Friday, 14 February 2020

Dún Aengus Banquet in 1857 (Part two)

Day two of the excursion by the British Association to Arran in 1857. 




For some background on the group members, go to this Link

After a good nights sleep, the distinguished visitors were looking forward to another day of exploration and discovery.

A small number of the group of seventy, spent the night on board the Steam Yacht Vestal which lay at anchor in the bay. The rest spread out around the village. Some in the Atlantic Hotel, local houses and some at the old Coast Guard station of those days.

There was a slight problem with milk supplies next morning but the sound of a coileach crowing early in the morning had them looking forward to eggs for breakfast and they weren’t disappointed.

After breakfast, they all once again were rowed out to the Vestal which soon set steam for the shore at An Gleannachán and Na Seacht dTeampaill (Seven Churches) about six miles west of Cill Rónáin.


The Vestal having to anchor well off shore, the visitors once again made their way in the ships boats, to the rocky shore at An Gleannacháin.



We often visit this shore when driving visitors around the island in our bus and it always brings to mind a vision of the 70 or so excursionists being landed here more than 160 years ago and the magnificent Steam Yacht Vestal, riding at anchor. 




A large crowd of locals had gathered as they would have been expecting the visitors and a large number of ponies were waiting to convey the pilgrims to Na Seacht dTeampaill and beyond.

Some of the naturalists in the company had delayed at the shore as they inspected the sharp rocks and the creatures that had excavated homes for themselves out of the ancient limestone.

Some of the group had visited here before and Petrie, in the presence of the Parish Priest and the local middleman, Patrick O’Flaherty, had once opened the grave of St. Breacán. They had inspected a well preserved skull before placing everything back as they found it. The grave had been previously opened in the 1790s.

The name “Seven Churches” is of a relatively recent identification. In truth there are but two churches, the other buildings being the normal monastic outhouses and dormitories.
A sketch of Na Seacht dTeampaill from 1880.


In ancient Papal documents, this settlement is referred to as Dísert Brecán (Brecan’s desert) referring to the saint who it’s believed founded it.

The visitors were blessed to have experts like Petrie, O’Donovan, Wilde and O’Curry on hand to give them their best opinions, on the entire site. The people of the three islands and Connemara had made this spot an important pilgrimage site and the habit was to tie a piece of cloth to the bushes in the hope of prayers being answered.
Na Seacht dTeampaill with the landing spot in the background. From circa 1900.

One member of the expedition would later write a letter of complaint to the newspapers, about the actions of one of his companions. He wrote of a visitor who thought nothing of breaking off a branch with some ribbons attached in order to have something to show his friends, as proof of the ridiculous practises of the Papists. Surely a man who needed a good kick up the arse, if any man ever did.
The disputed inscription 
The debate of what the inscription “VII ROMANI” meant was once again activated. Some thought it referred to Seven Romans while others had different interpretations. The great Scottish doctor, James Young Simpson even suggested that it might mean “Sci Ronani” or the grave of St Ronan. This caused O’Donovan to wonder privately if Simpson, for religious reasons, was desperate to remove any mention of Rome.
A recent photo we took of the Seven Graves in the Seven Churches.

With Dr Wilde blowing his whistle as he led the way, the party, some walking, some on horseback, now made their way the half mile to the great circular inland Fort of Dún Eoghanacht. 

The great Fort of Dún  Eoghanacht with Connemara in the distance.
The fort showed signs of decay and the Landlady’s agent Thomas H Thompson, proceeded to give a speech to the locals about not damaging this important monument. The type of speech that would be heard again later at Dún Aengus.
Clonskeigh Castle in Dublin. Home of Thomas Higginbotham Thomson
We suspect that Thompson, Grand Master of the Orange Lodge at Trinity College, was not a Gaelic speaker and his speech aimed at impressing the visitors, as many of the locals would not have understood what he was saying.
The view from Dún Eoghanacht with Ceann Boirne in the far, far distance.
What the locals made of the eccentrically dressed visitors, with their sun hats and umbrellas, will never be known but it would not have escaped them that there were people in the world who were not so exhausted from staying alive, as to have the time and energy to be inspecting antiquities. 

At Dún Eoghanacht, John O’Donovan was asked as to its age and he suggested it was a younger fort than Dún Duchathair, it being only about two thousand years old.

From here the group either mounted their ponies or walked, all the way to the great cliffs to the west of Dún Aengus.

The cliffs to the West of Dún Aengus 
A demonstration of how the locals descend the cliffs to gather wrack, fish and gather birds eggs and feathers, was especially laid on for the visitors.

The cliffs are very high at this spot and one of the three men who showed how it was done was said to be well over sixty years old. This practise had cost men their lives both before and after this time.

The reporter noted that it was as well that ladies were not permitted on the tour to the islands as they would surely have been overcome with the sight of men going over a cliff with just a flimsy rope to cling to.

Apart from being patronising, this may have been deliberately untrue as some reports mention William Stokes’ wife Mary Black and daughter Margaret as being part of the group.  Margaret certainly was better qualified than most of those in attendance to appreciate the antiquities on display.
Samuel Ferguson’s wife, Mary Catherine Guinness, a woman with vast knowledge of Irish history, was also part of the group.
Photo of the antiquarian, Margaret Stokes in later years.

The patriarchal Victorian society of those days had a strange sense of what could be acknowledged publicly and this may explain how the women present were not named.

It’s also possible that the exclusion of women on the tour might be explained by the reluctance of Gentlemen, to trust the company of their wives, daughters or sisters to the leader of the excursion, Dr William Wilde. 

Dr Wilde’s somewhat Bohemian reputation was such that they may have even been reluctant to let their mothers or grandmothers, join his illustrious group. 


Screenshot from a 1924 Pathe News item, filmed in the same spot.

Some of the visitors were sure that disaster was inevitable and it was with relief that the three men made it to the bottom and back up again. The reporter noted how the old man had rolled about the ground with joy, after being hauled up, the adrenaline rush obviously having its effect.
Sixty seven years later, Pathe News crew getting a similar demonstration from probably the descendants of the 1857 climbers.

The reporter also hoped that the cliffmen of Aran would be well recompensed by the Landladies Digby, for their very dangerous but entertaining display. Hummmm.

This demonstration of cliff climbing was located not far from where a great agrarian outrage of the land wars, would take place in Jan 1881.

This involved the blindfolding and cliffing of cattle belonging to the local middleman, James O’Flaherty by among others, the writers Liam and Tom O’Flaherty’s father and uncle.

Cliff climbing and descending is still practised by a few but most of the regular participants are either dead or have retired.

For those who want an idea of just how dangerous this practise was, we recommend a read of Tom O'Flaherty's, CLIFFMEN OF THE WEST. 
Greenland, not Aran but an idea of the risks involved in moving along narrow ledges, and sometimes in the dark.
 The cliff climbing was dangerous enough but it was the crawling along narrow ledges, sometimes in the dark, that on occasion led to disaster.

From here it was only a short hop to the main attraction of the entire expedition, Dún Aengus.
Many of our readers will have visited this great fort and no matter how many times one visits, it is always a source of great wonder and pride.



For those unfamiliar with Dún Aengus, here is a piece of film we did a few years ago while waiting for our bus passengers, who were visiting the great fort. You can even see a close up of the more daring passenger Here  as they peer over the edge.


The hampers of food and drink had arrived before them and were assembled on the stage-like rock platform, familiar to those who have visited.

This stage, which runs to the cliff edge is a natural table and a perfect spot from where to deliver a speech.

The crew of the Vestal and some locals proceeded to dispense the meal and it was noted that they were very diligent in their use of a corkscrew which sets the mood for the great Banquet.

It’s not hard to picture the scene. A lovely, sunny September day with the group of visitors lounging on the grass in front of the stage as they feasted where prehistoric people had once lived and taken shelter. And gathered on the ancient ramparts, the locals, enjoying the whole, exotic spectacle.

The meal being finished, we now move on to the speeches. First up was the leader of the group, Dr William Wilde.(Later Sir William)



Dr Wilde made a few words of welcome before calling on the venerable Provost of Trinity College, Dr Richard MacDonnell, to chair the official Arran meeting, of the British Association.
Rev Richard MacDonnell

Here is how one reporter present, set the scene.

The repast having been terminated, the Provost was called to the chair (the side of a rock). And here on Dún Aengus, with the tourists lying on the grass, partaking of sherry or porter, some smoking cigars, others sitting with becoming gravity-not indulging in the weed- the Atlantic at the rear and groups of peasantry in front, scattered over the broken stones of the fort, one of the meetings of the British Association was held.

