Ó Maolchonaire, Muiris (d. 1645), contributor to the ‘Annals of the four masters’, was the son of Torna and Áine and was from Co. Roscommon. His county of origin and his father's name are found in the authors’ preface to the Franciscan manuscript of AFM (UCD-OFM, MS A13, fxxiii); both parents’ names and the year of his death are found in Maolmhuire Ó hUiginn's fine elegy on him, ‘Máthair na horchra an éigse’ (ed. Ó Muireadhaigh, 1974). It is probable that he came from his family's traditional homeplace of Baile Uí Mhaolchonaire (Connellan, ‘Ballymulconry’) and possible that he owned land there (Mac Cárthaigh, ‘Lúireach Chríosd’). His is the honour of competing with Conaire Ó Cléirigh to be remembered as the fifth, rather than the sixth, of the ‘four masters’. The authors’ preface tells us that he worked on the annals only ‘for the period of one month’. The fact that he was present to sign that preface on completion of the work (10 August 1636, in the convent of Donegal) suggests that his contribution was made in the closing days of the project. However, he may also have done his month's stint slightly earlier that year, around 25 April, the date on which Míchéal Ó Cléirigh (qv) copied a poem on the saints of Ireland from a manuscript belonging to him (Jennings, 204). Whichever is the case, he must have been confined almost exclusively to transcribing text if the RIA catalogue is correct in its ‘possible identification’ of him with the scribe who penned most of folios 1–285 of the Academy's volume of the annals (RIA, MS C iii 3). The only other surviving prose work with which he is known to be associated is a short essay attributed to him on the genealogy of the Sarsfield family (RIA, MS 23 M 17, 164).
He composed at least three poems on members of the Roscommon nobility: ‘Ní mhaireann d'Éirinn acht Aodh’ (ed. Murray, 1964), in praise of Aodh Ó Conchubhair Donn (d. 1632) and in memory of Aodh's wife, Máire Ní Ruairc; ‘Do leónadh Éire i nÁth Luain’ (ed. Ó Raghallaigh, 1938), on the death of Brian Mac Diarmada in 1636; and ‘Gabhaidh mo shuirghe, a Shior Lúcáis’ (RIA, MS A v 2, 20), in praise of Sir Lucas Dillon (of Loughglinn) and his wife, Jane Moore. (He might also be the author of ‘Orpheus óg ainm Eóghain’ (ed. McGrath, 1953; Ní Dhomhnaill, 86), in praise of the musician Eóghan Ó hAllmhuráin.) Both in subject matter and language, these poems suggest a professional seanchaidh (historian/keeper of lore) straying into the territory traditionally occupied by full-time praise poets. He himself says as much in the first of them, stating that his inherited calling is that of seanchaidh and that, but for a current gap in the market, ‘I or my likes would never get to praise the chief of the O'Conors’ (quatrains 16, 18). It is not surprising, then, to find the occasional departure in his compositions from the strict rules of dán díreach (the perfect verse of classical modern Irish). Indeed, what is remarkable here is the degree to which he did, in fact, succeed in conforming to that standard – a point that might be obscured by the negative emphasis in McGrath's assertion that the author of ‘Orpheus óg ainm Eóghain’ was ‘but imperfectly acquainted with the learning of the [poetic] schools’. McGrath must certainly be incorrect in suggesting that such ‘weaknesses’ in Muiris's compositions ‘may explain why he was employed for only one month on the Annals’. Besides the obvious fact that his colleagues on the annals were hardly seeking to engage his services as a poet, we know that at least two of them (Fearfeasa Ó Maolchonaire (qv) and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, (qv) were fellow sinners in this regard. It is altogether more likely that he was employed for only one month because the very purpose of his employment was to hasten the completion of a project that had already dragged on for more than four years.
What information we have on Muiris indicates that he was well thought of by his learned contemporaries. Not only was he considered good enough to contribute to the Annals, he also received patronage from Brian Mac Diarmada, an aristocrat who was well enough informed on literary matters to take part personally – albeit in a small way – in the so-called ‘Contention of the bards’ (see McKenna, poems 26–7). As well as this, the professional poet Maolmhuire Ó hUiginn tells us that he entered into a pact with Muiris by which whoever died first would elegise the other (Ó Muireadhaigh, 1974, quatrain 22) – hardly a vote of no confidence in Muiris's abilities, poetic or otherwise. Our Muiris, son of Torna, is not to be confused with the following mid-seventeenth-century men also named Muiris Ó Maolchonaire/Morris Conry (etc.): (i) Muiris (d. 1664) son of Brian Óg, also from Roscommon and also a seanchaidh/poet (see Mac Cárthaigh, ‘Lúireach Chríosd’); (ii) the landholder who retained 100 acres at Killadysert, Co. Clare, in the ‘Cromwellian’ plantation (Simington, Transplantation, 23); (iii) the priest (also, apparently, from the Thomond branch of the family) whose Threnodia Hiberno-Catholica (ed. Jennings, 1947) was published in 1659; (iv) (perhaps the same as in (ii), above) the signatory of an affidavit in a 1683 Co. Clare lawsuit (Ainsworth, 462).