A place in the country – An Irishman’s Diary on Edmund Hogan, ‘the greatest topographer of them all’

Cork-born Jesuit Edmund Hogan who died 100 years ago on November 26th

Cork-born Jesuit Edmund Hogan who died 100 years ago on November 26th

 

The Jesuits have been in Ireland for more than 200 years and have contributed greatly to Irish life in many ways. In particular, many of them have been notable scholars, among whom was Cork-born Edmund Hogan who died 100 years ago on November 26th.

He was a lecturer and scholar in the Irish language and Irish history and was seen by young students of his generation as a clear link between the great 19th-century Celtic scholars John O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry and George Petrie and their own generation (see biographical entry for Éamonn Ó hÓgáin at ainm.ie).

According to William Hogan in an article in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1965), he was born “in the shadow of the ancient Norman keep at the little hamlet of Belvelly near Cobh” on January 23rd, 1831. His father, William, was a senior carpenter on the Smith Barry estate at Fota, and his mother was Mary Morris from the little village of Killeagh in east Cork. Irish was spoken by the older generation in the family but it seems unlikely that he grew up speaking the language.

At 16, he joined the Jesuits but as there was no Irish novitiate of the order at the time, he went to Belgium and France to study for the priesthood.

Family tradition has it that some comment from a Flemish fellow student which seemed to slight his Irishness (perhaps that he was not speaking his ancestral language) aroused his interest in studying Irish, which he began to do early in his novitiate.

Ordained in 1855, he spent a year teaching German in Clongowes College and five years in the College of the Sacred Heart, Limerick (now Crescent College), where he taught French, German, logic and music.

He then went to Rome and did extensive research about Ireland in the archives there, as a result of which he published a history of the Jesuits in Ireland and a life of St Patrick. In the 1870s, he lived at Milltown Park in Dublin and was attached to the Catholic University (afterwards the Royal University and then UCD), where he taught moral theology.

He also taught at various Jesuit schools in Ireland in the later 1870s and part of the 1880s. Near the end of that decade, he was appointed professor of Irish language and history at the Royal University, of which he was elected a fellow in 1894.

His teaching methods could be considered somewhat eccentric. “His teaching activity was at its best with a single student in an untidy bedroom,” according to one whom he taught. Or when teaching a few students in his room, he used to lie on his bed, wearing a top hat and smoking a pipe, as he held forth.

The range of books he had published was somewhat eclectic; to those already mentioned were added Distinguished Irishmen of the 16th Century (1894), The History of the Irish Wolf Dog (1897), The Irish People: Their Height, Form and Strength (1899) and Irish Phrase Book (1899).

Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in February 1890, he became its Todd professor of Celtic languages the following year, and many of his subsequent works were published under the Todd Lecture Series. Among these were Cath Ruis na Ríg for Bóinn (1892), about the ancient Battle of Rossnaree in the Ulster Cycle of mythological tales, and The Irish Nennius (1895), about an 8th/9th-century monk who wrote a history of the Britons.

But his magnum opus, Onomasticon Godelicum – An Index with Identifications to the Gaelic Names of Places and Tribes (1910), was not begun until he was 70 and he spent 10 years working on it. In many ways, it remains the standard work on Irish place names and owes a debt to the researches of John O’Donovan. But, an extraordinarily detailed achievement in itself, it is the work upon which his reputation rests.

He inspired many well-known Irish scholars such as Eoin MacNeill and Douglas Hyde.

The latter wrote of him: “Yet, with all his great learning, he was charmingly simple and delighted in anecdotes about people he had met and known.”

His sight and general health gradually began to deteriorate; he died at the Jesuit House, Lower Leeson Street and was buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin.

Many eulogies were written following his death and many scholars subsequently acknowledged their debt to his writings. Richard Foley (Risteárd Ó Foghludha), in Log-Ainmneacha (1935), described Fr Hogan as “the greatest topographer of them all”.

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