Ó Gormáin (Mac Gormáin, O'Gorman, Gorman), Muiris (Maurice) (c.1700/20–c.1794), scribe, poet, and schoolteacher, was born probably in Co. Monaghan, though a case has been made for a birthplace in Co. Louth. The oldest manuscript known in his hand has been dated to 1734. During the 1730s, 1740s, and 1750s he found employment as a schoolteacher in the Leinster–Ulster borderlands. While teaching near Forkhill, Co. Armagh, in mid century, he was unlucky enough to arouse the competitive antagonism of Peadar Ó Doirnín (qv), poet and schoolteacher. It is not clear whether their quarrel sprang from professional jealousy or rivalry in courtship. They were probably a little too old for the latter explanation to hold good. In any case, Ó Doirnín was too fine a poet not to get the better of anyone in a war of words, and Ó Gormáin was made a laughing-stock by means of a well-turned burlesque on his charmless ways with women and the poverty of his English. The poem, known as ‘Suirí Mhuiris Uí Ghormáin’ (The wooing of Muiris Ó Gormáin), depicts the scribe meeting a loose woman on the turnpike road to Drogheda. Taking her for the embodiment of female perfection, Ó Gormáin is made to ask her for a drink in broken English: ‘If him had apron file the ór, the divil a halfpenny me let you pay, shall drink the good ale whil feather cock crows’ (Ó Buachalla, 51). After jabbering about his great learning over a drink, the hero falls into a stupor, waking at dawn to find his heart's desire ‘away with a shantleman brave, back horse with race’ (ibid., 52). As satires in Gaelic go, it is more impish than nasty; but it is said to have seen off Ó Gormáin. Though it is evident that his command of English was good by the 1760s (if it was ever weak), there are indications that he never shed a certain conceit as to his abilities and erudition.
Several of his poems dating from the 1720s to the 1740s are extant. Three priests serving in the diocese of Clogher are honoured in the slightly archaic classical metres known as óglachas and caoineadh. Though the themes of bravery and piety are handled competently, the poetry is not very original or robust. The most vigorous and moving laments the early death of one Fr Philip Gartland (d. 1739); ‘mo chreach, mo chrádh, go bráth id'dhiadh 'se, mo chogús in gcúl, mo rún, mo théagar’ (‘Ruination and cold shock are all that's left, my soul-protection now behind me’) (Moore, ‘Poems in Irish’, 60). In May 1761, having come to an agreement with John Reilly of Annagh, near Belturbet, Co. Cavan, to teach his sons arithmetic and English for the following year, his whereabouts can for the first time be determined. By April 1763, when he produced the first in a unique series of eulogies in Irish to lords lieutenant taking office, he had taken up lodgings at the Mashing Kneeve, St Mary's Lane, Dublin. Sixteen four-line stanzas, fashioned in the óglachas metre, and rounded off with a ceangal (envoi), lauded Hugh Percy (qv), earl of Northumberland (lord lieutenant 1763–5), for his kindness to the poor. In traditional Gaelic style, his virtues as a ruler were said to promote wonderful fecundity in the natural world: ‘Tórrtha na ccrann a rath uair’ (the trees bear fruit a second time) (Mahony, ‘Muiris Ó Gormáin’, 31). His enterprise was probably rewarded – equivalent efforts by others in English earned small payments.
By November 1763 he was engaged in transcription of the ‘Annals of the four masters’ and the Annals of Connacht for Francis Sullivan (qv), a fellow of TCD. In July 1766 a notice in Faulkner's Dublin Journal declared that as ‘professor’ of the Irish language he was ‘perfect master of the difficulties attending the reading and explaining the ancient Irish manuscripts in vellum’, and was available to give instruction in Irish ‘at the sign of the Mashing Kneeve’ (IBL, 138). During the later 1760s he assembled the first known Irish–English phrasebook, specifically for clients among the middle class and gentry. Broken down into twenty-six sections, corresponding to the nuts and bolts of conversation (health, weather, time), and to topics of daily routine (dressing, eating, going to school), the reader is made aware of handy phrases for use with servants or for use between husband and wife in the bedroom (‘Bhfuair tu mo philiur?’ ‘You have got my pillow’) (McCaughey, ‘Muiris Ó Gormáin's English–Irish phrasebook’, 205). The book, which exists only in the form of bound inscribed pages and does not seem to have been printed, is an invaluable guide to the Oriel dialect of the period. It was demonstrably the source for the compilation of phrases printed in the one and only issue of Bolg an tSolar (1795).
Ó Gormáin won a considerable reputation and secured task-work as a scribe in the 1770s and 1780s with antiquarians such as Charles O'Conor (qv) of Belnagare, Thomas O'Gorman (qv), Thomas Leland (qv), and Charles Vallancey (qv), in spite of a growing weakness for drink. Though O'Conor in January 1771 was angry that Ó Gormain had ‘wantonly quitted my house for the drams of Dublin’ (McCaughey, 209) without penning a line of the ‘Annals of the four masters’, as contracted, he was willing in 1777 to clear the scribe's accumulated debts. Modified versions of the eulogy of 1763 were presented to George Townshend (qv), Viscount Townshend, lord lieutenant in 1767, and to George Grenville (qv), Earl Temple, lord lieutenant in 1782, without earning him pension or place. Charlotte Brooke (qv) thanked him for helping her construe much of the poetry she brought out in the Reliques of 1789. His last days were pitiful. He died c.1794 in a basement room in St Mary's Lane, having been ‘for a long time supported by the charity of Mac Entaggart, who was himself a poor man’ (Béaloideas, 108). He never married. Bundles of his manuscripts were fortunately retrieved by collectors – enough to show that he was the most productive Ulster scribe of his generation. There are holdings of his manuscripts in the NLI, the RIA, TCD, and the British Library.