Sam Hanna Bell Samuel Beckett John Hewitt Bernard (Barney) Hughes James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker William Carleton Rosamond Praegar

John Hannon (1867 - 1931):
Irish language scholar

John Hannon, or Seán Ó hAnnáin as he also came to be known as, was born in Drumkeeran, County Leitrim  By the age of eight, the family had moved to Crossmaglen, County Armagh, and lived above the shop premises which his father had acquired on retirement from the Royal Irish Constabulary. Hannon became a trainee teacher but would spend most of his time from the 1890s onwards working in the family merchant shop and through which he acquainted the native Gaelic speakers of the locality. Although he was unable to speak or write Gaelic himself at this stage, by 1893 he had begun collecting words, place names, phrases and songs that he transcribed phonetically from the spoken Gaelic of customers using his own customised notation method based on Father O’Growney’s original system of Easy Lessons in Irish first published in the newspaper Weekly Freeman (later published as a book entitled Simple Lessons in Irish. With a network of over 50 individual informants, he became the first systematic collector of the local Gaelic dialect as was still spoken in rural pockets of South East Ulster at the turn of the twentieth century.

It was with loose sheets of waste and packaging paper, as well as shop stationary documents, on which he initially began jotting down whatever he could glean of the Irish language often spoken by some of the shop customers. By May 1897, he now had regular sources that willingly supplied him a wide range of material and had began to systematically collate and rewrite previously-gathered material in a series of copybooks, many of which would also include details of his sources such as names, ages, addresses and the dates of the oral material collected. His own fluency in Gaelic, and in particular his ability to comprehend and confidently write in Irish, had improved greatly by this period and he was becoming ever more aware of the importance of his growing collection, especially for the growing number of publications, both local and national, which sought to promote and showcase the rich linguistic heritage of the surviving Irish-speaking communities.

Hannon's strong nationalist viewpoint also began to develop during this period and as both a respected local scholar and businessman he gradually became involved in local politics. He, along with his brother, was a named delegate of the local executive committee of the Irish Parliamentary Party; and also of the United Irish League, the latter being the national nationalist alliance which among its many aims was the revival of the Irish language. Amongst his papers is the handwritten text of a rousing supportive address prepared for the visit of the party’s leader, John Dillon, to Crossmaglen and J Hannon is listed as a signatory to and member of the local organising committee.

Hannon’s private collection of Gaelic oral gleanings, coupled with his extensive knowledge of the local Gaelic dialect, had attracted interest from professional Gaelic scholars and collectors which would continue over the rest of his life. Among these were Joseph H Lloyd, Henry Morris, Professor Éamonn Ó Tuathail, Father Laurence Murray, Father Luke Donnellan, Peadar Ó Dubhda, Tommy Hollywood, and the lexicographers Father Patrick Dinneen and Timothy O’Neill Lane.

Hannon published a number of articles in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge (The Gaelic Journal) and in the Dundalk Democrat during 1899 and 1913 but it was during the years of 1928 and 1930 which saw his main body of published material as given in the long-running series ‘Ráidhteachas an Fheadha’ within the monthly journal of An tUltach. This published material however represented only a small sample of the huge collection of material that Hannon had gathered from neighbours and shop customers alike over a period of 20 years and although he had a number of other prepared articles later published posthumously, such as Surnames of the parish of Upper Creggan (South Armagh), it is mainly through the published works of his contemporaries that the range and influence of his collection and field work can be appreciated. