Our Antiquarians

The information that I have here is based on a number of sources, too numerous to be outlined here, but you will find them listed in the footnotes and elsewhere. I would like, however, to comment briefly on the main source for Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Ireland. This is the "Annals of the Four Masters", the most extensive of all the compilations of the ancient annals of Ireland. They commence, nominally at least, at A.M. 2242 (2957 BC) and are continued down to AD 1616. The entries which are bare and meagre during the earlier period grow less so as the ‘Annals'[1] progress, and towards the end they become in parts almost like a history in their diffuseness. The principal compiler of these ‘Annals' was Michael O'Clery, a native of Donegal, who had been by profession a trained antiquary and poet, but who afterwards joined the Franciscan Order, and went to their Irish house in Louvain. Thence he was sent back to Ireland by his famous compatriot, Father John Colgan, to collect the lives of Irish saints. Many of these lives which he copied upon that visit out of the old vellum books of Ireland are now in the Burgundian Library at Brussels. Afterwards, under the patronage of Fergal O'Gara, Lord of Moy Gara and Coolavin, in County Sligo, he conceived the idea of collecting all the ancient vellum books of annals which he could find throughout Ireland, and of combining them into one continuous whole. "I thought", says O'Clery, in his dedication to O'Gara, "that 1 could get the assistance of the chroniclers for whom 1 had most esteem, in writing a book of annals in which these matters might be put on record, for that should the writing of them be neglected at present, they would not again be found to be put on record even to the end of the world. All the best and most copious books of annals that 1 could find throughout all Ireland were collected by me - though it was difficult for me to collect them - into one place to write this book." It was to the secluded convent (religious centre) of Donegal that the learned friar retired while engaged upon this work which was commenced by him and his fellow labourers on the 22nd of January, 1632, and concluded on the 10th of August, 1636. His feelings as to the fate of the material that he worked from were prophetic. Scarcely one of the ancient books which he brought together with such pains has survived to the present day, having perished in the cataclysm of the Cromwellian and Williamite wars.


It was Father Colgan, himself a celebrated author, who in the preface to his "Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae" first conferred the title by which they are now always known, "The Annals of the Four Masters", upon these annals of O'Clery. "As in the three works before mentioned", writes Colgan, "so in this fourth one, three (helpers of O'Clery) are eminently to be praised, namely Farfassa O'Mulconry, Peregrine O'Clery, and Peregrine O'Duignan, men of consummate learning in the antiquities of their country, and to these were subsequently added the co-operation of other distinguished antiquarians, as Maurice O'Mulconry who for one month and Conary O'Clery who for many months laboured in its promotion. But since those ‘Annals' which we shall very frequently have occasion to quote, have been collected and compiled by the assistance and separate study of so many authors, neither the desire of brevity would permit us always to quote them individually, nor would justice permit us to attribute the labour of many to one, hence it sometimes seemed best to call them the 'Annals of Donegal', for in our convent of Donegal they were commenced and concluded. But afterwards, for other reasons, chiefly for the sake of the compilers themselves, who were four most learned masters in antiquarian lore, we have been led to call them the 'Annals of the Four Masters'."

[1] Annals of the Four Masters

These ‘Annals', written in a very archaic language, difficult to be understood, even then, except by the learned, give us the reigns, deaths, genealogies, etc., not only of the high-kings of Ireland, but also of the provincial kings, chiefs, and heads of distinguished families, men of science, historians, poets, etc., with their respective dates given as accurately as the Masters were able to give them. They record the demise and succession of saints, abbots, bishops, and ecclesiastical dignitaries. They tell of the foundation and occasionally the overthrow of countless churches, castles, abbeys, convents, and religious institutions. They give meagre details of battles, murders, tribal wars, wars with the foreigners, battles with Norsemen, Normans, and English, and political changes. Sometimes they quote ancient verses in corroboration of the facts they mention, but no such verses are quoted prior to the third century. We have here the condensed pith and substance of the old vellum books of Ireland which were then in existence, but most of which, as the Four Masters foresaw, have long since perished. Their facts and dates are not their own facts and dates. From confused masses of very ancient matter, they, with labour and much sifting, drew forth their dates, and as far as possible synchronized their facts. It is not too much to say that there is no event in the whole of Irish history from the birth of Christ down to the beginning of the seventeenth century that the first enquiry of the student about it must not be: 'What do the Four Masters say of this?"

These ‘Annals' have been published, at least in part, three times, but are now always read in the edition of the great Irish scholar, John O'Donovan[2]. In this splendid work the Irish text is given with a translation into English and a mass of the most valuable notes, topographical, genealogical, and historical, the whole contained in seven great quarto volumes. So long as Irish history exists the "Annals of the Four Masters" will be read in O'Donovan's translation, and the name of O'Donovan will be inseparably connected with that of O'Clery.

