I mBaile Átha Cliath a rugadh é ar 8 Iúil 1870. Ba é Alexander Macalister, an t-ollamh le míoleolaíocht i gColáiste na Tríonóide, a athair, agus ba í Elizabeth Stewart as Perth na hAlban a mháthair. Ceapadh an t-athair ina ollamh le hanatamaíocht in Ollscoil Cambridge in 1883. Fuair sé scolaíocht i Ráth Maonais ar dtús. Rinne sé staidéar príobháideach sa Ghearmáin agus bhain MA amach i gColáiste Naomh Eoin, Cambridge. Tá tagairt dó in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, Meán Fómhair 1897, mar ‘an active member of Committee of London Gaelic League’. San iris sin an mhí dár gcionn bhí ‘Cath na mBan’ i gcló aige. Is í an chéad abairt ann: ‘Bíonn greann agus gleo ann go minic i mbaile Droichid an Chaim [Cambridge], ach ní cuimhin le duine ar bith ann greann chomh mór leis an ngreann do bhí ann ar 21ú de Bhealtaine i mbliana’. Is cur síos é ar iarracht a rinneadh ar mhná a ligean isteach mar chomhaltaí den ollscoil. Ní cuntas é atá báúil le mná ach b’fhéidir gurbh é an chéad chuntas Gaeilge é ar ghluaiseacht nua-aimseartha shaoirse na mban.

An mhí chéanna sin bhí aiste dar teideal ‘Threat to Irish from new tourist industry’ i gcló aige in New Ireland Review. ‘Because it is supposed (it has never been proved) to be unsuitable for commercial purposes, are we to let the language perish which has come to us, fraught with the romance of five and twenty centuries? Must the tongue in whose fiery storm-tones Maeve incited the heroes of Connacht and in whose softer strains gentle Deirdre voiced her sorrow; the tongue in which Patrick preached and Brian returned thanks for the great victory vouchsafed to him; the tongue of Cuchullin and Finn, of Red Hugh and Granuaile, of Keating and the Four Masters—must it die, because it is considered unfit for invoices and bills and receipts?’

Sna nótaí a bhain le Craobh Londan in An Claidheamh Soluis 22 Aibreán 1899 dúradh: ‘Mr R.A.S. Macalister, a member at present in Jerusalem, has forwarded copies of his “Life of St Fionan”, edited by him from an old manuscript, and just printed at Halle, Germany’. Bhí ‘Beatha Naomh Fionán Locha Laoi’ i gcló aige in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie an bhliain sin. Bhí sé ina stiúrthóir tochailte ag an Palestine Exploration Fund, 1900-1909 agus arís 1923-24. Is ó Jerusalem a chuir sé ‘Barántas na Leabhar’ le Donncha Ó Buachalla chuig Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, Feabhra 1899. (‘Here in Jerusalem, where I am writing, I am away from most of my books of reference; one or two passages which I have indicated are therefore obscure to me . . .’). Bhí litir ó Phailistín aige in Fáinne an Lae 28 Deireadh Fómhair 1899 i dtaobh na Gaeilge agus i dtaobh na nAngla-Iosraelach i dTeamhair.

Thagadh sé chuig Coláiste Uladh agus tá tagairtí dó sa leabhar a cuireadh amach chun iubhaile airgid an Choláiste a cheiliúradh, chomh maith le bailéad Gaeilge ina thaobh. Tá nóta in Déirdre, Earrach 1959, a deir go raibh sé ag múineadh i gColáiste Cloch Cheann Fhaolaidh nuair a bhí Mairéad Dobbs ag freastal ar an gcoláiste sin. Bhí aiste, ‘Irish antiquities and their preservation’, i gcló aige in An Claidheamh Soluis 17 Eanáir 1914. Deir Risteárd Ó Glaisne in Dúbhglas de h-Íde 1860-1949 Iml. 2: ‘Scríobh sé litir an-mhaith don Irish Times 26 Samhain 1915 ar son caomhnú agus úsáid na Gaeilge—má b’fhiú le páipéar an Chonartha í sin a athfhoilsiú ina gcolúin siúd, níorbh aon ábhar iontais é’.

