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‘Additions to the collection of Irish manuscripts at Mount Melleray abbey’

Éigse 30 (1997 [1998]) 92-108

(updated for ISOS 1999)

Pádraig Ó Macháin

The six manuscripts described below were donated to the library of Mount Melleray Abbey, Co. Waterford, by Miss Kate O'Brien prior to her death in February 1995. Being a continuation of the Melleray collection of Irish manuscripts, these are now numbered 11-16.[1] Kate, a tradition-bearer in her own right,[2] lived all her life in the neighbouring townland of Boherboyrea, where she was born 23 August 1899. She was daughter of Mary Prendergast and Patrick O'Brien of Monboy (contiguous to Melleray), Mary being the daughter of Alice Morrissey and James Prendergast of Salterbridge, a mile south of Boherboyrea. Alice Morrissey was daughter of John Morrissey of Monatouk (al. Bonatouk, parish of Seskinan), on the Tipperary border some four miles north-east of Melleray, in the Sliabh gCua district of Co. Waterford.[3] John Morrissey (Seán Ó Muirgheasa), Kate O'Brien's great-grandfather, was the scribe of four of these manuscripts, and of part of a fifth (MS 14); her mother Mary was the scribe of the other part of 14, and also of MS 16.

Of other manuscripts known to have been written by John Morrissey, only two are at present accessible to the public: (a) National Library of Ireland MS G 1103,[4] a small, undated item of twenty pages, containing mainly text and translation of St Patrick's Hymn,[5] and (p. [iii]) a list of fifteen names of residents of Monatouk; (b) the single leaf which comprises Mount Melleray Library, Irish MS 8 (2) 19.[6]

A handwritten, draft catalogue of books and manuscripts in the

[1] For the collection prior to these additions see Pádraig Ó Macháin, Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in Mount Melleray Abbey, Co. Waterford (Dublin 1991). Through the kind permission of the Abbot of Mount Melleray, these additional manuscripts - with the exception of MSS 15 (b) and 16 - have been microfilmed by the National Library of Ireland: NLI microfilm pos. 9021, neg. 7015. For help in the preparation of this article thanks are due to Máirín and Seán Doocey, An tAthair Uinseann Ó Maidín OCSO, Breandán Ó Conchúir, Pádraig de Brún, Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha, Cormac Ó Gráda, Rena Lohan, and Donal Moore.

[2] She also continued the family tradition of scribal practice in English, as the many items now preserved in the Mount Melleray archive demonstrate.

[3] General Register Office, Dublin: records of births, marriages and deaths.

[4] Formerly in the possession of the O'Briens of Boherboyrea; now on indefinite loan to the National Library.

[5] Taken from Ulick J. Bourke, The college Irish grammar (2nd and subsequent editions, Dublin 1862) Appendix I.

[6] Unidentified in Ó Macháin, op. cit., 79; cf. MS 15 (b), pp. 9-11, below.

[p. 93]

possession of the Dungarvan patriot, Dónall Ó Fearachair (1852-1929), made by Séamus Ó Casaide in the early years of this century, accounts for seven manuscripts by John Morrissey.[7] This collection was dispersed gradually by Dónall's son Muiris,[8] and the whereabouts of only one [9] of the Morrissey manuscripts is known today:[10] together with two other manuscripts by Morrissey, it is in the possession of a Dublin bookdealer.[11]

Regarding what may have been the remainder of Morrissey's books, we have the hearsay evidence of Pádraig Ó Cadhla (1875-1948), timire, also from Sliabh gCua, and one of the founders of Iolscoil na Mumhan (Coláiste na Rinne) in Ring, Co. Waterford:

‘Sé an chuimhneamh is sia im’ cheann acht leabhar úrnaidhthe Gaedhilge d'fheicsin i láimh sean-fhir de mhuintir Mhuirgheasa ó Mhóin an tSeabhaic. Rud eile a thug mé fé ndeara nach bualadh cló a bhí 'sa leabhar úrnaidhthe sin acht láimhscríbhinn. Nuair a fuair an fear sin bás do dhein mé iarracht ar na leabhartha d'fhagháil acht bhíodar tabhartha ag bean a mhic d'Uisseir na Ceapaighe. D'airigh mé go bhfuair an tAthair Pádraig de Paor atá anois in a Ollamh i gColáiste na hIolscoile i gCorcaigh iad.[12]

The evidence of Ó Casaide's list suggests that John Morrissey's

[7] NLI MS G 554, ff. 26-7, 29, 31-3.

