The scholar Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail visits the Society to deliver our joint annual Noel O’Connell memorial talk with the Irish Texts Society. Her subject is Thomas O’Connor (alias Tomás Ó Conchubhair, b. 1798), originally from the civil parish of Templemolaga, Co. Cork, he emigrated to London in 1820 where he worked as a tailor until his death around 1870.
The evidence in extant Irish manuscripts suggests that he had already begun working as a scribe in his native home place, but that this role progressed significantly during his years in the Victorian city. His scribal material (in Irish and in English) provides an intriguing insight into a native man of letters who appears to have integrated himself into his host society, while at the same time preserving a distinctive Irish identity. Moreover, his fascinating collection of correspondence in English reveals a man with informed views about the language and literature of his native country. And, in his thirty or so poetic compositions, personal vignettes come to the fore as well as a great admiration for the Young Ireland movement and, in particular, for William Smith O’Brien, the fair-haired boy (an buachaill bán).
Ní Úrdail first discovered O’Connor while conducting research some years ago on a text known in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish manuscripts as Leabhar Oiris (Book of History), which is essentially an encomium of the O’Briens of Thomond and this dynasty’s battles for supremacy in Ireland in the tenth and eleventh centuries. She was intrigued to discover that of this work’s twenty-six sources, one was completed outside Ireland in 1848 by O’Connor “in the city of London” (a ccathair Londoine). Subsequent findings have uncovered eighteen extant manuscripts written entirely or in part by this Cork scribe when he was living in London, and these are preserved today in the National Library of Ireland, the Royal Irish Academy, University College Cork, NUI Galway and St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. A further source containing O’Connor’s Irish translation of the first book of Milton’s Paradise Lost (written about the year 1860) is now lost, but a copy may be consulted on microfilm.
In looking through old MSS, which I purchased in Dublin a good number of years ago, I find a translation into Irish of the 1st Book of Paradise Lost. It is by one Thomas O’Connor, who, from letters accompanying it, seems to have been a tailor, resident for many years in London…Letter 23 December 1893, from Monsignor James O’Laverty to Fr Eugene O’Growney
Presented in association with the Irish Texts Society:
Professor Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail
Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail is Professor in, and Head of Modern Irish at University College Dublin. Ní Úrdail’s areas of research include the Irish manuscript tradition; Ireland’s vernacular written tradition from medieval times to the nineteenth century; narrative discourse and historical representation; the complementary relationship between script and print in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland; and contemporary Irish writing and its heritage. Her most recent monograph, Pádraig Ó Laoghaire (1870–1896): an Irish scholar from the Béarra Peninsula, was published by Beara Historical Society (2021).