This reporter also mentions Frenchmen, Germans and Americans as being among the visitors. We have been unable to identify who the American or German visitors were but Samuel Ferguson was based in Germany at the time. German scholars were to the forefront in both researching and recording ancient Irish texts during these years and later. Some had visited Aran to do research.

Petrie opened with words of praise for the local middleman and Justice of the Peace, Patrick O’Flaherty of Cill Muirbhigh. He mentioned the assistance Patrick had given him on previous visits to the islands, right back to his first in 1821.


Patrick has been described as “King” of the islands for much of the early years of the 19th century, who dished out justice as local magistrate, from his home in Cill Muirbhigh.

It was usually recorded that he was a fair and honourable man, much loved by the islanders, who accepted his legal decisions without question and would take themselves off to Galway jail when sentenced. 

It must be noted however, that most, if not all, of the people who wrote these glowing accounts, including George Petrie, had availed of Patrick’s hospitality when visiting the island. It’s hardly credible that Patrick amassed so much land and wealth without causing hardship to other islanders.

Patrick and his son James were Catholics but it matters little whether a person’s oppressor is Catholic, Protestant or indeed Atheist.
Patrick was related to the much loved Parish Priest of the Islands, Francis O’Flaherty, who died in 1825.

According to Tim Robinson in his book, Stones of Aran, Patrick was most likely born in 1781 which would have made him about 76 years old, that day at Dún Aengus. 

Patrick it was who composed the census of 1821 and it’s  noticeable that he refused to grant an “O” before the surname of any other Flahertys on the island, except for himself, his immediate family and Fr Francis in Cill Rónáin.

Also present that day was Patrick’s son James (1816-1881) who would have much trouble during the 1880s Land Wars, culminating in his cattle being cliffed. Just for the record, James’ youngest daughter would later marry the son of the great historian, James Hardiman.
Grave of James O’Flaherty
James is also remembered on the islands as “An Pocaide Bán” (White Billygoat)  for his predatory behaviour with some island women. We wrote a bit about James before.Here




But enough about the Middlemen and back to the speeches.


Martin Haverty gives a good account of the speeches while the newspaper reporters preferred to make colourful comments on the audience and location.

William Wilde then drew attention to some of the illustrious guests seated on the grass and named off quite a few. 

With one or two glaring exception, the greatest living antiquarians of Ireland were present that day. One missing expert was the Rev.James Henthorn Todd of Trinity College. Wilde said he had a letter of regret from James.
Rev Professor James H Todd of TCD 1805-1869

James H Todd was one of the greatest curators and explorers of Irish antiquity and much of what we have today is down to his ceaseless work, with both the Irish Archeological Society which he co founded and as librarian at Trinity College, where he worked with O’Donovan and O’Curry.

If Thomas H Thompson was the face of extreme, evangelical Protestantism, James H Todd was from its more humane and liberal wing. He was a close friend of many of those present.

Apart from their chairman Provost MacDonnell, Dr Wilde mentioned, the painter Frederick Burton, secretary of the Geographical society Dr Nathaniel Shaw, secretary of the Antiquarian society of Scotland Dr J.M.Mitchell, Dublin historian John T Gilbert, Mr Samuel Ferguson, George Petrie, John O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry, Professor Charles Babington, Dr William Stokes, the French Consul Frédéric De Burggroff ,secretary of the Irish Academy Dr Charles Graves and Dr James Young Simpson.

A more detailed list of more than fifty of the group, with some background, can be read here.


Dr Wilde went on to explain why he had chosen Arran and didn’t miss the opportunity to get a dig in at the Admiralty, for refusing to supply a boat.

He outlined all the work he had done in trying to charter a boat in Liverpool and then thanked the authorities at Trinity House for generously making their Steam Yacht available.

Much praise was given to the absent Lord Stanley of Alderley (1802-1869) for securing their means of transport.
He was at the time President of the Board of Trade in Palmerstown’s government.

Dr Wilde thanked all those who had assisted him, the railways, the fishery board and the Railway Hotel in Galway.

He was very fulsome in his gratitude to the Miss Digbys, owners of the Aran Islands and their most helpful Land Agent, Thomas H Thompson.
He went on to thank Mr Eagar, whom he had sent to the islands a week previously, in order to have everything running smoothly for the expedition.

He was especially grateful to Professor Croker King from the Queen’s College in Galway, who had coordinated things in in the West and helped make the expedition such a success.

In short, he thanked everybody and anybody who had helped to make the trip such a success. He thanked Mr Armstrong, the secretary to the expedition who probably did more than any other, in getting things organised.

We first heard about this great event in history, more than forty years ago in the Castle Hotel in Galway. The man who regaled the company was the late Brendán Ó hEithir and what interested Brendán most were the speeches of Wilde and others.
The late Brendán Ó hEithir. Broadcaster, writer and journalist  (1930-1990)
Wilde had lectured the islanders, gathered on the ramparts as they watched the great feast in progress, about the damage that was being done to the stonework of the fort, by youngsters hunting for a paltry rabbit.

With his trademark mixture of humour and outrage, Brendán remarked on how only somebody who had never known hunger could say such an insensitive thing, just a few years after the Great Hunger, when a meal of a rabbit might be all that stood between life and death.
A photo from the 1890s of a restored Fort.  (National Library of Ireland)

But back to the speeches. Dr Wilde complained also that some who had initially said they were going on the trip failed to take up their tickets, causing great confusion for the organisers. At this stage he was about to compete with Fr Ted as to speech making but he quickly returned to words of praise.

He finished by reminding the islanders that the great fort was built by their ancestors and that they had a duty to defend and protect their great monuments, which the whole world would soon come to view. He certainly wasn’t wrong there.

Dr Stokes spoke of how Ireland was the only country in Europe where sites of antiquity were not afforded protection and called on the Government to take responsibility. The barrister Thomas O’Hagan (later Sir Thomas) seconded this and the motion was carried.
  Dr William Stokes (1804-1878)


 Next to speak was one of England’s greatest ever botanists, Charles Babington of Cambridge University. Charles had some knowledge of the botany of the islands but revealed that the antiquities of Aran were almost unknown in England. He was a keen archeologist and did indeed devote some attention to Aran, in later years.



He proposed a vote of thanks to Dr Wilde and this was seconded by another Englishman, Dr Norton Shaw.

On behalf of the Scottish members, the great Dr. James Young Simpson now stepped forward to much acclaim and added his thanks for the great tour and banquet. He reminded the gathering that the Scotch and the Irish are from the one race and he mentioned the many Irish sites he had explored, some in the company of Dr Wilde.
On the left is the famous Scottish doctor, James Young Simpson (1811-1870)
Next to speak was Dr Graves of Trinity college and he proposed that efforts be made to bring to the attention of the Government, the many ancients sites of Aran that needed to be documented and protected. Dr Graves would go on to be Anglican Bishop of Limerick.


This was seconded by Dr Jellett and once again thanks and congratulations were extended to all those involved in the excursion.

In response to the kind words spoken about the owners of the Aran Islands, the land agent Thompson responded on their behalf.

Next to speak was the Consul of France, Frédéric De Burggroff who added his thanks. Although he spoke in French, his speech was probably as well understood by many of the islanders present as some of the previous speeches in English.

The heroic Captain Rochfort Maguire of the Royal Navy and Mullingar, now added a few words.  He had just returned from his fruitless search for the missing Lord Franklin expedition. For some background see the notes on the list of visitors

Responding to Dr Wilde’s censure of the admiralty, he pointed out that as it was another branch of government that had provided the Vestal Steamship, it didn’t matter whether it was the Navy or Trinity House who provided transport.
All’s well that ends well.
Rochfort Maguire from Mullingar. A hero of the Royal Navy.


Eugene O’Curry was now called on to say a few words and as Eugene was a native Irish speaker, reared not far from Inis Oirr, in South West Clare, he could be easily understood by all the locals.
Professor Eugene O’Curry 1794-1862
Eugene reiterated the importance of preserving non Christian sites like Dún Aengus. Religious practise had helped greatly in preserving the many early Christian sites on the islands. Like Dr Wilde had said previously in English, he asked that the hunting of rabbits be suspended around historical sites.

By all accounts he was warmly applauded by the islanders who would have been well able to understand his Irish, even if it was in the slightly foreign Munster dialect.

John O’Donovan followed, giving a description of how he found the island when he and the teenage Wakeman first visited in 1839. John spoke in both English and Irish and what the islanders made of his Kilkenny Irish in unknown. In truth John had a command of all the dialects of Ireland, and indeed Scotland,  from both his studies and his Ordinance Survey travels.
John O’Donovan from Kilkenny (1806-1861)

The man employed as guide to the expedition, Paddy Mullen, then said a few words in Irish, again pointing out the importance of the ruins and the need to preserve them.

