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William Elliott Hudson bequest (1853)

William Elliott Hudson (1796–1853) was born into a wealthy family that lived in Rathfarnham, County Dublin, in a house later used as St Enda’s school by Patrick H. Pearse. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin and later qualified as a barrister, but his passion was for Irish literature and antiquities

Hudson’s legal work took him to many parts of the country from his Dublin home at 39 Fitzwilliam Street Upper. He was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1841, being recommended as ‘warmly attached to literary, antiquarian and scientific objects’ (RIA, MRIAC/42).

Hudson was a close associate of two Young Irelanders, Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy, and attended Irish classes along with them in the Royal Irish Academy in early 1845, taught by John O’Donovan. O’Donovan observed ‘My boys in the Irish class are too big to do any good and too busy to attend regularly’. It seems that the language classes were short-lived, but the leading attendees went on to establish the Celtic Society, as a cultural society with political interests, later in the same year (Murray, 2000).

Hudson had also been active in the Irish Archaeological Society, founded in 1840, and he was generous in providing funding from his own resources to support the publications and other activities of various mid-century cultural societies, including the Celtic Society. When John O’Daly published Laoithe Fiannuigheachta, or Fenian poems in 1859 on behalf of the Ossianic Society, he included an image of William Elliott Hudson on the title page and prefaced the volume with a ‘Biographical sketch of the late William Elliott Hudson’. (The image was derived from a photograph of the bust in the Academy.) Surviving correspondence indicates that John Windele, Owen Connellan and others valued Hudson’s influence when attempting to gain access to important Irish manuscripts such as the Book of Ballymote and the Book of Lecan in the Royal Irish Academy.

William Elliott Hudson bequeathed his library of some 800 books to the Academy together with his collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish manuscripts. This large collection would have been acquired just as the Academy was preparing to move into its new library and museum built as an extension to a Georgian house at 19 Dawson Street in Dublin. The books and manuscripts were integrated into the main Academy collections rather than being kept as a separate collection.

A marble bust of William Elliott Hudson, sculpted by Christopher Moore, RHA, MRIA, was presented to the Academy in 1853 by his brothers. It is still displayed in the inner hall of Academy House.

The eighty manuscripts in the Irish language bequeathed by William Elliott Hudson are itemised below. Descriptive catalogue entries for each item have been printed in the Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (28 fasc, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1926–70), but the Hudson manuscripts are not identifiable through the index to that catalogue. Two manuscripts in English were also received: a collection of folk tales on fairy mythology and a miscellany mainly relating to the diocese of Down and Connor (his older brother was Dean of Down). A further collection of papers from William Elliott Hudson is preserved in RIA, MS 12 O 17. These comprise some letters to and from Hudson, a few folios of attempted translations of poetry, and some correspondence re state trials at Clonmel in 1848. The contents of MS 12 O 17 may be consulted on microfilm only (RIA, microfilm N.1146).

Hudson’s name features regularly in papers of some nineteenth-century antiquaries held by the Royal Irish Academy, including the extensive correspondence of John Windele and in the Graves Collection. The items from these antiquarian collections that relate to William Elliott Hudson may be identified through the RIA online catalogue of manuscripts.

Summary list of manuscripts in Irish in the William Elliott Hudson bequest to the Royal Irish Academy (1853)

3 C 7 (catalogue no. 1095), rough draft of an Irish grammar written by W.E. Hudson, c. 1846, with notes by Eugene O’Curry, and various other grammatical notes

12 F 39 (catalogue no. 909), transcript of Hugh Mac Curtin’s Irish grammar

23 A 3 (catalogue no. 208), transcript of Bernard Conny’s Rule of Third Order of St Francis, published in Irish at Louvain, 1641

23 A 5 (catalogue no. 221), a Catholic prayer book, penned by an inexperienced scribe

23 A 7 (catalogue no. 220), fragment of a Catholic prayer book, penned by Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin

23 A 11 (catalogue no. 355), a bilingual miscellany, c.1841, probably assembled by a student of the Irish language

23 A 31 (catalogue no. 364), exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, in English and Irish (part; continued from 23 B 31)

23 A 36 (catalogue no. 248), a transcript of Anthony Gearnon’s Parrthas an Anma, penned by Seán Ó Murchú na Ráithíneach, 1724/6

23 A 37 (catalogue no. 217), a transcript made in 1718 of part of Geoffrey Keating’s Trí bior-ghaoithe an bháis

23 A 38 (catalogue no. 365), a miscellany, religious and secular, penned by Éamon Ó Mathúna and Donnchadh Mac Carthaigh, early nineteenth-century

23 A 41 (catalogue no. 779), Irish grammatical texts, partly transcribed in 1710

23 A 50 (catalogue no. 370), a collection of Irish verse, written on paper used for account books. Scribe not identified.

