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Like sun gone down

30 November, 1999

John Canon O’Hanlon (1821-1905) was a priest literateur of the 19th century so well-known that Joyce has immortalised him as a charcter in “Ulysses”. He wrote on many topics including folklore, the lives of Irish saints, the Irish language, church buildings, politics, art and poetry. Pádraig Ó Macháin and Tony Delaney put together a selection of his writings to commemorate the centenary of his death.

291.pp.  Price €15.  Published by Galmoy Press, Ráth Oisín, Crosspatrick, Co. Kilkenny.
056-8831347.  To order this book email:
[email protected].


1. Early Days 
2. America 
3. Folklore and Tradition 
4. Five Poems 
5. ‘Home Ruler as I am’ 
6. Star of the Sea 
7. Saints and Holy Places 
Appendix 1: Chronology 
Appendix 2: Miscellaneous letters 
Appendix 3: Manuscripts 
Appendix 4: Address to John O’Hanlon, 1897 
Appendix 5: Artists in Lives of the Irish Saints 


John Canon O’Hanlon (1821-1905) is one of a number of 19th century priest writers (usually of local history and antiquities) who felt that the educational opportunity afforded by their family background gave them a duty and privilege not just of the priestly ministry but also of scholarly publication of the history of their dioceses, counties and country which had been de facto proscribed  in the 18th century.

The title Like sun going down reflects his interest in preserving past memories for future generations.  This work makes a selection of reminiscences of his childhood, and articles written during his eleven years in St Louis, Missouri, USA and fifty two as a priest in Dublin.  It also includes a selection of poems he wrote under the pen-name Lageniensis (‘Leinsterman’).

Every credit to the editors Pádraig Ó Macháin and Tony Delaney who put together this compendium of O’Hanlon’s enormous output to honour the centenary of his death and wrote the Introduction.


In the illuminated address that they presented to John Canon O’Hanlon on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee, 29 May 1897, his parishioners and fellow priests laid emphasis on three aspects of his career in which he had distinguished himself.  The first was his work as a priest: his care for the welfare of his parishioners, and his renovations to the two churches in his parish, St Mary’s, Star of the Sea, in Irishtown, and St Patrick’s  in Ringsend. The second was his patriotism, as an advocate of ‘the national interests of our long suffering country… in endeavouring to realise the highest aspirations of our race’.  The third was his work as an author, and in particular as a hagiologist or hagiographer, a chronicler of saints’ lives. (1) While it is John O’Hanlon the writer who is in evidence in the following selections, it will be apparent that the three aspects of his life that were emphasised by his admirers in 1897 are interconnected, and form part of a continuity of learning and intellectual activity discrenib1e throughout his life.

The experience of his emigration to the United States of America, at the age of 21, informs much of the work of John O’Hanlon. Not only was his scheme for the Lives of the Irish saints conceived during his time there, as his flair for writing began to emerge, but it was in Missouri that he became aware of the plight of Irish emigrants, and in particular that of the refugees from the Great Famine, during his ministry in St Louis. His own emigration, in the summer of 1842, though far more benign, had the element of trauma attached to it, being occasioned, it would appear, by the death of his father about that time. (2)  It also occurred at a time of great economic emigration from the Queen’s County. as reported in the newspapers of the time:

The rage for emigration during the present season far exceeds that of any former year, which argues how great and general must have been the depression under which this kingdom has suffered during the last few years. Agencies are established through all the inland towns, through whose means hundreds are leaving the rural districts. Men who have any substance are unwilling longer to risk it in a country where they expect no return; but are converting their goods into money, and are seeking in a distant land means of profitably investing it, and enriching themselves. Others, whose dependence for a livelihood consists in exertion of mind or body, are leaving a country where they are starving for want of employment, to seek for a means of subsistence, thus withdrawing from our shores what is no less valuable than capital, the sinews and energies of our countrymen. (3)

John O’Hanlon’s twin vocations, to priesthood and to writing, were both nurtured in the trying circumstances in which he found himself in the American frontier. His own account of his years in Missouri shows that his literary work received early recognition in his appointment as editor of the short-lived Catholic newspaper, The St. Louis News-Letter, in 1847. The difficult circumstances under which the work on his lifelong project of the saints’ lives was begun are hinted at by him in his introduction to his life of St Malachy:

Whilst the writer resided in the city of St. Louis, in the United States of America, that very imperfect biography [of Malachy] had been commenced, in the month of May, 1851, and completed during the summer of the same year. The circumstances, under which it had been composed, were not favourable for the successful completion of a work, demanding a considerable amount of time and research, to render it accurate and elaborate. A fearful epidemic spread pestilence and death throughout the city of St. Louis, during that season; and, the consequent demands, on the time of an insufficient number of missionary clergymen, to minister to the wants of a large Catholic population, left few intervals of leisure, for extrinsic occupations. (4)

Against a background of personal experience as an emigrant and as a young priest, the coincidental developments of pastoral care and literary activity combined in a practical way in O’Hanlon’s production, in 1851, of a handbook for the Irish emigrant to America. Even at a distance of over one hundred and fifty years, there is a freshness and immediacy in his account of the modalities and the pitfalls of travel to America from Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century that must have been all the more striking to contemporary readers. His concern for the Irish emigrant was to outlast the ten years he spent in Missouri.  Forty years later, he produced a revised and updated edition of The Irish emigrant’s guide in 1890; and this was followed in 1903 by his Irish-American history of the United States. The aim of the latter book was two-fold, historical and educational: to record the achievements of Irish-Americans from early colonial times to the time of writing; and to furnish for an Irish readership a general history of the United States. (5)   Whatever its merits today, this book displays all the characteristics that distinguish O’Hanlon’s scholarly work, in that it replicates in style and methodology the author’s comprehensive mastery of an array of source material, and his ability to convey the essence of those sources while avoiding partisanship of any kind. In his account of the American Civil War, for example, he treats equally of the exploits of Clebourne and Meagher – Corkman and Waterfordman, Confederate and Federal respectively – and avoids exaggerating their part in the complex events of the time.

His American experience also seems to have cultivated in John O’Hanlon a taste and a remarkable energy for travel, and the spirit of enquiry that goes with it. In subsequent years, in the course of his hagiographical research, he would make many trips to continental Europe, undaunted by difficulties of travel or accommodation. At the age of seventy, on his return to America in the autumn and winter of 1891, he would cover thousands of miles as he travelled to numerous locations throughout the United States and Canada in less than three months. (6)  To someone, who as a young priest had ridden on horseback to distant missionary outposts along the banks of the Missouri river, such travel may well have seemed relaxing and a luxury.

It is small wonder, then, that in recording some of his early journeys, O’Hanlon can be viewed not just as a scholar, but as a travel writer in his own right. His Life and scenery in Missouri, published in book format in 1890, is undoubtedly the best example of his talent in this regard, but the combination of historical writing and travel writing was one that had been long established in his work. It emerges particularly in the closing chapters of his Life of St. Dympna in 1863. His anxiety to give the reader practical information on how to travel to the destinations mentioned in this book is a feature of his narrative; so too is his delight in description and observation, and his scientific curiosity in anything connected with the care of the poor and the infirm. In his record of his trip to Gheel, for example, he pays particular attention to the hospital for the insane, erected in that city a year earlier, a record that we have reproduced below.

Writing and scholarship
John O’Hanlon was a bibliophile, and a minor litterateur of nineteenth-century Dublin. (7)  His friends and correspondents included scholars such as Eugene O’Curry and R. R. Madden, and poets and writers such as Denis Florence MacCarthy, (8) John F. O’Donnell, (9) and John McCall and his son P. J. (10)   In an age when expression in verse was not unusual, and where poetry in English was seen as important to the national cause (11) O’Hanlon himself had more than a passing interest in making poems, both formal and occasional, including versified versions of legends that he had elsewhere expressed in prose.