[8] Personal communication (21/8/1986) from Dónall's grandson, Dónall Ó Faoláin (died September 1995).

[9] That described in NLI MS G 554, f. 32.

[10] From another of these manuscripts, that described in G 554, f. 26, Cáit Ní Dhonnchadha (sister of Torna, who knew Dónall Ó Fearachair: Pádraig Ó Macháin, Riobard Bheldon: amhráin agus dánta (Dublin 1995) 14-15) transcribed UCC Torna MS 88 (T.12), pp. 33-59. A scribal signature has been incorporated into this transcript at p. 43.9-10 in such a way as to suggest the beginning of a new item at that point, the author being Morrissey; in fact, pp. 33-52 contain a single poem, that beginning Smuinig a pheacaig mar cailleadh do ghaolta (cf. RIA MS 294 (23 A 24), pp. 30-48).

[11] I am indebted to Professor Pádraig de Brún who allowed me to consult a summary account of these three books, which he made in 1972.

[12] An Sguab 2/15 (Nollaig 1923) 46. The Ussher in question was probably Richard (1841-1913), member of Conradh na Gaeilge, and grandfather of the author Arland Ussher. No manuscript associated with John Morrissey exists in the Canon Power collection in UCC, and it is possible that the collection received by Ussher passed not to Power but to Ó Fearachair.

[p. 94]

scribal floruit extends from 1827[13] to 1883.[14] The range in the collection described here is from 1843 to 1882. Given this range it is not surprising that the handwriting varies considerably from manuscript to manuscript, while retaining points of similarity. Taken together, his manuscripts display an unexceptional mixture of Munster verse, and a predilection for material with religious or devotional associations. He copies from sources both printed (see below) and manuscript; in particular, MS 11 shows him to have had possession of a manuscript by the prolific Tipperary scribe, Tomás Ó Conchubhair.[15] One may conclude from the manuscripts themselves, and, perhaps, from the modest tone of his letter to John O'Daly (quoted below), that John Morrissey's manuscripts were intended primarily for his own use.[16]

John's granddaughter, Mary (Minnie) Prendergast (al. Pender), the scribe of MS 14, pp. 9-12, and of MS 16, gives her address as Salterbridge (presumably her father's dwelling on the Chearnley estate), and also as Monavugga (the Prendergast home), half a mile west of the O'Briens’ dwelling in Boherboyrea. At the period during which she wrote the pieces which survive today - in 1887-90 - she was aged 18-21.[17] Though writing mainly in English, some, at least, of the Irish material copied by her was taken from her grandfather's work (see below). From this it would appear that G 1103 - where her signature occurs (p. [14]) - and the manuscripts of John Morrissey described here could have come to the Melleray district with Morrissey's daughter Alice (Mary's mother), some time after 1882, the latest scribal date of Morrissey's in this collection.[18]

Family tradition records that John Morrissey was a hedge-schoolmaster, though no independent confirmation of this has been discovered. The extract from his letter to John O'Daly, quoted below,

[13] NLI MS G 554, f. 27.

[14] Ibid., f. 26.

[15] MS 14, pp. 5.z-8.z, supplies the beginning of the acephalous piece in MS 11, p. 21; in addition, the description ‘Cómhairle mhaith don chríostidhe’ in the list of contents for the missing section of MS 11, could aptly describe the first item in MS 14 (pp. 1-5). Despite this, the dates of writing, and the scribal numbering on MS 14, p. 4, examination of the stubs of gatherings ii-iv of MS 11 shows that MS 14, pp. 1-8, could not have formed part of MS 11. Both manuscripts may derive from a common exemplar.