23 B 5 (catalogue no. 433), a collection of Irish verse, penned by Tomás Ó Conchubhair in 1828

23 B 6 (catalogue no. 915), exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, in English and Irish (part) (continued from 23 B 11)

23 B 11 (catalogue no. 914), exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (part) (continued in 23 B 6 and 23 A 31)

23 B 12 (catalogue no. 435), genealogies penned by Éamon Ó Mathghamhna in 1833

23 B 19 (catalogue no. 495), miscellany of Louth and South Ulster poetry, this MS was in the possession of Nicholas Kearney of Thomastown, Dundalk in 1837

23 B 30 (catalogue no. 182), Lives of saints, penned by Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin, 1811

23 B 38 (catalogue no. 30), a collection of modern verse, penned by Seamus Ó Murchú, 1778/9. Formerly owned by John O’Daly

23 C 1 (catalogue no. 371), an eighteenth-century transcript of Geoffrey Keating’s Foras feasa ar Éirinn, penned by Michael Hart (Miceil Ó Hairt), Co. Meath, in 1719.

23 C 7 (catalogue no. 372), a miscellany penned by Éamon Ó Mathghamhna in the years 1789 to 1798, with additions by N. Ryan, 1833. Includes the Life of St Margaret.

23 E 3 (catalogue no. 523), prose tales, in the hand of Nicholas Kearney

23 E 5 (catalogue no. 525), Cath Chluana Tarbh, text in the hand of John O’Daly, introduction and translation in the hand of Nicholas Kearney, 1847

23 E 9 (catalogue no. 527), prose and verse miscellany, penned by Concubhar Óg Úa Máille, County Kerry, c. 1808/9

23 E 12 (catalogue no. 769), modern verse, penned by Nicholas Kearney, c.1846

23 E 14 (catalogue no. 125), a collection of Irish verse transcribed by John O’Daly from two early eighteenth-century manuscripts

23 E 19 (catalogue no. 530), Geoffrey Keating’s Foras feasa ar Éirinn, scribe and date not recorded

23 E 23 (catalogue no. 541), Geoffrey Keating’s Foras feasa ar Éirinn, penned by Éoghan Ua Caoimh for Diarmuid Ó Suilleabháin in 1702–3

23 G 45 (catalogue no. 920), Cath Fhochairte Bhrighide: text and translation of Battle of Fochart of St Brigid, penned by Nicholas Kearney

23 I 13 (catalogue no. 404), an Irish miscellany penned by David Mohir in 1729, including extracts from Geoffrey Keating’s Trí bior-ghaoithe an bháis

23 I 16 (catalogue no. 406), Andrew Donlevy’s catechism, penned by Seán Ó Culláne in 1795. The title page of the manuscript reproduces that of the printed edition of 1742.

23 I 31 (catalogue no. 668), sermons of Rev. J. Gallagher, penned by three Ó Longáin scribes, early 19th century

23 I 33 (catalogue no. 418), devotional tract on the Lord’s Prayer, part 2, scribe not identified. Watermark on paper dated 1840

23 K 1 (catalogue no. 644), prose and verse miscellany including a tract entitled ‘Analacha Innsse Faithlionn’

23 K 12 (catalogue no. 223), a copy of Agallamh na bhFíoraon, penned by Mícheál Ó Longáin in 1824, from an exemplar by Seán Ó Murchú na Ráithíneach. Hudson signed and dated it in May 1845

23 K 34 (catalogue no. 622), genealogical miscellany, watermark dated 1836

23 K 35 (catalogue no. 171), prose tales and extract from Keating’s Foras feasa ar Éirinn. Principal scribe not identified; final 16 pages in the hand of Peadar Ó Longáin

23 M 2 (catalogue no. 330), a collection of Ossianic verse, possibly in the hand of Nicholas Kearney. Watermark dated 1829 on some of the paper used

23 M 25 – 23 M 34 (catalogue nos 15–24), a collection of tales penned by Eóghan Ó Caoimh in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and later arranged into 10 parts, probably by John O’Daly, a former owner

23 N 9 (catalogue no. 561), nineteenth-century collection of songs, formerly owned by John O’Daly

23 N 23 (catalogue no. 562), prose texts, penned by Philip Hyde in 1778–9

23 N 30 (catalogue no. 485), ‘An Seanchaidhe Muimhneach’, on Munster families, penned by Tadhg Ó Cróinín in 1739

23 N 33 (catalogue no. 565), a large collection of verse, penned by Nicholas Kearney

23 N 34 – 23 N 35 (catalogue nos 209–210), a collection of devotional verse, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin, of Carraig na bhFear, in 1846. Bound in two parts subsequent to acquisition by RIA

