[BEDELL, William] Leabhuir na Seintiomna ar na ttarruing go Gaidhlg tre churam agus dhuthracht an Doctuir Uilliam Bedel … The Books of the Old Testament translated into Irish by the care and diligence of Doctor William Bedel, Late Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland, for the publick good of that Nation.
London: 1685. Quarto. pp. , 1142, . Printed in double columns. Title enclosed by plain double rule border; initials and printed marginal references. Contemporary full calf, spine expertly rebacked at the Abrams Bindery. Irish characters in manuscript in facing titlepage. Old stain to title page with repair to margins. A good copy. Rare “Wing B 2759A. Sweeney 414.
EDITIO PRINCEPS IN IRISH
William Bedell (1571-1642), was born to yeoman, Puritan stock in Black Notley, Essex. He is best remembered in Ireland for his undertaking of a translation of the Old Testament into Irish. In a time of bloody conflict, bigotry and racism he stood out as a beacon of ecumenism, as a noble and gentle person, loved by most in the crucified Ireland of his time, a man who showed ‘a rare charity’ to his opponents. He was according to one biographer: “”on the side of equity and honesty and was fighting against corruption and oppression””. Bedell was a man revered not only by the English, but by the native Irish as well. He witnessed great hardship among the peasantry and won the hearts of the people for his kindness and generosity to them. He even went to the extent of learning their native language. In 1627, the Provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, became vacant and the Fellows, acting upon the advice of Archbishop Ussher, unanimously offered him the post, which he graciously accepted.
Two years later he was consecrated Bishop of Kilmore and set himself two main tasks, firstly, the rebuilding of the churches of his diocese that once had flourished, and secondly, the translation of the Old Testament into Irish. The latter he began in 1632 with the assistance of two native speakers Murtagh King (Ó Cionga), the chief translator, and James Nangle (de Nógla), the reviewer and corrector. They were at that time Catholic, and Ó Cionga was in his seventieth year. Archbishop Marsh states that Donnchadh Ó Sioradáin (Sheridan), one of the bishop’s local ministers also helped. It was from this Donnchadh that the famous literary Sheridans are descended and it is generally accepted that the extant manuscript copy of the Bible was in his hand. The translation was completed in or about 1640 and miraculously the manuscript copy was saved from the flames of a fire in Bedell’s residence by Ó Sioradáin. Both translators eventually joined the Reformed Church and Ó Cionga was appointed Rector of Templeport near Kilmore. However his tenure was short-lived and the last we hear of him is being ill and in prison, a broken old man of eighty. On Saturday October 23, 1641 the Confederate Catholics in support of Faith and King (‘pro fide, pro rege’) went into rebellion. The local leader Felim O’Reilly visited the bishop to reassure him that no matter what happened, he would not be molested. In fact, he would be the ‘Ultimus Anglorum’, the last of the English, to be driven from Ulster. He was however taken to O’Reilly’s castle in Loch Uachtar and in February, 1642 he died there. Goldwin Smith, writing of the Civil War of 1641, wrote: “”In Ireland, against the dark clouds of the storm, one rainbow appeared. Bishop Bedel had won the love of his neighbours. He and his family were not only spared by the rebels, but treated with loving-kindness””. Lecky wrote of him: “”In that rebellion one English-man was exempt from the hostility that attached to his race … and when he died he was borne to the grave with all the honours the rebel army could afford””. O’Reilly of Breifne was heard to utter “”Requiescat in Pace Ultimus Anglorum. Ultimus Anglorum, Ultimus et Optimus Episcorum””. This is the first translation of the Old Testament into Irish and commonly called `Bedell’s Bible’. It was Bedell’s intention to have the work printed in his own house, but the Bloody Rebellion of 1641 and his death in the following year, meant that nearly half a century elapsed before publication became possible. Having weathered countless vicissitudes, the manuscript ended up with the famous scientist, philosopher and theologian, Robert Boyle (seventh son and 14th child of the Earl of Cork) in 1681. By that time it was in such a state that parts had to be rewritten and retranslated. Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, along with Andrew Sall and Paul Higgins, both accomplished Irish scholars and both ex-Jesuits prepared the work for publication. The printing was finished in 1685 (the year of Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio), the printer was Robert Everingham. Robert Boyle paid for the printing and a new font of type, which was specially cut for this book and ‘Tiomna Nuadh’ (New Testament) by leading London type founder Moxon. An ex-priest, a Mr. Reilly, supervised the correction of the proofs in London and saw the Bible through the press.” 1685 BEDELL, William.
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