Ceapadh é ina Ollamh le Seandálaíocht Cheilteach i gColáiste na hOllscoile, Baile Átha Cliath, i 1909 agus deirtear gurbh é an chéad ollamh le seandálaíocht a ceapadh riamh in Éirinn é. Bhí sé sa phost gur éirigh sé as i 1943. Tá an cur síos seo ag Michael Tierney ar an gceapachán in Eoin Mac Néill, scholar and man of action, 1867-1945, 1980: ‘A difficulty arose about the chairs of early Irish history and archaeology. At first it was proposed that the two subjects be united under one professor. This had the result that MacNeill was in competition with R.A.S. Macalister, a distinguished Cambridge graduate with an already high reputation as an archaeologist. The difficulty was solved by making two chairs, and in the autumn of 1909 MacNeill took up the professorship of early and medieval Irish history. . . . It is pleasant to record that Macalister and he became warm friends, and that Macalister came to MacNeill’s aid during the trouble which followed Easter 1916 with admirable generosity and self-sacrifice’. É féin agus Máire Ní Aodáin a dhéanadh dualgais Mhic Néill le linn dó bheith i bpríosún agus thairg siad leath a dtuarastail a thabhairt do bhean chéile Mhic Néill.

Bhí sé ina uachtarán ar an Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 1924-28 agus, ó 1910 go 1918, ina eagarthóir ar a n-iris. Ann agus in Revue Celtique agus in Études Celtiques is mó a foilsíodh a ailt. Bhí sé ina uachtarán ar Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann 1926-31 agus ina chathaoirleach ar an National Monuments Advisory Council 1930-43—ba é ba mhó ba chúis leis an reachtaíocht a dhéanann cosaint ar na séadchomhartaí náisiúnta. Bhí sé ina bhall den Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society.

Ba cheoltóir aitheanta é. Ar feadh blianta bhí sé ina stiúrthóir cóir agus ina orgánaí ag an séipéal i mBóthar Adelaide i mBaile Átha Cliath. Foilsíodh a Suite for piano and violin, 1927. Tar éis dó éirí as a phost chuaigh sé chun cónaithe in Cambridge. Barramore, St Margaret’s Road, a sheoladh nuair a cailleadh ann é ar 26 Aibreán 1950. Tá cuntais air in Études Celtiques (1949-5) ag Joseph Vendryes agus in Analecta Hibernica 20 (1958) ag Richard Irvine Best.

Is iad a chuid foilseachán: Fís Mherlíno; the vision of Merlino, an Irish allegory with translation and vocabulary. 1905 [1906]; Eachtra an mhadra mhaoil. Eachtra Mhacaoimh-an-Iolair. Two Arthurian romances, edited and translated, 1908 (Rinne Tomás Ó Rathile léirmheas air in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, Lúnasa 1909: ‘The very mildest thing that can be said of Mr Macalister’s book, is that it is thoroughly unsatisfactory . . .’); Memorial slabs at Clonmacnoise,1909; Muireadach, Abbot of Monasterboice; his life and surroundings, 1914; The History and antiquities of Inis Cealtra, 1916; Leabhar Gabhála. The Book of Conquests of Ireland (i gcomhpháirt le hEoin Mac Néill), 1916; Lebor Gabála Erenn. The Book of the taking of Ireland Iml 1- IV,1938-41; Life of Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, 1921; Ireland in pre-Celtic times, 1921; The Archaeology of Ireland, 1927, eagrán eile 1944; The Excavation of Uisneach, [le R. Lloyd Praeger] 1929; Tara, ancient pagan sanctuary of Ireland, 1931; Ancient Ireland, 1935; The Secret Languages of Ireland, 1937. In 1897-1907 foilsíodh a Studies in Irish epigraphy agus i 1945 foilsíodh leagan nua, Corpus Inscriptionum Celticarum. Dúradh faoi in Proceedings of the RIA : ‘The specialist may here and there disagree with a conclusion drawn by Dr Macalister but no one can deny the immense value of the work as the only source-book for the scattered earliest literary records of the country’.

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Diarmuid Breathnach

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