Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Annales Dominicani de Roscoman (Author: [unknown])

Annales Dominicani de Roscoman, 1163—1314: Introduction

Specific periods of history are characterized by exceptional intellectual activity. The background to the Dominican Annals of Roscommon exemplifies two such periods in Ireland. This newly-discovered source is a seventeenth-century copy of much earlier material. These annals deal with the late twelfth to the early fourteenth century and were originally compiled at the Dominican Priory in the town of Roscommon. The only known copy is preserved in a manuscript which belonged to the noted historian and collector of manuscripts, Sir James Ware of Dublin. The following introduction consists of three parts. It begins with an explanation of annals for those who wish to refresh their understanding of the subject, before assessing this specific document in the context of its composition at Roscommon, and Sir James Ware's acquisitions as an antiquary. We are dealing here with a series of selective extracts by Ware.

Annals are 'a record of events arranged under the year of occurrence,' without any necessary link between them.2 They can range from simple notes regarding individual events in a single year to more detailed narratives. Many may still regard the Annals of the Four Masters as the annals of Ireland though, in fact, the work of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and his associates was based on other earlier annals.3 Monastic houses in Ireland routinely compiled historical records and, before the arrival of the Normans, the quantity and quality of Irish annals are unique.4

It is believed that annals first developed in monasteries from marginal notes in Easter tables, serving as a reminder for the commemoration of deceased abbots on the day of their death.5 One school of thought contends that the writing of annals emerged in 'an old field of Irish culture', at the monastery of St Gall, or Sankt Gallen. 6 Manuscript annals were regularly distributed to other abbeys where copies were made and new records were added.7 Later, during the Norman period, French annals were continued in England and in Ireland. 8 As correspondence from Finn, the reforming bishop of Kildare, to Áed, 'prime historian of Leinster', shows, the Norman period was also a time of educated awareness regarding ancient Irish culture. 9

The Dominicans, the friars preachers, first settled in Ireland in 1224, three years after the death of their founder St Dominic. As mendicants, the Dominicans were part of a new initiative.10 The friars' rule forbade them from owning property in common and obliged them to support themselves with donations from benefactors. The first Dominican houses in Ireland were founded at Dublin and at Drogheda, reflecting the extent of Norman control over the country at that time and the concentration of population in urban areas. 11

The westward expansion of Norman rule into Connacht followed in the 1230s. In the next decade, Meiler de Bermingham, second baron of Athenry, founded the first Dominican friary in Connacht at Athenry. The Priory of St Mary was established in Roscommon in 1253 by Felim O'Connor, king of Connacht, who according to the Athenry Register, had provided the patronage for the refectory at the Dominican house. The medieval register or chronicle of Athenry has clear links with the Dominican annals of Roscommon dealt with in this project.

According to Sir James Ware the name of the principal compiler was Odo O'Hanmerech. O'Hanmerech's death is recorded in an entry for the year 1306 where he is described as lector of the order of preachers at Roscommon. After his death an unnamed confrère continued making entries in the annals for a further eight years. These annals are, perhaps, the only surviving witness to the life of Friar Odo. The Irish form of his name is Áed Ó hAinmereach. His background had an important bearing upon the composition of his annals. As stated by Aubrey Gwynn, there exists a plentiful supply of dependable documentary evidence from this time, much of it compiled in what are termed Anglo-Irish annals.12 Here, the work of Odo O'Hanmerech draws a distinction by revealing a Gaelic perspective and impressive genealogical knowledge. This helps to explain Sir James Ware's interest in the contents.

Odo O'Hanmerech inherited a long tradition of compiling annals with brief entries in concise Latin. Written for the most part in the perfect active tense, they convey a sense of immediacy to the reader which, to our eyes today, resembles news headlines telling of elections and political assassinations, kidnappings, wars and famines. A familiarity with the contemporary record of events and their protagonists is, therefore, helpful. O'Hanmerech's annals, chiefly for the years 1169–1273, share many entries in common with Pembridge, Grace, the Annals of Christ Church, Dublin, and those of Multyfarnham, which are the subject of substantial work by Bernadette Williams. 13

I will preface the following observations by stating that Ware was making an abbreviated copy of the original manuscript. Benefactors of the Dominicans feature prominently throughout, especially the O'Connors of Connacht which is to be expected when one considers that it was Felim O'Connor who invited the Dominican order to Roscommon. Further, Maurice MacNéill O'Connor was a Dominican friar, confirmed bishop of Elphin by royal assent in 1266. 14 Since Bishop O'Connor presided over the diocese for the next two decades and perhaps resided at the Dominican Priory, Roscommon, he and Odo O'Hanmerech would have been direct contemporaries.

