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The Midnight Court: [a Gaelic miscellany]

 Collection — Volume: 1
Call Number: MS C121


The Midnight Court: [a Gaelic miscellany] is a single volume collection of 18th century Irish writings by Brian Merriman and Donough MacConmara, copied out with comments and occasional translations by Timothy Keane at Clodagh, Crookstown (Ireland), during the 1880s. The volume includes a printed edition of Michael O'Shea's English translation of the The Midnight Court, a long poem on Irish marriage and celibacy, printed privately by O'Shea in Boston in 1897.


  • 18th century, copied between 1880-1889


Language of Materials

Mostly Irish Gaelic, with some English notes and translations.

Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Donnchadh "Rua" MacConmara (circa 1715-1810)

Donnough or Donnchadh "Rua" Mac Conmara was possibly born in Cratloe, County Clare, but little is known about his family or early life. He may have studied for the priesthood in Rome but been expelled before returning to Ireland, settling in County Waterford around 1740 when he took on a career as a teacher.

Mac Conmara appears to have written "Eachtra ghiolla an amarain" (translated variously as "A slave of adversity" or "The adventures of a luckless fellow") around 1745 and may be in part based on his own unsuccessful attempt to emigrate to America. In the poem, the narrator's ship bound for America was driven back to Ireland by a storm before being attacked by a French frigate, and by the end of the humorous poem, the narrator swore never again to leave dry land. Mac Conmara himself appears to have emigrated to America, perhaps settling in St. John's, Newfoundland, from 1745-1756, where he might have written "Banchnoic Eireann Oighe" ["The fair hills of holy Ireland"], a lament for a homesick Irishman.

Mac Conmara appears to have returned to Ireland in 1756, gotten married, and had at least two children. He continued teaching, lastly as a private tutor to the sons of James Power of Ballyvalloona, before retiring to his weaver son's house in Newtown. Mac Conmara wrote little in his last years before his death in 1810.

[Information for this note retrieved from Morley, Vincent, "Mac Conmara, Donnchadh 'Rua,'" Dictionary of Irish Biography Online.]

Biography of Brian Merriman (circa 1749-1805)

Little is known about Brian Merriman, who was born in Ennistymon, County Clare, and whose family name is more than likely a variant of the west Clare family name Marrinan. Merriman's father was a stonemason, and Merriman had two siblings. As a child, the family moved to Killanena, overlooking Lough Grancy and the surrounding countryside, and this became the setting for Merriman's long-form poem "Cuirt an mheon-oiche," or "The Midnight Court."

Merriman became a teacher and later rented a diary farm in Derryvinna, where he farmed and taught for 20 years. In 1787 he married Kathleen Collins, with whom he had two children. In 1802 or 1803 Merriman moved his family to Limerick and taught mathematics there for two years before his death in July 1805. Merriman is mostly known for "The Midnight Court" and did not appear to write more poetry after this piece.

[Information for this note retrieved from O hAnluain, Eoghan, "Merriman, Brian," Dictionary of Irish Biography Online.]


1 volume : Title page and pages 1-60 (plus 61-66) were originally written in an account book. Pages 67-68 and 73-118 are now an artificial quire bound after the account book, and pages 69-72 were inserted after page 68 when bound. Pages 70-71 are blank. All items were bound together in 1897 or later and titled "The Midnight Court and Translation." ; Volume measures no taller than 25 cm.

Scope and Contents

The first item in the volume is a copy of "Cuirt an Mheadhon-Oidhche" ["The Midnight Court"], a poem on Irish marriage and celibacy, written in 1780 by Brian Merriman. The poem was copied by Keane between February 24 and April 6, 1880 and is on pages [ii] and 1-49.

The second item is a copy of Donough MacConmara's mock-epic "Eachtra ghiolla an amallain" [possibly "History of a boy in trouble"], in which a youth sails from Ireland, visits the underland, is taken by the French, and returns home. Keane copied the item on May 31, 1883, and it can be found on pages 51-61, 68, and 75-83. A translation by Keane of the visit to the underworld is on pages 61-67 and 72-73.

The third item is a copy of MacConmara's "Eachtra an sgolaire agus na caillighe sonn" [possibly "History of the student and the old woman"], copied by Keane on May 12, 1886 and located on pages 84-93.

The fourth item is a copy of MacConmara's meditative poem "Imir nid..." ["Play that flies over us..."], as well as a translation by Keane with notes on MacConmara, all located on page 94.

The fifth item is a poem starting with the line "An gaibhaim geal ban le hecghann...," concerning beagles, troop, Cuchullain, Venus, Helen, and Priam. The poem was copied by Keane on April 5, 1889 and is on pages 95-98.

Brian Merriman's The Midnight Court, literally translated from the original Gaelic by Michael C. O'Shea is bound in at the end of the volume.

Physical Location

MS C121

Custodial History

Bookplate: Stephen J. Richardson; Stiophan Mac Risteárd. (Irish galley and ornament). Stamped: T. Keane, Clodagh, Crookstown.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Agnew, before 1963.

Processing Information

Formerly located at call number MS Y250.

Guide to the Midnight Court Collection
The Midnight Court: [a Gaelic miscellany]
Finding aid prepared by alh, 1974. Finding aid encoded by mwh, 2021.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
The Midnight Court: [a Gaelic miscellany], MS C121, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States