He was also prominent in the Irish language movement. He joined the Ossianic Society shortly after his return from the United States, and his The life of Saint Malachy O’Morgair was published in 1859 by the Society’s founder and secretary, John O’Daly, a parishioner of O’Hanlon’s when he was a curate in Saints Michael and John. (12)   While still a curate, he became a council member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, and remained on the council until his death in 1905, by which time he was also one of the vice-presidents. (13)  Following the foundation of the Star of the Sea branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, 29 November 1900, O’Hanlon, in his role as president of the branch, was recalled as maintaining a paternal presence at the Irish classes there:

Scarcely a class-night passed at the Reult-na-Mara Branch, without a visit from the Canon, who went from desk to desk among the learners speaking words of encouragement. (14)

He was also very much part of the nineteenth-century culture of the antiquary-folklorist. (15)  Mixing scholarly discipline with respect for the tradition-bearer, he connected both with the father of Irish folklore studies, Charles Vallancey (whom he quotes liberally in his writing), and with the literary tradition of writers such as Carleton and O’Hanlon’s fellow Queen’s County man, John Keegan, in whom he had a lifelong interest.

As the excerpt on the seanchaí given below (pp. 42-51) indicates, just as his classical education was to aid him in his career and in his scholarly writings, the less formal education and entertainment that was experienced by O’Hanlon in his youth in Stradbally was to remain as an influence on him for the rest of his life. To this, at least in part, is due the respect he had for the value of native tradition, and for what had come, by then, to be known as folklore. In his preface to Irish folk lore of 1870,  O’Hanlon sets out his position regarding this subject, and his approach to it from a predominantly literary perspective:

Few things are so evanescent in their nature as folk lore remembrances and theories; but their generic peculiarities have been fairly preserved in our ancient and modern literature. Of this source for information the writer has availed himself.  Thousands of interesting legends have been totally forgotten, however, because unrecorded; and yet many of these were essentially important for a perfect solution to historic problems, while they characteristically illustrate a people’s moral and intellectual organization or culture, and speculative opinions.

Continuing his preoccupation with the ‘sun gone down’ theme, he adds:

If unnoticed in some form, such as that now presented, it is probable those legends and traditions must have been consigned altogether to oblivion.

O’Hanlon was far from unique in his combination of scholarly and priestly vocations. He is instantly recognisable as a type of nineteenth-century clerical historian cum antiquarian represented by writers such as James O’ Laverty, Anthony Cogan, Patrick Moran, John Francis Shearman, and, extending into the twentieth century, William Carrigan and Patrick Power. One of his fellow curates during his time in Saints Michael and John (1859-80) was the equally illustrious and prolific writer and historian, Fr Charles Patrick Meehan, and it was reported that ‘many stories are told illustrative of their idiosyncrasies’. (16)

The inspiration for many of these writers was the work of John Lanigan, (17) and it is no coincidence that O’Hanlon’s first involvement in monumental commemoration was his collaboration with Petrie and O’Curry in the creation of a Celtic Cross for Lanigan’s grave in Finglas. (18)  In the writings of all these clerical scholars, there is a sense of purpose, as though the educational opportunities afforded them by their family backgrounds, and by Emancipation, placed upon them not just a duty of priestly ministry, but a duty also of scholarly publication of the history of their dioceses, counties and country, which had been concealed and proscribed de facto in the eighteenth century. This sense of purpose is most evident in O’Hanlon’s core writings, where he pursues his project of chronicling the lives of the Irish saints, organised by feast-day, from 1 January to 31 December.

His Life of St Malachy, he tells us, was the first of the series commenced by him. He also had a life of St Patrick published in serial format in the Boston Pilot in 1853, the year he left America, and this, one supposes, formed the basis not just for the account that subsequently appeared in the Lives of the Irish saints, but also for the ‘Life of Saint Patrick Apostle of Ireland by the Rev. John O’Hanlon’ which was announced in 1859 as ‘preparing for publication’ in book format, but which never appeared. (19)

To a large extent, this method of repetition and re-cycling was to be his working template throughout his career. Saints’ lives would appear initially in articles or monographs, and would again be published as part of the great work. The template held true also for other areas of his writings. His series on the ‘Old churches of Leix’, for example, published in the Irish Builder in the 1880s, had the dual function of preparing material to be included as background in the Lives of the Irish saints, and verbatim in his History of the Queen’s County. Nor did he cavil at simultaneous publication in cases where, one deduces, he held that some of the matter published in book format could benefit from an independent existence as an article. For this purpose, the pages of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record were always at his disposal, it would appear, and a case in point was the parallel publication in that journal of the historical portion of his introduction to Mason’s Essay on the antiquity and constitution of parliaments in Ireland in February of 1891, at the very time that it was being published in his new edition of that book.