The entries commence in the year 1163, simply stating that 'Ruadhrí O'Connor builds the Castle at Tuam.' Further evidence indicates that this was a fortified residence and administrative centre, rather than just a garrisoned stronghold.15 At present, the only corresponding source that I can find to match this is the Annals of Tigernach, sub anno 1164. Odo names a further five fortified structures as having been built between 1206 and 1300: those at Cork, Áed O'Connor's castle at Loch Scur, County Leitrim, the royal castles in Connacht at Roscommon and Athlone, and at Ballymote, raised by the Red Earl, Richard de Burgo, at the turn of the century.

Unedifying incidents for the O'Connors appear glossed over, such as the blinding of Murrough by his father, Ruadhrí, king of Connacht. In the only case of plundering recorded, Iniscloghran in 1193, O'Hanmerech attributes it to De Lacy, making no mention of another of Ruadhrí O'Connor's sons, Conor Maenmoy, whose involvement is referred to by the Four Masters.

The fortunes of four generations of O'Connor kings of Connacht are referred to by Odo O'Hanmerech. Cathal Croibhdhearg and Felim O'Connor are to the fore but the obit for the former does not appear. The lengthiest entries relate to Athankip, which represented the first major Anglo-Norman defeat in battle.16 Next in terms of length is the entry relating to the assassination of Maurice O'Connor Faly and his brother, Calvagh, which O'Hanmerech attributes to Peter de Bermingham. These deaths are referred to in several sets of annals and were subsequently cited in the Remonstrance sent by the Irish to Pope John XXII in 1317.17

Almost half of the recorded events relate to the province of Connacht. In proportion, the number of entries referring to Ulster are next, followed by entries of direct relevance to the Dominican order, the provinces of Munster and Leinster respectively, 18 ecclesiastical matters applicable to Ireland and Europe; and political relations with England. An entry about St Thomas of Canterbury suggests that Odo was sympathetic towards that Becket's defence of ecclesiastical liberties, a point raised by Gwynn with regard to other Irish annals for the period.19

The period dealt with in the Dominican annals of Roscommon coincides with one and a half centuries corresponding to the founding of the Anglo-Norman colony prior to the Irish resurgence witnessed in the early fourteenth century. The priority which Odo O'Hanmerech gives to events in the western and northern provinces maps the extent of de Burgo authority which, from 1250, controlled much of Connacht and held the earldom of Ulster. Apart from the patronage his family provided to the Dominicans at Athenry, the Walter de Burgo, earl of Ulster and lord of Connacht, also founded a convent for the order at Lorrha, near Nenagh, County Tipperary, in 1269.20

The geography of O'Hanmerech's annals is consistent with the foundation of Dominican houses in Ireland. Near the start we have entries relating to the O'Brien kings of Munster who, for instance, founded the Dominican friary at Limerick in 1241. 21 Here we also find Donal O'Donnell, king of Tír Chonaill and founder of the friary at Derry, who was killed by his own people. His successor Godfrey O'Donnell draws the ire of Odo's pen. While no reference is made to Strongbow, the death of his son, William Marshal the younger, founder of the Dominican friary at Kilkenny, is mentioned. In addition, the lord justice, Maurice Fitzgerald, protector and benefactor of the friars preachers at Sligo, is referred to at some length.

Entries about the death or election of bishops and archbishops proliferate, interspersed with historical events of general interest. Obits for the three Dominican friars elected archbishop of Armagh in the thirteenth century are included. The deaths of David MacKelly OP, founder of the Dominican friary at Cashel, County Tipperary, who served as archbishop of Cashel, and John O'Lee, Dominican bishop of Killala from 1253–75, are also recorded. As is often the case with the compilation of annals for this period, the years assigned to events, 'where these are mentioned in other sources are often a year or two out of step'.22 A further five Dominican bishops are absent. This may be explained by the fact that Sir James Ware made extracts from larger originals. As a means of comparison, many entries relevant to the Dominican order are found in the Annals of Connacht, but not those of Odo O'Hanmerech.

