Preliminaries for a Life of Standish O’Grady

by Brian Trehearne

As Stewart Wallace noted more than forty years ago in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, a peculiar inconsistency arises from the autobiographical details provided by Standish O’Grady in his notes to The Emigrant, published in Montréal in 1841 and re-issued in 1842.  O’Grady claims in these notes to have been a class-mate of the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (executed 1803) at Trinity College, Dublin; in keeping with this information, the title page of his book announces the author to be “Standish Q’Grady, Esq. B.A., T.C.D.”.  Wallace accordingly perused the pages of the most useful Alumni Dublinenses, and found that no Standish O’Grady appeared to have attended with Robert Emmet.1  Clearly either the poet’s proximity to young Emmet was a fantasy or (a conclusion to which Wallace did not proceed) the name of the poet of 1841 was not the same as that of the obscure young Protestant Dubliner at the end of the eighteenth century.

     The latter suggestion need not sound dramatic, especially in the context of the chaotic Irish surname.  The clan prefix “O’ “ was used irregularly at the time, now retained, now dropped according to the context of any given recording of an Irish name.   Edward MacLysaght in his Surnames of Ireland suggests that the prefix was particularly unpopular “during the period of the submergence of Catholic and Gaelic Ireland which began in the early seventeenth century,”2 so it would be entirely natural for our O’Grady, a Protestant, to drop the ostensibly “Catholic and Gaelic” form of his name when entering the great University of his country.  A second look at the Alumni Dublinenses turns up a “Standish Grady” who took a B.A. in 1800 and an M.A. in 1803; his entry in 1796 provides for two years of mutual attendance with Emmet, who departed in voluntary disgrace in 1798.3  He was born in 1780 in County Tipperary, close enough to the Counties Cork and Limerick which form the setting of the Irish recollections in the Canadian poem.  This particular “alumnus Dublinensis” will prove, I think, not to be our man; but he presses so close to the borders of our inquiry that I will treat him, in light of the following evidence, as a real possibility, lest he appear later to haunt my identification of a different “Standish O’Grady.”

     The real Standish O’Grady can be traced by moving forward, not backward, in the poet’s life.  It has perhaps been common to suppose that the dates supplied for O’Grady by the National Union Catalogue (floruit 1793-1841) drew on biographical information to which most of us were not privy.  The NUC’s 1793 dating is presumably based on Emmet’s entrance into Trinity College in that year; the 1841 date merely records his last known activity, the publication of The Emigrant.  But O’Grady’s path through Canada can be adumbrated after that date by a careful perusal of various newspapers and literary publications of the period from 1841 to 1846, when he died in Toronto.  Our iguorance of these records has left the poet’s biography open to such abuses as Lawrence Lande perpetrated in Old Lamps Aglow, in which he claimed that O’Grady, after his failure as a farmer, “packed up and returned post-haste to [his] native soil.”4

     O’Grady’s first Canadian appearance was in John Lovell’s Literary Garland, which reviewed a preview copy of The Emigrant in August of 1841.  Apart from its laudatory opinion of the poem (quite to be expected, since Lovell was also O’Grady’s publisher), the review is interesting for its sketch of the poet in Sorel society; “by the gentry and public of his neighbourhood,” the reviewer observes, “he seems to be held in high esteem, and to be very generally sustained.”5  The reviewer’s next comment, seeking similar support for all such “aspirants for literary fame,” suggests that O’Grady’s “sustaining” should be taken in the financial sense: the Sorel community would appear to have gathered funds for O’Grady, or at least kept him in food and shelter, after the failure of his farming venture.  Such generosity would corroborate the poet’s own acknowledgements, in the body of The Emigrant, of a large number of friendly local supporters, among them John Colborne, Governor-General of the Canadas from 1829 to 1839.

