[Rev.] James MacGeoghegan (1702-63)


1702-1764 [vars. Geoghegan; Abbé Jacques MacGeoghegan]; b. Usneach, Co. Westmeath; related to Conall MacGeoghegan [q.v.], translator of Annals of Clonmacnoise, and to Fr. Francis O’Molloy [Prionsias Ó Maolmhuaidh, q.v.]; ed. Rheims [var. Lombard Coll.]; worked as tutor to the emigré community in Hamburg and published Oeuvres mêlées (1730) in Latin, French and English, ded. to Donough MacCarthy (4th earl of Clancarty); grad. MA from Paris Univ., 1733; appt. Abbé of Poissy, in the Chartres diocese; elected Provisor of Lombard College, Paris but suspended amid disputes over French adherence to Gallicanism and transferred to duties as chaplain at the Hotel de Ville - where he serve a certain Madame de Bignon; later transferred to parish of Saint-Merri, Paris; served as chaplain to Irish troops in armies of France;

MacGeoghegan dedicated his Histoire d l’Irlande (Vol I. 1758; Vol, II. 1762; Vol. III, 1763) to the “wild geese” whose story in the French army he related, stating that 450,000 Irish troops died in French wars - a figure questioned by Lecky [q.v.]; his History incls. a study of the Book of Lecan, then held at the Irish College, Paris, but drew mainly on Geoffrey Keating [q.v.] and John Lynch [q.v.] for his materials; prob. enjoyed access to the Royal Library through Madame de Bignon, a a relative of the King’s Librarians of Jean-Paul and Armand-Jérôme Bignon; the anti-Williamite character of the book make it unpublishable in Ireland; Edward Ledwich [q.v.] disputed his account of the Celtic Christianity and the implied claims of Irish civilisation and building in the Roman manner; his History was translated by Patrick OKelly [q.v.] and published by him in 1831-32 and rep. by Duffy in 1844; d. of fever at Saint-Merri, 30 March 1764; entry in the DNB (UK) is by Norman Moore. ODNB

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  • J. M. G., Oeuvres mêlées en Latin, Anglois et François sur divers sujets en prose et vers (Hamburg: Wolters, Conrad König 1730).
  • M. l'abbé Ma-Geoghegan [sic], Histoire de l'Irlande ancienne et moderne, Tome Premier (Paris: Antoine Boudet 1758).
  • M. l'abbé Mac-Geoghegan,  Histoire de l'Irlande ancienne et moderne, Tome Second (Paris: Antoine Boudet 1762).
  • M. l'abbé Mac-Geoghegan,  Histoire de l'Irlande ancienne et moderne, Tome Troisieme (Amsterdam (1763).

Bibliographical details
Histoire de l’Irlande ancienne et moderne, 3 tomes [2 vols. Paris: Antoine Boudet 1758, 1762; the third being pub. in Amsterdam 1763] [copy in Marsh’s Library]; Do., trans. by P[atrick] Kelly as History of Ireland, Ancient and Modern, Taken from Authentic Records, by the Abbé Mac-Geoghegan, and Dedicated to the Irish Brigade (Dublin: James Duffy 1831); Do. [2nd edn.; corrected] (Duffy 1844) 622pp. [printed for the author of the translation by T. O’Flanagan 1831-32; subscription lists at the ends of cols 1 & 3; available online]].

See also John Mitchel, History of Ireland [ ...]: A Continuation of the History of Abbé MacGeoghegan (1869) [two issues noticed in P. S. O’Hegarty’s commentary in Irish Book Lover, Vol. XXVIII, No.4, 1942, p.89].


Richard Ryan, ‘James Mageoghegan’, in, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.416.

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Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality, Its Development and Literary Expression Prior To The Nineteenth Century (John Benjamins Pub. Co., Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 1986): The last flourish of the emigrés tradition in praise of Gaelic greatness occurred around 1760 when the priest James Macgeoghegan published his Histoire de l’Irlande ancienne et moderne, tirée des manuments les plus authentiques, 3 vols. (Paris 1758-62). (Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986, p.40.)

