James Joseph Callanan

Callanan, James Joseph, a poet, was born in Cork in 1795. Intended for the priesthood, he entered at Maynooth; but finding that he had no vocation for the Church, he left the college in 1816, and became a tutor in his native city. Subsequently he entered Trinity College with a view to legal studies, a course he also soon abandoned. His resources being completely exhausted, he enlisted, and was upon the point of sailing to Malta with his regiment, the 18th Royal Irish, when some friends bought him out. In 1823 he became an assistant in the school of Dr. Maginn at Cork, where he remained only a few months; but through Maginn's introduction he became a contributor to Blackwood and other magazines. During six years, and up to 1829, he spent most of his time in rambling through the country, collecting old ballads and legends, and giving them a new dress in a new tongue. His health began to fail, however, a warmer climate appeared desirable, and early in 1829 he became tutor in the family of an Irish gentleman at Lisbon. In a few months it is stated that he acquired sufficient of the language to make translations from Portuguese poetry. He also set about preparing his writings for publication in a collected form. His health, however, daily declined, and after a fruitless effort to gather strength for the voyage home, he died 19th September 1829, aged 33. Mr. Waller writes of him in these words: "Thoroughly acquainted with the romantic legends of his country, he was singularly happy in the graces and power of language, and the feeling and beauty of his sentiments. There is in his compositions little of that high classicality which marks the scholar; but they are full of exquisite simplicity and tenderness, and in his description of natural scenery he is unrivalled. His lines on Gougane Barra are known to every tourist that visits the romantic regions of the south of Ireland, and his longer poems possess great merit." Allibone styles this poem "the most perfect perhaps of all Irish minor poems in the melody of its rhythm, the flow of its language, and the weird force of its expressions."

Note from Addenda:

Callanan, James Joseph — According to a writer in the Athenaeum for 18th May 1878, he died in the Hospital of San Jose, at Lisbon, and was buried within the precincts of the ruined church hard by. No traces remain of his grave.[15]


15. "Athenaeum, The—Principally referred to under No. 233.


16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

39. Biographical Dictionary, Imperial: Edited by John F. Waller. 3 vols. London, N.D.

159a. Hayes, Edward: Ballads of Ireland. 2 vols. Dublin, N.D.