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Donnchadha Ruadh MacNamara
(c. 1715 - 1810)

Donnchadh Ruadh MacNamara, poet and hedge school master, was born in Cratloe County Clare around 1715. It is likely that he was a descendant of Donal Og MacNamara, owner of a castle at Cratloe in 1584. Little is known of his early life but it seems that he was sent to Rome to study for the priesthood when he was aged eighteen. He learned Greek and Latin for several years but apparently was expelled for misconduct. He travelled in Europe for a while before returning to Ireland. Donnchadh settled in County Waterford, firstly in the Sliabh Gua area near Dungarvan. By 1740 he was assistant teacher in a classical hedge school run by O’Coffey. At about this time Donnchadh began to write poetry. Unfortunately, one of his attempts at satire led to him causing offence to a local woman who retaliated by burning down the school. He left the district and spent the next twenty years as a wandering schoolmaster. He had no regular income and was dependent on the fees he might receive from his scholars. In 1741 he was in the parish of Modeligo and by 1743 he was based near Youghal. He married Mary Hogan at this time. One of their sons later became a weaver in Newtown, Waterford.

His poem “Eachtra Giolla an Amarain” relates the adventures of a trip to Newfoundland. In this long poem he employed the Latin and Greek style of writing. Strong trade links existed between Waterford and Newfoundland but there is no proof that he actually made the trip himself at this time. It appears that he did travel to Newfoundland in later years and there are claims that one of his most famous poems “Ban Chnoic Eireann O” was written while he was there. Another theory is that it was written in Hamburg. This poem was later translated to English by James Clarence Mangan as “Fairy Hills of Ireland”. By 1759 it is known that Donnchadh was teaching in the parish of Newcastle, about ten miles from Waterford.

His wit and conversational skills had always ensured his invitation to the local social gatherings such as weddings, christenings and other merry-making. However, about 1764 he was dismissed from a school and seems to have been ostracised for a period. Details of his misdemeanour are unclear. Faced with poverty, Donnchadh worked as a farm labourer for a period in an effort to support himself and his family. It is known that at some stage during the1760s he conformed to the Established Church though later in life he returned to Catholicism. The final years of his long life were spent as a tutor to various families in Kilmacthomas and he continued to write poetry. His poem of eighty-four verses “Duain na hAithrighe” is a poem of repentance. He died in Newtown in October 1810 and is buried in Newtown graveyard. Following his death the aristocratic and learned “Gentleman’s Magazine” wrote “This extraordinary man had been looked up to as possessing that poetical eminence which ranked him amongst the most celebrated of the modern bards”.

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