O’Hanlon’s facility for the objective and unobtrusive presentation of historical and scholarly evidence has been recognised. (20)  The same virtue is evident in his retrospective assessment of his own work, in a ‘Prospectus’ appended to some of the last published numbers of Volume X of Lives of the Irish saints:

For many years past his [sc. O’Hanlon’s] extensive collections have employed intervals of time that remained to the compiler after a discharge of more urgent occupations and duties. Early hours in the morning, and late hours at night have often been devoted to this long-continued arid absorbing labour. The most critical supervision and anxious desire to attain accuracy have been exercised, both in the composition and correction of those volumes. The writer can safely assert that, as a matter of fact, few important or controvertible statements have been advanced throughout the work for which exact historical references are not presented to the reader. For individual deductions or opinions, wherever they occur, the author is responsible. He has examined and adopted the conclusions of many learned authorities consulted and cited in the pages of those volumes, whenever he conceived such accounts conformable to truth, or even in accordance with probability; nor has he ever ventured to dissent, except in cases where recent investigations or superior reasons afforded safe motives for a contrary judgement. (21)

In addition to his objectivity, the ‘many learned authorities consulted and cited’ are also a feature of his work that remains relevant today. O’Hanlon can never be accused of fancy or fabrication in his writing. Every proposition, deduction and conclusion is painstakingly annotated and referenced, so that while one may at times demur at a style that verges on prolix – but that was, after all, very much of its time – one can still admire his scholarly methodology and his all-pervasive concern to be both precise and exhaustive. That desire for exhaustive annotation led O’Hanlon to the examination of sources that had been neglected or little used up to then, a case in point being the use made by him of the records of the Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey records: O’Hanlon the artist
O’Hanlon’s earliest publications on his return to Ireland were the two letters, written by him in 1856, and published in the Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, on the value of the records of the Ordnance Survey in the Phoenix Park as a source for the study of the history of Co. Kilkenny and Queen’s County respectively. (22)  The first of these was in response to a request made to him by the Rev. James Graves, and it prompted O’Hanlon to produce a series of twenty similar communications, over the next ten years, covering the remaining counties of Ireland, in compliance with Graves’s wish that he should complete his calendar of this archive. His early attachment to the South Dublin Union, 1853-7, with his addresses in James’s Street and Parkgate Street, placed him in some proximity to the archive, prior to the transfer of some of the materials to the Royal Irish Academy. His oft-acknowledged friendship with and indebtedness to those giants of the Survey, and of Irish scholarship in the nineteenth century, John O’Donovan and Eugene O’ Curry, were further elements in his awareness of this fruitful avenue of research. (23) O’Hanlon expresses the importance
of this source in his Prospectus for his Lives of the Irish saints that accompanied his first book on the topic of hagiography, his Life of Saint Laurence O ‘Toole:

The full and free access which the writer has obtained to the MSS. and ancient maps, belonging to the Irish. Ordnance Survey Office, Phoenix Park, has enabled him, in many instances, to identify the modern names and exact positions of places often mentioned in connection with the Lives of our national Saints. (24)

O’Hanlon’s repeated advocacy of the publication of the records of the Ordnance Survey in the form of parish memoirs and county histories (25) amounted to more than just his usual predilection for the ‘grand scheme’ of his own devising. He saw in these records one of the foundations for the study of the history of local places, and he saw also their value as aids to preserving, for all time, information on structural antiquities then extant but which in future might well be destroyed. This perception confirmed him in his conviction of the importance of the role of the artist in antiquarian and historical studies.

There are various topographical features of our Irish counties, neither described by the tourist, nor sketched by the artist; and yet they are illustrative of ancient manners, customs, and economy. An hundred years hence they will have disappeared from the face of the country, and not a single memorial of them will remain. A mere trifle, in the shape of a Government grant, would enable the Ordnance Department in Ireland to employ artists to preserve their outlines, for the enlightenment of succeeding generations. Would it be too much to demand, in return, for the millions sent by Ireland, to the Imperial Excheque (26)

Viewed in this context, the multitude of mostly contemporary sketches included by O’Hanlon in Lives of the Irish saints has more purpose than that of merely offering relief to the reader from the highly detailed prose. They also serve to highlight a neglected aspect of John O’Hanlon, that of the competent amateur artist.