Paddy was, we believe, the grandfather of Pat Mullen of Man of Aran fame.

Before the meeting broke up, a piper struck up a few tunes and it is recorded that the Consul of France and others, danced a jig within the ancient walls. A  jig of delight in the bastion where the visitors believed the Firbolgs of ancient times, made their last, desperate stand.
Painting of the 19th century Clare piper, Pádraig Ó Briain by Joseph P Haverty. While some accounts mention bagpipes, we suspect that these were the type of pipes that were used.
From here the party moved to the ruins of the old church of Teampall Mac Duagh in the village of Cill Muirbhigh. This is located in the grounds of the present day Guest House, Kilmurvey House.


Some entertainment for both the visitors and the islanders, was provided at the nearby Cill Muirbhigh Bay as nine currachs raced each other around the anchored Vestal, in perfect sea conditions and warm sunshine.

Many islanders enjoyed the spectacle and we can assume they took some time off from the usual September tasks of digging out potatoes and catching mackerel from both boat and rock.

As the evening began to descend, the tired but well satisfied visitors now made their way to the anchored steamboat and when all were aboard, weighed anchor and steamed to Cill Rónáin. 

Next morning the Vestal headed for the middle island Inis Meáin, where the party came ashore and explored the magnificent circular fort, Dún Chonchuir (Conor.)
The great Fort of Inis Meáin, Dún Chonchuir, which the visitors explored on their way home.




They then had a good look at the South Island,  as they sailed past Inis Oirr and viewed the cliffs of Moher from below, before returning past Black Head and into Galway Bay. We are sure the people of Inis Oirr had a good look at the Vestal too with its noisy steam engines billowing out smoke.

After disembarking at Galway docks, the party had time for dinner before making their way to the railway station, where a train at 6.30 PM was waiting to bring them back to Dublin.

And so ends the story of the great British Association expedition to Aran of September 1857.
Group travelled back  to Dublin by steam train.

Well not quite the end.

While the others headed back, a number of the visitors remained behind in Cill Rónáin where Petrie had rented a house for ten days or so. 

From here they explored all three islands by day and at night invited locals in to tell stories and sing old songs. 

Petrie was a fine fiddler and he wrote down the many new tunes they were hearing while O’Curry wrote down the words in Irish. 
Stayed on for 10 days of exploring and painting.

This  group consisted of George Petrie, Eugene O’Curry, Samuel Ferguson, Frederick Burton, William Stokes and his son Whitley. Ferguson’s wife, Mary Guinness and William Stokes’ wife Mary and daughter Margaret, also remained on the island.
Sir Samuel Ferguson, who stayed on after the main group left.

Petrie’s biographer described those great evenings of music and song In Cill Rónáin as follows.

" To this cottage when evening fell, Petrie, with his manuscript music-book and violin and always accompanied by his friend O'Curry, used to proceed. Nothing could exceed the strange picturesqueness of the scenes which night after night were thus presented. On approaching the house, always lighted up by a blazing turf fire, it was soon surrounded by the islanders, while its interior was crowded with figures, the rich colours of whose dresses heightened by the fire-light, showed with a strange vividness and variety, while their fine countenances were all animated with curiosity and pleasure. It would have required a Rembrandt to paint the scene. 

The minstrel, sometimes an old woman, sometimes a beautiful girl, or a young man was seated on a low stool in the chimney-corner, while chairs for Petrie and O'Curry were placed opposite; the rest of the crowded audience remained standing. The song having been given, O'Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie's work began. 

The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down, and then going on with the melody, exactly from the point where the singing was interrupted. 

The entire air being at last obtained, the singer, a second time, was called to give the song continuously, and when all corrections had been made, the violin, an instrument of great sweetness and power was produced, and the air played as Petrie alone could play it, and often repeated.

 Never was the inherent love of music among the Irish people more shown than on this occasion; they listened with deep attention, while their heartfelt pleasure was expressed, less by exclamations than by gestures; and when the music ceased, a general and murmured conversation, in their own language, took place, which would continue until the next song was commenced."

We have come to the end of the great excursion to the Aran Islands of the British Association in 1857 and for more information on the people who participated, please go to this Link

Michael Muldoon Feb 2020






















Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Dún Aengus Banquet in 1857. The Visitors

The cast of characters who were part of the 70 strong group, who sailed to Arran on the Trinity House Steam Yacht, Vestal, in September 1857.
Dún Aengus in 1821 by George Petrie.


The list is extensive and we can only hope to provide some small  background on a number of the more famous visitors.

This list should be read in conjunction with our two articles about the great expedition to Árainn in  September 1857.
 Part one can be read Here
 Part two can be read Here

For three days in early September 1857, the islanders must have found it difficult to bring a bucket of water from the well, without tripping over a Lord, Sir, Judge, Baron, Reverend, Professor, Captain, Doctor or even an Excellency.

When we started the list, we expected to be able to get some information on a dozen or so of the participants but the importance and notoriety of so many of the 1857 group led us down a very long path.

We realise that the list is a bit long but it may be useful to dip into now and again as different participants are mentioned. At the last count we had found out something about more than fifty of those attending.
K



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1.  George Petrie. (1790-1866)



 Although he was not the official leader of the group, the great George Petrie was probably the most distinguished antiquarian on board the Vestal   as it steamed out from Galway to the Islands.

His list of achievements is both extensive and varied, he being among other things, an archeologist, musician, linguist, architect, writer, publisher, surveyor and painter. 

A Dubliner, born to a Scottish father and English mother, Petrie is a fine example of a section of that  Anglican, Anglo Irish population who were fiercely proud of their Celtic heritage and did so much to preserve and encourage it.

As a small child he had watched unseen in his father’s studio, as a young woman wept in front of a portrait his father had painted, of the executed Robert Emmet.

The young woman was Sarah Curran.
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2. Dr William Wilde (1815-1876)




The official leader and organiser of the Ethnological section of the British Science Association expedition to Arran, was Roscommon man, Dr William Wilde, father to Oscar and husband of the poet Jane Elgee, better known as “Speranza”.

An eye and ear specialist with a worldwide reputation, he was also one of the finest archeologists, antiquarians and folklorists of his time.

William Wilde had been to Arran previously in 1848, when he viewed some ancient pieces of high cross. He was conscious that Aran and the West had historical links with his grandmother’s people, the O’Flaherties.

Wilde was accompanied to Aran by his nineteen year old son, Henry Wilson. Henry was one of three children Wilde fathered before marriage, by different mothers. His two daughters, who were living In Monaghan with their uncle, Wilde’s brother, died tragically when their ball gowns  caught fire in 1871. They were in their early 20s.

His colourful love life and extra marital arrangements were frowned on by polite society and a libel action against his wife, taken by one of his lady friends in December 1864, would further damage his reputation. Luckily for him, he had been Knighted earlier the same year..
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3. John O’Donovan (1806-1861)


A man to rival Petrie was the great John O’Donovan from Kilkenny. His work with the Ordinance Survey office is priceless.

Bad and all as the Anglicisation of Gaelic place-names was, without the tireless work of a native speaker like John, much more would have been lost. 

We suspect that the W J O’Donovan, London, listed as attending, was John’s son. As well as contributing to the Ordinance Survey, John O’Donovan had qualified as a barrister at Kings Inns in 1847.

His endless wanderings around Ireland helped preserve much but was to leave him with poor health and a relatively early death.

He had first visited Arran in 1839, in the company of the seventeen year old assistant/artist, William Frederick Wakeman. 

According to William, on first seeing Dún Aengus in 1839, the place he had heard so much about, O’Donovan shouted aloud, threw his umbrella in the air and rolled on the ground with delight.
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4. Eugene O’Curry (1794-1862)



A brother-in -law to John O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry was the greatest expert on ancient Irish manuscripts of his time.

Employed for some years, like Petrie and  O’Donovan, with the Great Ordinance Survey of Ireland, he went on to be appointed Professor of Irish History and archeology at Newman’s new Catholic University, in 1854.

From his early days near Loop Head in Clare, he had a love for transcription and his experience on working on old manuscripts, his father had collected, would stand to him later.

 He was an expert on old Irish and he scoured various libraries and museums in different countries as he researched Ireland’s ancient past. 

Their total fluency in Irish gave both O’Curry and O’Donovan a huge advantage over most of the others, on their 1857 visit to the Aran Islands.
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5. Dr William Stokes (1804-1878)




One of the greatest Irish/British physicians of the 19th century, William Stokes was born in Ballinteer, Dublin into a family of science.

Unlike his United Irishman father, Whitley, William was a lifelong Unionist/Tory but with a passionate interest in Celtic studies and archeology.

