Famine-era poet’s manuscript given back to community

An American family which held a unique and very valuable manuscript for generations will present it tonight to a community once home to the renowned Famine-era poet who wrote it.

Famine-era poet’s manuscript given back to community

An American family which held a unique and very valuable manuscript for generations will present it tonight to a community once home to the renowned Famine-era poet who wrote it.

The people of Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, are planning a special ceremony to honour Dáibhí de Barra, a local tenant farmer, poet, and author. Born in 1757 in Woodstock, Carrigtwohill he farmed there until his death in 1851.

Though proficient in English learned at a local hedge school, de Barra was a native Irish speaker. His poetry ranged from local religious and political matters to humorous verses on the theft of his knife and problems encountered upon the death of his cat.

Two of his later works, ‘Párliment na bhFíodóirí’ (The Parliament of Weavers) and ‘Cath na Deachún ar Thrágh Rosa Móra’ (The Tithe Battle on Rossmore Shore), are regarded as among the most important works in Irish from 1800-1850.

He has been recognised for his talented work in the Dictionary of Irish Biography and in the prestigious Cambridge History of Irish Literature.

To celebrate his life and the handover of the manuscript, Carrigtwohill and District Historical Society will unveil a plaque at his grave in the Old Cemetery at 7pm.

Ollie Sheehan, one of the organisers of the event, said that immediately after, the historical society will host a gathering at the local community centre at which the manuscript will be handed over by Paul Doherty. This is scheduled to happen at 7.30pm and, he said all locals are invited. Mr Doherty’s great-grandfather emigrated to America from the Carrigtwohill area in 1865, taking a number of books and manuscripts with him, including the original de Barra work.

“Paul knew he had a connection to the area and he emailed the community website some time ago looking to trace his relatives,” said Mr Sheehan.

We helped him do this and then incredibly he told us he had this manuscript. It was only when he sent us on pictures of it we discovered how significant it was.

"We’re really thrilled that he is handing it over to us. It’s been in his family for generations.

“Fortunately one of our committee is Tony O’Flynn who is an expert on the poet and involved with people in UCC and the Cork Archaeological Society who will be able to advise us on how best to store it. We will get an external expert to help us on this.”

During his lifetime, de Barra’s reputation drew other poets and antiquarians to his home in Woodstock. But since then his repute has spread due, in the first place, to his sons, Dáibhí Óg de Barra and Seán de Barra, and then his grandson, David Barry. Recent decades have seen a lot of his prose put into print.

“This remarkable Irish language scholar has been formally recognised nationally by inclusion in the Dictionary of Irish Biography and is discussed in the Cambridge History of Irish Literature,” said Mr Sheehan.

“The manuscript is bound in leather and it contains some work that has never been disclosed before. From a social and cultural viewpoint it is extremely valuable.”

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