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Hugh Ward

Hagiographer, b. in Donegal, about 1590; d. Nov. 8,1635

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Ward HUGH (Irish, AEDH BUIDH MAC-AN-BHAIRD), hagiographer, b. in Donegal, about 1590; d. November 8,1635. His father, Geoffrey, was Toparch of Lettermacward, and head of the Tirconnell branch of the ancient family of Mac-an-bhaird. From remote time this family cultivated literature and filled the office of 011av or chief historian to the O’Donnells. In 1607 he left Ireland for Spain, and entered the University of Salamanca. Here he made the acquaintance of Luke Wadding, under whose guidance he joined the Franciscans in 1616. After taking his degrees and receiving ordination, he was sent by the general of the order to lecture on philosophy at Paris, and soon after was appointed professor of Divinity at St. Anthony’s College, Louvain. On April 21, 1626, he was elected rector of the college. Wadding states that Ward possessed great intellectual powers and a profound knowledge of the Irish language and antiquities; and John Ponce praises highly his lectures on Scholastic philosophy and theology, affirming that in these sciences he was second to none of the great writers of his time. But Ward’s chief interest was centered in the history and literature of Ireland. The plan of publishing the lives of the Irish saints and other ancient records of Ireland was his; he was pioneer and founder of the school for Irish archaeology that arose in the seventeenth century, with its center in the College of St. Anthony. At Salamanca he discussed his project with Luke Wadding, who promised him all help from the libraries of Spain, and in Paris he met Father Patrick Fleming, a distinguished Irish scholar, whom he urged to visit the libraries of France and Italy in search of Irish documents. At the time Ward reached Louvain, St. Anthony’s numbered among its inmates several accomplished Irish scholars: MacCaghwell, Hickey, Colgan, O’Docharty, and shortly afterwards Br. Michael O’Clery.

Ward laid before his associates his plan for a comprehensive history of Ireland—civil and ecclesiastical—a “Thesaurus Antiquitatum Hibernicarum”, and how the work was to be carried out. The first step was to procure original ancient Irish manuscripts or to have transcripts made of them. Father Patrick Fleming had already begun work in the libraries on the Continent, and it was decided to send Br. Michael O’Clery (belonging to a family of hereditary scholars) to Ireland to collect Irish MSS. In the meantime Ward was employed in arranging and examining the documents which had been transmitted to St. Anthony’s. He investigated the sources of the ancient martyrologies and chronicles. He was in constant correspondence with the early Bollandists Henschenius, Rosweydus, Papebroch, etc. on matters regarding the history and the saints of Ireland. John Bap. Sollerius styles him “Vir doctissimus ac hagiographus eximius”, and says that Ward’s arguments in proof of the Irish birthplace of St. Rumold are unanswerable. At the time of his death Ward had ready for publication several treatises which he intended as “Prolegomena” to his great work. The late Protestant Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Reeves, writing on Ward and his fellow-laborers, pays an eloquent tribute to the Irish Franciscans for their services to Irish archaeology. Ward was buried in the college church. The following are the works he left ready for publication: “De nomenclatura hiberniae”; “De statu et processu veteris in Hibernia reipublicae”; “Martyrologium ex multis vetustis Latino-Hibernicum”; “Anagraphen magnalium S. Patricii”; “Investigatio Ursulanae expeditionis”; “S. Rumoldi Acta”. These works were accompanied by critical dissertations and notes on historical and topographical questions. The “Acta S. Rumoldi” was published at Louvain in 1662, by one of Ward’s disciples, Thomas O’Sherin. Ward wrote Latin hymns and epigrams with elegance; also many poems in Irish of great beauty and feeling. Some of the former were printed in the “Acta S. Rumoldi”.


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