O’Hanlon was scarcely returned from the United States in 1853 when he was engaged in making a sketch of Coolbanagher, in his native Queen’s County. This work of travelling throughout Ireland and sketching antiquities was to continue for the next half-century, with the dual purpose of illustrating his writings and of preserving in art a fragile part of his country’s heritage. Of the 596 drawings engraved in the ten volumes of Lives of the Irish saints, John O’Hanlon is responsible for 128: just over one fifth. His drawings range in date from December 1853 (27) to June 1901, (28) three years before his death. An original sketch by O’Hanlon is published for the first time below, p. 173, and in Appendix 5 we catalogue the engravings in Lives of the Irish saints.

His artistic talents translated themselves to an interest in church architecture, an interest that is apparent early in his writings, when, in The life of Saint Laurence O’Toole, he describes the newly-built church of St Laurence, in Seville Place, and donates the proceeds of that publication ‘for the benefit of the new church of St. Laurence O’Toole’. (29)  This interest was put to practical use in his pastoral work, where, as referred to in the illuminated address of 1897, his talents were employed in the structural alterations he instigated in the two churches that came under his care after he became Parish Priest of Sandymount in 1880. His improvements to St Mary’s, Star of the Sea, are documented in his History and description of St. Mary’s Church, Star of the Sea, Irishtown, while improvements to both Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s, Ringsend, are referred to by him in a letter to the Archbishop of Dublin, William J. Walsh, in 1897:

I set about the painting, decoration &c. of St. Patrick’s Church Ringsend; flagging the Sanctuary with Portland stone and erecting a handsome marble altar with ascending steps of Sicilian marble, and a Porch in Portland stone is now being prepared for the front – all of this cost about £350. Iron railings are now being erected round the Star of the Sea Church at a cost of nearly an additional £100. This, was very necessary to guard against damages to the church windows, and as containing flowering shrubs and flowers within, the railings must be ornamented. (30)

John O’Hanlon’s childhood was a time of social and political unrest in the Queen’s County. Emancipation apart, the agitation against tithes and other injustices engaged the efforts, on the side of ‘moral force’, of people such as Pat Lalor of Tinnakill, Peter Gale of Arless, and John Dunn of Ballinakill; while on the side of  ‘physical force’ were a range of secret organisations such as the Rockites and the Whitefeet. O’Hanlon recorded the impression left on him by the Ballykilcavan evictions of 1828, and it is possible that the seeds of his advocacy of constitutional politics and of Home Rule may have been sown by his attendance in his fifteenth year at O’Connell’s meeting on the Great Heath in January 1836. (31)  It is likely that those early influences – in combination with his pastoral desire to better the lot of the despairing poor that he had encountered firstly in St Louis, then in the poorhouse in James’s Street, (32) and subsequently throughout his career as a priest in central Dublin and in Sandymount generated in him the vision that emerges in his writings in later life. By no means a radical priest, and always submissive to the authority of his archbishop, (33) he nevertheless had a political conscience, which surfaces in his attitude to the land question in 1881 (see pp. 126-30), and in two publications by him in 1891-2 in the context of the Home Rule debate of that time.

There seems no doubt that these works were produced as a deliberate contribution to that debate. Both were new editions by O’Hanlon of works by earlier authors: William Molyneux and Henry Joseph Monck Mason. In the edition of Molyneux, whose work on its first issue in 1698 had been publicly burned, O’Hanlon, writing in September 1891, says that he attempted ‘to make it suitable for popular reading, at a period also when a study of Ireland’s former struggles for parliamentary independence ought naturally aid in shaping and directing the future life of a nation, that demands the permanent establishment of Home Rule, and the inalienable rights of constitutional self-government’. (34)   In his introduction to Mason’s work – a book he dedicated to Gladstone in March of the same year, he allowed himself a lengthy polemic on the subject, an extract from which we have reproduced below.

