Bennett, Arthur (Art Mac Bionaid) (1793–1879), scribe, scholar, and poet in Irish, was born in Ballykeel, Forkhill, Co. Armagh, one of seven children of the farmer John Bennett and his wife Mary Bennett. He was a direct descendent of the poet Micheál Ó hÍr, author of ‘Seachrán Chairn tSiadhail’. Nothing is known for certain of his early education but he possibly attended a school on the local landlord's estate. He was one of the most competent and prolific scribes of the nineteenth century and much of what we know today of south Armagh Irish in the nineteenth century comes from his writings. He was particularly interested in Irish history as well as Irish lore, archaeology, and the literature of his native area, and sought to copy poetry and prose composed in the region during the eighteenth century. His earliest manuscript, a copy of Geoffrey Keating's (qv) Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, dates from 1819 when he was twenty six years old. By 1825 he was employed as an Irish teacher by the Irish Society, a protestant organisation that aimed to promote the scriptural education of catholics through Irish. He attended a meeting of its teachers held in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, on 5 September 1827 and, with the Meath scribe Peadar Ó Gealacáin (qv), was elected to the society's committee for the examining of new teachers. However, he had an acrimonious parting from the society, which resulted in an intense dislike of all proselytising societies for the rest of his life. Apart from one manuscript from September 1831 nothing is known of his work during the 1830s. No other manuscripts are extant between 1831 and 1844. He had married by 1830 and was working as a stonemason and may therefore not have been actively writing during this period due to the pressures of family life. He may also have spent some of this time working in England. His reputation as an Irish scholar had already been established by then, however, as his name appears on a list of prominent Irish scholars published in Dublin in 1838.
He received assistance from patrons such as Fr Pádraig Ó Luain and Éamann Augustus Mac Aonghusa. In 1844 he began corresponding with Robert Shipboy MacAdam (qv), who also acted as his patron for a number of years. This correspondence, which lasted six years, provides an insight into the hardship endured by Mac Bionaid and his family during the Famine, including references to his own ill-health and the death of his fifteen-year-old daughter. They also provide an insight into Mac Bionaid's temperament, indicating that he was often curt, touchy, and not adverse to complaining if Mac Ádhaimh was tardy in replying to his letters. In 1849 Mac Bionaid offered to write a history of Ireland from the time of Queen Elizabeth I for Mac Ádhaimh in English but Mac Ádhaimh preferred it to be done in Irish. The work soon became a bone of contention between the two and the correspondence ceased as a result.
Approximately twenty-five of his poems are still extant, some of them being of little literary merit. Seven poems are written about the clergy while five relate to religion. His best known prose work Comhrac na nGael agus na nGall le chéile (1857–8) is a lengthy historical account of Ireland's conflict with invaders from the coming of the Vikings to the treaty of Limerick in which he drew extensively on annals and native historians such as Keating. The manuscript is chiefly of value for its dialectal features.
He came into contact with many other prominent Irish scholars of his day but his relationships with them were often contentious. He generally corresponded with his fellow scholars in English. Extremely defensive of his knowledge of the literary tradition and history of Oirialla, he was always ready to attack others whether he was right or wrong. He co-operated with John O'Daly (qv) for a time, sending O'Daly a number of poems composed by Peadar Ó Doirnín (qv) but also sent a poem satirising O'Daly for his praise of Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill (qv) in O'Daly's issue of Edward Walsh's (qv) Reliques of Irish Jacobite Poetry (1844). He also wrote a poem satirising the poet Aodh Mac Domhnaill entitled ‘An tOllamh Úr’.
He and his wife Máire (who died some time after November 1876) had two sons and four daughters. Art himself died in Ballykeel 10 March 1879, aged 86 and is buried in Mullaghbawn cemetery, Co. Armagh.