Centuries of ‘lost’ MacCarthy lore returned

Historians are celebrating the donation to Ireland of a vast “lost archive” of hugely significant material linked to one of the great 13th century Gaelic families of Ireland.

Brian McGee, Mervyn O'Driscoll, and Michelle O'Mahony with the MacCarthy Glas archive repatriated to Cork City and County Archives. Pic: Eddie O'Hare

West Cork historian Michelle O’Mahony, who played a key role in the repatriation from the US of the treasure trove of material contained in the Daniel MacCarthy Glas archive, praised Susan MacCarthy, of Salem, Oregon, for her generous and sincere decision to donate her great-great-grandfather’s collection to the State.

Daniel MacCarthy Glas’s family was directly descended from the princes of Carbery, the MacCarthy Reaghs and the MacCarthy Glas, based at Togher Castle near Dunmanway in Co Cork.

His archive of material, dating from the 1700s and 1800s, has been in safekeeping in two trunks in the US for over a century. It comprises an estimated 1,500 unique items and is of major historical importance, containing personal letters, manuscripts, photographs and drawings from Daniel and other family members.

The scope of the collection is immense, documenting a range of topics, from the MacCarthy aristocratic lineage to 19th-century poetry and historiography, the history of early modern Ireland, and the British Empire in India and South Africa. It also contains various manuscripts relating to Daniel’s historical and literary research and publications.

Cork city and county archivist Brian McGee said work is ongoing to preserve and catalogue the material.

Daniel MacCarthy’s son Florence drawings from the 1860s in South Africa from the MacCarthy Glas archive repatriated to Cork city and county archives in Blackpool. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

But researchers, including Neil Buttimer at the School of Modern Irish History at UCC, have already identified one document of “immense cultural and historical significance” — a 1784 family pedigree of the Gaelic prince Jeremiah MacCarthy (Diarmuid an Dúna) compiled by the famous poet-schoolmaster John Collins of Myross, known as the last bard of Munster.

It was said that Collins could recite much of the ancient history and genealogies of the region.

Written on parchment, the pedigree bears the wax seal of John Butler, Catholic Bishop of Cork, later Baron Dunboyne, who was a controversial figure.

“This unique document, written in a combination of both Irish and English, is one of very few original manuscripts that we know of in existence from Collins or indeed any other Gaelic scholar from the period,” Mr McGee said.

The pedigree will be subject to a detailed process of transcription and interpretation by historians, linguists and archivists for years to come, he said.

The archive was repatriated to Ireland thanks to years of dedicated work by Ms O’Mahony, Mervyn O’Driscoll of UCC’s School of History, Nigel McCarthy of the McCarthy DNA project, with support and assistance from the staff of the Cork City and County Archives Service.

Ms O’Mahony said it was only discovered after Susan MacCarthy’s brother, Don, had his DNA tested as part of Nigel McCarthy’s DNA project.

She said the MacCarthys were anxious to engage with historians in Ireland to see if the material they held was of historical value or significance.

“Once initial contact was made with the donating family, it has been a journey of friendship and discovery,” Ms O’Mahony said.

“We have spent almost two years talking, emailing and studying letters before we acquired the collection.

“Cork Archives were approached last summer to see if they would like to acquire it, and the rest as they say is history — or will be history.”

Jeremiah MacCarthy’s pedigree 1784 by Sean O’Coileán (John Collins), last bard of gaelic in Munster, in the MacCarthy Glas archive repatriated to Cork city and county archives in Blackpool. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

Mr McGee said it is rare to get a personal collection of such quality.

“Thanks to the kind generosity of Susan MacCarthy and her family, the archive is now a permanent public resource in Cork, which will be available to researchers once it has been preserved, and catalogued in detail,” he said.

Daniel MacCarthy Glas’s grandfather emigrated from Cork to England in 1763, and Daniel was born to a wealthy Irish Catholic merchant family in London in 1807. He died in 1884. Educated to a high standard, he was very well read, was a fluent Irish speaker, and took a major interest in his ancestry and in Irish history, writing two important books: The Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Reagh (1867) and A Historical Pedigree of the Sliochd Feidhlimidh, the MacCarthys of Gleannacroim (1875).

He contributed historical articles to The Nation newspaper and various journals during the Irish historical awakening of the 19th century.

Many of his works involved painstaking research through State papers and other records, and he was in regular and detailed correspondence with celebrated Cork historian Richard Caulfield, the first librarian at UCC, and a large circle of other Irish antiquarians and archaeologists.

A noted philanthropist, he sponsored the education of students in Dunmanway, helped Catholic institutions and helped to preserve historic buildings and monuments, including Togher Castle and St Patrick’s Church in Dunmanway.

James Coleman MRAI, wrote: “A more interesting personality or a better type of Irishman could hardly be found than this English-born scion of the ancient sept of MacCarthys whose name is seldom absent from the annals of our country.”

Some of Daniel’s family were poets and writers, and some held important positions in English society, reflecting the fact that they intermarried with the British elite.

Daniel himself was married in Italy to Lady Harriet Popham, a daughter of Admiral Popham who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and who died 15 years later.

Their daughter, Elizabeth, died from TB aged around 14 or 15, and a son, Henry, died in Madras, where Daniel erected a monument to him in the 1860s. But it is another son, Florence, from whom Susan MacCarthy and her family are descended.

Another of Florence MacCarthy’s drawings from the 1860s in South Africa from the MacCarthy Glas archive. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

Florence had three daughters who all became nuns and one of the last letters in the archive, dated 1915, is from one of Daniel’s granddaughters in which she makes reference to German Zeppelins and blimps, giving a fascinating insight into life in England during the First World War.

Daniel was very close to his daughter-in-law, Alice, who kept all his letters, writings, notes and notebooks. The archive then made its way to Oregon over a century ago where it was kept safe by later generations, finally ending up with Susan MacCarthy.

Ms O’Mahony said Daniel always wanted to live and set up a permanent residence in the Dunmanway area, especially the townland of his ancestral ‘Glas’ sept of the MacCarthys, and that he would be proud to know that his archive has finally made it home.

To celebrate the donation of the archive to the state, a major MacCarthy Glas Cultural and Historical weekend will take place in Dunmanway from May 26-28.

Susan MacCarthy and her brother Don will be among several family members who will travel from the US to attend the event.


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