Tyrone-born clergyman John Richardson (c. 1669-1747) was a strong advocate of publishing Irish-language religious works as a means of converting Ireland’s Catholics to Protestantism. The Hesburgh Libraries recently acquired a copy of his 1711 book of sermons, Seanmora ar na Priom Phoncibh, na Chreideamh or Sermons upon the Principal Points of Religion, Translated into Irish. The book was published in London by Elinor Everingham.
In the same year that he published this book, Richardson presented a petition to the Lord Lieutenant, the duke of Ormond, calling for the publication of testaments, prayer books, catechisms and sermons in Irish, and he also published A Proposal for the Conversion of the Popish Natives of Ireland to the Establish’d Religion. Our book of sermons represents an early part of his campaign to provide printed sermons.
Richardson makes the case for his project in the book’s dedication to the Duke of Ormond.
It is too manifest to be denied that the many dreadful Calamities with which that unfortunate Island hath been miserably Afflicted since the Reformation, are in a great measure owing to the unhappy differences of Religion in it. To prevent them for the time to come, several Laws have been made to weaken, and at last to Extinguish Popery in that Kingdom; and there seems to be only one thing wanting, one thing very becoming the Professours of Christianity, in order to attain this happy End, which is, that proper Methods be used to Instruct the Natives in the true Religion, and to Convert them from their Errours.Iv-v
The first sermon, by Richardson, is headed with a Bible verse on the necessity of godliness. This is followed by a sermon by John Tillotson, the Bishop of Canterbury, preached in the presence of the King and Queen at Hampton Court in April 1689. The translator of this sermon, Pilib Mac Brádaigh (c.1655-1720), is said to have been a Catholic priest who “embraced the aristocratic religion of the State, for which he handed down his name to posterity as Philip Ministir” (John O’Donovan).
The final texts are three sermons given by Bishop William Beveridge, Bishop of St. Asaph, and are translated to Irish by Seón ó Mulchonri, or Seán Ó Maolconaire.
The printed text uses many contractions, and these are almost, but not all, listed in the key at the back of the book. The key displays the Irish alphabet of eighteen letters, the symbols for contractions of common letter-combinations, and a display of the lenited consonants, each one with an overhead dot.
We know of six other copies of this book in the U.S.