     In late 1841 The Emigrant appeared.  In the first months of 1842 it was reviewed in the Montreal Transcript, and a portion, entitled “Indians,” was excerpted in the same newspaper.6  The title pages of certain extant copies of The Emigrant indicate a second issue of the volume in this year; the pages are themselves unchanged, but Lovell is no longer acknowledged as O’Grady’s publisher.  Instead the volume was “Printed for the Author.  / 1842.”  Perhaps O’Grady purchased the unsold copies from Lovell after a few scattered sales, gave these a new title page, and attempted to continue their distribution—a not uncommon practice among unpopular authors of the period. In any case, by 1842 O’Grady may well have been in Montréal himself, overseeing the re-issue and busily encouraging the Transcript’s notices; the next trace of him may be found in March 1843, when the Transcript printed, in an account of the Lachine Riots, the following acknowledgements:

Among those who were active in putting an end to this disgraceful tumult, in addition to Mr. Phelan, whose great influence over his countrymen was as heretofore exerted on the side of peace and good order, were Messrs.  Holmes, Driscoll, Dunn, Evans, Lett, Collins, Curley, Tully, Murphy, Casey, and O’Grady.  This last gentleman, the author of ‘The Emigrant,’ and other poems, mainly contributed to the success of the mission, by bringing several hundreds of the Corkonians to the spot, where a reconciliation was effected.   He received the warm applause of his countrymen.7

(The Corkonians were the chief party of strikers, many of whom had proven violent.  O’Grady’s “bringing them to the spot” should not be construed as a sharing of their radical opinions; the plain conservatism of The Emigrant makes such sentiments unlikely.  He seems merely to have urged the strikers, perhaps by appealing to his homeland common with theirs, to have come to truce talks.)  So in early 1843 O’Grady was alive and active, despite his advanced years, on that side of Montréal furthest from Sorel.  The motives of his journey are lost, but considering his failure in Sorel it might have seemed natural to him to drift towards a larger colonial city in search of encouragement and notice.

     He did not stop in Lachine.  On the 19th of November, 1845, O’Grady appears in a sarcastic commentary in the Toronto Examiner, which savages the editors of its rival British Canadian for seeking public funds for the relief of “poor old O’Grady, the poet.” The Examiner quotes the Canadian’s appeal on O’Grady’s behalf:

Descended, as we learn, from a highly respectable Irish Protestant family, with the chill hand of poverty pressing heavily upon him, his grey hairs may truly be said to be descending in sorrow to the grave; and yet his tongue is silent—his wants unknown—while those who have infinitely less demand upon the generous and kind-hearted are too often unceasing in their clamors and importunities. Poor fellow!8

The Canadian added that for those who wished to help him “Mr. O’Grady may be heard of at this office.”  After citing this pathetic appeal, the Examiner, more thorough in its political economy, asks, “We should like to know if the Editor of that paper wishes the name of Poet O’Grady to be put on the pension list of this Province . . . Really, a life of dissipation deserves something.”9 The savagery of the Examiner’s language indicates a fair degree of hostility to the Canadian’s appeal, hostility which assumes that O’Grady deserved his sufferings because of his “life of dissipation.”  If there were, any evidence supporting that attractive image of O’Grady I would now offer it, but I can at present see no other sigus of dissipation in O’Grady’s history.

     The assistance called for, if it came at all, came too late, unfortunately. On the 17th of February, 1846, another Toronto newspaper, the British Colonist, published the following obituary:

In this city, on Saturday morning last, after a painful and protracted illness, Mr. Standish O’Grady Bennett, formerly of Tankerville, County of Cork, Ireland, aged 70 years.10

The addition of the surname will encourage some to treat this obituary as mere coincidence, but the coincidence is a strong one.  Just three months after “poor old O’Grady” had been noticed by the Canadian as “descending to the grave,” and in the same city in which that notice pictured him, and deriving from the same county of Cork to which our poet makes such detailed reference in his poem and notes, and of approximately the same age as our man, this “Standish O’Grady Bennett” is surely no mere coincidence.  I will suggest that this is indeed our poet, and answer the immediate question: why the sudden use of his “real” surname? Perhaps a death-bed sense of realism or filial devotion; perhaps he had never ceased, in private, to use the full name, and “O’Grady” was merely a recognized pseudonym; perhaps someone who knew him intimately wrote the obituary, and was not aware that he wished to conceal his real name.11

