This Compendium of Irish Biography aims at giving sketches, in a compact form, of the lives of all deceased Irishmen and Irishwomen, who, from the earliest times to the date of publication, have been distinguished by their deeds or remarkable for their qualities. It likewise includes those who, though not born in Ireland, took a prominent part in the affairs of the country, or wrote important works respecting it. Eminent persons born abroad of Irish parentage, or in Ireland of parents who were not natives, are not included, unless they spent a considerable portion of their lives in the country, received their education there, or were in some way distinguished in connexion with its annals.
Great efforts have been made to render the volume as comprehensive as possible, and it is believed that not a few important names will be found in its pages which have never before appeared in any similar work.
In the selection and rejection of names, and in the proportionate length of the sketches, it is probable that many readers may consider that sufficient judgment has not been exhibited. In such a compilation much depends on the materials available: there can be little doubt that, owing to the existence of full and well-written memoirs, several of the persons introduced have received notices out of proportion to their merits, while others of higher claims, owing to lack of material, have been dealt with very imperfectly, or perhaps not at all.
For the sketches of the personages of very remote times, the writer, in common with all his predecessors, has had to depend on authorities of doubtful value — some of which must be purely mythical: as a rule, all dates and particulars relating to times in which regular contemporary records were not kept, should be received with caution.
The list of Authorities looks somewhat pretentious. It might have been better if such books as are seldom drawn upon had been mentioned by name when quoted, leaving only standard works to be referred to numerically. Works in the Irish language are cited solely through their translations or English notes; the same may be said in most cases of those in Latin. The translations from a Spanish authority have been made by a friend. It has not been thought necessary to refer by number to several of the books of reference of which I have made constant use.
The lives are arranged alphabetically according to the surnames. Where there is a near relationship between persons of the same surname, they are placed in genealogical order.
In the Addenda will be found a few names which were necessarily or accidentally omitted in the body of the work, some imperfect or ill-arranged sketches rewritten, together with such errata as have caught the eye, and a few notes.
The Index, which includes cross references, directs the reader to all these notices, errata, and illustrations.
The small figures throughout refer to the list of Authorities. Those in parentheses indicate the volume, series, or date.
The writer is alone responsible for errors and shortcomings; but the work would certainly have been unworthy of any place as a book of reference except for the assistance so freely and generously accorded in many quarters.
My brother Richard Webb has been unwearied in his revision of the manuscript and proofs.
I have had the inestimable help of the Very Rev. William Reeves, D.D., Dean of Armagh, who has kindly read aver the greater part of the work in slips, and has enabled me to correct many errors and deficiencies. I need scarcely observe that no one possesses more comprehensive and exact knowledge of Irish history and biography than this distinguished scholar and antiquarian — knowledge that has been at the disposal of every writer upon Irish affairs for a third of a century.
The Rev. James Graves, Patrick W. Joyce, LL.D., John T. Gilbert, F.S.A., The Rev. William G. Carroll, William J. FitzPatrick, LL.D., Henry Dix Hutton, Edward D. Mapother, M.D., George Sigerson, M.D., and others, some of whom might object to seeing their names mentioned here, have ever been ready with information and counsel.
Most of the manuscript was prepared in the Library of the Royal Dublin Society, where I have had the advantage of William S. K'eogh's advice in the search for materials, and the help of his assistants, especially of two who have been connected with the Library during the whole period of my studies there.
I am likewise indebted for courtesy and aid to Thomas French, Assistant Librarian, in the Library of Trinity College; to Martin Haverty, Assistant Librarian, in the Library of the King's Inns; and to Edward Clibborn, in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy.
- Dublin, June, 1878.