A close friend of George Petrie, he published the story of Petrie’s remarkable life in 1868. He spent nine days exploring and recording, on the three Islands in 1867, in the company of the famous Lord Dunraven.

His son Whitley Stokes was a noted lawyer and Celtic scholar and accompanied his father to Arran in 1857. His wife Mary and his daughter, the antiquarian and painter, Margaret Stokes were also aboard the Vestal, although neither woman is named in newspaper reports.
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6. Sir Samuel Ferguson. (1810-1886)



 This Belfast born poet had, like so many of the other 1857 visitors, a wide range of interests. Many of us know him as the author of the poem Lament for Thomas Davis but he was a man of many talents.

As well as the poetry, Samuel Ferguson was a very accomplished lawyer, antiquarian, historian and painter and is credited by some as being inspirational in turning W.B. Yeats towards Irish mythology.

By 1857, Ferguson had spent almost 15 years learning Irish and during his three days in Árainn, it must have pleased him greatly to get a chance to use it as best he could.

Ferguson was from a family that embraced adventure. His older brother William Owens Ferguson died at the age of 28 while fighting his way through South America with the great General Boliver.

His “Lays of the Red Branch”, has been credited with inspiring others to take pride in their Irish heritage, and in particular, the heroes of Ulster.
Along with his pride in Ireland, Samuel Ferguson was also very proud of his Ulster/Scotch heritage. 
He was knighted in 1878 and became Sir Sam.
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7. Margaret Stokes 1832-1900



Margaret Stokes was just 25 when she joined her father William, mother Mary and brother Whitley on the Aran adventure of 1857.

She would later go on to become one of the most productive researchers of Irish antiquity but it’s only been in recent decades that the importance of her contribution, has been fully appreciated.

Margaret, from her teenage years, was said to be greatly attracted to the handsome painter,  Frederick William Burton but for whatever reason, was unlucky in love.

Burton is especially famous for two paintings, one of which, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, was recently voted Ireland’s most loved painting.
The meeting on the Turret Stairs. (National Gallery of Ireland.)

The painting is based on an ancient Danish ballad that Margaret’s brother Whitley had translated for Burton. It told of a young woman and her love for her bodyguard. Her father disapproved and ordered her seven brothers to kill her lover.

In the ensuing fight, the bodyguard kills the father and six of the brothers before the girl pleads for her remaining brother to be spared.

Alas, having spared the last brother, the bodyguard dies from his wounds and, in sorrow, the girl takes her own life.

In 1898, two years before she died, Margaret bought this painting and hung it in her house in Howth, bequeathing it and many others, to the National Gallery, after her death.

Margaret was a great organiser and many of the scholars of the time, from Petrie to Dunraven, benefited greatly from her keen eye and editing skills. 

You can hear a fine R.I.A. lecture on Margaret’s life, by Dr Marie Bourke Here
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8. Sir Frederick William Burton 1816-1900
Chalk drawing of himself. National Gallery of Ireland


As well as his famous watercolour, The meeting on the turret stairs, Frederick Burton also painted a famous picture associated with the West of Ireland,  The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child, which is almost certainly set in the Claddagh in Galway.

Born in Wicklow and raised in Clare, he went on to become one of Dublin’s favourite portrait painters.

His friendship with many of the great Antiquarians of the day, like Petrie, Ferguson and Stokes, fostered in him a passion for Irish antiquities which he partnered with his already extensive knowledge of the history of art.

Left handed, due to a childhood accident, Burton’s popularity has been increasing as the decades pass by.

In 1874, Gladstone appointed him Director of the National Gallery in London, a move that resulted in Burton ending his painting career.  Frederick Burton was Knighted in 1884.
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9. Rev Richard MacDonnell 1787-1867
By Stephen Catterson Smith (1806-1872)
Corkman, Richard MacDonnell was a very distinguished guest in 1857 and was given the honour of chairing the great meeting inside the walls of Dún Aengus.

Regarded as a reforming figure, he was elected Provost in 1852 and served until his death in 1867. 
His family owned a large tract of land around Dalkey in Dublin and his residence was Sorrento Cottage, a place with a view, both then and now.
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10. Rev John Hewitt Jellett (1817-1888)




Also present at the great banquet was the mathematician, Tipperary man, Rev John Hewitt Jellett, who would go on to become Provost of Trinity College from 1881-1888.

A senior figure in the Church of Ireland, in 1873 he was the only member of the Board of Trinity College to vote for the admission of women.

After the Great Hunger of the 1840s he devoted some of his time to studying an antidote to the potato blight and had some success with his ideas.
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11. Captain Rochfort Maguire (1815-1867)


Painting by Stephen Pearse (1819-1904) National Portrait Gallery, London.

It was a great coup for the Arran expedition to be accompanied by the Royal Navy hero, Rochfort Maguire from Mullingar.

Captain Maguire had just returned from two years searching, as Commander of HMS Plover, for the lost North West Passage expedition of Lord Franklin. Victorian society elevated dashing men like Rochfort to superhero status.

He had lectured the Association a few days previously on his fruitless search for Franklin and on some scientific readings he had recorded, during his time in the far north.

He would go on in 1866 to become commander of the Australian section of the Royal Navy but was to die in 1867, a month or so after an accidental fall. 
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12. Charles Cardale Babington (1808-1895)



One of England’s greatest botanists and a man with a great interest in archeology was Charles Babington. His trip to Arran and his rambles over the landscape must have pleased him greatly.

A contemporary of Darwin when a student at Cambridge, his  particular interest in butterflies would have made the exotic Aran examples a great treat. 

A devout evangelical Anglican, Babington was unconvinced by Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, he was said to have enjoyed his friend Bishop Wilberforce’s discomfort when confronted by Huxley at the famous British Association discussion on Darwin’s ideas, in 1860.

He had visited Ireland on a number of occasions previously. He would go on in 1861, to become Professor of Botany at St John’s College, Cambridge.
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13. Major General George Thomas Colomb.


Among the visitors was the seventy year old George Colomb, a professional soldier and amateur painter. 

In 1857 he was the Commander at The Hibernian Military School in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

He served with the British Army in North America at the time of the 1812 war. We don’t know however, if he was present when British troops burned both the White House and the city of Washington in August 1814.

This was in retaliation for an American attack on Ontario in Canada in June 1812. The Americans had burned most of the city of York and the British/Canadians made them pay a heavy price. 

General Colomb was an Englishman who settled in Dublin and was regarded as a very talented artist. Unlike many soldiers, he lived a long life and died in his bed in 1874.
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14. Sir Francis William Brady (1824-1909)


The year before his trip to Arran, Francis Brady had been part of the committee that set up the Irish Academy of Music. 

He himself was regarded as a musician and composer of some talent and the two nights spent on the island would have introduced him to local singers, songs and musicians.

A distinguished barrister, he served as a judge in Tyrone (1872-1908) and annoyed many by doggedly holding on to his office, well into old age. A man to be avoided whether innocent or guilty.

Judge Brady, like Provost MacDonnell before him, would live out his life, from the 1870s until his death, in Sorrento Cottage in Dalkey.
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15. John Thomas Gilbert (1829-1898)


A man who would go on to be regarded as one of the greats of Irish antiquity was the 28 year old Dubliner, John Thomas Gilbert. One of the younger members of the Arran expedition of 1857.

Son of a mixed marriage, John would never go to University as the only such establishment in Ireland at the time was Trinity College, which his Catholic mother declined to let him attend. 

John Gilbert had a wide range of historical interests but he is mainly remembered for the vast research he did on Ireland’s capital city, Dublin.

For his lifelong devotion to this huge undertaking of research, and his services to antiquity and history, he was knighted in 1897.
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16. Rev Charles Graves (1812-1899)




One of the most interesting Members of the group was the professor of Mathematics at TCD, Charles Graves.

He would go on to be elected president of the Royal Irish Academy between 1861 and 1866.

Charles had a fascination with the old Irish ogham system of stone markings and other forms of rock art.

He was a man of generous and easy going nature and in difficult and bigoted times, as Bishop of Limerick, had a very friendly relationship with his Catholic counterpart, Bishop O’Dwyer.

Charles was father to the Irish poet, Alfred Percival Graves (1846-1931) and for many years lived at Parknasilla House near Kenmare, before selling it to Great Southern Hotels in 1894.

N.B. There were two Rev Graves’ listed in the group of visitors, the other being Rev Richard Graves. We think this may be the father of a very famous antiquarian, Rev James Graves (1815-1886) of Kilkenny. Confirmation either way would be appreciated. Perhaps it is a mistake and it was indeed James and not his father, who attended. 

A leading figure in Irish anthropology of the time, the Rev James Graves’, is conspicuous by his absence.