O'Hanmerech casts an impartial eye over the deeds of Anglo-Norman and Irish alike. He seems to take a dim view, for instance, of the killing of O'Dowd by his own grandson in 1192, immediately before reporting on the construction of the castle and bridge by the English bishop at Athlone in the next entry. In 1209, we read also that Finin MacCarthy, king of Desmond, was slain 'by the treachery and fraud of his own native people.' O'Hanmerech's attention is often diverted by natural phenomena, especially heavy falls of snow and ice which made local lakes and the River Galvia traversable on foot.

We owe the recent discovery of this medieval source to Kenneth Nicholls of University College Cork. The manuscript is preserved in London at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum where it was acquired for its armorial bindings. In common with other Ware manuscripts, this work is bound in dark-brown sheepskin and stamped with gilt arms of Sir James Ware on the covers. The armorial bookplates are, however, from the eighteenth century. The V&A manuscript is part of the Clements Collection which contains a library of bindings displaying armorial devices, assembled by Beresford Clements of County Leitrim and bequeathed by him to the Museum in 1940.

Sir James Ware was a senior state official, born in Dublin in 1594. His father, Sir James Ware senior, came to Ireland in 1588, held office as auditor general and built up a landed estate. The young James Ware entered Trinity College Dublin in 1610 where he was a pupil of James Ussher. Ussher, as well as being a professor at Trinity, served as Protestant bishop of Meath before his appointment in the established state church as archbishop of Armagh. Wishing to prove the primacy of the Protestant Church in Ireland, he and Ware initiated new historical studies by which Irish Protestant antiquarians came to identify with Gaelic culture. 23

By 1628, Sir James Ware owned the Annals of Ulster and was compiling notes from the Black Book of Christ Church. Reflecting his interest in the succession of the Irish bishops, as seen in these annals, he published a history of the archbishops of Cashel and Tuam in 1626 to which he appended a history of the Cistercian Order in Ireland. Two years later, Ware brought to print a record of the dioceses of Leinster. In 1629, he made his first visit to England, undertaking research in several libraries and later, while working at the Bodleian, Ware was made a doctor of civil law.

Throughout his career as a public servant, Sir James Ware remained resolutely royalist in political outlook. 24 In the 1630s, he served on the staff the staff of Charles I's lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford. The following decade, James Butler, marquis of Ormond, sent Ware to London on his behalf. Ware dedicated two of his published works to Wentworth in 1633 and 1639, the first of which consisted of historical accounts of Ireland by Campion, Hanmer and Spenser. This made an immediate impression, leading to Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa, termed by Bernadette Cunningham 'a refutation of all that Spenser represented.'25 Ware's other historical works were, in the main, composed of annals. He published his annals of Ireland for the reign of Henry VII followed by those for Henry VIII, a second edition of which included the reign of Mary. 26

On his return to Ireland in 1649, Ware was banished from Dublin by the parliamentarian Colonel Michael Jones.27 At this point our antiquarian moved to London where, in 1654, he published the first edition of his De Hibernia et antiquitatibus eius disquisitiones, a history of Ireland from its origins until the Anglo-Norman conquest. Better known as the Antiquitates, this is regarded as the most noteworthy of Ware's works in print. According to William O'Sullivan, biographical lists of clergy are still partly dependent on Ware's work, while 'his notebooks and manuscripts remain of first importance for the study of medieval Ireland.'28

At the Restoration in 1660, Ware returned to Ireland where he once more took up his post as auditor-general. He died at his family home in Dublin six years later. After the death of his wife, Mary, Ware was survived by four of their ten children. Further details of Ware's life are available from the articles by Graham Parry and William O'Sullivan in the biographical dictionaries (ODNB and DIB), which are referred to above in the bibliography and published in recent years at Oxford and Cambridge.

The collection of these annals by Sir James Ware dates from the period when the first attempts were being made to construct a history of Ireland. They clearly illustrate the type of material that was available both for that purpose and for the use of those who should desire to influence contemporary policy by the appeal to history. 29 Ware's Tudor predecessors, such as Sir Robert Cotton and Sir George Carew, were mainly interested in the early records of Anglo-Norman settlement in Ireland.30 By the close of the thirteenth century 'that colony had come to a consciousness of itself as something neither altogether English nor altogether Irish, but as a kind of entity of its own with a special character, interests and history.'31 This consciousness is reflected in the period immediately afterwards — the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century — 'by a movement towards the assembly of the records of the colony and of the various institutions within it.'32

This document does not occur among the manuscript collection started by Ware during his work in the auditor general's office in 1617–18, which he recorded in a list begun after 1625. Between 1627 and 1636, Ware listed a number of new manuscripts which he had recently consulted. The Dominican Annals of Roscommon do not appear here either.33 Nevertheless, according to O'Sullivan, from then on Ware pursued 'a vigorous accessions policy' up to the publication of his Catalogus in 1648: 'the very first printed catalogue of a private manuscript library'. 34 Here we find a manuscript referred to as Fragmentum Annalium cujusdam Anonymi Conatiensis ab anno 1238 usq; ad annum 1314. 35 Since the 1640s were a decade disrupted by incessant conflict, Ware therefore appears to have copied from the exemplar for this manuscript between 1636 and 1644 when he was sent to London on the part of Ormond.

