The Gaelic scribal tradition in Co. Clare encompassed
a range of activities carried out by poets, scribes and collectors of
legendary stories and folklore. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
there existed in Co. Clare – and other Irish-speaking areas of Ireland
– a class of literate individuals known figuratively as ‘manuscript
men’. These were individuals educated in the traditions of local
people, were literate in Irish (sometimes Latin and Greek), and actively
sought to record and transmit the corpus of the Gaelic tradition, (stories,
verse, aphorisms, onomastics, etc) in manuscript form. In Co. Clare the
tradition embodied both the oral recitation of tales, (especially the
Fiannaíocht or Fenian cycle) and also the writing of manuscripts
which contain much miscellanea besides the traditional stories. The activity
of these men ensured the survival of the ancient tradition of storytelling
which had its roots from the medieval period, as well as the preservation
of genealogies and other sources whose exemplars have since been lost.
Conchobhar Mac an Oirchinnigh was one such ‘manuscript man’
who penned his manuscripts in the first quarter of the nineteenth century,
a period of language shift in Co. Clare. Thanks to the survival of his
beautifully wrought manuscripts, some light may be cast on his life and
on other bearers of the Gaelic tradition.
This article was originally published in The Other
Clare, vol. 41, (2017), pp 60-67.
More papers by Luke McInerney can be accessed at https://independent.academia.edu/LukeMcInerney
an Oirchinnigh and the Gaelic scribal tradition of County Clare (PDF)