Exile's epic history published at last

Thu, May 28, 2009, 01:00

A HANDWRITTEN Latin manuscript that was missing for 300 years has been translated into English for the first time by an 81-year-old Irish scholar.

University College Cork (UCC) historian Denis O’Sullivan, a former surgeon at Cork University Hospital (CUH), spent more than three years painstakingly translating the historical manuscript and his finished work, The Natural History of Ireland,was launched in Cork last night.

O’Sullivan’s work is based on a manuscript, Zoilomastix, written by Phillip O’Sullivan Beare, who was exiled to the continent after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

Beare, who was born on Dursey Island off the Beara Peninsula in Cork circa 1590, wrote Zoilomastix, a work that refuted derogatory propagandist texts by English authors, including a book written in 1188 by the medieval author Gerald of Wales, entitled Topography of Ireland. In the 16th century, Gerald of Wales’s work was revived as a form of propaganda to justify the Elizabethan conquest and suppression of the Irish people.

It was republished in Frankfurt in 1602 and included references to incestuous sexual relations and intercourse with animals among Irish people.

Topography of Irelandwas highly influential in the formation of English colonial attitudes towards the Irish.

Lost for nearly 300 years, the handwritten manuscript of the Zoilomastixwas found at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, in 1932. The title is Latin and refers to Gerald’s work as a scourge on the Irish people.

O’Sullivan translated the text using a copy of the text he obtained from University College Dublin, as the original text remains in Sweden.

“It was suggested to me and I was interested in it, my father is from the Beara peninsula and we spent many childhood holidays there, listening to stories about the place,” Mr O’Sullivan said. His studies threw up some interesting insights into medieval Ireland, including Gerald of Wales’s more positive comments about the Irish, that they were a strong people with beautiful, well-formed limbs, and they were wonderful musicians, according to O’Sullivan.

“It was very interesting. The detail that Beare goes into in refuting some of Gerald’s claims is fascinating,” he said.

There are up to 1,000 untranslated historical texts by Irish authors, according to publisher Mike Collins of Cork University Press.