O'Hanlon, John (‘Lageniensis’) (1821–1905), priest, hagiologist, historian, folklorist, and poet, was born 30 April 1821 in Stradbally, Queen's Co. (Laois), son of Edward Hanlon (d. early 1840s), who probably owned a tanyard in the town, and Honora Hanlon (1793/4–1887). He was educated at a private school locally, then at the endowed Preston school at Ballyroan, receiving a classical and English education. In 1840 he entered St Patrick's college, Carlow town, to study for the catholic priesthood, but withdrew to emigrate with family members to North America (May 1842). After travelling initially to Québec, Lower Canada, they settled in Millwood, Missouri, USA (August 1843). While working briefly as a river fireman in St Louis, O'Hanlon attracted the attention of a criminal court judge and later mayor of the city, Bryan Mullanphy, by his piety in attending daily mass; Mullanphy's generous offer to finance the continuation of his clerical education, combined with credentials he had brought with him from St Patrick's college, secured his entrance to the diocesan seminary in St Louis. While in seminary he contracted malaria in the aftermath of the great Mississippi river floods of 1844, and suffered bouts of malarial fever for years afterwards. After being ordained in May 1847 by the Dublin-born bishop, Peter Richard Kenrick (qv), he worked variously as an assistant in two St Louis city parishes; as pastor in two remote Irish emigré settlements; as missionary priest in the extensive prairielands surrounding Hannibal Missouri; as editor of a catholic weekly newspaper; and as assistant professor in the new diocesan seminary at Carondelet, near St Louis. A regular contributor to catholic periodicals, he published two books in America, Abridgment of the history of Ireland, from its final subjection to the present times (1849) and The Irish emigrant's guide for the United States (1851; a revised second edition was published in Dublin in 1890). The latter, inspired by his witnessing the extensive poverty, illness, and anguish experienced by famine emigrants, was a comprehensive manual of practical information and considered counsel; along with the subsequent memoir of his ten years in America, Life and scenery in Missouri (1890), it remains a valuable source on the social history of the Irish diaspora.
Suffering from persistent bronchitis, O'Hanlon heeded medical advice and returned to Ireland in September 1853. After recuperating in Stradbally, he offered his services to the busy and understaffed archdiocese of Dublin, to which he remained attached for the rest of his life. After serving as chaplain to the Carmelite brothers in Clondalkin and the Carmelite convent in Rathmines (1854), he was assistant chaplain to the South Dublin Union (1854–9), and principal chaplain to the military establishments in Dublin (1859–61). He was curate of SS Michael and John parish in the Dublin city centre (1861–80), where a colleague was fellow historian C. P. Meehan (qv); the two scholar priests assisted one another in their researches. O'Hanlon officiated at the marriage of the Fenian leader James Stephens (qv) in the parish presbytery (1864). For the last twenty-five years of his life he served as parish priest of St Mary's Star of the Sea, Sandymount (Irishtown), Co. Dublin (1880–1905), during which time he was made a canon of the archdiocese of Dublin (1885).
A prolific writer, O'Hanlon produced over twenty books chiefly on Irish hagiology, history, and folklore. He published a series of biographical monographs on Irish saints, including St Laurence O'Toole (qv) (1857), St Malachy O'Morgair (qv) (1859), St Dympna (qv) (1863), and St Brigit (qv) (1877). His most important work was the monumental Lives of the Irish saints, comprising some 3,500 biographies, with extensive footnotes discussing sources, left unfinished at his death. Arranged chronologically by saints' feast days, the work was published serially from 1873 in fortnightly instalments, which were periodically collected in bound volumes, each devoted to one month of the year. The first of nine such completed volumes appeared in 1875; an incomplete, tenth volume, terminating at 21 October, was published posthumously. While regarding hagiography (and, indeed, all scholarly inquiry) as intended primarily to produce spiritual edification, O'Hanlon nonetheless was deeply influenced by the Bollandist tradition, and adopted a critical attitude to sources, intent on identifying the verifiably historical amid the legendary, the distorted, and the fantastic; in the longest of his entries, for example, he referred to the ‘cloud of fable’ that obscured ‘the authentic facts’ of the life of Ireland's patron, St Patrick (qv).
O'Hanlon's historical writing included a Catechism of Irish history: from the earliest events to the death of O'Connell (1864); an Irish-American history of the United States (1903), which he rewrote in its entirety after the manuscript was destroyed in a printing-house fire in 1898; and the posthumous History of the Queen's county (two volumes, 1907 and 1914), especially valuable for its numerous sketches and photographs of antiquities. His treatment of Irish history was deeply influenced by his constitutional nationalism: while critically describing the misguided idealism of the physical-force tradition, and offering trenchant assessments of the personal suffering and communal divisions brought about by such conflagrations as the 1798 rising, he was entirely uncritical in his heroic depiction of Daniel O'Connell (qv). He published poetry and collections of folklore using the pseudonym ‘Lageniensis’, which included: Irish folk lore (1870); Legend lays of Ireland (1870), verse treatments of folk legends and traditions; The buried lady: a legend of Kilronan (1877), a long poem inspired by visiting the grave of Turlough Carolan (qv); The poetical works of Lageniensis (1893); and Irish local legends (1896), which includes a portrait frontispiece. He produced editions, each with preface and biographical essay, of the Essay on the antiquity and constitution of parliaments in Ireland (1891) by Henry Joseph Monck Mason (qv), and The case of Ireland's being bound by acts of parliament in England stated (1892) by William Molyneux (qv); his edition of the collected Legends and poems of the Laois writer John Keegan (qv) (d. 1849)) was published posthumously in 1907. He wrote a Catechism of Greek grammar (1865) and Devotions for confession and holy communion (1866). He published some 125 articles in newspapers and journals, treating historical, religious, and antiquarian subjects. He was a member of the RIA (from the 1870s), the RSAI, and both the Kildare and Kilkenny archaeological societies. Serving for twenty years as honorary secretary of the Daniel O'Connell monument committee (1862–82), he was deeply involved in the raising of funds, and wrote the committee's report (1888). He is mentioned in the ‘Nausicaa’ chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce (qv), celebrating evening benediction of the blessed sacrament in Star of the Sea church. He died in the parish presbytery at 3 Leahy's Terrace, Sandymount, on 15 May 1905. A celtic cross was erected over his grave in Glasnevin cemetery, and a marble bust and memorial tablet with epitaphs in Irish and English are located in Sandymount church.