A farmer’s son, Peadar Ó Laoghaire was born in Clondrohid, Cork, and grew up in the Muskerry Gaeltacht. The Ó Laoghaire family have been in this area for centuries and he was a descendant of the Carrignacurra branch of same family. Both his mother and father were of the Ó Laoghaire clan. His mother was a school teacher who taught the young Peadar at home. He had a special love for the Gaelic language.
He attended Maynooth College and was ordained a priest in 1867. He was moved to Castlelyons in 1891 and became the Parish Priest there. The land war between tenant farmers and rack renting landlords was ongoing and Ó Laoghaire replaced Fr. Thoms Ferris who was known as the ‘Land League Priest,’ and was evicted from his house and lived in a hut in the chapel yard. Ó Laoghaire was a practical and kind man and supported those who were evicted on the side of the road.
After hearing a demand by revivalists for reading materials in Irish, he joined the Gaelic League and embarked on a prolific writing career.
He wrote his most famous story Séadna and it is considered the first major literary work of the emerging Gaelic revival. It was serialised in the Gaelic Journal, a periodical publication devoted to the living language and helped to be established by Douglas Hyde. Séadna was later published in book form in 1904. The story was based on folklore and myths heard by Peadar from shanachies during his youth. His play Tadhg Saor was the first play published in the language.
He published his autobiography Mo Scéal Féin and translated stories of medieval Gaelic literature into modern Irish such as Eisirt and An Cleasaí.
Though he promoted and advocated for caint na ndaoine, as a spoken language, he also advocated for ‘good’ Irish as opposed to lazy or bad Irish. In Chapter 5 of his autobiography:
“Before I left Liscarrigane, I had never heard from anybody’s mouth phrases such as “tá mé”, “bhí mé”, “bhí siad”; I always used to hear “táim”, “bhíos”, “bhíodar”, etc. Little things! – but little things that come repeatedly into conversation. A taut mode of expression, as against one that is lax, makes for finish in speech; in the same manner, a lax mode of expression as against the taut, makes for speech that is deficient. Besides, the taut speech possesses a force and a vigour that cannot be contained in speech that is falling apart…The loose mode of expression is prominent in Gaelic today and English is nothing else. English has fallen apart completely.”
He also promoted Munster Irish as he felt it was the best canúint (dialect) for widespread use among the Irish people.
He is credited with bringing the language of the people in literature. He died in Castlelyons on the 21st March at 80 years of age and has left a fine legacy; he completed more than 500 pieces of work including essays, stories, and translations of The Bible and Don Quixote.
In Seamus Ó Laoire’s book, Ár Scéal Féin, published on the 100th year anniversary of the priests death, he writes that “Ó Laoghaire “spent his life helping ordinary people”, a champion of farmers and tenants rights. A Land League proponent, as detailed in Mo Scéal Féin, An tAthair Peadar “was a man who stood for the ordinary tenant farmer.” He describes An tAthair Peadar as “the spiritual leader of the Land League”.
He asserts that it was an tAthair Peadar’s use of the vernacular that helped put Munster Irish “at the forefront” of Irish language literature during the Gaelic revival of the late 19th Century. At the time, the promotion of the language by contemporaries such as Dr Dónal Ó Loingsigh led Pádraig Pearse to refer to Baile Mhúirne, near Ó Laoghaire’s birthplace in Liscarrigane, as “the principal city of the Gaeltacht”.
Douglas Hyde wrote:
“It seems altogether reasonable to couple Father Peter with Dr. Kuno Meyer…….because these two, each in his own way …did work for Irish nationalism through the medium of Irish literature, which nobody else did…..Kuno Meyer established the School of Irish Learning, bringing us back into the long past centuries. Father Peter grasped us as we are in the present, and by his masterly handling of the living speech projected us along the road which we must travel…..”
His collection is held in Maynooth University Library here : https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/library/news/peadar-laoghaire-archive
Máire Ní Laogharie, deirfiúr den Athair Peadar leis i gCaisleán Uí Liatháin