This week we feature a guest post from a visiting researcher, Dr. Pádraig Ó Liatháin, Assistant Professor at Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge, DCU. Dr. Ó Liatháin has been working extensively with one of our Irish language manuscripts.
On page 166 of the Gallagher family commonplace book, we can find the main scribe outlining the raison-d’être of his endeavors:
This book was wrote by Charles Gallagher for the Instruction and Improvement of the Ignorant in letting them know the Various Revolutions, and Memorable Transactions, and Warlike Atchievements, that was performed by Our Illustrious and Unparallelld ancestors: So that it might awaken them from their lethargy, and illuminate their Understanding: so as to follow their footsteps in that which landed to Virtue, and to Shun that which bore the affect of Vice, which is the Ardent Wish of your Ever Devoted Friend. &c.
This fascinating manuscript was obtained by Boston College in 2012, one of 14 Irish Gaelic manuscripts in the John J. Burns Library, mostly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Written on white pa with a brown cover, with page measurements varying between 20 x 16 cm or 19 x 14.5 cm, most of the manuscript is paginated from 1-278, although further pages follow, and there are loose leaves in addition.
The Gallagher manuscript appears, by all internal evidence, to have been commenced in County Donegal in the second half of the 18th century, and brought to New York City sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century. The last verifiable date takes us across several generations to the 1890s.
It is extraordinary for many reasons, and it is more than just a cultural artifact, or a literary and linguistic source. It evidences a continuous vibrant literary tradition in the Irish language, and it bears testimony to Irish emigration and settlement in the New World over the course of the 19th century. Furthermore, these were pre-famine emigrants, and economically successful ones at that – the last pages of the manuscript relates real estate purchased in Manhattan, ultimately resulting in a legal dispute in the 1890s over property owned. What is also revealing is the impressive level of education of the main scribe, a medical doctor, and a multilingual man of letters. Continue reading