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17. Consul Frédéric de Burggroff (1817-1884)


The French Consul in Dublin was one of the main guests at the great banquet of 1857. After the banquet was finished, he made a speech in French, thanking his hosts and then proceeded to join in with the others who were dancing a jig to the accompanying pipes.

Many years ago, we mentioned to an old man about the great banquet and how they enjoyed the finest of food and wine. We then mentioned how the French Consul had danced a jig afterwards.

This triggered the understandable but unkind comment, “Fluthered, don’t you know”, as he misunderstood the natural exuberance of our Gallic cousins.

A very popular and much sought after dinner guest in the more fashionable parts of Dublin, during his years as Consul, 1848-1863.
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18. Dr Norton Shaw


Among the many overseas visitors was the Secretary of The Royal Geographic Society, Dr Norton Shaw. He served in this role from 1849-1863.

He was also the editor of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and was regarded as a great organiser and catalogued much of the society’s manuscripts.

In later years he served as British consul at Islay in Peru and later to St.Croix in the Virgin Islands.
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19. Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870)




Among the many eminent medical men who attended the Arran event, none was more important than the Scottish obstetrician, Dr James Young Simpson.

A brilliant mind, he is credited with being the first, in 1847, to demonstrate the safe use of the anaesthetic chloroform, on a human. The human he experimented with, was himself. 

At the age of 28 he became Professor of Medicine and Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh.

He had a deep interest in the history and antiquity of Scotland and like his good friend, the Rev Charles Graves, had a particular interest in ancient rock art and stone carving.

He even did some field work in Ireland with Rev Bishop Graves and recalled the time the bishop rolled back some turf to reveal some ancient stone carvings.
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20. Dr Thomas Joliffe Tufnell (1818-1885)



Among the many medics in Arran in 1857, was the surgeon in charge of the Military Prison in Dublin, English born, Thomas Joliffe Tufnell.

In 1846 he was in charge of the old Provost prison but when the new District Military Prison, was opened shortly after at Arbourhill, he was put in charge of this.

Until Wellington in 1846 reduced the maximum number of lashes a soldier could receive from 200 to 50, there was plenty of need for medical care.

He was sent to inspect the army hospitals in Crimea in 1855 and in the same year, was  made Regis Professor of Military Surgery in Ireland.
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21. Sir Joseph Lister 1827-1912


Another giant from the field of medicine was the Essex born Quaker, Joseph Lister. Trained in England, he would spend much of his life in Scotland.

His greatest success was his application of carbolic acid to sterilise medical instruments and clean wounds. This was when the germ theory of disease had still to be fully accepted.

This made surgery much safer and earned for Dr Lister the title “Father of modern surgery” 

For his contributions to medicine, he was knighted in 1883 . He was  in time surgeon to both Queen Victoria and her son, King Edward V11.
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22. Sir John Francis Lentaigne (1803-1886)


The son of a refugee from the French Revolution, John Lentaigne was both a lawyer and physician. 

Although a staunch Catholic, he was one of the few of his religion to attend Trinity College.

A member of many government bodies, he was Judge in both Dublin and Monaghan and in 1844 served as High Sheriff of Monaghan.

For many years he was Inspector General of Irish prisons and also served as inspector of reformatories and industrial schools.

 He was viewed with suspicion by some Home Rulers for the many government appointments he held on to into very old age.

A Privy Councillor, he was at one time President of both the Royal Statistical and Royal Zoological, societies.
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23. Professor Charles Croker King 
Courtesy of Galway County Library.
Opened in 1849, The Queens College in Galway was represented on the Arran trip by their Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, Charles Croker King who qualified as a doctor in 1844.

Charles was the grandson of Samuel Croker King, the first President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. Samuel was credited with saving the life of a child who would go on to become The Duke of Wellington and Prime Minister of the U.K.

In the sectarian times that were in it, the hope was, that the three new Queens Colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway would be accepted, if made strictly non denominational. 

This proved not to be the case and they were condemned by the Catholic Hierarchy as “Godless” a name that kept many Catholics from attending.

In 1854 U.C.D was opened in Dublin, as a Catholic University, in opposition to the Protestant Trinity College. 

Those Catholics who attended the Queen’s Colleges were in many instances discriminated against by their co-religionists, for doing so.

Professor King would stay in his post until 1863, when he was appointed to the Local Government Inspectorate. He was medical Commissioner of the Irish Local Government Board when he died in February 1888.
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24.Dr Aquila Smith (1806-1890)


One of the greatest authorities on Numismatics, Aquila Smith from Tipperary, also visited Arran in 1857.

This is the study of currency in all its forms and with the many railways and canals being constructed around Ireland, he had plenty to study from the many coins unearthed.

He was also a keen archeologist as well as being a very highly regarded medical doctor. His interest in coins led him to develop a curiosity about minerals and whether Ireland ever produced tin ore.
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25. Martin Haverty (1809-1887)


Photo from National Library of Ireland.


The man who recorded most of what we know about the 1857 expedition to Aran, was the journalist, librarian and historian, Mayo born, Martin Haverty.

Along with Eugene O’Curry, George Petrie, James Clarence Mangan, John O’Donovan, William Wakeman and others, Martin Haverty was part of a determined group of researchers, artists, copiers and field workers that worked on the huge Ordinance Survey task  that began in the 1830s.

He is famous for his “The History of Ireland, Ancient and Modern” published in 1860.
Now, more than 150 years later, we are indebted  to Martin for his detailed account of the Arran adventure.
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26. Robert Mackay Smith (1802-1888)


The Scottish businessman, philanthropist, scientist, meteorologist and antiquarian, Robert Mackay Smith was another of the overseas visitors.

Graduating With a science degree, at the age of 13 from Glasgow University, he served as Chairman of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and President of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.
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27. Charles Hare Hemphill 1st Baron Hemphill 



A young man who attended the big picnic at Dún Aengus was Charles Hemphill. He would go on to have an illustrious legal career and in time become 
Solicitor -General for Ireland.

Some readers may remember barrister, the late Paul Anthony McDermott who was a most entertaining and knowledgeable commentator on all things legal.

We can remember Paul regaling listeners on his favourite legal case, which by chance, involved Charles Hare Hemphill.

The case involved a very decadent picnic that the members of Dublin Corporation treated themselves to, in 1892. In a court case in 1894, taken by a ratepayer who felt the vast amount of brandy, cigars, champagne  etc should not be paid for by the people of Dublin, Solicitor-General Hemphill appeared for the corporation. 

His defence was shredded in the most delightful way when the Judge, Sir Peter O’Brien from Clare, proceeded to list the menu on offer before finding for the citizens of Dublin.Irish Times article Here.

As Judge O’Brien listed off the fare on offer in 1892, we wonder if it brought back memories for Charles Hare Hemphill, of the great banquet at Dún Aengus in 1857. He became a Baron in 1906.
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28. John M Mitchell.(1796-1865)


The Foreign Correspondent of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland, John M Mitchell, had a chance to add to his knowledge of Ireland and the West coast.

Seven years later, in 1864, he would publish a detailed account of the life and habits of the herring, which was of vital importance to the Scottish economy.

In this book he detailed the controversy over trawling in Galway Bay and makes a passing reference to the battles between the Claddagh fishermen and trawlers, in 1852.

A wealthy businessman from Leith, he was both a Belgian Consul of Scotland and a Knight of The Order of Leopold. In 1840 he had been made a fellow of The Society of Antiquarians.
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29. Rev John William Stubbs 1821-1897


One of Ireland’s finest mathematicians of the time, was Rev John Stubbs from Finglas. He was a young man in 1857 when he visited Aran, but would go on to make a name for himself.

Apart from being a brilliant and pioneering mathematician, he also had a great interest in astronomy. 

In 1889 he would publish The History of Dublin University, which was a vast undertaking. He would be elected a senior fellow of Trinity college as well as serving as bursar for a time.

A senior figure in the Church of Ireland, he was treasurer at St Patrick’ Cathedral. Born and reared at Fortwilliam in Finglas, so named because it was the spot where King William camped after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
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30. Thomas Higginbotham Thompson 1808-86



Every good story needs a villain and this role was played by Thomas, land agent to the owner of the three Aran islands, Miss Digby of Kildare.

Thomas H was the second son of the previous agent, George Thompson, and one could spend a fair few days exploring the three islands and never hear a good word said about either of them.

The Thompsons main family seat was Clonskeigh Castle in Dublin but the family also had property in Meath and Kerry. Thomas served as Grand Master of the Trinity College lodge of the Orange Order.

