Thug an fear seo faoi mhórfhoclóir Béarla-Gaeilge a thiomsú. Tá aiste ag Proinsias Mac Aonghusa air in Go Meiriceá siar: na Gaeil agus Meiriceá: cnuasach aistí (1979) in eagar ag Stiofán Ó hAnnracháin. Chabhraigh Tomás de Bhaldraithe, an fear ba mhó eolas lena linn ar fhoclóirí Gaeilge, go mór le Proinsias chun an cuntas sin a chur le chéile. In 1997 níorbh eol d’údair Beathaisnéis an cur síos sin ar Ó Conmhidhe a bheith ann; tá a gcuntas-san, a foilsíodh ar dtús in Beathaisnéis 1782–1881, 1999, bunaithe ar a raibh ar fáil an uair sin sa Leabharlann Náisiúnta. Is i 1976 a bronnadh páipéir Uí Chonmhidhe ar an Leabharlann. Ach anois tá an t-eolas is cuimsithí agus is údarásaí ar shaol agus ar shaothar Uí Chonmhidhe ag David Barnwell in Dictionary of Irish Biography (2009). Agus é ag cur síos ann ar a bhfuil ar fáil go fóill den fhoclóir sin agus ar a bhfuil de pháipéir Uí Chonmhidhe i Leabharlann Náisiúnta na hÉireann (G1201-G1212 agus Ms 21553) is é a deir an t-údar sin: ‘Among them are many thousands of dictionary-type “slips”, encompassing entries in perhaps a score or so languages….Although the NLI collection is sizeable, it appears that some of O’Conway’s papers have been lost, especially those dealing with his projected English-Irish Dictionary’.

Bhí an chéad chuntas ar an gConmhaíoch seo ag Lawrence F. Flick in American Catholic Historical Society Records, X, Philadelphia (1899). I gcathair na Gaillimhe a rugadh é ar 3 Feabhra 1766. Matthias Santiago O’Conway a thugadh sé air féin uaireanta. Ba í Sibéal Ní Ógáin a mháthair agus Maitias, ceannaí, a athair. Is cosúil nach raibh sa chlann ach é féin agus aon bhuachaill amháin eile. Chaith sé cuid dá óige taobh amuigh den chathair le muintir a athar, áit a raibh Gaeilge á labhairt. Scríobh sé chuig a mháthair in 1783 i dtaobh na ngaolta sin: ‘I was bred with them and I love them and were I master of an independent fortune their breidins and brogues should never exclude them from my home.’ D’fhoghlaim sé Béarla, Laidin, Fraincis, Gréigis, rince agus claíomhóireacht i Scoil na nAgaistíneach sa chathair. De réir sheanchas a mhuintire bhí raibí Giúdach mar mhúinteoir baile aige freisin.

Le dlí a chuaigh sé ar dtús. Bhí sé páirteach i ngráscar sráide i mBaile Átha Cliath in 1783 agus b’in faoi deara gur fhág sé Éire agus gur chaith tamall i nGreanáda, oileán sa Mhuir Chairib. I measc na gcáipéisí sa Leabharlann Náisiúnta tá litir a scríobh Francis Blake i nGaillimh i 1783 chuig Francis Martin i nGreanáda ag iarraidh air cuidiú leis an bhfear óg. Tar éis tamaill d’imigh sé go Philadelphia in Aibreán 1784. Liostáil sé ar feadh bliana i mílíste Pennsylvania. Ina dhiaidh sin chaith sé bliain go leith ag trádáil leis na hIndiaigh agus d’fhoghlaim cuid dá dteangacha. Phós sé Rebecca Archer, arbh as Corcaigh dá máthair, agus lonnaigh in Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh inniu). Ag múineadh scoile a bhí sé ansin. Tar éis gur rugadh an chéad iníon dóibh i 1787 thug siad an turas fada go New Orleans toisc an creideamh Caitliceach a bheith i réim ann. Seisear mac agus triúr iníonacha a rugadh dó féin agus dá bhean. Bhí sé ag múineadh scoile agus ag obair mar fhear teanga sa chathair go 1795 nuair a d’aistrigh sé go Havana, Cúba. Meastar gur fhostaigh rialtas na háite sin é mar aistritheoir nó mar fhear teanga. D’fhill sé ar Philadelphia i 1797 agus is ann a chaith sé an chuid eile dá shaol. ‘Commissioned interpreter and linguist’ an cur síos a thug sé air féin i bhfógra a chuir sé amach. Bhí post aige mar ‘state interpreter’ i Stát Pennsylvania agus bhí sé in ann feidhmiú mar theangaire ann. I litir gan dáta a foilsíodh i bpáipéar Meiriceánach dúirt sé go raibh taithí aige ar ocht dteanga déag ‘and 10 or twelve others’. D’éag sé ar 28 Samhain 1842. I gcatalóg an Library of Congress tá na leabhair seo liostaithe: Rasgos historicos y morales sacados de diversas naciones y destinados para la instruccion e entretenimiento de los estudiantes del idioma espanol, por Santiago Matthias O Conway. Philadelphia..., 1809; Hispano-Anglo grammar, containing the definitions, structure, inflections, reference, arrangement, concord, government and combination of the various classes of words in the Spanish language .... By Matthias J. O’Conway .... Philadelphia ..., 1810.

Sa chuntas ag Barnwell in DIB deir sé, agus é ag tagairt do dhuillíní páipéir Uí Chonmhidhe: ‘Nevertheless, sufficient slips remain to show that some of his lexicographical notes are taken directly from Bishop John O’Brien’s Irish-English dictionary, published in Paris in 1768’ [Ó Briain, Seán 1701-69].’ Bhí teacht aige freisin ar an bhfoclóir Béarla-Gaeilge a scríobh Conchobhar Ó Beaglaoich le cabhair Aoidh Bhuí Mhic Cruitín. Léiriú é, b’fhéidir, ar a raibh de leabharlann mhaith aige.

Bhí an nóta seo faoi ag J. J. Lyons in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, Eanáir 1898:

O’Conway’s MS. Irish Dictionary. I have seen the MS. of O’Conway’s Irish Dictionary now in the possession of the Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia. The Society purchased the MS. from the grand-daughter of the author, Matthew O’Conway, a native of Galway. O’Conway lived in Philadelphia about a hundred years ago. The MS. is very extensive, filling a whole trunk. The material is arranged in two parts. In one he gives a comparison of Irish and other languages, European and Oriental. The other forms the Dictionary proper, and contains many long notes, some of them filling an entire page. There are many additional marginal notes. O’Conway seems to have had his whole heart and soul in this Dictionary of the old tongue, and when dying requested that the MS. be conveyed to the Jesuits in France, so that his work would be in safe hands. The author left it ready for the printer’s hands. The MS. passed, after the author’s death, through the hands of several parties. The University of Pennsylvania had it for some time. The Catholic Historical Society does not intend to part with it.

Cuireadh an nóta i gcló arís in The Irish Book Lover, Samhain-Nollaig1929 maille leis an abairt seo ó Shéamus Ó Casaide:

The above note appears in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge for Eanáir, 1898, and the editor, who suggested that O’Conway might have been educated by the Jesuits in France, and so have a competent knowledge of philology, stated that the Gaelic League was in communication with the Historical Society with a view to having O’Conway’s work examined.

Diarmuid Breathnach

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