Roderic O'Flaherty, born 1628 - died 1718

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1 (1880), edited by Charles A. Read

Among antiquarians and historical writers and students the name of Roderic O'Flaherty, the author of Ogygia, stands deservedly high. His life was passed in a time full of miseries and disasters to his country, of wars and rumours of wars, yet none of these could draw him aside from the path he had marked out for himself. He saw the race of which he was writing melting away before him, and it might well seem that the day might come when there would be none of it left to read his writings. Still he held on his way, and laboured as only those labour who enjoy their work for itself more than for the fame it brings. As a result he has left us works "entitled to rank among the most learned and agreeable that have been bequeathed to any country."

O'Flaherty was born at the paternal mansion of Park, near Galway, in the year 1628, his father being then principal proprietor of the barony of Moycullen. Soon after his father died, and in 1630 he was declared a king's ward--the equivalent of our present ward in Chancery. Before he became of age the king had been beheaded, the Cromwellian wars had spread into Connaught, and he had retired to Sligo for shelter from the storm. There he met with Duald MacFirbis, with whom he studied the Irish language and literature. After the Restoration he returned to Galway, to find the lands of his family in the possession of one Martin, or "Nimble Dick Martin," as he was called. "I live," O'Flaherty said, "a banished man within the bounds of my native soil; a spectator of others enriched by my birthright; an object of condoling to my relatives and friends, and a condoler of their miseries." He immediately entered into legal warfare with Martin, and somehow managed to get possession of the family mansion, but it was not until seventeen years after his death that his son finally ejected the usurpers from the patrimonial lands. Before this he had made the acquaintance of John Lynch, author of Cambrensis Eversus, who induced him to undertake the labour of his great work Ogygia. This was, it seems, completed about 1665, but did not appear in print till 1684, when it was issued in the original Latin. From the Latin the work was afterwards translated into English by J. Hely, and published in Dublin in 1693. Very soon after its appearance it came under the notice of Sir George Mackenzie, lord-advocate of Scotland, who strove to make light of its authority. This caused O'Flaherty to produce his Ogygia Vindicae, which, though much spoken of as settling the question in dispute, was not printed until 1775, when it was issued under the care of Charles O'Conor. In 1709 Sir Thomas Molyneux, brother of the celebrated William Molyneux, made a journey to Connaught and called upon O'Flaherty, whom he found "very old and in miserable condition," though proud-spirited and fond of his studies. Nine years later, at the age of ninety, the old man passed away, the last of the ancient race of Irish historians and chronologers.

In addition to his Ogygia and Ogygia Vindicae, O'Flaherty wrote A Chorographical Description of West or H-Iar Connaught, Ogygia Christianae, which it is feared is lost, and several smaller pieces, the very names of which have perished. The Description of H-Iar Connaught has been edited by Mr. J. Hardiman for the Irish Archaeological Society, and published in 1846. Allibone says, "O'Flaherty was something like an antiquarian: the Christian era was with him quite a modern date."

In O'Flaherty's works as they originally appeared there is a purity of style not very usual in his age. Though the author shows himself to be a man of imagination, he is never credulous, and he never forgets the nobility of the calling to which he has devoted himself. "At times," says Magee, "he smothers a point in illustrations. But there is great dignity in his embellishments." All his works are agreeable reading to any one who likes the old-world flavour that pervades them. Among English writers he is spoken of by Belling and quoted with approbation by the clear-headed Stillingfleet.