O’BRIEN, John Focalóir Gaoidhilge-Sax-Bhéarla or An Irish-English Dictionary [EARL OF CHARLEVILLE’S COPY]


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Whereof the Irish part hath been compiled not only from various Irish vocabularies, particularly that of Mr. Edward Lluyd; but also from a great variety of the best Irish manuscripts now extant; especially those that have been composed from the 9th & 10th centuries, down to the 16th: besides those of the lives of St. Patrick & St Brigit, written in the 6th & 7th centuries. Paris: Printed by Nicolas-Francis Valleyre, for the Author, 1768. By Royal Approbation & Privilege. Quarto. pp. [ii], xlvii, [1], vii, [1], 514, [6 (errata and dedication)]. Contemporary full calf, covers framed by a gilt dotted line. Professional repair to spine, title in gilt on green morocco letterpiece. From the library of Charles William Bury, 1st Earl of Charleville, with his crest in gilt on first panel of spine. Minor traces of a few spots of foxing. A very fine fresh copy. Scarce.

ESTC T146927 with 6 locations only in Ireland.
John O’Brien (d.1767), lexicographer, was born in Ballyvoddy, near Glanworth, County Cork, the son of Thomas O’Brien, a farmer, and his wife, Eleanor McEniry. His parents, both of good descent, were well connected both at home and on the continent. By 1720 he had already left for France to study for the priesthood, principally at the Irish College in Toulouse. At the University of Toulouse he graduated bachelor of divinity in 1733, being already a doctor of both civil and canon law. From 1733 to 1737 he travelled widely in France and Spain as tutor to the sons of several aristocratic Irish expatriates, namely Simon Connock, governor in the Spanish service; Thomas Fitzgerald, the Spanish ambassador in London; and Arthur Dillon, lieutenant-general in the Irish brigade. O’Brien wrote a treatise on the history of Munster, thought to have been that published by Charles Vallancey under his own name in the fourth volume of his Collectanea in 1774. With the help of a scholar named Ó Conaire he also compiled the manuscript generally known as the ‘Dublin Annals of Inisfallen’. His great work, however, was as general editor of an Irish dictionary, Focalóir Gaoidhilge–Sax-Bhéarla, or, An Irish– English Dictionary, compiled by other scholars under his supervision before 1762, and eventually printed at Paris in 1768. This too was intended to help the church, for O’Brien believed that the preservation of the faith in Ireland depended essentially on the preservation of the native language. Inspired by the works of Edward Lluyd and Conor O’Begly, he drew on earlier compilations but omitted several thousand words then in use. His dictionary contains valuable historical and genealogical information and useful definitions, but is marred by fanciful etymologies and a lack of grammatical detail. Partly because of ill health and partly to escape the powerful Nagle family, protectors of a dissolute priest accused of using the confessional to seduce female tenants of the Nagles, O’Brien left Ireland forever in the summer of 1767. Having first made his way to Paris to oversee the printing of his dictionary in 1768, he died the following year at Lyons, where he was buried in the church of St Martin d’Ainay.
Provenance: From the library of Charles William Bury, 1st Earl of Charleville (1764-1835), known as The Lord Tullamore between 1797 and 1800 and as The Viscount Charleville between 1800 and 1806, Irish landowner, antiquarian and politician. Bury was the son of John Bury, son of William Bury and the Honourable Jane Moore, daughter of John Moore, 1st Baron Moore and sister of Charles Moore, 1st Earl of Charleville. His mother was Catherine Sadleir, daughter of Francis Sadleir, of Sopwell Hall, County Tipperary. His father succeeded to the Charleville estates on the death of his maternal uncle, the Earl of Charleville, in February 1764.

Bury was returned to the Irish Parliament for Kilmallock in 1790, but lost the seat in May of that year. He was once again elected for Kilmallock in 1792, and retained the seat until 1797. The latter year he was raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Tullamore, of Charleville Forest in King’s County. In 1798 he helped quell the Irish Rebellion. Two years later the Charleville title was revived when he was made Viscount Charleville, of Charleville Forest in the King’s County, in the Irish peerage. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1803 and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1814 and served as President of the Royal Irish Academy between 1812 and 1822. Lord Charleville married Catherine Maria Dawson, daughter of Thomas Townley Dawson and widow of James Tisdall, in 1798. He rebuilt Charleville Castle in the Gothic style and also developed the town of Tullamore, of which he was the main owner. He died at Dover, Kent, in October 1835, aged 71, and was succeeded by his son, Charles. The Countess of Charleville died at Cavendish Square, London, in February 1851, aged 88.


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