O'Grady, Standish Hayes (1832–1915), Celticist, was born 19 May 1832 in Erinagh House, Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, son of Admiral Hayes O'Grady and his wife, Susan Finucane. His father was one of the chiefs of the Cinél Donnghaile, the collective name of the O'Gradys. He was a nephew of 1st Viscount Guillamore, and a cousin of the novelist Standish James O'Grady (qv). As a child he was fostered in Coonagh, Co. Limerick, an Irish-speaking area. There he learned Irish and came into contact with the Gaelic manuscript tradition, listening to stories read aloud from manuscripts in farmers' houses during wakes or while carding wool. He maintained this interest in the literary tradition throughout his life.
O'Grady received his secondary education in Rugby School, England, his name appearing in the school register for August 1846. Subsequently he attended TCD from 1850 to 1854 but did not graduate. He was critical of an education system that made no mention of Irish history and legend. During his student days he became a friend of the leading scholars and antiquarians, John O'Donovan (qv), George Petrie (qv) and Eugene O'Curry (qv), as well as the bookseller and publisher, John O'Daly (qv). At this time he began copying Gaelic manuscripts under their direction. He purchased from O'Daly in 1853 a collection in Irish of ‘tales and other pieces, in prose and verse’ which he presented to the British Museum in 1892 (BL Add. MS 34119). He was a founding member of the Ossianic Society in 1853 and became its president in 1856. O'Curry attacked him publicly in a review in the Tablet, questioning his ability as a scholar. The publication of the society's third volume prompted the review.
On leaving college, O'Grady began work as a civil engineer and spent a number of years working on the railways in Ireland. He travelled to the USA in 1858 where he worked in the gold mines and at one stage ran a coasting schooner. By 1862, on the death of his brother, Carew, his father called him home but not long after his return his father died and O'Grady moved to England. There is some uncertainty about his life around this time. Around 1874 he travelled to Australia, working his passage but does not appear to have spent long there due to sight problems but returned to England and in 1882 applied for the post of professor of Celtic studies in Edinburgh University. Although his application was accompanied by testimonials from eminent Celtic scholars such as Whitley Stokes (qv), Ernst Windisch (qv), and William Wright (1830–89), professor of Arabic in Cambridge, he was unsuccessful. In his letter of application he claimed to have been requested to continue the work begun by O'Donovan and to be old fashioned.
While a student at TCD he edited Eachtra giolla an amarain (The adventures of Donnchadh Rua Mac Con Mara), published by O'Daly (1853) under the name ‘S. Hayes’. Robert Welch says the translation is closely linked to the Irish text and succeeds in conveying much of the spirit of Mac Con Mara's original (Welch, 1988). He edited the third volume of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society (1857), which included his editions of The pursuit of Diarmuid O'Duibhne and Grainne, Fagháil craoibhe Chormaic and Caoidh Oisin a ndiaidh na féinne. He published a severe review of Kuno Meyer's (qv) edition of Cath Finntrágh (1884) in the Transactions of the Philological Society. His most important work, however, is considered to be Silva Gadelica (1892), a collection of thirty-one Irish tales and other pieces from manuscripts such as the ‘Book of Leinster’ and ‘Leabhar breac’, under various headings including hagiology, legend, Ossianic lore, and fiction. This was in turn criticised by Kuno Meyer in Revue Celtique XV (1893) and his far more critical review is said to have hurt O'Grady deeply. O'Grady taught Irish to the Irish scholar Eleanor Hull (qv) and contributed a number of translations of ‘Táin bó Cuailgne' and ‘Brisleach mór Maige Muirthemne’ to her work The Cuchullin saga in Irish literature (1898). He wrote an essay on ‘Anglo-Irish aristocracy’ for Ideals in Ireland (1901), edited by Lady Gregory (qv). He also contributed a large number of articles to periodicals and left materials behind for an edition of ‘Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh’.
O'Grady began compiling a catalogue of Irish language manuscripts in the library of the British Museum in 1886 but stopped working on the project in 1892 after a disagreement with the library authorities. By the time he recommenced, his health had begun to fail and the work remained unfinished. Robin Flower (qv) completed it later and it appeared under the title Catalogue of the Irish manuscripts in the British Museum (1926). The first volume appeared with O'Grady as author and is an invaluable reference work. Flower noted in a biographical sketch to volume 2 of the catalogue that O'Grady possessed a ‘unique method of interweaving text, translation, interpretation, and commentary, and infusing through the whole the strong colours of his own remarkable personality’.
In her autobiography, Lady Gregory stated that W. B. Yeats (qv) had informed her that O'Grady would not join the Irish Literary Society or Conradh na Gaeilge because he considered both to be Fenian bodies. However, towards the end of his life she noted that O'Grady boasted to her that although he had lived in England for forty years he had never made an English friend.
He was competent in a number of languages including Arabic and Scots Gaelic, and Cambridge University awarded him a D.Litt. in 1893.
O'Grady was a bachelor all his life and died 16 October 1915 in his home in Ballinruan, Hale, Cheshire; he was buried in Altrincham cemetery.