O'Donovan: The Martyrology of Donegal

Pdf O'Donovan, John. The Martyrology of Donegal: A Calendar of the Saints of Ireland. Dublin: Alexander Thom, 1864.
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The Martyrology of Donegal was written by Mícheál Ó Cléirigh (1590-1643) in the 17th century and edited and translated by John O'Donovan in the 1864. The martyrology is based on a series of earlier documents which recorded the saints of Donegal, their feast days and biographical details.

Ó Cléirigh was a significant Gaelic Irish scholar who was responsible for assembling several important historical chronicles in the 1630s such as the Annals of the Four Masters and The Book of Invasions. He was assisted by other Irish scholars, most notably Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrinus Ó Duibhgeannain. His Martyrology of Donegal resembles the similar Martyrology of Tallaght assembled by Saint Máel Ruain.

The lives of the saints recorded in the compilation give a picture of the sophistication of early Christian Ireland which became known as the land of 'saints and scholars' during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire. The invasion of Gaul by the Franks and the arrival of Saxons in Roman Britain was followed by a reversion of Christian Europe to paganism and the disappearance of learning and knowledge.

The Irish monastic communities preserved and protected what was saved and in time Irish saints followed in the footsteps of St. Patrick and led apostolic missions to Europe. In particular the Donegal born St. Columba or St. Colmcille converted the pagan Scottish Pict tribes and his followers continued into southern England. The Franks who controlled what is now France, Germany and Italy also converted creating what would become known as Christendom. Many of these saints died for the faith, performed miracles and wonders and had exciting adventures chronicled in Ó Cléirigh's work.

Mícheál Ó Cléirigh himself led an eventful life. He was baptized Tadhg Ó Cléirigh and was the grandson of a chief of the Ó Cléirigh clan but took the name Mícheál in 1623 when he became a Franciscan friar. It is believed he had previously served as a soldier in Spain in 1621. As a monk he pursued a scholarly career, as a scribe, antiquarian, author and collaborator with fellow historians. It not known precisely when he died but it is believed to have been in 1643 in Louvain, Belgium in 1643.

John O'Donovan (1806-1861) was an important Irish language scholar born in Co. Kilkenny. His work with early Irish law texts, genealogies and folklore remains unsurpassed. He was also noted for his claim to be the legitimate chief of the O'Donovan clan. This lineage could not be proven but at the time he believed it sincerely and many of his contemporaries were prepared to concede it was the case.

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