John O’Hanlon’s interest in the Home Rule question extended beyond the polemical. He attended some of the Home Rule debates in the House of Commons in June 1893, (35) and, in September, in his dedication of his collected poems to the Countess of Aberdeen, he allowed himself to compare the state of Canada, which he had visited less than two years before, with that of Ireland:

The scope and powers for useful legislation contained in the Irish Home Rule Bill – which lately passed its third reading in the House of Commons – are, altogether, similar to those provisions, which confer on the Provinces of the Dominion their respective Charters of Freedom. The malign and sinister obstruction to which Irish Home Rule has been subjected through bigotry, unnatural party combination, class prejudice and selfishness, must finally give place to the establishment of a Constitution, which shall secure equal rights and liberties for all creeds and parties in Ireland, while promoting and consolidating still more the strength and resources of the British Empire. (36)

The bitterness with which he expresses himself in 1897 on ‘this darkest hour of our degradation and disgrace’, (37) following the Parnellite split, and the resignation of Gladstone, is heartfelt, but, having abandoned all hope of Home Rule, he still clung to his vision of O’Connell as the ideal Irish politician of the nineteenth century. But for his dedication and determination as its secretary, the various delays and setbacks encountered during the twenty years of the existence of the O’Connell Monument Committee might have proved fatal to that project. Even after the monument had been erected in Sackville Street, Dublin, O’Hanlon pursued for many years the Committee’s plan, by then long abandoned, to produce a definitive and comprehensive biography of the Liberator, until eventually he too abandoned the work in favour of attempting to organise his long-planned project of the History of the Queen’s County, in the years left to him before his death. (38)

It is tempting to view his efforts in the cause of the memory of Daniel O’Connell as another aspect of his hagiographical endeavours. To take this view, however, would be to deny O’Hanlon his right to be viewed as a conscientious historian. His ‘Life of William Molyneux’ is a fine piece of biographical writing, (39) and, from the evidence of proofs that survive of the abandoned work, (40) there is no reason to believe that his biography of Daniel O’Connell would have been anything other than that also.

The determination and single-mindedness that he brought to his work, and the wide reading and scholarship evident in his writing, do not detract from the reverence and affection in which he held the subjects he chronicled in the Lives of the Irish saints. Apart from his recognition of hagiography as a branch of history, O’Hanlon had a clear devotion to the subjects about whom he wrote. In that light, it has to be admitted that in his final assessment of the Liberator, there is a hint of O’Hanlon’s regard for the otherness of the saints, statements of which we have reproduced in his writings below (pp. 172-5):

It would be difficult to estimate the qualifications of mind and body, this extraordinary moral force leader possessed. Comprehensive and clear in all its conceptions, gifted with rare prudence and caution, forecasting his own varied and farreaching action by most rational safe and practical means to attain its ends through all the details of progress – keeping correct maxims and essentially self-evident moral principles steadily in view, whilst using temporary expedients and policy as occasions best served – his mind soared far above the selfish considerations and meaner ambition of many gifted men. An intense love of country and adhesion to the best interests of religion were the beacons that guided his honest and persistent career. Intrepid and daring when circumstances required, he knew the value and efficiency of selfrestraint and patient perseverance, under difficult and responsible trials. With a naturally warm, impulsive generous heart and disposition his judgement was ever sound and keenly penetrating. The powers of his amazing intellect were versatile, vigorous and sustained. His deep and exquisitely modulated tones of voice fell with magical effect on myriads of his humble countrymen; and even his startling and unpremeditated bursts of impassioned eloquence elicited the admiration of those most hostile to his measures and policy. (41)

