Standish O’Grady, one time Editor of the Moderator

Eamonn Kiely
(2020)

I have spoken to you before about O’Grady in the context of his role as editor of the local paper The Moderator and his championing o f Lady Desert’s people the Cuffes in a clash with the Ormonds, I titled it The Fight of the Earls. He spent only a couple of years among us but left quite Standish James O’Grady 1846 – 1928 was an author, journalist, and historian. He played a formative role in the Celtic Revival, publishing, the tales of Irish mythology, as the History of Ireland. Heroic Period in 1887, arguing that the Gaelic tradition had rival only from the tales of Homeric Greece. He was a paradox of his times, proud of his Gaelic heritage, he was also a member of the Church of Ireland, a champion of aristocratic virtues, and at one stage advocated a revitalised Irish people taking over the British Empire and renaming it the Anglo-Irish Empire.
He crossed the divide of the Ango – Irish and Irish – Ireland traditions in literature. His influence was especially stated by the Abbey Theatre set with Lady Gregory, W.B Yeats and George Russell
attributing their interest in the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic tradition in part to him. Russell, better known as AE said of him – ‘It was he made me proud o f my country. He was the last champion o f the Irish aristocracy and spoke to them of their duty to the nation as a fearless prophet might speak to a council of degenerate princes’.
He originated from Berehaven, Co. Cork. He was a cousin of another Standish O’Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore. O Grady was educated at Tipperary Grammar School and later at Trinity College
Dublin, winning several medals and excelling in several sports. He, on graduation became schoolmaster at Midleton College. He also qualified as barrister and wrote for many Irish
newspapers. He wrote Early Bardic Literature of Ireland (1879). He knew the public sought romance in his writing so he emulated 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 and in Sir Thomas Stafford’s ‘Pacata Hibernia’ (1896) he put forward the view that the Irish people had made the Tudors into kings of Ireland to overthrow the unpopular landlords, the Irish chieftains. This view wasn’t too popular but it echoed Peader O’Donnell’s view in more modern times that Ulster people were not waving good bye but good riddance to the Earl s leaving Rathmullen.
Until 1898, O’Grady 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. He became involved with Ellen Cuffe, Countess of Desart and Captain Otway Cuffe. He engaged in the revival of the local woolen and woodworking industries. It was in taking on the Colonel of Militia on behalf of the Cuffes in his paper that led to his leaving Kilkenny. The Colonel who had been agent to the previous Earl of Desart had been found to have misappropriated £6,000 of his money. The Colonel’s family paid up the losses. The Colonel judged a pause and then released a story that the money was owed him and was really an unpaid racing debt of the late Lord Desart. The Desarts were furious at this attempt at defaming the deceased Earl. They got their friend O Grady to print a story in the ‘Moderator’ refuting such a wild allegation. Lady Desart called the Colonel a thief and challenged him to sue her for libel. He declined but pointed to his retention as Colonel of the Kilkenny Regiment as proof of his standing with the Lord Chancellor, the Commander of the Forces and the Marquess/ Earl of Ormonde. The Cuffes/Desarts then demanded that the Colonel be relieved of his responsibilities as magistrate and command of the Kilkenny Militia.
At a review of the Church Lads Brigade behind the Palace at St Canice’s Cathedral a short while later Ormonde had as his aide de comp none other than the disgraced Colonel. The Bishop of Ossory on the occasion spoke o f the Colonel ‘in eulogy and approbation’. When challenged on this, the bishop with the skill of a practised politician said he was ‘not addressing the man but the office’ O Grady wrote in his paper ‘We are not at war with the bishop, but with the great and dominant social power in our midst, reaching up to the throne and down to the smallest huxter’. This was the
Marquess of course, although not named. He was godchild of the Queen of England. Writs started being issued against O Grady and he was forced out of Kilkenny as a result.
It was unfortunate to lose such a talented person from the county. He tried to be a reconciler between the Irish and the Anglo Irish. That was in 1900. From recent experience it still proves
difficult.

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