Annála Ríoghachta Éireann, The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, better known as the Annals of the Four Masters, is an anthology which covers the medieval period in Ireland, from AM 2242 to AD 1616. They contain records of the High Kings of Ireland as well as provincial kings, chiefs, distinguished families, men of science, poets, saints, abbots and bishops. They chronicle wars, plagues, and the rise and fall of religious organizations and Gaelic tribes in Ireland. Written entirely in Irish, it is the most complete account of Gaelic Ireland to remain.
The Annals were begun on 10 January 1632 in a small Franciscan abbey near the Dowes River in Co Donegal. The chief compiler of the annals was Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh from Ballyshannon. Ó Cléirigh was a trained antiquarian and historian, born around 1590 in Kilbarron Castle. In 1623 he went to Louvain to join the Franciscan Order. He returned to Ireland in 1626 to collect the lives of Irish Saints. It was then that Ó Cléirigh conceived the idea of collecting and transcribing the annals spread throughout Ireland into one continuous doccument. The Annals were compiled during a turbulent time in Ireland’s history, the Plantation of Ulster was in full swing and Catholic religious organisations were under pressure by the authorities. Ó Cléirigh feared the annals of Gaelic history in Ireland would eventually be destroyed.
The patron of the project was Fearghal Ó Gadhra, M.P., a Gaelic lord in Coolavin, Co Sligo. Ó Cléirigh recuited three additional scribs Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain. Though only Ó Cléirigh was a Franciscan Friar the group was given the name The Four Friars, Na Ceithre Máistrí in the original Irish. The name was anglicised to The Four Masters and their work assumed that name.
The Annals were completed on this date in 1636. The first translation of the Annals into English was completed by Owen Connellan in 1846, though it only begins in AD 1171. Several years later a translation of the complete Annals was published by John O’Donovan. This translation was funded by a government grant of £1,000 secured by Sir Rowan Hamilton, the then President of the Royal Irish Academy. Several original manuscript copies are held in Trinity College Dublin and the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.
Photo: The Triskle Heads sculpture by Brendan McGloin; Three heads carved in one block of Limestone set upon a sandstone column with a capping stone between, reading the names of the three masters in Irish. The figure represents the Fourth master, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, a monk whom thought of the idea to chronical the history of Ireland and brought together the three other men to research and compile the Annals of the Four Masters. Located in front of the Bundoran Library, Bundoran, Co Donegal