*     *     *

The methodical and determined manner in which O’Hanlon pursued his literary and scholarly projects resulted in an extraordinary productivity in published work. With this came an equally extraordinary administrative burden. This was particularly the case with Lives of the Irish saints, which was issued in over one hundred separate parts, from 1873 onwards, as well as being bound in ten volumes. Despite the latter-day assertion that the subscriptions were administered by the publishers, (42) the hundreds of letters from subscribers bound in Russell Library MSS OH 15-37 show that much of the work was done by O’Hanlon himself, and that the administrative load must have been huge.  By 1897 eight volumes of the work had been published, and the first two parts of Volume 9 were ready for issue in November of that year: ‘but as over £400 had been owing to me,’ wrote O’Hanlon, ‘which I was obliged to collect through the Dublin Mercantile Association agency, what I could of that amount, and to get rid of defaulting subscribers, awaiting their report, I have deferred sending parts to bona fide subscribers.’ (43)   By 1899, with the desire to produce the History of the Queen’s County still foremost in his mind, he had come to realize that the great project of the saints’ lives would never be completed. (44)   This was also to be the fate of the History of the Queen’s County, though a death-bed plea from him in 1905 ensured that completion of sorts was brought to that publication in 1914. (45)

One hundred years after his death, hagiographical studies have moved on, as they must, and one’s impression is that O’Hanlon is seldom cited as a source in modern, professional studies, though his work remains a treasury of local information and tradition. Looking back on that work now, on all of his interests and on the great energy that he devoted both to them and to his work as a priest, we can only wonder at and admire the list of accomplishments and achievements that are associated with his name. In the context of the Lives of the Irish saints alone, though a modest man, it is not difficult to imagine that John O’Hanlon might have had his own endeavours in mind when he described in the following words the work of the American Catholic historian, John Gilmary Shea:

At last, a single individual was providentially found, who could appreciate at their true worth the great memories of men that had passed away, and who had a thorough capacity for historic investigation, as also an indefatigable industry to bring from their long hidden recesses those irrefragable evidences of achievements and heroic lives deserving to be registered and revered. (46) 


