Sean O Cleirigh

Seán Ó Cléirigh

[Irish Book Lover 29 (Nov. 1945) 124-8.]

Sean O Clery of Dublin (1778-1846)

COINCIDENT with the tercentenary celebrations of Brother Michael "Chief of the Four Masters" comes the report of the discovery, by Mrs. Helen Ryan,of the unmarked grave of Seán O Clery, in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The Library of the Royal Irish Academy contains in manuscript 23.M.5. the pedigree of this Seán2 purporting to show that he was sixth in descent from the famous Lughaidh (Lewy) Ó Clérigh through a son Cucogry. This pedigree, probably written before the birth of Seán's son in 1823, and the family tradition which it places on record, are the only evidence we possess that Lewy had a son named Cucogry (Walsh, IBL, xviii, 66). John O Donovan in 1844 accepted the pedigree as a record of fact and stated farther that Cucogry, son of Lewy, was one of the Four Masters and that he was the person mentioned in an inquisition of 1632 as tenant of the Earl of Annadale. The obituary notice of Seán, appearing in the Drogheda Argus,after his death in December, 1846 [IBL, xxviii, 135] traces his genealogy back to Cucogry "the Annalist." But Cucogry the Annalist was son of Diarmaid, and there is nothing to identify Cucogry Ó Clérigh, the tenant of the Earl of Annadale as the son of Diarmaid, of Lewy, or of any other known member of the famliy. It has been urged that as the obit of Seán went back to Cucogry the Annalist and made no mention of Lewy we should decide that Lewy never had a son Cucogry and that this step in the pedigree was an error and without any foundation [IBL, xxviii, 135]. While this may be the correct explanation one cannot concede that it has been proved. We have the statement that a number of papers were burned in an accidental fire in the house of Seán's father. These may have contained evidence of Seán's written claim. Further, no one has suggested a reasonable explanation why Seán should have falsely sought to trace his pedigree back to Lewy. Had he wished to stress his connection with the Annalist he knew from the MSS. in his possession of three persons named Diarmaid, one of whom was almost certainly the father of Cucogry the Annalist. Arguing for the same purpose, it may be urged that the writer of the obit in January, 1847, had been influenced by John O Donovan's published work (1844) and so identified Seán's ancestor, Cucogry, with the Annalist of that name, and did not think it necessaryto trace the pedigree further back than that illustrious person.

If we conclude that Seán's ancestor was Cucogry the Annalist, the latter's father, Diarmaid, is probably to be identified as the son of Cosnamhach who died in 1584 [Walsh, IBL, xxii, 131]. This Diarmaid was first cousin to Lewy and had a brother Seán who was associated with Lewy as a Juror in 1607 and 1613; and received a grant of land, also with Lewy in 1615. Both Lewy, Seán and Diarmaid are included in a pardon to Rury O Donnell in 1603 [Fiants Eliz. 6761]. Seán's place of residence, in 1613, was Rossnowlagh.

Lughaidh Ó Clérigh is best known as author of the Life of Aodh Ruadh 0 Domhnaill and as one of the originators of the Contention of the Bards. Besides his historical and poetic work he was a considerable landowner and the most important member of his family at the time of their greatest power, immediately before the confiscation and plantation of Ulster. Chichester appointed him a juror in at least three inquisitions held in Donegal connected with the plantation of that county, in 1607,3 16094 and 1613.[O.S. Donegal, 52 and 6o]. The records of the 1609 Inquisition indicate some of the large tracts held by the sept in the Barony of Tirhugh in and around Killbarron Parish, near Ballyshannon. At the Plantation these lands were granted to Sir Henry Folliot, Captain of Foot in Ballyshannon, and to the Bishop of Raphoe.

