Ó Maolchonaire, Fearfeasa
To the best of the present writer's knowledge, Fearfeasa himself receives no mention in any government documents from the time. His line of descent is not known for sure. However, he may have been a brother of the Páidín Ruadh, son of Lochlainn son of Seaán Ruadh son of Lochlainn son of Páidín Ó Maolchonaire, mentioned in a roughly contemporary genealogy (quoted Walsh (1936), 838). This seems likely because this Páidín Ruadh and Fearfeasa share a patronymic; because a Páidín Ruadh Ó Maolchonaire retained lands in Baile Uí Mhaolchonaire in the 1654–8 transplantation (see Simington (1949), 73, 88; (1970), 276), and would therefore have lived in Fearfeasa's time; and because the Seaán Ruadh mentioned in the genealogy died in 1589 (see Hennessy), a date consistent with him being Fearfeasa's grandfather. The Uí Mhaolchonaire were once seanchaidhe (historians and keepers of traditional lore) to Síol Muireadhaigh (i.e. the Uí Chonchubhair of Roscommon and related dynasties), and Fearfeasa himself was an accomplished practitioner of his family's hereditary profession.
Under the leadership of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh (qv), he collaborated in at least three of the projects of the Four Masters: their book of the genealogies of the kings and saints of Ireland (4 October–4 November 1630 in the Franciscan convent, Athlone); their recension of the book of invasions (22 October–22 December 1631 in Lisgoole convent, Co. Fermanagh); and their magnum opus, the annals of the kingdom of Ireland (22 January 1632–10 August 1636 in the convent of Donegal), though only up to the entry for the year 1333. In August 1641 he and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh (qv) attended the Franciscans' general chapter at Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath, to defend the annals against the attacks of a distant relation, Tuileagna Ó Maolchonaire, OFM. The latter's continued attempts to undermine the annals' credibility (which may, ultimately, have contributed to the Franciscans' failure to publish the work) led Fearfeasa to pen a detailed response (late 1646), consisting of a long prose tract (published in Walsh (1918), 131–8) and a substantial poem, ‘Beag táirthear don tagra mbaoith’ (Mhág Craith, poem 39). By its style, its content, and the wide variety of sources it cites, this response affords a valuable insight into the work of the native Irish learned class at the time.
While Fearfeasa was clearly a masterful seanchaidh, and although poetry was part of the stock in trade of the seanchaidh, it would seem that he was not fully trained in the composition of dán díreach, the perfect verse of classical modern Irish. This is indicated by the fact that the language of ‘Mo-chean do[d] chuairt, a Chalbhaigh’ departs from the classical standard on several occasions (though generally adhering to the metrical rules of dán díreach). Almost all of ‘Beag táirthear don tagra mbaoith’ (the only other surviving poem attributed to Fearfeasa) is in loose ógláchas metre. We know that Fearfeasa was the author of other compositions, which have not apparently survived. This is because, in the final quatrains of the poem just mentioned, he claims that he never composed in ógláchas for his deceased former patron, one Fachtna Ó Fearghail. Despite this claim, it seems safe to presume that the standard of these other poems did not surpass that attained in ‘Mo-chean do[d] chuairt, a Chalbhaigh’.
As regards the identity of Fachtna Ó Fearghail, a quatrain appended to the latter poem gives Ros as his father's name. O'Hart gives Ros Ó Fearghail a floruit of 1598, and says that he was the son of Uilliam Mór (who attended Perrot's parliament in 1585), son of Domhnall Ó Fearghail Bháin. This genealogy is confirmed in a poem by Gofraidh Óg Mac an Bhaird in which Fachtna himself is praised as leader of the Uí Fhearghail, ‘Fan rath imrid aicme Ír’ (BL, MS Egerton 112, p. 478, and other manuscripts). Since Fachtna's death is lamented in Fearfeasa's 1646 poem, he must have died before that date. It is not known where or when Fearfeasa himself died; although it is likely that his poem to An Calbhach Ruadh was composed in the late 1650s (see Mac Cárthaigh (1997)), the latest definite date we have for him is 1646.