Banada Augustinian Friary, Co. Sligo.
Extract from "One Glimpse of Ireland: The Manuscript of Fr. Nicolás (Fearghal Dubh) Ó Gadhra, OSA by Pádraig Ó Macháin".
This month marks the 300th anniversary of the binding of the Book of O'Gara by Brian Higgins of Dublin. The manuscript which is now in the Royal Irish Academy MS 2 (23 F16), was written between the years 1655 and 1659 by a member of the Augustinian Order, Fearghal Dubh Ó Gadhra, whose name in religion was Fr Nicolás. The writing was mostly done at Lille but at least three items were written in Brussels. Of the original manuscript 218 pages survive today.The manuscript contains a total of 203 items of verse in the entire manuscript, practically all of which belongs to the type of poetry of the classical, Early Modern era, known as bardic verse. When it was intact, the O’Gara Manuscript contained 107 bardic poems not found in the Book of the O’Conor Don. It also contained 27 poems, primary copies of which are not found in any other manuscript; as it survives today, it has 22 unique bardic poems.
Quite a number of the poems in the O’Gara Manuscript are anonymous, but ascriptions are recorded in the case of the work of over thirty poets, of whom the most popular is Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (d.1591). The manuscript contains sixteen poems by Tadhg – seventeen if we include a poem on a lost page (p. 219). Together with the Book of the O’Conor Don and National Library of Scotland MS 72.1.44, it constitutes one of the major sources for the work of this poet. This may reflect a special interest in the poet as, in the generation preceding Fr Ó Gadhra’s, Tadhg Dall lived in the neighbourhood of the Augustinian Friary of Banada, in the townland of Coolrecuill, just a couple of miles distant along the banks of the Moy. It was to Banada that Fr Ó Gadhra returned after his exile, and it was also possibly the point from where he had been expelled.
When we read the O’Gara Manuscript today, we are looking at poems copied from books that no longer survive. Though the contents of the manuscript include a poem such as ‘A mheic ná meabhraigh éigse’ (p. 94), which laments the contemporary neglect of poetry, and other poems on the downfall of the Gaelic nobility (n. 40), this is not a book that reflects a literature either in decline or in transition. Rather, it highlights the richness and variety of five centuries of core literary activity. A note inside the manuscript informs is that the task of securing it for future generations was was achieved when it ‘was bound by Bryan Higgins of the City of Dublin’ in October 1715.
The painting shown here is of Banada Augustinian Friary by Wakeman (1878) location of the burial of Tadgh Dall Ó hUiginn and the place where the author of the Book of O'Gara returned after his exile in Belgium.