On the 30th April 2021 we commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of John Canon O’Hanlon (1821-1905). To mark this occasion, Laois Local Studies has digitised the History of the Queen’s County. Volume 1 and Volume 2
The most consulted publication in Laois Local Studies is Canon O’Hanlon’s History of the Queen’s County. Published in two volumes, this remarkable work tracks the history of the territory from the earliest time to the twentieth century. The author’s scholarly methodology and passion for preserving the history of his home county, resulted in a work so well researched, referenced and annotated, that it is practically ‘the bible’ for researching Laois local history.
Given the quality and quantity of his work on Laois, you might expect that the History of the Queen’s County was Canon O’Hanlon’s work of a lifetime. On the contrary, he published on a wide variety of topics including Irish saints, folklore, American history, travel, the Irish language, church buildings, politics, art and poetry. Indeed, he was so well known as a literary priest that James Joyce mentions him in Ulysses.
John O’Hanlon was born in Stradbally on 30 April 1821. He attended the local national school and Preston School in Ballyroan, before heading to Carlow College to train as a priest. In 1842, he emigrated with his family, initially to Quebec, but eventually settling in Missouri. He continued his studies in the Diocesan College in St. Louis and was ordained in 1847. He worked as a priest in America until poor health forced him to return to Ireland in 1853. He spent the remainder of his life working as a priest in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Canon O’Hanlon began his literary work in America. In 1847, his talent for writing earned him the editorship of a Catholic publication, The St. Louis Newsletter. By 1851 he had completed his book on the life of St. Malachy and had produced a handbook for the Irish emigrant to America. His American experience developed his taste for travel and exploration and this passion would later find literary expression in his travel writing.
In Ireland, Canon O’Hanlon continued his hagiography but added poetry and folklore to his writing. His respect for folklore stemmed from his childhood in Stradbally, where the stories he heard not only entertained, but taught him the value and importance of native tradition. His poems, written under the pseudonym Lageniensis, expressed his love of Laois, legends and folklore. He also edited a collection of poems and stories by John Keegan, thereby preserving and renewing interest in the work of this important Laois writer.
Canon O’Hanlon’s youth in Stradbally also influenced his political outlook. As a child he was aware of the Ballykilcavan Evictions of 1828 and the growing agrarian unrest in the area in the 1830s. Later, he witnessed first-hand the misery of Irish economic refugees arriving in America in the post famine era. These experiences shaped the nationalist views he held and expressed throughout his lifetime. Although not a radical priest, he was a strong supporter of land reform and Home Rule and wrote passionately in support of both. He was also involved in the Irish language movement and was a member of the Ossianic Society, the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language and Conradh na Gaeilge.
Beyond County Laois, Canon O’Hanlon is best remembered for his Lives of the Irish Saints, but his other writings are highly regarded and can be found in national and academic libraries throughout the world. Many of his respected works are digitised and available to read online, demonstrating the lasting relevance of his work. Laois County Library has recently digitised the History of the Queen’s County and it is available from today on the Laois Local Studies website. A complete list of Canon O’Hanlon’s writing is found below, with links to digitised copies made available through the National Library of Ireland’s website.
Laois Local Studies and Laois library branches hold several titles by Canon O’Hanlon and some biographical books and articles on the life of this prolific Laois writer. In compiling this brief account of Canon O’Hanlon’s life and works, I am greatly indebted to two of those biographical works, being John Canon O’Hanlon: the man and his legacy by Teddy Fennelly and Like sun gone down: selections from the writing of John Canon O’ Hanlon by Pádraig O Macháin and Tony Delaney. Tony Delaney will give a talk on this topic as part of Laois Libraries online history talks in May. For further detail see the Laois Local Studies news page.
Works of Canon O’Hanlon (with links to digital copies where available)
- Abridgment of the History of Ireland, from its final subjection to the present Time(Boston: Patrick Donahoe, 1849)
- The Buried Lady, a Legend of Kilronanby Lageniensis (Dublin: Joseph Dollard, 1877)
- The case of Ireland’s being bound by Acts of Parliament in England stated, by William Molyneux of Dublin, Esq. A new edition, with preface and life of the author by Very Rev. John Canon O’Hanlon P.P., M.R.I.A. (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1892)
- Catechism of Greek Grammar(Dublin: John Mullany, 1865)
- Catechism of Irish history from the earliest events to the death of O’Connell(Dublin: John Mullany, 1864)
- Devotions for Confession and Holy Communion(Dublin: Thomas Richardson, 1866)
- Essay on the antiquity and constitution of parliaments in Ireland by Henry Joseph Monck Mason, LLD., and M.R.I.A. A new edition with Canon O’Hanlon (Dublin: James Duffy, 1891)
- History and description of St. Mary’s Church, Star of the Sea, Irishtown. Report of the committee appointed to erect the Dean O’Connell Memorial (Irishtown, 1884)
- History of the Queen’s County. Vol. 1 (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1907)
- History of the Queen’s County. Vol. 2 (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1914)
- Irish-American history of the United States (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers& Walker, 1903)
- The Irish emigrant’s guide to the United States(Boston: Patrick Donahoe, 1851)
- The Irish emigrant’s guide to the United States. New edition (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1890)
- Irish folk-lore, traditions and superstitions of the country; with humorous tales(Lageniensis) (Glasgow: Cameron & Ferguson, 1870)
- Irish local legends (Dublin: James Duffy, 1896)
- Legend lays of Ireland by Lageniensis (Dublin: John Mullany, 1870)
- Legends and poems by John Keegan, now first collected …with memoir by D.J. O’Donoghue (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1907)
- Life and scenery in Missouri: reminiscences of a missionary priest (Dublin: James Duffy, 1890)
- The Life and Works of Saint Aengussius Hagiographus, or Saint Aengus the Culdee, bishop and abbot of Clonenagh and Dysartenos, Queen’s County(Dublin: John F. Fowler, 1868)
- Life of St. Brigid, virgin, first Abbess of Kildare, special patroness of Kildare diocese, and general patroness of Ireland (Dublin: Joseph Dollard, 1877)
- The life of St. David, Archbishop of Menevia, chief patron of Wales, and titular patron of Naas Church and Parish in Ireland(Dublin: John Mullany, 1869)
- The Life of St. Dympna, virgin, martyr, and patroness of Gheel; with some notices of St. Gerebern, priest, martyr and patron of Sonsbeck(Dublin: James Duffy, 1863)
- The Life of Saint Grellan, Patron of the O’Kellys and the tribes of Hy-Maine(Dublin: James Duffy, 1881)
- The Life of St. Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublinand Delegate Apostolic of the Holy See for the Kingdom of Ireland (Dublin: John Mullany, 1857)
- The Life of Saint Malachy O’Morgair, Bishop of Down and Connor, Archbishop of Armagh, patron of these several diocese and Delegate Apostolic of the Holy See for the Kingdom of Ireland(Dublin: John O’Daly, 1859)
- Lives of the Irish Saints: with special festivals, and the commemorations of holy persons, compiled from calendars, martyrologies, and various sources, relating to the ancient church history of Ireland. 10 Vols. (Dublin: James Duffy; London: Burns, Oates & Co.; New York: Catholic Publishing Society, 1875-1905)
- The Poetical Works of Lageniensis(Dublin: James Duffy, 1893)
- On the identification of the site of the engagement at the Pass of the Plumes(1599) (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1876)
- Report of the O’Connell Monument Committeeby Very Rev. John Canon O’Hanlon, P.P., Honorary Secretary (Dublin: James Duffy, 1888)