Walsh (Bhailís, Wallis, Uailis), Francis (Proinsias) (1654–1724), lexicographer and Franciscan priest, was born in the Fingal area of north Co. Dublin. Nothing is known of his family or early education. He entered the Franciscan order and was ordained (1677) in the Irish Franciscan College, Prague. He taught philosophy and theology in the Irish Franciscan College at Louvain, in the Spanish Netherlands, and in St Isidore's College, Rome. On 2 April 1682 he was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at the Irish Franciscan friary of La Madonna del Piano at Capranaica, north of Rome. By November 1703 he was a lector jubilatus (a jubilarian teacher, which indicates a long time teaching). He returned to Ireland (1703) and was appointed titular guardian of the Franciscan friary in Clane, Co. Kildare. This appointment was renewed at the provincial chapter in June 1705. On the register of catholic priests drawn up (1704) in Athy, Co. Kildare, he is named as parish priest of Tattoo, living at Rathcoffy, Co. Kildare. He became vice-provincial of the Franciscan order in Ireland in 1709, and in 1712 he reestablished the confraternity of St Francis known as the Cord of St Francis. From 1714 he was guardian of the Franciscan friary on Cook St., Dublin.
He was a member of the Ó Neachtain circle of Gaelic scholars and scribes in Dublin and is referred to as oide-fhoclóir (lexicographer) by Tadhg Ó Neachtain (qv) in the poem ‘Sloinfead scothadh na Gaoidhilge grinn’, composed between 1726 and 1729, which lists the names of twenty-six scholars known to Ó Neachtain in the city at that time. Ó Neachtain composed the poem ‘Froinsias Walsh’ in his honour, praising his lexicographical work, and indicating that Walsh had spent fifteen years working on the Latin–English–Irish dictionary he had begun in 1709 but had left uncompleted on his death. It was finished by Ó Neachtain and the original manuscript in Walsh's and Ó Neachtain's hands, with the latter's poem pasted into it, is MS Z 3.1.13 in Marsh's Library, Dublin. The protestant minister and scholar Anthony Raymond (qv) had a copy of the dictionary in his possession in 1723 and had planned to publish it but died before his plan was realised. Walsh had already compiled an Irish–Irish dictionary in 1706 which was based on Foclóir no Sanasán nua (1643) by Mícheál Ó Cléirigh (qv). An interesting feature of this dictionary was that ‘easy’ words in Irish are explained with ‘difficult’ words, making it a version of Ó Cléirigh's dictionary in reverse (Harrison (1986), 60).
In about 1713 Walsh completed Grammatica Anglo–Hibernica, or a brief introduction to the Irish language, composed and first written by Fr Francis Walsh, lr. jub. of divinity, based on a Latin treatise by Giolla Brighde Ó hEódhasa (qv). The work also drew on other sources such as Proinsias Ó Maolmhuaidh's Grammatica latino-hibernica, A brief introduction to the Irish or ancient Scotish language by Edward Lhuyd (qv), and a manuscript ‘Grammatica hibernica’ completed by Pilib Ó Cléirigh in 1637. In his introduction Walsh explained his having written in English as it was ‘the most common and prevailing language with the learned and unlearned of our country, that what was designed for the public use, might the easier be perused, and understood’. At least three manuscript copies of this work are still extant, in the BL (Eg. MS 143), the NLI (MS G 332), and King's Inns, Dublin (MS 24). Aodh Buí Mac Cruitín (qv) published a summary of Walsh's grammar in Louvain under the title The elements of the Irish language grammatically explained in English (1728), omitting certain passages with which he possibly disagreed, such as Walsh's suggestion that the Latin character was more suitable than the Irish character for printing purposes as it was less expensive and common to all nations.
Walsh compiled a number of other works. Both The antediluvian world; or, A new theory of the earth (1743), whose list of the subscribers included the English writer Samuel Johnson, and Funiculus triplex; or, The indulgences of the Cord of St Francis (1745) were published posthumously. Walsh's view of the earth as portrayed in The antediluvian world was based primarily on texts from the Bible, and an extraordinary interest in the physical makeup of the planet is revealed. A further work, ‘Philosophia vetus innovata’, remained unpublished. Walsh died in 1724, possibly in Dublin, but as no official record of his death occurs he may have died abroad.