This leads to another question that is, from who did Ware borrow the original manuscript? Comparing the contents of entries with those of the Annals of Connacht indicates a close connection between the two sources after the year 1224. According to Gearóid Mac Niocaill, the two chief Connacht sets of annals for the middle ages 'both derive from a text compiled by a member of the Ó Maolchonaire family, probably in the fifteenth century'.36

Ware was conscious of the importance of Irish records. Nollaig Ó Muraíle and Bernadette Cunningham have illustrated the links between the scribal work of Sir James Ware and Gaelic scholars, such as Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and Mícheál Ó Cléirigh.37 We also know that, in 1627, Ware received another manuscript of annals from Muiris Ó Maolchonaire of Roscommon.38 The Uí Mhaoil Chonaire of Roscommon continued to make a substantial contribution to seventeenth-century scholarship. On these grounds, the idea that Ware was given the Annales Dominicani de Roscoman by either the Uí Mhaoil Chonaire or their near neighbour Brian O'Beirne is persuasive.

A few remarks about Ware's methods are appropriate here. His note to 'The other side of ye roll' indicates that the exemplar was written on vellum. Reflecting the costly price of paper in the early seventeenth century, Ware wrote on both sides of each page. The text is written in a single hand with marginal notes added by another scribe, evidently from the pen of Sir James Ware's copyist.39 Ware wrote in a secretarial hand but with many italic forms, such as his capital letters. He may have updated the spelling of names and certainly did so with his spelling of 'O'Conner'. Occasionally, for those engaged in the study of manuscripts in the seventeenth century, content was central whereas the written form was peripheral. Ware regularly abbreviated names. The exemplar appears to have been loaned to him without recourse to other manuscript material. He states on the opening page, 'I have these Annales in an auncient MS.' but the exemplar for this transcript must have been in his hands for only a short period of time. This is clear from the hastiness with which he wrote and the fact that the entries become increasingly brief on detail. In contrast to other annals and chronicles in Ware's collection, the entries for these specific annals do not occur in any of his other manuscripts.

Ware's manuscript collection has an intriguing history. After his death in 1665, they passed into the hands of his son, Robert Ware. Later, in the possession of Henry Hyde, 2nd earl of Clarendon, lord lieutenant of Ireland, they became known as the Clarendon manuscripts before subsequently appearing in the hands of James Brydges, 1st duke of Chandos.40 In the early 1730s, Jonathan Swift attempted to unite the collections of Sir James Ware with those of James Ussher in Trinity College Library. Had this happened, to quote the manuscript scholar Robin Flower, 'all those invaluable materials for Irish history now scattered between Dublin, London and Oxford (some portions being irretrievably lost on the way) would have been united, to the great convenience of students, under one roof.'41

Ware's collection offers an abundance of ecclesiastical, especially monastic, antiquities. In the case of these annals, they became part of a working library which Ware drew upon. There are 'few topics in Irish history on which some note or extract is not to be found'.42 The Dominican Annals of Roscommon were, for instance, among his sources for the Antiquitates. Here we find reference to the spearhead, a cubit in length which, according to Odo O'Hanmerech, was found when the River Galvia dried up in the year 1190.43

For the most part, Ware's collection consists of transcripts of documents rather than original manuscripts. As with the work of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, many of the exemplars for Ware's transcripts have since disappeared. Thus Ware's copies and the copies made under his direction stand in their place, alongside the scholarship of his contemporary Ó Cléirigh.44

To conclude the medieval annals of Odo O'Hanmerech, fortunately preserved by Sir James Ware, are, like the funerary effigy of Felim O'Connor, a memorial to the past. The Dominican Priory, Roscommon, where they were written, remains a visible sign of our heritage. Once hidden, these annals and their heritage prove that a good story can be shared and endures forever.

Benjamin Hazard, 21 August 2012.