Thomas was also the belligerent chairman of the Dublin Protestant Association. Disgusted with the Catholic Emancipation act of 1829 and fearful of the disestablishment of the Episcopalian Church in Ireland, Thomas gave full vent to his feelings, just a few months before the 1857 visit to Arran.

Annoyed not just that Protestant control was being undermined in Ireland, Thomas railed against the decline of Protestant power in the rest of the U.K.
He preached about taking back control.

Tim Robinson has detailed the many grievances of the islanders against both men and their condescending, bigoted, arrogant, ruthless and greedy attitude, is still remembered.

A few years after the Aran trip, Thomas and his business partners would set up the Irish Iodine and Marine Salts Manufacturing Company and proceeded to exploit the islanders, who at the time were harvesting 500 ton of kelp per year.

Eviction was the threat to those who refused his low price and opted to sell to the traditional buyers. The ruin of the Aran plant, An teach Mór,  can be seen just East of the seal colony on the Low Road. It operated for only five years or so.

The promise of a 20% return P.A was the lure to draw in investors but this could only be achieved by robbing the people who risked their lives and their health, in gathering the kelp.

Thomas Thompson played a huge role in the whole 1857 expedition and the fresh coats of whitewash that the island  houses were given, was all to impress the visitors of the love and care of the owner and her agent, for their devoted tenants.
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31. The Truells of Wicklow.


We are unsure of who these two men, Robert and H.P Truell were but we are fairly confident that H.P. was Henry Pomeroy Truell (1836-1902) of Clonmannon, Ashfort, County Wicklow.

Henry Truell described his religion as Plymouth Brethren, a group who had split from the Anglican Church in Ireland in the 1820s.

Henry was deeply involved with the society for the protection of animals and also served as a justice of the peace in Wicklow. In 1871 he was appointed High Sheriff for Co Wicklow.

He was accompanied to Arran in 1857 by Robert Truell and whether this was his father, Robert Holt Truell (1797-1870) or his brother Robert Truell of Ballyhenny (1828-1867), we are unable to tell.

Clonmannon house would go on to be the Irish residence of the American mining millionaire, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, the man who in 1968 bequeathed to the Irish people, the magnificent and priceless collection which is housed in Dublin in the museum/library, named after him.
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32. Andrew Armstrong.



The man who probably did most of the donkey work in organising the whole 1857 expedition to Arran, was the secretary to the group, Andrew Armstrong.

We have been unable to find out much about Andrew but he was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1862 and died in 1875. He lived in Rathmines and later in Bray, Co Wicklow.

At one stage Andrew owned Kylemore House in Connemara, which he leased in 1866 to Alexander Taylor. It’s still being run as a top class guest house.

In 1869, Andrew was among those who contributed to a memorial fund for the great Rev. James Henthorn Todd, who spent much of his life, researching and preserving the Irish language.

Rev Todd is very conspicuous by his absence on the 1857 visit to Aran. Perhaps he was ill or otherwise engaged. He was one of the most important archeologists of the time and his great interest in the Celtic languages would have made Arran seem irresistible.

We believe Andrew was born around 1801 but are not certain. In 1863, he presented the R.I.A with two ancient earthen vessels, called crachins, which had been found in the Hebrides.

In February 1872, Andrew seconded a R.I.A. motion, that a fund be set up in Ireland to help find Dr David Livingstone, who was missing, feared lost, somewhere in deepest Africa.
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Henry was the illegitimate but partly acknowledged son of William Wilde. Born thirteen years before Oscar’s parents married, William looked after his son although he was referred to as his nephew.

Like his father, Henry pursued a medical career and was an army surgeon for some years. His father would take him in as partner in his medical practise

 In 1877 Dr Wilson was appointed a trustee of St Marks Opthalmic Hospital in Dublin.

This was in place of his father, Sir William Wilde, who had died the previous year. Like Wilde, Henry Wilson was deeply involved with the Royal Irish Academy.

All in all, William Wilde brought a fair bit of colour to the group of excursionists and his enlightened attitude to his son, must have had tongues wagging in Victorian Dublin.

He was only nineteen years old when he joined his father on the Arran trip and would die the year after his father, at the young age of thirty nine.
This was just weeks before he was due to marry.
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34. J Huband Smith 

J. Huband Smith was possibly born in Westmeath and went on to build a distinguished career in Law. He also had a great interest in archeology and antiquity in general and was a regular contributor to the Royal Irish Academy.

Exploring Árainn in 1857 must have been very special to him as in the 1840s he had done a detailed study of the island of Iona where he did sketches and stone rubbings.

He had an interest in Colmcille who was in Árainn as a young monk before falling out with Naomh Éanna and being banished. 

Colmcille went on to settle in Iona, a spot we hope to get to visit some day. J Huband Smith would have been delighted, we are sure, to hear what the islanders knew of the row between the two great monks.
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35. Park Neville 1812-1886


Among the group was a famous architect and engineer, Mr Park Neville, who had been heavily involved in the design of a water and sewage scheme for the city of Dublin in the 1840s.

As an architect and engineer, Park Nevill would have had a great interest in the churches, towers and forts of Aran. This was before the Board of Works did some restoration work on the great forts, in the late 19th century.

At the time of his visit to Aran, Park Neville was the City Engineer and Local Surveyor for Dublin. 
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36. Dr William D Moore (1813-1871)


William was a Dublin based doctor with a keen interest in the history of medicine. Coming from a family of physicians and apothecaries, William was a prolific writer as well as having a gift for languages. He translated many medical papers from all over Europe.

In 1849 he presented a study of the old Barber Surgeons of the 18th century, who are the reason that barber shops once had a red and white pole outside.


In 1875 his son, Sir John William Moore, would succeed the great Dr William Stokes as chief physician at the Meath Hospital.

William was also a keen meteorologist and kept daily records which he studied in conjunction with medical conditions. An interest, his son John would continue for over 70 years.
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37.George Macdona


The visitors were well fitted out for their trip to Arran and the clothing company that did so was we suspect, that of George Macdona of number 32 Molesworth Street in Dublin.

In 1848, George was one of the more than 80,000 people in Ireland and parts of the U.K who signed a petition for mercy for the Young Irelander, William Smith O’Brien, who had been sentenced to death after the 1848 violence in Tipperary.

George was an active manufacturing member of the Royal Dublin Society which is no surprise, given his position as a successful merchant who fitted out both the gentry and the clergy.
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38. Thomas Hayden M.D. (1823-1881)



We believe this to be Tipperaryman, Professor Thomas Hayden from Cardinal John Henry Newman’s new Catholic university in Dublin. (Now U.C.D.)

Thomas was also one of Cardinal Newman’s two personal physicians. A friend to Eugene O’Curry who was Professor of Irish at the same university and one of the main figures of the 1857 visit to Aran.

In 1911,Thomas’ daughter Mary Hayden was appointed first Professor of modern Irish history at U.C.D. A fierce advocate for the rights of women, Mary is famous for her Short history of  the Irish People, published in 1921. 

In 1857, Thomas was just five years qualified as a doctor but would go on to become Professor of Anatomy at the Catholic University and in 1861, a physician at the newly opened Mater Hospital. 
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39. John Augustus Byrne (1828-1891)



A graduate of Trinity and a lecturer at the Catholic University, John A Byrne was one of the foremost Gynacologists and Obstetricians of the time.

Another example of how the 1857 expedition was dominated by medics and academics. In 1857 John was working as assistant physician at the Rotunda hospital but in 1859 was appointed by the Catholic Hierarchy to be Professor of Midwifery at the Catholic University. (UCD)

Like quite a number of those who dined inside Dún Aengus in 1857, John was a resident of Merrion Square in Dublin. He died in January 1891 at the age of 63.
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39. Pierce Creagh Q.C.


We are fairly sure that this was the barrister Pierce Creagh whose family owned large tracts of land in Munster and especially County Clare.

In 1857, Pierce Creagh was one of the best known “Gentlemen” in Clare and was based at Mount Elva, near Lisdoonvarna. He also had a home and office on Mountjoy Sq in Dublin.

A wealthy Roman Catholic landlord, he and his family had steered a delicate line between his co religionists and the Protestant Ascendency society,  where he socialised.

He was one of the few Catholics made a Q.C. in 1844. A Guardian at the Ballyvaughan Union, he was the leader in Ireland of the Boards of Guardians who feared bankruptcy because of the debts the government wanted them to assume for relief efforts during the Gorta Mór.

He is credited with being instrumental in forcing Gladstone to write off the Consolidated Annuities debts in 1853, although this did see the introduction of income tax in Ireland. 

Al though a fervent supporter of the Tory, Lord Derby and bitterly opposed to Gladstone, Pierce was also very generous to the Roman Catholic Church and contributed to the building of many churches in Clare. 