     The real test comes, of course, when we return to the Alumni Dublinenses, for we still need to place this man with Robert Emmet at Trinity College, Dublin in the late 1790s.  There was a Standish Bennett in attendance, one who entered the College in 1796 at the age of 19, but who apparently never took a Bachelor of Arts; at least none is noted in this usually reliable listing.12  Bennett of Trinity College was born, then, in 1776 or 1777, and therefore matches perfectly our Standish O’Grady Bennett who died in Toronto in 1846 at the age of seventy.  Thus we have a triangle of reliable information: a Standish O’Grady who attended Trinity College in the late 1790s, published The Emigrant in 1841, and drifted into Toronto in poverty in late 1845; a Standish O’Grady Bennett who died in Toronto in early 1846, like the poet an emigrant from County Cork; and a Standish Bennett who attended Trinity College in the late 1790s and whose age matches the age of the Bennett who died in Toronto.  That triangle seems to clinch an identification of our erstwhile “Standish O’Grady” as one Standish O’Grady Bennett, son of James Bennett, Esquire, born in County Limerick in 1776 or ’77 and studying with a Mr. Buckley prior to his entrance into Trinity College in 1796.

     That there should have been a “Standish Grady” in company with Emmet at the College, as well as a Standish Bennett, is a small irony of literary history.  The degrees they took and did not take create wrinkles in either identification, however.   The poet announces on his title page that he holds a B.A. from the College; Alumni Dublinenses enters no such degree for Standish Bennett.  On the other hand, Standish Grady took not only a B.A. but an M.A. as well; our poet’s proud acknowledgement of his degree bespeaks his desire to be recognized for his academic successes, and the tone of the various personal meditations in The Emigrant—I will not at present substantiate the point with quotations—reveals a mind deeply concerned with establishing place and priority in the intellectual and artistic world.   In short, our poet would not have let slip an opportunity to advertise his second degree, which his title page so temptingly presented.  If he is Standish Bennett, was he lying about the B.A.? or did Alumni Dublinenses slip up?  If he is Standish Grady, why the uncharacteristic modesty about the higher degree?

     Considering the necessary skepticism which must still surround either identification, another body of information must be brought to bear: the supposed holy orders of our O’Grady.  His critics and biographers have assumed that he was a minister in the Church of Ireland, largely because of a reference in his Note 8 to The Emigrant which laments his suffering of “the tithe question,” and details his borrowings from a government fund set up in 1833 to relieve the Irish clergy (of which more later).  This assumption has encouraged at least one highly Christian reading of the poem, with distortive emphasis on the narrator’s paeans to Providence.13  If O’Grady was indeed ordained and an active minister before his departure for Canada, there will be parish records to confirm it: but these are difficult to come by until one knows the parish to which he ministered.  There is meanwhile a highly useful manuscript in the National Library of Ireland (MS. 1775-76) which I recommend to all Canadian researchers whose subjects were clergymen in Ireland prior to their emigration: “A typescript list, with manuscript annotations, of the clergy of the church of Ireland to the twentieth century, arranged in alphabetical order of surname and giving biographical details . . . compiled by Canon James B. Leslie.”14  Mr. Gerard Lyne, Assistant Keeper of the Library, has kindly informed me that a Reverend Standish O’Grady was rector of the parish of Carrick-on-Suir from 1803 to 1829, and held the benefice (that is, gathered the tithes without serving the parish) of the rectories of Killeely (1802 to 1816) and Traddery (1803 to 1829).  He adds that “No entry occurs for the surname Bennett.”  This is momentous information. If Grady is our poet, then our poet was indeed a clergyman, but why does his service to the Church end in 1829, rather than in 1836 with his departure for the Canadas? and how could he have availed himself of government funds in support of the clergy which were only offered in 1833? What could a forty-nine-year-old ex-clergyman (uncommon as such a phenomenon was) have done with the intervening seven years?  On the other hand, if Bennett is our poet, why does he not show up on Canon Leslie’s list?

     Other records of the Church of Ireland are available for further clarification, largely because the British Parliament of the period was becoming concerned with the so-called “Catholic Question,” and because the Act of Union of 1801 had amalgamated the formerly separate Irish and English parliaments into a single body in England.  To deflect possible criticism that England not only wanted to take Catholic money for its Protestant objectives but also wanted to do so at a safe distance, the Parliament inquired into the tithe system frequently in the first decades of the nineteenth century.  The most useful of the resulting reports give the name of each clergyman then in service in the Church of Ireland, arranging these by diocese and parish; these are contained in the British Sessional Papers of the period.15  The earliest of these, A Return Respecting the Several Dioceses of Ireland, was printed for Parliament in 1807, and shows Standish Grady just where he ought to be, as rector at “Carrick”; interestingly, he is identified as “the Reverend Standish O’Grady,” which merely confirms the irregularity of the clan-prefix.16  Carrick-on-Suir was in the old Diocese of Lismore; in the Diocese of Killaloe, Grady’s other holdings are listed, this time under “the Rev. Standish Grady.”17   Again, Bennett is nowhere to be found on this list.  In a similar survey of 1824, Grady appears again;18 Bennett fails to, again.

     Other documents of interest in these Parliamentary inquiries concern the loan made by the British government to the Irish Protestant clergy, caustically acknowledged by O’Grady in his Note 8 to The Emigrant:

The clergy were thus left for a period of four years in the most abject state of mendicity; at length one half million only was granted them as a loan, for the payment of which they were applied to, when perfectly unable to collect their revenues, either for the present or the past.  I myself was among the sufferers; di[s]gusted with the government, and unable to exist at home, I sailed for America, with a small competency, and abandoned the tithe question altogether.  My revenue amounted to £382 currency, which is now owing to me these seven years, with very little prospect at present to be arranged.19

The loan was carefully supervised by the British government, with the assistance of two lists in particular: A List of Those who have Applied for Monies out of the Consolidated Fund Set Aside for the Irish Clergy (1833),20 and a Return, Stating the Manner in which the One Million Voted for the Irish Clergy has been Appropriated, Specifying the Name and Residence of each Borrower, and the Amount Advanced . . . (1836).21  With these lists our plot thickens, because they bring us very close to our poet’s own predicament.  As we should expect, Reverend Standish Grady appears on neither list; the Clergy List from the National Library of Ireland suggests a termination of his ministry in 1829, and these returns detail financial exchanges of the 1830s.  One Standish O’Grady Bennett, however, did receive “monies” to cover the shortfall in tithe payments, and is noted to have done so on the second list mentioned, of 1836.22

     We are now at the heart of our problem of identification, and again both possibilities may seem to have been defeated.  How can Grady be our poet if his ministry terminated before the monies were advanced?  How can Bennett have taken monies from the fund and yet not appear on previous lists of Irish clergymen?  One may toy (as I did) with the possibility of a legal change of name, but this is defeated by the enrolment of both men at Trinity College; there is in fact a far less dramatic explanation.  The answer lies—as does the answer to O’Grady’s obscure history—in the concept of “lay impropriation,” a distasteful system whereby the revenues of a particular benefice in the Church of Ireland could be transferred to a private citizen who had nothing (at least nothing spiritual) to do with the Church; the clergyman who served the given parish had nothing to say in the matter, and simply had to live on tithes from other parishes which he was not serving.  The right to lay impropriation was usually in the disposal of a particular member of the gentry or aristocracy; Bennett would probably have been given the rights to a parish’s tithes as a means of supporting himself without working, and must thereby have fulfilled someone’s expectations for his life as a gentleman.  That his living should have been extorted from Catholic peasants, and that at the expense of the clergyman himself, is not an abuse we should associate with Bennett in particular; the odium of this situation must be laid at Britain’s imperial doorstep.  Bennett appears in the separate column of the 1836 Return reserved for “lay impropriators,” so this explanation of his manner of living is a secure one.

     It is crucial to realize that “lay impropriators” had exactly the same right to their tithes as the impoverished clergyman had to his; indeed, given their roots in the shabby gentry, the lay impropriators had a good deal more political clout when the “tithe question” was raised.  It is entirely plausible, therefore, for our “lay impropriator” Bennett to grumble in his notes to The Emigrant about having been forced to leave Ireland because of abuses of the tithe system; it would never occur to him that he had no more right to a Catholic peasant’s money than the Protestant clergyman who worked for Bennett’s wages.  This is why, of course, Bennett does not appear in any of the various clergy lists consulted earlier: he never was a clergyman.

     Indeed, that various critics have thought he was one is not due to any prevarication on the poet’s part.  He never claims in Note 8 to have been a clergyman; he merely claims to have received tithes and, when the payments trickled down to nothing, to have borrowed money from the government fund.  His first critics naturally enough concluded that he must have been a minister in the Church of Ireland, but, as the Parliamentary records make clear, he need have been no more than a lay impropriator of tithes; indeed, it is difficult not to chuckle at the image of an Irish Protestant minister flinging vestments aside and leaping aboard ship bound for a newly secular life in the Canadas.

     This seems to settle the issue of Standish O’Grady’s identity.  Standish Grady disappears in 1829—we may presume into the grave—and Standish Bennett only appears in Church records in the 1830s, when the tithe question begins to empty his wallet.  Bennett borrowed from the government fund, Grady did not.  Given our earlier triangulation and this fourth premise, we may conclude with real confidence that Standish O’Grady, author of The Emigrant, was born Standish Bennett in County Limerick in 1776 or 1777.  The reader should note that this would make the poet sixty years old when he emigrated, alone, to a farm in Sorel in 1836.  He died in Toronto in 1846 at the age of seventy, apparently after a protracted illness and in abject poverty, no doubt overwhelmed by the transition from relaxed Irish gentleman to penurious Canadian farmer-poet that had been forced upon his late middle life.

     That established, there is really only one major biographical question left to the researcher.  This concerns O’Grady’s connection with the O’Grady clan of County Limerick, keeping a family seat at Kilballyowen, near Kilmallock.  He claims kinship with them, and it would be worth knowing about, because the O’Gradys produced one very notable scion, who was (by another irony) the famous and infamous prosecutor of Robert Emmet in 1803.  This man was (to complicate the nomenclature) actually born Standish O’Grady, but because he was made “Viscount Guillamore” at his retirement from the bench, I shall refer to him for clarity’s sake as “Guillamore” hereafter.23  By thus raising a family of the Irish gentry into the ranks of the aristocracy, Guillamore made the O’Grady name common currency in the south-west Ireland of the time; few would fail to have heard of the young local lawyer who had risen to the highest stature from relatively humble roots.

     Only two general facts about the O’Grady clan are worth remarking here.  First, the given name “Standish” was and is maddeningly common in the family, because of the linking by marriage of two important Irish families of the seventeenth century, the O’Gradys and the Standishes.24  The marriage produced three sons, the second of whom was named “Standish O’Grady” and thus set the pattern for the clan’s male names for centuries.  The second fact to be noted is that the clan’s Protestantism was relatively fresh in our poet’s time, a great-uncle of Guillamore’s having blazed the way of conversion in 1723.25  This would account for some embarrassment over the clan-prefix to the family name (associated with the Catholic roots of the O’Gradys), and might have encouraged some of them to drop it on occasion.

     Our poet O’Grady makes frequent and extended reference to this family:

Alas! my kindred, valued friends, and you,
De Coursy, honoured name, illustrious, who
Though not with potent arm of might, in blood,
Art still conspicuous for an heart as good
As he, whose ancient privilege well known,
Derives his deathless honour from a throne;
Whene’er I pause, in gratitude to thee,
How shall the tear of sorrow rest with me;
And thou, O’Grady! son of learned lord,
And chief, and baron, in each vast record,
Who didst unmisticate these subtile laws,
That gained from learned counsel just applause:
Accept, brave soul, thine heart can’st ne’er refuse,
This humble tribute from the distant muse,
Who though remote, not this wide world can chill,
Though far we part, an heart that’s with thee still.

There is some difficulty in the lines.  The O’Grady latterly addressed is identified as a “son of [a] learned lord,” and the “learned lord” in the family at this time was Guillamore.  The poet would appear to be claiming, then, an acquaintance and kinship with Guillamore’s son, perhaps with the second Viscount Guillamore, but just as possibly with one of several younger brothers.  The difficulty is that he goes on to describe the apostrophized O’Grady, in the same archaic second person, as one who “unmisticated” the “subtile laws” of Ireland; this jurist can only be Guillamore himself.  Guillamore’s own father was hardly a “learned lord”; he was briefly High Sheriff of Limerick, but did little with the “subtile laws” of his country.  The second-person “didst” that attends “unmisticate” suggests that Guillamore is also the O’Grady directly addressed, but as this is a paradox we must assume instead that “didst” is a grammatical error, and that our poet indeed addresses one of Guillamore’s sons.

     The Notes that correspond to this passage (Nos. 33 and 34) tell tall tales of “DeCourcy,” an heroic ancestor to “the present O’Grady, of Kilballyowen,”27 and record some of Guillamore’s witty judgments from the bench.  They are not rooted in such intimate knowledge that O’Grady the poet must necessarily have been a family member; but we may conclude at the minimum that he was pleased to claim a “kindred” blood when he referred to the O’Gradys in the poem, and that he wanted to appear to have some intimacy with them.  The question is, then, was he indeed allied by blood with one of the most important families of Ireland at the time? and if he was, how close was the connection?  Indeed, if we can answer these questions, we may have a very real reason for Bennett’s use of “O’Grady” as a pseudonym; since that family had always represented power and worldly success to him, he may have adopted the surname proudly after entering an entirely new life and world in 1836.

     Tracing the O’Grady family tree is relatively easy, given the prominence of the family; it receives fairly full treatment in Burke’s Irish Family Records and Landed Gentry of Ireland,28 by perusal of which one can suggest our poet’s possible connection to the family.  We must first work backward from Viscount Guillamore.  His father was Darby O’Grady, whose father was Standish O’Grady, whose father was John O’Grady of Kilballyowen (known as “The O’Grady” because head of the clan).  This John O’Grady married twice, in fact, and the line just traced is the result of his second marriage, to one Honora Alen.  His first marriage, in 1698 to Catherine Quin, is of more present interest.  It produced an eldest son, Thomas (later “The O’Grady,” because first-born; Guillamore’s is a junior branch) who was the first known convert to Protestantism in the family.  Thomas had five sons, the first of whom, John, was to become “The O’Grady” in his turn; but at this point we must break with primogeniture and look at this John’s youngest brother, Standish.

     This Standish O’Grady married Elizabeth Deane in 1750, and had two children, John and Eliza.  Information on this branch of the family is sparse in Burke’s, since they had no part in carrying the blood-line forward; but Eliza is noted to have married one James Bennett of Ballinstona, County Limerick.29   Dates are not supplied for the marriage, but since Eliza’s parents married in 1750, let us imagine that she was born (after her brother) circa 1752-54, and let us suppose that she married somewhere between eighteen and twenty, as would be common.  She and James Bennett, then, would have married somewhere between 1770 and 1774, and would have been in child-bearing and rearing in the middle and late 1770s.  Only one child is recorded, a daughter Mary, who was to marry George Gough Gubbins of Maidstown Castle, Limerick; Mary’s marriage suggests that this very junior branch of the O’Gradys could still pull an impressive match together.  Was Mary indeed the only offspring of this marriage?  Or is it possible—I speculate openly here—that there was another child, a boy, who, to honour the maternal grandfather (whose name, we recall, was Standish O’Grady), was christened Standish O’Grady Bennett in 1776? Our Standish Bennett’s father was James, as we recall from Alumni Dublinenses: were there two James Bennetts in County Limerick at the time, or are the two men one and the same?  That our poet is not recorded in Burke’s is not utterly undermining of such a theory: Burke’s is notably terse about junior branches, and often relied on records provided by the families in making up its listings; a first child is often recorded merely to indicate that an insignificant branch of the family continued into posterity.  Perhaps our poet’s grandfather, the fifth son of a past O’Grady, was not worth tracing beyond a second generation of descendants; or, and this is not impossible, perhaps the family had some later reason for excluding other descendants of Eliza O’Grady and James Bennett.

     The point at which the above paragraph descends to speculation is the point of greatest dubiety in the material I have discovered in my efforts to trace the poet Standish O’Grady for an impending critical edition of The Emigrant.30   If this is not our poet’s point of connection to the O’Gradys, however, I am at a complete loss to account for his interest in the family and his claim of kinship with them.  If it is indeed a factual accounting of his descent, then it adds another fascinating dimension to one of the most intriguing, albeit painfully obscure, lives in Canadian letters.  If he is indeed so descended, further research may make other cryptic references in the notes to The Emigrant more intelligible: he recounts, for instance, the amusing story of the courtship of one Miss Waller;31 Viscount Guillamore’s wife had been another Miss Waller.32  O’Grady’s Miss Waller married a penurious Mr. Jackson;33 in 1811 one Joseph Henry Jackson of County Cork had his surname legally changed to Bennett.34  Are these coincidences?  Probably not, but coincidences they must remain in an official account of O’Grady’s life, until more information is available.  Descent from the O’Gradys might also account for Bennett’s having received tithes as a lay impropriator; a private gentleman to gain that capacity needed powerful friends or family.  Finally, descent from the O’Gradys might account for his surprising departure from the “sustenance” of colonial Sorel for the difficult life of Toronto, since a nephew of “the [then] O’Grady, of Kilballyowen,” one Bolton Waller O’Grady, was eventually to settle in Canada, and his marriage to be recorded in Toronto.35  Was Standish O’Grady Bennett seeking out his support, or that of other distant relatives when he left Sorel for Toronto in 1842?  Another of the many unanswerable questions lurking in the O’Grady story; but so many coincidences make it difficult not to assume that the author of The Emigrant could claim descent from a noteworthy Irish family of his day—but not enough kinship to prevent his enforced departure from Ireland for the uncertainties of life as a farmer in the Lower Province, at the startling age of sixty.


Much information in this article is the result of the indefatigable work of Michael Williams, research assistant in the Centre for Canadian Poetry at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.  My sincere thanks to him, and to D.M.R. Bentley for his continual re-assessments of the facts as they emerged.  My thanks as well to Mary Lu MacDonald for very generously drawing my attention to various references to O’Grady in Canadian newspapers.

  1. Stewart Wallace, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: Macmillan, 1945), vol. 2, p. 496.[back]

  2. Edward MacLysaght, Surnames of Ireland (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1969), p. 10. [back]

  3. Dictionary of National Biography, vol. VI, pp. 780-81. [back]

  4. Lawrence Lande, Old Lamps Aglow (Montréal: 1957), p. 181; on the next page Lande claims that noted Irish writer Standish James O’Grady was “a direct descendant of our author,” again without offering evidence. [back]

  5. The Literary Garland, 3, ix (August, 1841), p. 432. [back]

  6. Montreal Transcript, 27 January, 1842, p. 2; 3 February, 1842, p. 3. [back]

  7. Montreal Transcript, 11 March, 1843, p. 1. [back]

  8. The British Canadian, date unknown; quoted in The Toronto Examiner, 19 November, 1845, p. 3. [back]

  9. The Toronto Examiner, 19 November, 1845, p. 3. [back]

  10. The British Colonist, 17 February, 1846.  “Saturday morning last” was the 14th of February; but the Montreal Gazette and the Montreal Witness, which picked up the obituary, give the date of death as the 8th, while the Quebec Gazette supplies the 7th.  Given the rough agreement between the latter three papers, we may assume that O’Grady Bennett died on Saturday, the 7th of February, 1846, and that his obituary notice was phrased before Saturday the 14th had elapsed, but was not printed until after that date.  If indeed he died on the 8th, a Sunday, the phrase in the original obituary in the Colonist is inexplicable.  Special thanks to Michael Williams for locating this material. [back]

  11. This suggestion is supported by the remote possibility that he had distant relations in Ontario; see below. [back]

  12. G.D. Burtchaell and T.U. Sadleir, Alumni Dublinenses (London: Williams and Norgate, 1924), p. 59. [back]

  13. Kathleen O’Donnell, “Standish O’Grady,” Le Chien d’Or I The Golden Dog, No. 3 (February, 1974), pp. 1-9. [back]

  14. References to this valuable list may be found in an equally valuable compendium, the Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization, 11 vols. (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1965). [back]

  15. None of these materials would be known to me without the exhaustive study of the issue made by Donald Akenson in his The Church of Ireland: Ecclesiastical Reform and Revolution 1800-1885 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); his bibliography offers a wealth of information on the Irish ecclesiastical practice of the period. [back]

  16. A Return Respecting the Several Dioceses of Ireland, British Sessional Papers, 1806-7, vol. VI, p. 507. [back]

  17. Return Respecting the Several Dioceses of Ireland, p. 554. [back]

  18. A List of the Parishes in Ireland, with the Names of their Respective Incumbents, British Sessional Papers, 1824, vol. XXI, p. 278. [back]

  19. Standish O’Grady, The Emigrant.  A Poem.  In Four Cantos (Montreal: Lovell, 1841), p. 143. [back]

  20. British Sessional Papers, 1833, vol. XXVII, p. 493. [back]

  21. British Sessional Papers, 1836, vol. XL, p. 51. [back]

  22. British Sessional Papers, vol. XL, p. 53. [back]

  23. More may be learned of Viscount Guillamore in the Dictionary of National Biography. [back]

  24. Burke’s Irish Family Records (London: Burke’s Peerage, 1976), p. 913; one Darby O’Grady married a Faith Standish in 1633. [back]

  25. Edward MacLysaght, ed., “O’Grady Papers,” Analecta Hibernica, No. 15 (November, 1949), p. 52. [back]

  26. O’Grady, The Emigrant, pp. 103-4. [back]

  27. O’Grady, The Emigrant, pp. 164-74.  The “De Coursy” mentioned in the passage itself is a contemporary personage descended from the heroic DeCourcy of the notes.  This personage may be a member of the families of the Barons Kingsale, surname DeCourcy, of O’Grady’s time—another family which married into the O’Gradys of Kilballyowen—or it may be one of various “Decourcy O’Gradys” resulting from this union. [back]

  28. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland (London: Harrison and Sons, 1912), pp. 530-31. [back]

  29. Burke’s Irish Family Records, p. 913. [back]

  30. In an effort to clarify this material I have contacted the present head of the O’Grady family, but have yet to receive a response.  Private family information may be the only remaining source of biographical detail abeut the poet. [back]

  31. O’Grady, The Emigrant, pp. 154-6. [back]

  32. Burke’s Irish Family Records, p. 1176. [back]

  33. O’Grady, The Emigrant, pp. 154-6. [back]

  34. W.P.W. Phillimore and Edward Alexander Fry, An Index to Changes of Name Under Authority of Act of Parliament or Royal Licence and Including Irregular Changes from 1 George III to 64 Victoria, 1760-1901 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1968), p. 24. [back]

  35. Burke’s suggests that this Bolton Waller joined a general family emigration to the United States, but he may be found in The Canadian Churchman of September 1852, when his marriage to Miss Helen Coffin is announced; Bolton Waller O’Grady is at that time of “Hazelbank, Peterboro’,” and the Churchman carefully notes his relation to “the late Lord Chief Baron of Ireland, Viscount Guillamore.” Was he in Toronto six years earlier?  He would have been twenty at the time of the poet’s death, certainly old enough to be carving out a place for himself in the colonies and to be of interest to a desperate relation from Sorel. [back]