There are so many other magnificent Irish works of old, to my envy of antiquarians, that the temptation to which I frequently fell victim was the ever-present challenge to delve further. The 737 page Annála Connacht (Annals of Connacht) covering the years 1224 to 1562 is a fascinating history of not only the province but of Ireland generally. It shows great scholarship and dedication by its unknown authors, although the last entry on page 711 ends amusingly enough with the sentence: "I am John and I am worse for the absence of Dolp".

Apart from the many history books, among them John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees or The Origins and Stem of the Irish Race, and the Coleman Family History Report compiled by Gerard Delaney at the South Mayo Family Research Centre in Ballinrobe, other important sources used in the development of our family history are the Index to Griffith's Valuation of Ireland, 1848-1864, from Family Archives CD# 188, Irish Source Records 1500s-1800s CD#275, and the International Land records: Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838, CD262. The index to one of Ireland's premier genealogical resources, Griffith's Valuation, references more than one million individuals who occupied property in Ireland between 1848 and 1864. It is, essentially, the only detailed guide to where in Ireland people lived during the mid-nineteenth century and what property they possessed. It is a record of extreme importance that can be used as a census substitute for the years before, during, and after the Great Famine. Few other records can be used to identify an Irish ancestor's exact place of origin in terms of a specific townland and civil parish. The Irish Source Records, 1500s-1800s comprises the images of the pages of thirteen volumes of Irish census, land, marriage, and probate records. This information was thought to have been lost forever in a 1922 fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin. While nearly all of Ireland's pre-1901 census records were destroyed, here you'll find extensively researched reconstructions of the 1841 and 1851 censuses.

To those of you who have joined me on this trip into the past, fáilte róimhaibh go léir. First up, we are going to look briefly at (i) the origin of Irish family names and at (ii) the descriptions by a few genealogical groups of the derivation of the surname Coleman or Ó Colmáin (Colmán and earlier Columhán). Then we'll have a brief look at (iii) O' Hart's Roll of the Monarchs of Ireland and the Coleman Lineage as well as the ancient Uí Fiachrach dynasty in northwest Connacht, a dynast of Niall of the Nine Hostages one of the sons of Eochaidh Muigh Meadhoin (also Eochu Mugmedón), a fourth century ‘high king' of Ireland. We will travel north and also east to where his descendants established the Northern Uí Neill dynasty, whose descendants were to dominate the Irish high kingship over a long period, and the Southern Uí Neill dynasty represented in particular by Clann Cholmáin (today the 'h' has been substituted for the Irish búilte (dot) above the letter 'C', a form of inflection that gave the C a slight guttural sound). By the time we finish our journey in the 21st Century, you should figuratively speaking be well versed in time travel, alternating on a regular basis between times past and present.

[2] The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters. Six volumes, edited and translated by O'Donovan.
-- now published by CELT
Volume 1: 2242 A.M.-902 A.D.
Volume 2: 903-1171 A.D.
Volume 3: 1172-1372 A.D.
Volume 4: 1373-1500 A.D.
Volume 5: 1501-1588 A.D
Volume 6: 15 89-1616 A.D.
1809, July 9: born at his father's farm in Atatemore, Co. Kilkenny; educated in Dublin
1826: appointed to work in Irish Record Office
1829: worked in historical department of the Irish Ordnance Survey: examined manuscripts and toured Ireland
1832- 1833: wrote many articles, on Irish topography and history, in the Dublin Penny Journal
1837: volume published by Ordnance Survey which contains a long Irish text and translation from the 'Dinnsenchas" by O'Donovan
1840: married Mary Anne Broughton, with whom he had nine sons. By this marriage he became brother-in-law to Eugene O'Curry, another Celtic scholar
1840-1841: wrote articles for the Irish Penny Journal
1841: first volume of the Irish Archaeological Society published: The Circuit of Ireland by Muircheartach MacNeill edited by O'Donovan; this work contains the first good map of ancient Ireland
1842: The Banquet of Dun na nGedh and the Battle of Magh Rath published
1843: The Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many from the Book of Lecan published; prepared a text and translation of "Sana Chormaic"1844: The Genealogies, Tribes, and Customs of Hy Fiachrach, from a manuscript of Duald MacFirbis, published again accompanied by a beautiful map; entered Gray's Inn, London on 15 April 1845: Grammar of the Irish Language published by Trinity College Dublin, the expense of printing shared by O'Donovan and TCD
1846: the Irish Charters in the Book of Kells published
1852: employed to transcribe legal manuscripts by the commission for the publication of the ancient laws of Ireland
1848-51: transcribed, translated and edited the Annals of the Four Masters, often called the "Fifth Master" for this work. The Irish type in which the text is printed was designed by George Petrie
1850: conferred with honorary degree of LL.D. by University of Dublin (TCD)
1852: employed by the commission for the publication of the ancient laws of Ireland; made transcripts of legal manuscripts in Irish which fill over 2,000 pages and a preliminary translation of these in twelve volumes 1860:

1861 December 9: died in Dublin and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.


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