O’CURRY, Eugene. Lectures on The Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History. Delivered at the Catholic University of Ireland, during the sessions of 1855 and 1856. Re-issue. With 26 facsimiles of the ancient MSS.
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A MONUMENT TO ONE OF OUR GREATEST SCHOLARS
Dublin: William A. Hinch, 1878. Octavo. pp. xxviii, 722. Original green cloth, title in gilt on professionally rebacked spine. Irish Chieftain in gilt on upper cover, replicated in blind on lower. A very good copy. Scarce.
Eugene O’Curry, the distinguished Irish scholar and self-taught authority on Irish manuscripts, was born at Dunaha,
County Clare, in 1796. Learning was in his genes, his father possessed a vast knowledge of the history, antiquities, and
traditions of the country as well as a great love of the Irish language and owner of a vast collection of Irish manuscripts.
Following the depression in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, his father had to vacate their small farm in County Clare
and most of the family were scattered. Eugene got employment in the Limerick Lunatic Asylum.
It was not until his father’s death that he really took Celtic studies seriously. He recalled: “It was not until my father’s
death that I fully awoke to the passion of gathering those old fragments of our history. I knew that he was a link
between our day and a time when everything was broken, scattered, and hidden; and when I called to mind the
knowledge he possessed of every old ruin, every old manuscript, every old legend and tradition in Thomond, I was
suddenly filled with consternation to think that all was gone forever, and no record made of it.” He got to know and
work with John O’Donovan (afterwards his brother-in-law), Dr. Petrie, Mr. Wakeman and James Clarence Mangan in
the topographical and historical department of the Ordnance Survey. His duties led him into researches amongst Irish
manuscripts in the libraries of Trinity College, the Royal Irish Academy, Oxford, and the British Museum. Along with
O’Donovan he contributed to the Irish Archaeological Society, the Celtic and Ossianic Societies.
In 1849 O’Curry made important discoveries among the Irish manuscripts in the British Museum and he compiled in his
own hand a catalogue of these. He was appointed Professor of Irish History and Archaeology on the establishment of
the Catholic University of Ireland by John Henry Newman, who was known to have attended many of his lectures.
Thomas D’Arcy McGee described him at his work: “There, as we often saw him in the flesh ... behind that desk,
equipped with ink-stands, acids, and microscope, and covered with half-legible vellum folios, rose cheerfully and
buoyantly to instruct the ignorant, to correct the prejudiced, or to bear with the petulant visitor, the first of living Celtic
scholars and palaeographers”. His twenty-one ‘Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History’,
delivered at the College during the terms 1855 and 1856 were published with an appendix in one volume. They are a
mine of information on the subject of our Irish manuscripts and are illustrated with numerous facsimile specimens.
His thirty-eight lectures ‘On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish’, delivered at the University between May
1857 and July 1862 (the last one only a fortnight before his death) were published in Dublin in three volumes. These
were edited with an introduction (which takes up the whole of the first volume), appendices and other material by Dr.
W.K. Sullivan. O’Curry’s works stand to this day as a monument to one of our greatest Celtic scholars.
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