He moved with a foot in both camps, as many of those Catholics who managed to hold on to their land, tended to steer a delicate course.

At least Pierce Creagh would not be fazed by either the geology or the stone limestone walls of Árainn as he would have seen it all before in his native Burren.
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40. Stephen Nolan Elrington (1816-1890)


Stephen Elrington was the  co-editor of  Saunders Newsletter and we can assume that it was he who wrote up their report of the Aran trip.

As well as being a journalist, Stephen was a poet and composer and was called to the Bar in 1851. He would go on to be assistant librarian at the Law Library at Kings Inns.
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41. Arthur Edward Gayer Q.C.(1801-1877)


Arthur was both a barrister and a Protestant churchman. His brother Rev Charles Gayer (1804-1848) was heavily involved in the running of the Dingle and Ventry Protestant mission when the battle for souls and the battle against starvation, was raging fiercely, side by side.

Arthur served as honorary secretary of the Dingle & Ventry  mission for about 25 years. When Charles caught the typhoid  fever and died in 1848, Arthur took on the job of rearing his nine orphaned children. By all accounts, he reared them  with great kindness and they all did well.

His own clerical duties included him being the chancellor and victor general in Ossory in 1848, 
Meath in 1851 and for Cashel, Emily, Waterford and Lismore, also in 1851.

A few months after his visit to Aran, in March 1858, he unsuccessfully stood for MP for Dublin University. In 1859 he was appointed to the official post of Ecclesiastical Commissioner for Ireland, a position he held until it was abolished in 1869 as part of the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland.

He is mentioned in the reports as one of three visitors who mounted a pony at the Gleanacháin in order to make their way to the Seven Churches and onwards to the Dún. The other two being Provost Macdonald and the English academic, Charles Babington. 

In the intolerant religious times of that era and given that the expedition was composed of those with different religious beliefs and indeed some with none, it is likely that matters of theology were avoided, for the sake of harmony.

Arthur Edward Gayer was a prolific writer on many topics and in 1870 published a book on his own family history, Memoirs of the Family Gayer.
Like many of the other visitors, Arthur was a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
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42. Marcus Goodbody J.P. (1811-1886)


This is almost certainly Marcus Goodbody who was born in Mountmellick but after his mother died in 1824 the family moved to Clara, Co Offaly. In 1869 he moved to Stillorgan in Dublin.

The Goodbody name in Ireland is famous for the incredible amount of generosity and concern they showed during different Irish famines. Members of the Society of Friends ( Quakers), they were  noted for giving to the starving, with no strings attached.

Marcus would have been 46 when he visited Aran and would have had an interest in the West, his family having property and land around Athenry.
There is a possibility that the man in Aran was his cousin, Marcus Russell Goodbody, who managed the Athenry estate. 

The Goodbody name is associated with the textile industry and their factory in Clara operated until the 1980s. Their attitude of giving good employment, in order to lift the people out of poverty, served as an enlightened model, for over a hundred years. 

OffalyHistoryblog have a great article on the Goodbody family by Michael Goodbody.Here
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43. Richard H Frith



A friend to William Wilde, Richard was also a fellow member of the Royal Irish Academy. Richard was County Surveyor for Dublin and in 1857 had published a book, Macadamised Streets compared with Paved Streets.

Researching Richard seems to suggest that he was born in Co Fermanagh and died in Dublin at the age of 58. He appears to have been married twice, his second wife Lavinia Lambert being from Athenry.

A strange Aran connection with Lavinia’s old ancestral home, Castle Ellen, is worth telling. A few years ago the old home of Stephen Dirrane of Bungowla and Man of Aran fame, was bought by our good friend, Micheál Ó Cionnaith.

He was a regular on our bus when he was doing up Stephen’s old house.

Micheál has also spent years restoring Castle Ellen near Athenry and today it is regarded as one of the most unusual places to stay in Ireland. Here is the link.Castle Ellen

A strange legal case arose in 1872, the year before Richard Frith died, where he took a case for assault and false imprisonment, against the Marshall of the Four Courts. Seems he called the Marshall a liar and the Marshall had him put in custody for a while.

There was no further record of this adjourned case and it seems Richard’s death soon after, may have ended the matter.
A link to the history of Castle Ellen. Here

And how did we start with the 1857 expedition to Aran and end up with the history of the house Edward Carson spent his holidays in ?
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44. Charles Henry Foot Q.C.


Another of the many legal people who had an interest in archeology was Charles Foot. He was a young man in 1857 but would die suddenly in December 1870.

The Royal Historical and Archeological Association of Ireland paid tribute to the papers he contributed and for all the members of the legal profession, he encouraged to join.

He wrote a number of legal books, the best known being The Statutes Relating to the Powers and Duties of Grand Juries. He also  submitted a paper to the Archeological and Historic Society  of Co Kilkenny on his exploration of Subterranean Chambers at the Mooney estate in Doon, Co. Offaly. 
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45. James Foulis Duncan MD.(1812-1895)


James was a Fellow of the College of Physicians and Physician in Ordinary to St. Patrick Dun’s hospital in Dublin.

He was a regular contributor to the Dublin Medical Journal of Science. A man of strong religious views, his paper God in Disease, would be regarded as unscientific by many today.

His warning in 1875 that the increased mental activity and distress of the industrial revolution, would lead to an increase in mental disorders seems prophetic.

He was a pioneer in the bringing of mental health into the 19th century and the introducing of medical doctors to replace what were little more than jailers. 

He was reared at Farnam House in Finglas, a private mental asylum that his father had bought in 1815 and he had a humane understanding of the suffering caused by mental illness.

Among the large crowd of medics who visited Árainn in 1857, James Duncan was one who did more than most, to move the profession on. 
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46. Sir Thomas Bernard Dancer 1806-1872


A landowner based near Borrisokane in N Tipperary, Sir Thomas had worked with Pierce Creagh in getting relief from the Consolidated Annuities which threatened to wipe out a large section of the Landlord class.

In researching the Aran visitors of 1857, it’s noticeable that many knew each other, some were related and many were neighbours in Dublin.

Merrion Square and Rathmines featured prominently. In many ways it was a get together of old friends and acquaintances with perhaps a few younger hopefuls doing some networking with all the important people.

A magistrate who had served as High Sheriff of Tipperary in 1852, Sir Thomas was involved, like many another Tipperary man, in the horse racing industry.

He also had property in England and Kildare and is likely to have known the Miss Digbys of Kildare, owners of the three Aran Islands.

He also had an interest in the development of railways throughout the West coast of Ireland, from Limerick to Sligo. 

In 1851, Sir Thomas caused some upset in Tipperary when he invited an English farmer to take up a tenancy on 300 acres of prime land.

A feature of post famine Ireland was the introduction of Scottish and English tenants to farm some of the better land.

He died at his home in Bath in 1872, the day after his eldest daughter’s wedding
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47. John Grattan 1800-1871


It turns out that John made quite a contribution to antiquarian studies in 19th century Ireland. Born in Dublin in 1800 he qualified in apothecary in 1824 and moved to Belfast in 1825. 

He was President of the Belfast literary Society in the 1840s and contributed a number of papers.

The study of skulls was very popular in those times and it seems John Grattan had a fascination for them and for Round Towers. 

In 1852 John delivered to the Belfast division of the British Association, a talk on the skulls he had dug up inside some Round Towers and even had the skulls on display.

This was not unusual at the time, when freelance amateur archeologists were exploring the countryside, but it would be very much frowned on today.

At Grattan’s Belfast lecture in 1852, a member of the audience stood up and announced that he had with him the skull of the great Bard O’Carolan, which had been sent to him that morning.
You couldn’t make this up.

It can be assumed that with his great interest in Round Towers, John Grattan was delighted during his trip to Árainn, to be in the company of the world’s greatest authority on them, George Petrie.
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48. George Ellis M.D. (1810-1909)


George was a life member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and was a regular attendee at the Association’s yearly meetings, in different parts of the U.K.

By far the longest liver of the Aran group, George was 99 years old when he died in 1909. 

Like Eugene O’Curry, he was born in Co Clare but would have had quite a different upbringing than Eugene as George came from a Protestant background.

He qualified as a doctor in 1834 and spent most of his long life, working in Dublin. In 1844 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

He did quite a lot of research on stomach ailments and in 1852 presented his findings on the effectiveness of using sulphuric acid in the treatment of dysentery.

He championed a cure that he invented himself and which he recommended other medics to use to combat stomach problems caused by stress and irregular hours.

The cure involved taking parts of the stomach of a newly killed calf and putting them in a wine bottle. The bottle was then filled with sherry, corked and let stand for three weeks before using.

