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Annals of the Four Masters

RIA MSS C iii 3: Cat. No. 1220; 23 P 6: Cat. No. 687; 23 P 7: Cat. No. 688 A.D. 1632-36 Paper (folios in vellum in 23 P 6) C iii 3: 28cm; 23 P 6: 35cm; 23 P 7: 35cm

Written in Irish (in a Franciscan friary on the Drowes River, Co. Donegal) by a Franciscan brother, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, and three laymen, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maoilchonaire of Co. Roscommon, and Cú Choigcríche Ó Duibhgeannáin of Castlefore, Co. Leitrim. Two others also took part in the compilation of the Annals, Conaire Ó Cléirigh (an older brother of Mícheál) and Muiris Ó Maoilchonaire. It was compiled between 22 January, 1632 and 10 August, 1636. The various hands are clear, legible and swiftly written with a pointed quill

The Annals are a chronicle of Irish history from A.M. 2242 to A.D. 1616 and contain records under successive years of the deaths of kings and other prominent persons, both ecclesiastical and lay, along with accounts of battles, plagues, etc. They end with the death of Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, in 1616. The compilation was largely derived from older manuscripts, many of which have not survived.

Two complete autograph copies were made: one for Fearghal Ó Gadhra, Lord of Coolavin and Member of Parliament for Sligo in 1634, and one for the Franciscans at the Irish College of St Anthony, Louvain. The autograph manuscripts are all now in Dublin, in three separate archives.

  • A.M. 2242-A.D. 1169: University College Dublin UCD-OFM A 13

  • A.M. 2242-A.D. 1171: Royal Irish Academy C iii 3

  • A.D. 1170-1499: Royal Irish Academy 23 P 6

  • A.D. 1500-1616: Royal Irish Academy 23 P 7

  • A.D. 1334-1605 (and 1616 fragment): Trinity College Dublin 1301

The volume in UCD (Franciscan A 13) and two in the Academy (RIA 23 P 6-7) are considered to constitute the Louvain set.

In 1831, George Petrie arranged for the purchase by the Academy of an autograph set of the post-1170 annals (23 P 6-7). These had been in the possession of William Burton Conyngham and subsequently of Austin Cooper. Included in 23 P 6 is a dedication on vellum to Fearghal Ó Gadhra which is signed by Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and other Donegal Franciscans. The manuscripts were repaired, mounted on paper, and bound in leather in two volumes by George Mullen. Another autograph volume (C iii 3), containing annals up to the year 1171, had been owned by Charles O’Conor in the 1770s and was acquired by the Academy with the Stowe Manuscripts in 1883.

Digital images of the manuscript can be viewed on Irish Script on Screen.

Select Bibliography

  • J. O'Donovan (ed.), Annála Ríoghachta Éireann, Vols 1-7 (Dublin, 2nd ed., 1856: reprinted Dublin, 1990).
  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1943), Fasc. 17: 2112-3; Fasc. 26: 3276-82.
  • E. Bhreathnach and B. Cunningham (eds), Writing Irish history: the Four Masters and their world (Dublin, 2007).
  • P.A. Breatnach, The Four masters and their manuscripts: studies in palaeography and text (Dublin, 2013)
  • B. Cunningham, The Annals of the Four Masters: history, kingship and society in the early seventeenth century (Dublin, 2010).
  • B. Cunningham, ‘Annals and other histories of Ireland’ in B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 71-8.
  • B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Aon amharc ar Éirinn: Gaelic families and their manuscripts (Dublin, 2013), 11-12, 54.
  • B. Jennings, Michael Ó Clérigh: Chief of the Four Masters and his associates (Dublin, 1938).
  • C. Mooney, ‘The Irish Franciscan libraries of the past’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 60 (Ser. 5, 1942), 223-4, n.s.
  • D.P. Mc Carthy, The Irish annals: their genesis, evolution and history (Dublin, 2008)
  • K. Nicholls, Introduction to Annals of Four Masters (Reprint of Annála Ríoghachta Éireann) (Dublin, 1990).
  • N. Ó Muráile, ‘The autograph manuscripts of the Annals of the Four  Masters’, Celtica, 19 (1987), 75-95.
  • Timothy O’Neill, The Irish hand (Cork, 2014), 64-5, 113-4, 121.
  • W. O'Sullivan, ‘The Slane manuscript of the Annals of the Four Masters’, Ríocht na Mídhe, 10 (1999), 78-91.
  • P. Walsh, The Four Masters and their work (Dublin, 1944).
  • P. Walsh, Gleanings from Irish manuscripts (2nd ed., Dublin, 1933).
  • P. Walsh, Irish men of learning, ed. C. Ó Lochlainn (Dublin, 1947).

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