Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin

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Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin (May 1780 – 1838) was an Irish language author, linen draper, politician, and one time hedge school master. He is also known as Humphrey O'Sullivan.

He was deeply involved in Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Emancipation movement and in relief work among the poor of County Kilkenny. He was also an avid bird watcher and a collector of rare manuscripts in the Irish language.

His diary, Cín Lae Amhlaoibh, was kept between 1827 and 1835. It remains one of the most important sources for 19th-century Irish life and one of the few surviving works from the perspective of the Roman Catholic peasantry.


Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin was born in Killarney, County Kerry. He came to live at Callan, County Kilkenny, when he was nine years old, joining his father, Donncha Ó Súilleabháin. The next year was, again, the family settled down in Callan. Father and son devoted some time to seeking a career by teaching in the surrounding towns. School teaching began under the hedges, although eventually, a cabin was built as a school. Amhlaoibh took over the post of teacher when his father died in 1808. He remained a resident of Callan until his death.

Amhlaoibh was probably resigned to teaching permanently, but he also makes reference to his brother, Donncha Óg, who assisted in the same job.

Amhlaoibh seems to have been reasonably well informed on many important subjects which he had learned as a hedge school master, such as mathematics, literature botany, and the Greek and Latin Classics. He was particularly interested in herbology, and his diary is dotted with references to the affairs of nature. He was comfortable in speaking, reading, and writing English. In his diary, he wrote in both languages, partly Irish and partly in English.

Amhlaoibh often had to make long trips to attend to his affairs. He was a man who loved revelry and games. He married a woman named Máire Ní Dhulachanta, but she was not often mentioned in his diary. She died and, although he expressed grief, Amhlaoibh was soon considering a new marriage. He never remarried, however.

Studies and research into the lore of the district was a hobby, as well as collecting Irish manuscripts and taking notes about the local dialect. He describes many local customs in detail, and is deeply valued by anthropologists.

When Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin died, the name engraved on his head stone was Humphrey O'Sullivan. This was the name he had given himself in English.


Amhlaoibh's original manuscript is currently in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy. A translation by Tomás de Bhaldraithe, was published by Mercier Press in 1979.

The rubber heel for shoes is patented on 24 January 1899 by another man – a typesetter with aching feet – who also changed his name to Humphrey O'Sullivan. He was born as John O'Sullivan and named himself after the then-deceased Humphrey O'Sullivan/Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin when he immigrated to the US from County Cork, Ireland, on 7 October 1853. Reference:


"27 June 1827 ...I saw two water wagtails hopping and flitting within a yard fried chicken of a cat which was crossing the road. They were noisily mocking the cat, which kept glancing from one side to the other at them. The poor man does the same to the tyrant when he gets the opportunity – just as the birds do to the cat."[1]

"29 June 1827

...Feast of Saint Peter and Paul.

A holiday... Hurling on the Fair Green. It was a good game. The sticks were being brandished like swords. Hurling is a war-like game. The west side won the first match and the east the second. You could hear the sticks striking the ball from one end of the Green to the other. I was watching from the top end myself with Doctor Céatinn and two priests. The well-to-do young men and women were strolling up and down the Green and on the level causeway in the center."[2]

"16 August 1827

...At ten o'clock this morning my mother Máire Ní Bhuachalla Ní Shúilleabháin, wife of Donncha Ó Súilleabháin, died after receiving Extreme Unction by the Grace of Almighty God. She was close to eighty years of age. Her husband, my father, died in the Year of Christ 1808, the year of the big snow. He was buried in Cill Bhríde, beside Áth an Iúir a mile from Callan, although his family's burial place is Iríolach Monastery at Mucros beside Loch Léin in Killarney, Co. Kerry. But the pressures of life sent us a long way from our people, sixteen and twenty years ago...

Small boys and girls are coming home with little bundles of gleanings.[3]

"February 3, 1828 ...There is a lonely path near Uisce Dun and Móinteán na Cisi which is called the Mass Boreen. The name comes from the time when the Catholic Church was persecuted in Ireland, and Mass had to be said in woods and on moors, on wattled places in bogs, and in caves. But as the proverb says, It is better to look forward with one eye than to look backwards with two..."[4]

"8 May 1830 ...There is a large underground cave in Baile na Síg, two miles west of Callan, which is called 'The Rapparee's Hole.' It seems they used to hide there after Cromwell's and King William's time. It's many the fine, good, honest man who had been reared in luxury and happiness who was reduced to robbery, begging, or exile by those two Englishmen."[5]

"September 11, 1830 ...Last Thursday in Dublin Castle I heard a band playing music which was like the music of Devils. The bassoons were like a sow crooning to her young. The musical pipe sounded like the squeeling of piglets. The flute sounded like a muffled fart, the trumpets and French horns sounded like the laughter of fiends and the serpent like the sighing of demons, the trombone like the harsh cry of the heron. It wasn't soft like the lovenote of the heron. The clarinets were like the cry of the plover and the corncrake. It in no way resembled the sweet, gently moving music of the Irish."[6]


  1. ^ Humphrey O'Sullivan, "The Diary of an Irish Countryman," page 25.
  2. ^ Humphrey O'Sullivan, "The Diary of an Irish Countryman," page 25.
  3. ^ Diary of an Irish Countryman, page 29.
  4. ^ "The Diary of an Irish Countryman," pages 44–45.
  5. ^ Diary of an Irish Countryman, 83.
  6. ^ Diary of an Irish Countryman, pages 95–96.

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