[16] One manuscript, however, is said to have been written for his friend Patrick Noonan of Newcastle, Co. Tipperary (G 554, f. 32). Morrissey may have influenced the work of his neighbour, Séamus Paor of Corradoon; cf. NLI MS G 750.

[17] She gives her age as 32 in the 1901 Census.

[18] Alice married James Prendergast in Tooraneena, 4 February 1866.

[p. 95]

suggests that his literacy in Irish was self-acquired. From about 1836 to his death on 15 December 1891, he was the most substantial farmer in Monatouk. He rented forty-six acres from the Earl of Huntingdon, and a further 56 acres of bogland in nearby Broemountain.[19] This status, as well as his literacy, may have suggested him as an appropriate candidate for the position of overseer on the construction of a road in Broemountain, as part of the famine-relief schemes legislated for in a number of works Acts in 1846.[20] Pp. i-vi and 161-4 of MS 11 (part of which was written in December 1846), described below, consist of leaves, now functioning as endpapers, torn from a wages-book for the relief work undertaken in Broemountain. This relatively unique survival[21] records - in Morrissey's hand - payments to men, women, boys, and men with horses, during three weeks in October (5-10, 19-24, and 26-31) and one week in November (9-14), 1846; the list for each week is headed with the name ‘John Morris(s)ey’.

A blank leaf of this wages-book (MS 11, pp. v-vi) is filled with details of books for sale by John O'Daly, from a list postdating the famine period.[22] O'Daly was, by this time, a bookseller in Dublin, and Morrissey's connections with him are scarcely surprising, given that John O'Daly was born in the townland of Farnane, a short distance south of Monatouk, and his earliest scribal work is located in the neighbouring townlands of Lyrattin and Lickoran.[23] Morrissey's new-found income as overseer of the relief-works in Broemountain may be one factor underlying his letter - in English - to O'Daly,

[19] Tithe applotment and Valuation records (National Archives, and Valuation Office).

[20] Christine Kinealy, This great calamity: the Irish famine 1845-52 (Dublin 1994) 90- 106; Dermot Power, ‘Public works in Waterford 1846-47’, Decies 51 (1995) 57-64; Seán and Síle Murphy, The Comeraghs: famine, eviction and revolution (Kilmacthomas 1996) 40, 169-85. Memories of death due to famine in Monatouk were still strong nearly one hundred years after the event: Dept of Irish Folklore, UCD, Schools’ Collection, MS 647, pp. 244-5.

[21] The only comparable documents known at present are: (a) handwritten wages records for roadworks, cross of Ballyfinane to cross of Fieries, Co. Kerry, November 1846 to January 1847 (NLI MS G 400, pp. 253-74); (b) Grant Account Certificates for repairs to streets and footpaths, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare, 16 July to 12 September 1846 (National Archives, RLFC 3/2/5/5-6 Co. Clare).

[22] Other associations with O'Daly among the lost or inaccessible manuscripts of Morrissey include joint scribal participation, ownership by O'Daly of a Morrissey manuscript, and the inclusion of an 1853 O'Daly sales-catalogue in a manuscript. In the present collection, MS 12, pp. 1-60, 64-5, derive from an O'Daly publication.

[23] See Pádraig de Brún in Éigse 21 (1986) 73-8.

[p. 96]

dated November 1846.[24] He responds to queries in a letter from O'Daly of 12 October regarding the contents of Irish manuscripts, some of which he (Morrissey) means to transcribe; undertakes to look out for songs sought by O'Daly; reports on some of O'Daly's former friends and neighbours (there is no mention of famine or distress); and orders books:

I send you now the enclosed order of 3 Shillings for 2 of your elementary books, as you mentioned which was to Contain Instructions for reading the Irish &c, one for myself and another for a friend of mine, who is to Join me in Sending for the works which you are to publish . . . be pleased to let me know if you can get me a good Irish Dictionary as cheap as Possible, because I am very anxious to come at the knowledge of the Irish, I have made a Tolerable Proficiency in it, merely by my own exertions.

[24] NLI MS G 389, pp. 187-90.