Perhaps by way of compensation Lewy and his cousin Seán, together with eleven other Irish, were given 960 acres in the barony of Kilmacrenan. This grant included Dromenagh (now Drumenan) and Killomastie (now Killymasny) [O.S. Donegal, 52 and 6o] lying near the river Swilly and west of Letterkenny. Father Paul Walsh states that the tenure was "for life only"but this view is at variance from the terms of the actual grant as expressed in the Patent Rolls "To hold for ever, as of the Castle of Dublin, in common soccage." At any rate the O Clerys did not remain in possession there for more than a few years, at most from 1615 to 1619. Most Ulster grants had been made in 1610 or in the two years following but that of Seán and Lewy is dated 10th Jan. 1614/15 and we have further proof that they had not left Tirhugh in 1613 for in the inquisition of that year Seán is described as of Rossnowlagh and Lewy of Ballymagrorty.5

In 1619 they had disappeared, for Pynnar's Survey shows Captain Paul Gore in their place and the fact that the identical lands given to the O Clery's had passed to the Gores is demonstrated by the regrant in 1629 of Dromenagh and six quarters of land containing 960 acres to Sir Ralph Gore, son of the above Paul Gore.9 The Gore title was again confirmed in 164010 but of the O Clery's we have no further mention nor is any of the name to be found in that area in the Civil Survey, 1654/6, or even as tenants in the Hearthmoney records of 1665.11

One may wonder how Lewy and Seán came to be so closely associated with the English in Ulster. It will be remembered that in 1607 they concurred in bringing in a "true bill" against the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell. On behalf of the Irish jurors it has been shown that before they gave their verdict it was stressed to them that a true bill was no conviction only a statement that a charge lay to be answered.3 Lewy's service as a juror in 1609 has been explained as a futile attempt to save the family property by seeking to show that the termon and hercuach lands did not belong to the Earls and so could not pass on their attainder to the King or his bishops. Both were jurors again in 1619 but their grant of land did not come as a result of this last service for a note of the proposed grant appears in the MS. TCD N.2.2 (Analect. Hib., viii) which was prepared about 1610. As stated, the patent of the grant was made out in 1615. One feels that the true explanation of their actions is to be found in Lewy's own words in the sad concluding paragraph of his Life of Aodh Ruadh 0 Domhnaill. Describing the pitiful state of the Irish people he says that they had given up all hope of relief from anyone so that the great part of them were forced to seek refuge among strangers and enemies under pretence of peace and friendship. As this was written at some time after July, 1616 (IBL, xxv, 102-3) Lewy may have given up or have been deprived of his poor grant in Kilmacrenan when it was penned.

Our knowledge of persons known as Cuchoigcriche Ó Clérigh livingin the seventeenth century has been reviewed by Fr. Paul Walsh in the Book Lover (xxiii, 60-66). His conclusions may be reduced to the following condensed form:

Cuchoigcriche I was brother to Lughaidh. He wrote a poem welcoming the title of Earl, conferred on Rury O Donnell in 1603.

Cuchoigcriche II composed poems about 1655 for Turlogh m Caffer O Donnell and Calvagh Roe O Donnell. He may be identical with:

Cuchoigcriche III the Annalist, son of Diarmaid. He wrote a poem in 1662 on the death of Máire, sister of Hugh Roe O Donnell.

Cuchoigcriche IV, son of Lughaidh, may have existed. He is said to have transcribed the MSS. which Seán Ó Clérigh brought to Dublin in 1817, including a will, said to be his, dated 1664. If we admit one mistake in the pedigree of Seán of Dublin these MSS. may in fact be the work of Cuchoigcriche III (the Annalist).

The Cuchoigcriche who was a tenant farmer in 1632 has not been identified as a writer, nor has his ancestry been established, although 0 Donovan believed him to be a son of Lughaidh. His farm lay some thirty miles to the west of Lughaidh and Seán's grant and is mentioned in the records of an inquisition held at Liffordon 25& May,1632.6 It shows that "Coochogery O'Clery a meere Irishman" (i.e. of pure Irish descent) "and not of the English or British descent or sirname held the half quarter of land of Coobeg and Dowghill in the proportion of Monargrane Baronie of Boylagh and Bannagh and co. Donegall from Will Farrell esq assignee to the earle of Annadell from hollantide 1631 until May 1632, and paies p.a. 8 L. ster." Other Irish are mentioned in like terms and it is declared that as these lands were over and above the fourth part of the proportion allotted to the mere Irish and contrary to the Undertakers' Letters Patent the lands and rents were forfeited to the King. Cucogry was accordingly evicted but his landlord did not suffer, for the Civil Survey, 1654-56, shows "Cullbeggs and Dughill" still held by the "Earl of Annadale, Scottish Protestant."12 The old placename Dowghill, or Dughill, is still retained in the townlands of Doochill N and S, to the north of Killybegs (Cullbegs) parish (0.S. Donegal, 74 and 83).

