Standish James O'Grady

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Standish James O'Grady
Standish James O'Grady.png
Born (1846-03-22)22 March 1846
Castletown, County Cork, Ireland
Died 18 May 1928(1928-05-18) (aged 81)
Shanklin, Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England
Occupation Journalist, historian, writer
Nationality Irish
Education Trinity College, Dublin
Literary movement Celtic Revival
Notable works History of Ireland: Heroic Period

Standish James O'Grady (Irish: Anéislis Séamus Ó Grádaigh; 18 September 1846 – 18 May 1928) was an Irish author, journalist, and historian. O'Grady was inspired by Sylvester O'Halloran and played a formative role in the Celtic Revival, publishing the tales of Irish mythology, as the History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878), arguing that the Gaelic tradition had rival only from the tales of Homeric Greece. O'Grady was a paradox for his times, proud of his Gaelic heritage, he was also a member of the Church of Ireland, a champion of aristocratic virtues (particularly decrying bourgeois values and the uprooting cosmopolitanism of modernity) and at one point advocated a revitalised Irish people taking over the British Empire and renaming it the Anglo-Irish Empire.

O'Grady's influence crossed the divide of the Anglo-Irish and Irish-Ireland traditions in literature. His influence was explicitly stated by the Abbey Theatre set with Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats and George William Russell attributing their interest in the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic tradition in part to him. Some of the figures associated with the political party Sinn Féin, including its founder Arthur Griffith, had positive things to say about his efforts in helping to retrieve from the past the Gaelic heroic outlook [although they rejected his unionist views].


His father was the Reverend Thomas O'Grady, the scholarly Church of Ireland minister of Castletown Berehaven, County Cork, and his mother Susanna Doe (or Dowe). Standish O'Grady's childhood home - the Glebe - lies a mile west of Castletownbere near a famine mass grave and ruined Roman Catholic chapel. He was a cousin of Standish Hayes O'Grady, another noted figure in Celtic literature, and of Standish O'Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore.

He married Margaret Fisher and had three sons. Advised to move away from Ireland for the sake of his health, he passed his later years living with his eldest son, a clergyman in England, and died on the Isle of Wight.

His eldest son, Hugh Art O'Grady, was for a time editor of the Cork Free Press before he enlisted in the Great War early in 1915.[1] He became better known as Dr Hugh O'Grady, later Professor of the Transvaal University College, Pretoria (later the University of Pretoria), who wrote the biography of his father in 1929.[2]

After a rather severe education at Tipperary Grammar School, Standish James O'Grady followed his father to Trinity College, Dublin, where he won several prize medals and distinguished himself in several sports.


He proved too unconventional of mind to settle into a career in the church, and qualified as a barrister, though earning much of his living by writing for the Irish newspapers. Reading Sylvester O'Halloran's "General history of Ireland" sparked an interest in early Irish history. After an initial lukewarm response to his writing on the legendary past in "History of Ireland: Heroic Period" (1878–81) and "Early Bardic Literature of Ireland" (1879), he realized that the public wanted romance, and so followed the example of James Macpherson in recasting Irish legends in literary form, producing historical novels including "Finn and his Companions" (1891), "The Coming of Cuculain" (1894), "The Chain of Gold" (1895), "Ulrick the Ready" (1896) and "The Flight of the Eagle" (1897), and "The Departure of Dermot" (1913).

He also studied Irish history of the Elizabethan period, presenting in his edition of Sir Thomas Stafford's "Pacata Hibernia" (1896) the view that the Irish people had made the Tudors into kings of Ireland in order to overthrow their unpopular landlords, the Irish chieftains. His "The Story of Ireland" (1894) was not well received, as it shed too positive a light on the rule of Oliver Cromwell for the taste of many Irish readers. He was also active in social and political campaigns in connection with such issues as unemployment and taxation.

Until 1898, he worked as a journalist for the Daily Express of Dublin, but in that year, finding Dublin journalism in decline, he moved to Kilkenny to become editor of the Kilkenny Moderator, which was printed at number 28 High Street. It was here he became involved with Ellen Cuffe, Countess of Desart and Captain Otway Cuffe. He engaged in the revival of the local woollen and woodworking industries. In 1900 he founded the All-Ireland Review, and returned to Dublin to manage it until it ceased publication in 1908. O'Grady contributed to James Larkins' The Irish Worker paper.

O'Grady's works were an influence on WB Yeats and George Russell and this led to him being known as the "Father of the Celtic Revival". Being as much proud of his family's Unionism and Protestantism as of his Gaelic Irish ancestry – identities that were increasingly seen as antithetical in the late 1800s – he was described by Augusta, Lady Gregory as a "fenian unionist".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maume, Patrick: A Nursery of Editors; the Cork Free Press, 1910-16 in "History IRELAND" March/April 2007 p.44
  2. ^ Maume, Patrick: History IRELAND p.44
  3. ^ "Patrick Maume - Standish James O'Grady: Between Imperial Romance and Irish Revival - Éire-Ireland 39:1&2". 


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