William K. Sullivan

[?-?]; b. Cork [W. K. Sullivan]; Professor of Chemistry at Catholic University, Dublin, and later President of Queen’s College, Cork; editor of O’Curry’s lectures on the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (3 vols., 1873).


Michael Cronin, Translating Ireland: Translations, Languages, Cultures (Cork UP 1996), p.133. See also Vivian Mercier, Influences and Sources of Modern Irish Literature (1994).


Celtic Studies from the German of Dr. Herman Ebel (1st edn. 1863), xxviii+221pp.. [Hyland 219; 1995].

Library of Herbert Bell, Belfast, holds W. K. Sullivan, Two Centuries of Irish History (London 1907).

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‘There is scarcely a language in the world between which and the Celtic someone has not attempted to prove a connection’; [early philologists] ‘desirous that [the affiinities of Irish] should be with the languages of inferior races, and accordingly one faound agreat similarity between it and the tongue of the Jaloffs, on the coast of Africa; ... Others, again, found its true relation in the Lappish, the Ostyak, the Tungus dialects, and other tongues of North Siberia. On the other hand, the admirers of the Celtic tongue endeavour to establish what, at one time, was considerd the noblest of origins, a Hebrew descent.’ (From Sullivan’s ‘Introduction’ to his translation of Herman Ebel’s Celtic Studies, 1853 [ftn. 1863], cited in Chris Morash, ‘Celticism: between Race and Culture’, [pt. 2 of] ‘The Triple Play of Irish History’, in Irish Review (Winter-Spring 1997), pp.29-36.

Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (1873): Preface, ‘states that Newman wrote a cheque for 300 that the lectures might be printed, which also covered the purchasing of O’Curry’s glossaries and MSS, including the lectures; and further notes that his O’Curry’s death after the lecture on Music prevented the completion of others on internal arrangement of house, food and drink, and the burial of the dead. Sullivan reports that the absence of notes in the original lectures seemed to make tracing the references to the codices impossible, but that on the departure of his collaborator John E Pigot for India, he began to make the attempt, so that Vol. III is annotated, with a list appended to Vol. II. He describes O’Curry’s version of the originals in his library as ‘free renderings of the original text’. He calls Táin Bó Chuailgne the Irish Iliad, comparing ‘small things with great’, and includes a literal trans. of the combats of Ferdiad and Cuchulaind [?Cuchuland], as Apps. to Vol. III. The search for fragments of Crith Gablach, a law tract used by O’Curry in his account of the classes, was made by Mr O’Looney, and the two frags. used to make the translation of the whole in App. Vol. III, p.465. The study of this law tract furnished the editor with the understanding of the ‘whole Irish political system’ on which he bases his Introduction. ‘The results which I have obtained are very different from the current views about the political and social conditions of the ancient Irish and their ethnological relationships.’ [11] He apologises with explanation for the roman pagination of the introductory volume, arising from the way in which it expanded, and that half of it was in print since 1869. The admirable essay on Gilds by Dr Brentano (Eng. Texts Soc.) appeared after. His main object in writing the Introduction was ‘to bring the subject of Irish Archaeol. and Hist., as treated by O’Curry, into connection with those of the other countries of Northern and Western Europe, and thus take the out of the state of isolation in which they have hitherto remained’ and he has endeavoured to different Irish materials to those used by O’Curry [13]. Of Lebor na h-Uidhri, he speaks of ‘the beautiful lithograph transcript ... published by the RIA [facsimile], and a similar facsimile of Lebor Brec in production. [13] Notes the Erin is genitive of Eriu. [14] ‘[O]ld Irish was not pronounced like modern Irish / It is indeed probably that a person pronouncing the old Irish broadly, sounding every letter as he would do in German words, would come nearer to the pronunciation of an Irishman of the sixth century, than by aspirating them and pronouncing them as in modern Irish.’ [15] The laws and customs of Ireland had not been directly influenced by Roman law, and should therefore be contrasted with the legal and political institutions of the nations of the north [17] A fuller account of the classes and organisation of the literary orders than given in the lectures necessary [17-18 Thanks to Brian O’Looney for aid since joining the university, and to D. B. Dunne for aid from his knowledge of Church music. [18] Appendix, ‘The fight of Ferdiad and Cuchuland [Táin Bó Chuailgne]; 2. old law tracts, Crith Gablach; another, untitled; 3. The Ancient Fair of Carman.’

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