Besides miscellaneous verse and prose compositions preserved in the National Library (131) this Cucogry is credited by O Donovan with the transcription of The Ó Cléirigh Book of Genealogies,13 the Life of Aodh Ruadh O Domhnaill,14 the Leabhar Gabhala or Book of Conquests,13 and the Topographical poems of 0 Dugan and 0 Heerin,16 all of which were brought to Dublin by Seán O Clery in 1817 and are now preserved in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. There also lies the will17 written in 1664 near Burrishoole, Co. Mayo, where many from the Donegal septs, including O Gallaghers, MacSweeneys and O Clerys had settled under the leadership of Rory O Donnell of Lifford.18 O Hart suggests that they were moved in the Cromwellian transplantation about 1654,20 but as the same writer states elsewhere that the Ulster transplantation papers were not forthcoming this assertion cannot be confirmed.21 By this will Cucogry bequeathed his books to his sons, with the injunction not to injure them but to let them be studied by other members of the family.

The erroneous statement that Cucogry, the son of Lewy, was one of the compilers of the Annals of the Four Masters, was first made by John O Donovan in 1851 in his introductory remarks to the Annals. When made it was a reasonable assumption, considering the evidence which O Donovan had before him, but, as pointed out by Fr. Paul Walsh,22 it must now be abandoned, in view of the testimony contained in the preface so the Franciscan Library Manuscript of the Annals. O Donovan did not study this original of the work except a tracing of one of its pages sent to him from Rome by Dr. Lyons.19 The book was brought from St. Anthony's, Louvain, to St. Isidore's, Rome, after the French Revolution and thence to Dublin in I872.23 Its preface contains a list of the Annalists, giving, except in the case of Brother Michael, the name of each Annalist's father for surer identification of the authors. Therein Cucogry is described as son of Diarmaid. This entry in one of the originals of the work must finally dispose of any claim of a son of Lughaidh to be one of the Annalists.

Seán O Clery of Dublin is probably descended from Cucogry the Annalist, or possibly from Lewy of the Contention but he cannot derive from both. The debt which we owe to him arises therefore from the fact that, although a poor man, he faithfully preserved the Ó Clérigh Manuscripts which he could so easily and profitably have sold to foreign collectors, who would have doubtless removed them from Ireland.



  • Assisi, Feb., 1944.

  • 2 See Walsh,Ó Cleirigh family.

  • Cal. State Papers Ireland, 1607, pp. 389 and 555.

  • Inguisitionum Cancellariae Hibemiae Repertorium (1829), Sept. 12, 1609.

  • 5 Ibid., March 12, 1613.

  • 6 Ibid., May 25, 1632.

  • 7 Walsh, op. cit. p. 17.

  • Pat. Rolls, 10 Jan 13 Jas I.

  • 9 Hill, Plantation in Ulster, p. 525.

  • 10 Defective Titles Commission.

  • 11 Public Records Office, I a 2 5-31.

  • 12 Civil Survey, Co. Donegal (Irish Manuscripts Commission).

  • 13 RIA, 23 D 17.

  • 14 RIA, 23 P 24.

  • 15 RIA, 23 K 32.

  • 16 RIA, 23 N 28.

  • 17 RIA, 23 D 17.

  • 18 0 Donovan, Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, Appendix, p. 2390.

  • 19 Ibid., introductory remarks, footnote d.

  • 20 O Hart, Irish Pedigrees, 4th edition, vol. i, p. 645.

  • 21 O'Hart, Irish Landed Gentry, p. 358.

  • 22 Walsh, op. cit., p. 19.

  • 23 Jennings, Rev. Brendan, Michael O'Cleirigh and his Associates, p. 204.

Department of Modern Irish

Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge

Áras Uí Rathaille, UCC