Franciscan lay brother, scribe, hagiographer, and historian (in Gaelic Mícheál Ó Clérigh); b. Donegal, Ireland, c. 1590; d. Louvain, Netherlands, 1643. O'Clery studied in Irish schools before going to the Spanish Netherlands some time before 1621. He entered the Franciscan Order in about 1622 at Louvain, where the Irish Franciscans had established the College of St. Anthony in 1607. Many important scholars and writers were attached to the College and it became the center of a movement to provide the Irish people with religious literature in their own language. A printing press, installed at the College in 1611, turned out many books during the next 60 years. At the time of O'Clery's entrance, Fathers Hugh ward, Patrick fleming, and others connected with Louvain, had formed a plan to publish the lives of the Irish saints. O'Clery was dispatched to Ireland in 1626 to collect hagiographical material and send it to Louvain. He remained in Ireland at this task for 11 years.
In addition to a great amount of transcription, O'Clery compiled works of his own—calendars of saints' feasts, and genealogies of saints and kings—and reedited some early historical documents. In collaboration with three other scholars he produced (1632–36) his greatest work, The Annals of the Four Masters, an annalistic compilation from many sources covering the history of Ireland from the earliest times to 1616. In 1637 he returned to Louvain, where he compiled his Foclóir nó Sanasan Nua (a glossary of obscure words), which was printed on the college press in the year of his death.
O'Clery's achievement lay in rescuing from destruction many Irish historical records. Some of his material was used by Father John colgan, successor to Fathers Ward and Fleming, in his Acta sanctorum Hiberniae (1645) and Triadis thaumaturgae seu divorum Patricii, Columbae, et Brigidae acta (1647). The plan to publish the Saints' lives fell through after the death (1673) of Colgan's successor, Father Thomas Sheerin, but most of the material in O'Clery's manuscripts was published during the nineteenth century.
Bibliography: b. jennings, Michael Ó Cléirigh, Chief of the Four Masters, and His Associates (Dublin 1936). t. Ó clÉirigh, Aodh Mac Aingil agus an Scoil Nua-Ghaedhilge i Lobhain (Dublin 1936). s. o'brien, ed., Measgra i gcuimhne Mhichíl Uí Chléirigh: Miscellany of Historical and Linguistic Studies in Honour of Brother Michael Ó Cléirigh (Dublin 1944).
[g. s. maceoin]