While this sounds like a strange and slightly bizarre way to treat gastric problems, it’s worth reflecting that George Ellis lived to the grand old age of 99.
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49. Captain Brownrigg 1798-1873


We believe this man was the deputy Inspector General of the Irish Constabulary. The year after his trip  to Aran, Henry Brownrigg would become Inspector General of Constabulary, a position he held until 1865.

In November 1858, Henry Brownrigg became Sir Henry, as befitted his position as the most senior policeman in Ireland. The same year he received great praise for reforms he introduced to policing which were expected to put an end to agrarian outrages or Ribbonism.

Sir Henry retired from the force in 1865.

After the abortive and poorly organised Fenian rising of 1867, which his reorganised force is credited with defeating, the constabulary was awarded the title “Royal” and became the “Royal Irish Constabulary.”

Before this they were known as simply, “The Irish Constabulary.” The present Garda Band can trace its roots back to the Irish Constabulary Band, formed in 1861 by Henry Brownrigg.

Like almost all senior policemen in Ireland at the time, Sir Henry was Protestant and like all of the very senior ones, was both ex military  and English.

Sir Henry John Brownrigg died in London in November 1873 at the age of 75.
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50. Thomas Fitzpatrick MD (1806-1898)


We are unsure who this doctor was but we suspect it was the obstetrician, Thomas Fitzpatrick of 31 Lower Baggot Street in Dublin. 

Thomas was it seems heavily involved with the charitable work of the Vincent de Paul and a  member of the British Association.

He was also for many decades, the medical officer in Dublin for a London based insurance company.

Other than that, we can only say that it’s likely that O’Donovan mentioned to him that at one stage the Fitzpatricks were part owners of the Aran Islands until they sold them on.
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51. Charles B Johnston


It’s hard to be sure who this was but we think it was the superintendent of Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin.

His appearing on a number of juries and the letters esq after his name, make him very likely to be among the 1857 visitors.

In November 1856, the Ballsbridge based Protestant charity, “Dublin by Lamplight” thanked Charles for his donation of potatoes. This was a charity for women who had fallen on hard times.

We have been unable to get much information on Charles, except that he is referred to as “late” in 1883 and that his son, Lieutenant George Bernard Johnston, died in Calcutta in March 1867.
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52. L Litton


We are unsure who this was but we suspect he was from the legal community of Dublin and a son of the Master in Chancery or perhaps the master himself.
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53 H.H.G. Mac Donnell



This is almost certainly Hercules Henry Graves Mac Donnell (1819-1900). Hercules was the son of Trinity College Provost, Richard MacDonnell who chaired the great meeting at Dún Aengus.

A Justice of the Peace and barrister, Hercules had a great interest in music and just the year before coming to Aran, he and another explorer, Francis William Brady, had been elected joint honorary secretaries of the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Hercules lived at Sorrento Cottage while his father lived at Sorrento House, and his friendship with Sir Thomas Brady would see Brady rent first and later buy, Sorrento Cottage, with Hercules moving to Roby Place in Kingstown. ( Dún Laoghaire)

Blessed with a fine baritone voice, we wonder if he entertained the travellers to a few songs as they lounged on the grass inside the great fort of Dún Aengus.

In 1836 he had been summoned by the Dean at Trinity for choral practises in his rooms. Hercules defended himself by comparing his activities to the “other Fellows who made the nights hideous with their unseemly orgies in their chambers”

He won the argument and the result was the formation of the College Choral Society the following year.

On two occasions, Hercules and his wife sang for Queen Victoria when she visited Dublin.

He died in Dún Laoghaire in 1900 in his 82nd year. 
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54. Acheson Lyle 1795-1870.


Acheson is recorded in 1846 as being treasurer  of the Dublin Geological Society so the karst limestone crags of Aran would have been of great interest.

Called to the Bar in 1818, he was for a time Assistant Barrister in the Queens County (Offaly)
At the time of his visit to Aran in 1857 he was Master of Chancery at the Four Courts in Dublin.

In 1860 his appointment as Lord Lieutenant of his native County Londonderry (Derry) caused great outrage among northern Lodges and Businesses as he was the first Whig (Liberal) to be appointed to such a position in the north.


The office commanded a salary of £2,500 a year, which was a vast sum at the time. The idea of a Presbyterian barrister being appointed, rather than an Episcopalian aristocrat, incensed the Belfast News-Letter.

He died after a long illness at The Groves, in Derry in April 1870.
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55. Cathcart Lees MD.


Cathcart was physician to the South Dublin union in  when he presented a paper to the Dublin Journal of Medical science on Hypertrophy in the brains of Children”

It’s striking just how many of the 1857 visitors  were medical men but of course the leader of the expedition was Dr. William Wilde, who would have been friendly with most of them.

He lectured at the Ledwich School of Medicine and was a surgeon at the Meath Hospital. 

He died at the young age of 49 in December 1861 and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. 
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56. Captain Percy.(1798-1882)


We suspect this was Captain Francis Percy, who had recently, like Captain Brownrigg, become an Assistant Inspector General in The Irish Constabulary. He had just taken up command of the Constabulary depot in the Phoenix Park.

With the amount of important people in Aran in 1857, it’s no wonder that two Assistant Inspector Generals of the Irish Constabulary were part of the group. It’s likely that a number of other policemen were also sent to Aran, for the duration of the visit.

 Retiring in Dublin on a pension of £500 a year, Francis Percy died at the age of 85 in March 1882.
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57. Thomas O’Hagan(1812-1885)


Although we have listed Thomas very far from the top, it’s possible that he was, in later times, the most important legal figure in a group of very important legal figures.

We had never heard of Thomas O’Hagan but researching him triggered a huge amount of information as he had a diverse range of interests.

Born in Belfast, he was educated at the Royal Belfast Academic Institution, which had been founded by the emerging Belfast merchant elite, for a more rounded education for their sons.


The only Roman Catholic in his school, he was regarded as its most brilliant student. From school he spent some time as a journalist before starting on a law career. His letter of admission was signed by Daniel O’Connell.

His Unionist leanings and opposition to Repeal would see O’Hagan and O’Connell drifting in different directions.


Thomas O’Hagan was at a distinct disadvantage as he was a Roman Catholic. In the Ireland of those times, Episcopalians were first class citizens with Dissenters and Roman Catholics filling the next two positions.

O’Hagan’s father had operated a small boat before opening a liquor store in Belfast and was part of the emerging middle class.

In 1857 when he joined the excursionists to Árainn, William had been a QC for eight years and three years after, in 1860, he would become Solicitor-General for Ireland.

A brilliant orator and lecturer, he was in great demand as a speaker and seems to have lectured widely, on a variety of topics.

His rise to Solicitor-General was not just down to his legal brilliance but also to the fact that he was a supporter of both the Union and the Whigs. Appointing a Roman Catholic Unionist was viewed as beneficial for harmony in Ireland.

He was returned as Liberal MP for Tralee in 1863 and in 1865 was made a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland). A high point of his career came in 1868 when he was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

It would have been impossible for Thomas to have held this office when he was rambling the limestone crags of Aran, as until 1867, it was illegal for a Roman Catholic to hold this position.

Thomas O’Hagan steered a delicate path during his life as he tried to keep a foot in two camps. Although he had much support among the Catholic Hierarchy, he came into conflict with those who wanted Repeal of the Union. He would have been disparagingly described as a “Castle Catholic” by many of his opponents. 

He became a peer in 1870 and resigned as Chancellor in 1874 before resuming the role again in 1880.

Sir Thomas O’Hagan died in London in February 1885 and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin.
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We have now reached the end of our list of diners at the great Dún Aengus banquet.

Of the people listed officially as attending, we have just three who are not in our list.

1.William Millen, Belfast
2.William Robinson, Dublin
3. L.F. Byrne, Dublin.

William Millen may have been a well known shoe and boot retailer in Belfast. He lived at Nelson Street in Belfast where his wife Jane died at the age of 65 in 1859.

There are letters on record of William writing to John O’Donovan seeking advice on Archeological sites in Ballyeaston, Co Antrim.

L.F. Byrne may have been the chairman of the Dublin vintners.

Any information on these will be gratefully received as will any additions or corrections to our main list.

This list should be read in conjunction with our two articles about the great expedition to Árainn in  September 1857. 
Part one can be read Here
Part two can be read Here
Rev William Kilbride who was a keen antiquarian.
No mention of him in the reports of the trip to Aran
Photo from Jane Shackleton collection.
One man noticeable by his absence was the local Protestant Minister, William Kilbride (1826-1899). He had taken up his position in 1855 and was a keen archeologist with a great interest in the Irish language. Perhaps he was away or perhaps neither he nor the Parish Priest, John Moran, were invited.
Ml Muldoon. February 2020