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Book of O'Loghlen - Leabhar Uí Lochlainn

The scribe, Aindrias Mac Cruitín, was probably approaching 60 years of age when he compiled the Book of O’Loghlen in 1727, drawing on a lifetime of experience as a poet, teacher and scribe. The 280-page book consists predominantly of poetry, some items newly composed, some a century or two old by the time of their transcription. There are six poems addressed to Donogh O’Loghlen (d.1714) and his wife Joan Nugent (d.1712), and seven poems addressed to Donogh’s son, Turlough, who along with his wife Máire Ní Ghráda was still alive in 1727. A further three poems are addressed to Donogh’s father, another Turlough. There are also four poems on the death of another Brian O’Loghlen. Such compositions are relatively unusual at a time when few other families were still commissioning such poems, and Aindrias and his relative Aodh Buidhe Mac Cruitín (Andrew and Hugh McCurtin), whose poems feature extensively in the manuscript, were regarded as among the last of their kind.

Aside from the O’Loghlen poems, much of the remaining content comprised well known texts to which Mac Cruitín had ready access, including a series of early 17th-century poems now collectively known as ‘Iomarbhagh na bhFileadh’ (Contention of the bards). Selected prose tales were also included in the O’Loghlen manuscript, most notably some from the Ulster Cycle and Fiannaíocht literary tradition, tales that continued to be popular in Clare down to the late 19th century because of a belief that they were part of the story of the ancestry of the O’Loghlens.

A wedding poem, beginning with the words ‘Créad fá n-uaibhrid a chéile’ is now the final item bound into the manuscript. Although the poem is in the same scribal hand as the manuscript book, the page on which it is written was not always part of the volume, and has the appearance of having existed separately for some time. The leaf has fold marks, and the final lines of the poem are written on the verso in a manner consistent with it having been written on a loose sheet.

The Book of O’Loghlen is thought to be partially copied from an earlier work compiled for Donogh O’Loghlen who died in 1714. That much of the compilation was originally assembled for Donogh, son of Turlough O’Loghlen and Honora O’Brien, daughter of Donogh O’Brien of Newtown, Co. Clare, may also help explain the presence of several O’Brien poems in the collection. Indeed it is evident from his wider corpus that the O’Briens of Ennistymon were among Aindrias Mac Cruitín’s main patrons.

That the ‘Book of O’Loghlen’ was perceived as a family book is suggested not just by the insertion of the marriage poem, or the selection it contains of poems concerning earlier members of the O’Loghlen family in the barony of Burren, but also by a later note in English recording the births of Dr Brian O’Loghlen’s three children, Terence, Brien and Mary. The death of ‘Doctr Brien o Loghlen’ on 18 Sept 1734, was also recorded in the manuscript. Yet, while it appears to be a family manuscript, there is much in the book that relates only very tangentially to the O’Loghlens.

Although the Book of O’Loghlen is noteworthy now for being one of the last family poem books (duanairí) to survive in the Irish tradition, it seems likely that even for its patron in the 1720s it had the appearance of obsolescence. It was consciously recalling the cultural remnants of an earlier age, preserving genealogies into which the patron and his immediate family were not properly integrated; and recording poems and elegies relating to O’Loghlens that were not the patron’s direct forbears.

The scribe’s awareness of the necessity to cater for the needs of those with only a limited knowledge of Irish is clear from the pages of the manuscript. He included a lengthy list of standard contractions used in Irish manuscripts. Such a list would have been a useful reference point for those whose familiarity with written Irish was less than expert. He also included a short treatise on the Irish alphabet and the basics of Irish grammar and pronunciation couched as advice on how to read and write in the Irish language. The inclusion of such material in the O’Loghlen manuscript may have been an admission that its patron was not fully familiar with written Irish. Brian O’Loghlen died young, in 1734, and within a relatively short time the book was acquired by that assiduous Connacht manuscript collector, Charles O’Conor of Belanagare. From there, the manuscript found its way to the library of the Duke of Buckingham, at Stowe, in the early 19th century. It was eventually returned to Ireland in 1883 as part of the transfer of the Stowe-Ashburnham manuscripts of Irish provenance into the care of the Royal Irish Academy.

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

Select Bibliography

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1933), Fasc. 1: 51-8.
  • L.M. Cullen, ‘Patrons, teachers and literacy in Irish, 1700-1850’, in M.E. Daly and D. Dickson (eds), The origins of popular literacy in Ireland (Dublin, 1990), 15-44.
  • Bernadette Cunningham, ‘The Book of O’Loghlen: an unwanted wedding gift?’ in R. Gillespie and R.F. Foster (eds), Irish provincial cultures in the long eighteenth century (Dublin, 2012), 181-97.
  • Vincent Morley, ‘Mac Cruitín, Aindrias’, in J. McGuire and J. Quinn (eds), Dictionary of Irish biography (9 vols, Cambridge, 2009), v.5, 887-8


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