1. See Appendix 4.
2. See Appendix 1, under the year 1842.
3. Leinster Express 21 May 1842. In the edition of 30 April1842, the Express stated: ‘We witness the “bone and sinew” of the land – a bold and energetic race of men – leaving our shores in despair and disgust, and truly it is a melancholy – a degrading reflection.’
4. The life of Saint Malachy O’Morgair, vi.
5. Irish-American history, vi.
6. Appendix 2 § 8.
7. On 24 September 1902, O’Hanlon sent his friend Cardinal Moran ‘a collection of Autograph Letters of celebrated Irish writers torn out of the books in which I had them bound, as material for your Museum’ (Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney: Cardinal Moran Archive, Box U 2419).  
8. ‘I had purposed on Monday evening next to attend the [Royal Irish] Academy for the purpose of electing him as a member of the Council. Alas! that instead of doing him this honour, I can only hope to manifest my deep regret and respect by attending his funeral on Tuesday’ (NLI Denis Florence MacCarthy Papers, Accession 1550Box 1, Folder 1: O’Hanlon to John MacCarthy, 8 April 1882). See Appendix 1, under the year 1882.
9. … my dear and delightful former friend John Francis O’Donnell’ (UCD Department of Archives LA 15/1288).
10. Shannon-Mangan, James Clarence Mangan, 72, 74. See O’Hanlon’s letters
of condolence to P. J. McCall (20 January, 18 February 1902) in NLI MS 13875.
11.Cf. John Keegan Casey’s ‘Lecture on the influence of national poetry’ in Roe, Reliques of John K. Casey, 221-8.
12. O’Hanlon administered the Last Rights to O’Daly, 20 April 1878 (Calm, ‘John ODaly’). O’Hanlon had the good fortune to be able to call on the scholarly and literary talents of his parishioners in the two Dublin parishes in which he served. In Írishtown, for instance, two of his parishioners were John Gerald McSweeny (editor of the Weekly Freeman, and signatory to the 1897 address), and the geologist Joseph P. O’Reilly (DDA Walsh Papers 1890, Secular Clergy: O’Hanlon to Walsh, 18 November 1890).
l3. See Appendix 1, under the year 1877. The council adjourned its meeting of 16 May 1905 as a mark of respect to O’Hanlon (Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language report for 1905,69-70).
14. United Irishman 20 May 1905. See Appendix 1, under the year 1900. For more on his engagement with the Irish language, see Breatnach agus NI Mhurchti, Beathaisnéis, 106-7.
15. For the development of folklore studies in Ireland during this period see Ó Giolláin, Locating Irishfolklore.16.  ‘Father Meehan met a woman who sought alms. He counted his treasury; it amounted to a shilling, and he gave her sixpence. He was rather sceptical about her bona fides, and after some consideration followed her round the corner to see if his doubts were justified. She went into a public house, and before Father Meehan could intervene, had demolished a glass of whiskey. As he came out he was caught by Father O’Hanlon; and the two regained the presbytery in silence, when the latter simply shook his comrade by the hand, more is sorrow than in anger’ (Irish Times 16 May 1905).
17. On Lanigan’s influence on the study of Irish antiquity in the nineteenth century see Collins, Catholic churchmen, 64-7.
18. See Appendix 1, under the year 1861.
19. The Life of SaintMalachy O’Morgair, Prospectus [following p.222] p.iii.
20. McCartney, ‘Canon O’Hanlon: historian of the Queen’s County’, 594.
21. Lives of the Irish saints X, numbers 100 and 101 (Dublin City Library and Archive).
22. Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society New Series, 1(1856-7)153-4 and 192-4.
23. ‘Owing to the kindness of his learned and lamented friend, the late John O’Donovan, LL.D., the writer was introduced to the chiefs of this department….  Many a solitary and studious hour has he passed in the Ordnance
Survey Library…’ (Lives of the Irish saints I, lxvii n. 33). O’Donovan was the ‘gentle ollamh‘ of O’Hanlon’s verse in ‘The Land of Leix’ (Poetical works of Lageniensis, 92). For O’Hanlon’s grief at the death of O’Curry, see Appendix 2 § 3.
24. The life of Saint Laurence O’Toole, Prospectus [following p. 186], p. [iii].
25. E.g. Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society New Series, 1 (1856-7) 297, 322, 324; 4 (1862-3) 238-40.
26. Ibid., New Series 2 (1858-9) 48.
27. Lives of the Irish saints VIII, 329-30.
28. Ibid. X, 206.
29. The life of Saint Laurence O’Toole, vi.
30. DDA Walsh Papers 1897, Secular Clergy: O’Hanlon to Walsh, 17 May 1897. ‘
31. See notes to ‘The Land of Leix’, p. 278 below; and Appendix 1, under
the year 1836. Q’Hanlon’s political outlook is analysed in McCartney, ‘Canon Q’Hanlon: historian of the Queen’s County’.
32. Appendix 2 § 2.
33. Appendix 2 § 4.
34. The case of Ireland’s being bound by Acts of Parliament, viii.
35. ‘I have to state that I am going to the House of Commons this evening, where I hope to meet my friend Mr. Alfred Webb, or some of the Irish members I happen to meet, to get me an order for admission to hear something about Home Rule and its prospects’ (UCD Dept of Archives LA15/1297: O’Hanlon to D. J. Q’Donoghue, 13 June 1893). Webb was MP for West Waterford, 1890-95.
36.  The poetical works of Lageniensis, viii.
37. Notes to Appendix 2 § 9.
38. O’Hanlon stated in 1902 that the History had ‘engaged my time and researches for more than thirty past years of my life’ (letter to Leinster Express 26 April 1902).
39. The case of Ireland’s being bound by Acts of Parliament, xi-xlv.
40. Appendix 3 § 2.
41. Russell Library, Maynooth, MS OH 39/6, unnumbered page; cf. O’Hanlon, Catechism of Irish history, 494
42. Carey, ‘O’Hanlon of “the Irish Saints” ” 159.
43. DDA Walsh Papers 1897, Secular Clergy: O’Hanlon to Archbishop William J. Walsh, 1 November 1897.
44. See Appendix 3 § 1.
45. See Appendix 1, under the years 1907 and 1914. Despite the fact that he had been preparing the work since 1883 with his series ‘Old churches of Leix’, followed, in 1888, by his series ‘Historic memorials of Leix’, volume I of the History, which he had seen in proof, still bore the signs of hurried preparation, and, though generally well received, was not without its critics: ‘We cannot commend the chapters dealing with the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, inasmuch as the numerous documents of the State Papers, the Song of Dermot, the Plea Rolls, etc., do not appear to have been consulted’ (W. H. Grattan Flood in New Ireland Review 28 (1907-8) 317).
46. O’Hanlon, ‘The Catholic Church in the United States’ (1892) 496-7.

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