‘James MacGeoghegan’, in Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA 2009)
MacGeoghegan expounded a conservative conception of a divine order requiring a wise monarch to provide stability and leadership. He offered a Jacobite, somewhat subverted, reading of the work of Geoffrey Keating (q.v.), on which he drew heavily. The principal historiographical significance lies with MacGeoghegan's reassessment of the early Irish church, affirming its Roman character, alongside his treatment of the politico-religious conflict of the seventeenth century. The character of early Christian Ireland later became contested ground after Edward Ledwich (q.v.), in his Antiquities of Ireland (1790), demolished MacGeoghegan's delineation of the Roman character of the early Irish church. MacGeoghegan took issue with the characterisation of the Gaelic Irish as barbaric, offered by Gerald of Wales (q.v.) and David Hume, among others. Instead he bestowed this label on the Anglo-Normans and justified the 1641 rebellion as the legitimate result of Irish catholic fears of rabid Scottish religious fanaticism then rampant, presenting the Irish catholics as long-suffering adherents to their ancient religion and legitimate Stuart king. The main theme of the work was the continued heroism and devoutness of Irish catholicism, and it implicitly expressed the hope of catholic recovery.
  In the aftermath of the Seven Years War (1756–63), the improvement in Anglo–French relations led the French state censor to view with disdain the unmistakable Jacobite hue of the work. The incendiary pro-Stuart remarks in the third volume received particular attention. Compromise eventually ensued, whereby the latter volumes carried a frontispiece implying publication in Amsterdam, combined with the excision of the last paragraph of the work, a particularly inflammatory pro-Stuart lament. Moreover, neither the king's privilege nor his approval is officially noted.
—Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA 2009) - online; accessed 02.11.2023.

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Danelaw: ‘The absence of records or registers, more ancient than the eleventh century, is negative argument, and cannot be considered proof. It is very probable that they [the annals of Ireland and in particular of Dublin] were burnt or suppressed by the Danes, who were frequently masters of the city, and that their descendants, who became Christians, and were tolerated from commercial reasons, had begun their records with the first of their own countrymen who were appointed bishops of Dublin, which took place in the eleventh century.’ (History of Ireland, trans. O’Kelly, Chp. XIV, p.272.; cited in George A Little, Dublin Before the Vikings, 1957.)

Creation tale: ‘It seems to be certain,’ says the Abbé McGeoghehan, ‘that Ireland continued uninhabited from the Creation to the Deluge.’ (Thus quoted in Emily Lawless, The Story of Ireland, 1896 Edn., Chap. 1 - opening sentence.)

Wild Geese: ‘From calculations and researches made at the French war-office, it has been ascertained that from the arrival of Irish troops in France in 1691, up to 1745, the year of the battle of Fontenoy, more than 450,000 Irishmen died in the service of France.’ (McGeoghegan [sic], trans. by O’Kelly, Dublin 1744; first publ. in Paris, 1758; quoted in Marx, Engels: Ireland and the Irish Question, ed. L. I. Golman and V. E. Kunina (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1971; rep. 1986, p.349.)

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British Library holds [1] Histoire de l'Irlande, ancienne et moderne. (Précis de l'histoire des quatre Stuarts, sur le Trône Britannique), and 2nd. copy, F. P. 3 tom. Paris, 1758-63. 4o. [2] History of Ireland, ancient and modern. Translated ... by P. O'Kelly; Another edition. 3 vol. Dublin, 1831-32. 8o. Dublin, 1844. 8o. [3] The History of Ireland, from the Treaty of Limerick to the present time; being a continuation of the History of the Abbé Macgeoghegan. Compiled by J. Mitchel; another edition; also, another edition of Vol. 1. New York, 1868. 8o. 2 vol. Dublin [printed], London, 1869. 8o. Cameron and Ferguson: Glasgow, 1869. 8o.

University of Ulster (Morris Collection) holds History of Ireland, Ancient and Modern, taken from authentic records and dedicated to the Irish Brigade (Duffy 1844) 622p.; John Mitchel, History of Ireland ... a continuation of the history of Abbé MacGeoghegan (1869).


Widely read: Roy Foster, Paddy and Mr. Punch (London 1993), indicates that Abbé MacGeoghegan is cited as the foremost author in J. Pope-Hennessy, ‘What Do Irishmen Read?’, in Nineteenth Century, Vol. 15 (Jan.-June 1884), pp.920ff.; Foster, op. cit., Notes, p.312).

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