, accompanied by a valuable glossary of the rarer words. In 1871 he edited, in two thick volumes of Irish text and translation, ‘The Annals of Loch Cé,’ an Irish chronicle, 1014–1590. In 1875 he revised and annotated an edition of ‘The Book of Fenagh,’ the house-book of St. Caillin's Abbey, co. Leitrim; and in 1887 one volume of the ‘Annals of Ulster,’ carrying that chronicle up to 1056. He translated the ‘Tripartite Life of St. Patrick’ (1871); revised the ‘Pedigree of the White Knight’ (1856); edited the text of the ‘Poets and Poetry of Munster’ (Dublin, 1883); translated and added a tract on ‘Cath Cnucha’ from ‘Leabhar na h-Uidhre,’ and ‘Mac Conglinne's Dream’ from ‘Leabhar Breac’ (Fraser's Magazine, September 1873). He was elected Todd professor at the Royal Irish Academy 1882–4, and in that capacity prepared a text and translation of ‘Mesca Ulad,’ the drunkenness of the Ulstermen, which was published in 1889, immediately after his death. He left another old tale, ‘Bruiden Dáderga,’ in proof at the time of his death. He wrote an article in ‘La Revue Celtique’ (i. 3) on the ancient Irish goddess of war, and two admirable ‘Essays’ on MacPherson's Ossian and the Ossianic literature in the ‘Academy’ (1 and 15 Aug. 1871). These are the best examinations of the subject which have been published; they display excellent taste and exact Gaelic scholarship. Besides these published works, he left behind him numerous manuscript transcripts and translations of Irish texts, and an edition of O'Reilly's ‘Irish Dictionary’ with copious additions in his hand. He often wrote his transcripts in a Roman character, but his Irish handwriting was beautifully clear, and in general effect resembled that of Dubhaltach MacFirbisigh. He lost his wife and a married daughter, and these afflictions induced a condition of nervous depression from which he never rallied. He died at his residence, 71 Pembroke Road, Dublin, 13 Jan. 1889, and left no greater Irish scholar behind him in Ireland. His conversation was full of learning, and he was liberal in his communication of knowledge.

[Memoir by Standish H. O'Grady, Academy, No. 873; Works; Letters and personal knowledge; Sale Catalogue of his books and manuscripts, Dublin, 1890.]

N. M.