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Charles O'Conor (2)



Often called "the Venerable", b. at Belanagare, Co. Roscommon, 1710; d. 1791, was descended from an ancient and princely Catholic family. Cultured, educated, an Irish scholar, O'Conor was almost the only Irishman of his time who studied the records of his country, and who did what he could to preserve the Irish manuscripts. He scanned these with a calculating and mathematical mind, continually figuring up and noting upon the margins the dates of kings, princes, prelates, foundations etc., and pointing out conflicting dates. He was the only Irishman with whom Samual Johnson corresponded with reference to Irish literature. Irish was his native language, so that he was one of the last great Irishmen who continued the unbroken traditions of their race. His private diaries and note-books in which he jotted down household affairs, expenses etc. (now preserved by his direct descendant the O'Conor Don H.M.L. at Clonalis) were written largely in classic Irish. His best known work is his "Dissertations on the History of Ireland" published in 1753 which led to his correspondence with Dr. Johnson, who urged him to write an account of pre-Norman Ireland. His collection of Irish manuscripts passed to his grandson, the younger Charles, and later formed the renowned Stowe Collection in the possession of the Duke of Buckingham, whose librarian the younger Charles became. This collection, including the famous Stowe Missal and the original of the first part of the "Annals of the Four Masters," was for years inaccessible to Irish scholars, but has now been deposited in the Royal Irish Academy. A man of affairs, he was one of the founders of the Roman Catholic Committee in 1757, and with Dr. Curry, may be looked upon as the real lay leaders and representatives of the Irish Catholics during the middle of the eighteenth century. Charles O'Conor (grandson of the above), wrote the "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the late Charles O'Conor of Belanagare". This is a very rare book, the author having suppressed it, and destroyed the manuscript of the second volume when ready for press. Its destruction was a great loss to the Irish history of the period. The present O'Conor Don possesses many of his letters; others are in the Gilbert Library now acquired by the Corporation of Dublin.

O'CURRY, Manuscript Materials (Dublin, 1878), p. 115; O'CONOR DON, The O'Conors of Connaught (Dublin, 1891); WEBB, Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin, 1870).

Douglas Hyde.








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