23 O 12 (catalogue no.185), copy of William Murphy’s translation of O’Daly, Relatio Geraldinorum. Scribe Martin Byrne

23 O 22 (catalogue no. 650), prose tales, penned by Peattair Ó Longáin at Carraig na bhFear, in 1734

23 O 26 (catalogue no. 82), a collection of modern verse, penned by Pól Ó Longáin, c. 1839

23 O 27 (catalogue no. 79), a verse miscellany, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin

23 O 28 (catalogue no. 80), a verse miscellany, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin in 1842

23 O 29 (catalogue no. 189), Cath Muighe Léana and other tales, penned by Pól Ó Longáin, c. 1842

23 O 30 (catalogue no. 169), Chronicum Scotorum, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin in 1842

23 O 31 (catalogue no. 84), Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin in 1844

23 O 32 (catalogue no. 75), a collection of Ossianic verse, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin, c. 1844

23 O 33 (catalogue no. 76), a collection of Ossianic verse, penned by Peadar Ó Longáin and John Windele. Watermark dated 1842

23 O 34 (catalogue no. 652), part of Táin Bó Cuailnge, penned by Pól and Peattair Ó Longáin, probably in 1844

23 P 18 (catalogue no. 693), religious texts, penned by Uilliam Ó hÓgáin in Cork, 1825–9

24 E 2 (catalogue no. 1133), a copy of Shaw’s English and Gallic Dictionary, vol 2 (1780), interleaved, with additions by Edward O’Reilly

24 E 20 (catalogue no. 1262), letters (written in the late 1840s) by William Hackett, Nicholas Kearney and John Windele, on the subject of Irish mythology, mainly in English with short illustrative passages in Irish

24 E 21 (catalogue no. 1058), a collection of verse, penned by Nicholas Kearney

24 G 8 (catalogue no. 749), grammatical texts penned by Nicholas Kearney in the 1840s

Manuscripts in English in the William Elliott Hudson bequest to the Royal Irish Academy (1853)

24 E 22 (English) The Fairy mythology of Ireland – a collection of folk tales

24 K 16 (English) Miscellany. Essay on linen manufacture; Down & Connor 1622; Extracts from the Register of Prerogatives, Dublin, 1600–34, etc.

Book collection bequeathed by William Elliott Hudson to Royal Irish Academy

Books and pamphlets received by the Academy in 1853 from Hudson’s bequest were dispersed through the Library, allowing them to form part of the Library’s core collection of academic works. A printed slip pasted inside the front cover identifies an item as being part of the Hudson bequest.

The collection reflects his academic and professional interests, and includes biography, history, law, classics, topography and travel, published between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. There were some works of theological controversy and canon law. Latin, English, French, Danish, Portuguese and Spanish are among the languages represented. Approximately 16 per cent of the collection was of Irish interest. Items with significant Irish language content included John Dowley’s Catechism (1663), Francis Molloy’s Grammatica Latino-Hibernica (1677), Andrew Donlevy’s Catechism (1742), and Matthew Kennedy’s Irish translation of the Spiritual Rose (1800). Printed works that echoed the content of his Irish manuscript collection, or the publishing interests of the learned societies he supported, included Charlotte Brooke, Reliques of Irish poetry (1789) and Edward Jones, Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards (1794).

Further reading

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (28 fasc, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1926–70)
  • Breathnach, Diarmuid & Ní Mhurchú, Máire, ‘Hudson, William Elliot (1796–1853)’ [sic], (
  • De Brún, Pádraig, ‘An Irish class of 1845’, Éigse, 17:2 (1977/8), 214
  • Lunney, Linde, ‘Hudson, William Elliott’, in Dictionary of Irish biography (9 vols, Cambridge, 2009), sub nomine.
  • Murray, Damien, Romanticism, nationalism and Irish antiquarian societies, 1840–80 (Maynooth Monographs, Series Minor III) (Maynooth: Department of Old and Middle Irish, 2000)
  • Ní Úrdail, Meidhbhín, The scribe in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland: motivations and milieu (Münster: Nodus Publikationen, 2000)
  • Ó Drisceoil, Proinsias, Seán Ó Dálaigh: éigse agus iomarbhá (Cork University Press, 2007)
  • O’Sullivan, T.F., The Young Irelanders (Tralee: The Kerryman,1944)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vi, 1 (1853)
  • Transactions of the Ossianic Society for the year 1856, vol. iv: Laoithe Fiannuigheachta (Dublin, 1859). Biographical sketch of the late William Elliott Hudson [by John O’Daly]





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