Cathal Ó Conchubhair Donn aka Charles O'Conor of Belanagare, was an enormously influential writer, historian and protagonist for Catholic civil rights in 18th century Ireland, he worked tirelessly for the mitigation and repeal of the Penal Laws.
Charles O'Conor grew up in an environment that celebrated Gaelic culture and heritage. He began collecting and studying ancient manuscripts at an early age. His family was a cadet branch of the land-owning O'Conor Don, and he was educated by his Irish speaking uncle Dr. Thadeus O’Rourke (Tadhg Ó Ruairc), Bishop of Killala (who urged him to continue studying Gaelic). His hedge-school master, Fr. Dominic Duignenan, gave O'Connor a copy of Contention of the Bards. In 1727, he left Bellanagare for Dublin where he studied illegally, kept by Fr Walter Skelton.
His marriage in 1731 brought him financial stability that allowed him purchase a farm in Bellanagare Co Roscommon, and devote himself to his writing. In the 1749 census of the Diocese of Elphin, O'Conor was listed as having 4 servants in Bellanagare (and 5 couples living on his land who also worked as servants). In 1750, just as he was assuming the role of the O'Conor Don (upon his father's death) he was widowed.
In 1760, he gave the residence at Bellanagare to his eldest son, Denis (upon his marriage) and moved into a small cottage ‘The Hermitage’ that he had built on the estate.
He would devote the remainder of his life to the collection and study of Irish manuscripts, to the publication of dissertations, and especially to the cause of Irish and Catholic emancipation. He was a co-founder of the first Catholic Committee in 1757, (along with his friend Dr. John Curry and Mr. Wyse of Waterford). In 1788 he became a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
His encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish manuscripts and Gaelic culture dispelled many eroneous theories and suppositions concerning Irish history. His collection (of manuscripts and manuscript copies, annotated with his copious notes and comments) made up the first part of the Annals of the Four Masters which, at that time, were the only copies known to exist.
In his Tour in Ireland (1780) Arthur Young mentioned his visit to O'Conor:
At Clonelis, near Castlerea, lives O’Connor, the direct descendant of Roderick O’Connor, who was king of Connaught six or seven hundred years ago; there is a monument of him in Roscommon Church, with his sceptre, etc. I was told as a certainty that this family were here long before the coming of the Milesians. Their possessions, formerly so great, are reduced to three or four hundred pounds a year, the family having fared in the revolutions of so many ages much worse than the O’Niels and O’Briens. The common people pay him the greatest respect, and send him presents of cattle, etc., upon various occasions. They consider him as the prince of a people involved in one common ruin.
|Date of Birth||1st Jan 1710|
|Date of Death||1st Jul 1791|
|Associated Building (s)||Clonalis House CASTLEREA|
|Townland born||Cnoc Mór, Kilmactranny, County Sligo|
|Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname)||m. in 1731 Catherine Hagan (d.1741), her fortune enabling him to buy a farm in co. Roscommon|
|Full biography of life and works||Ireland||VIEW SOURCE|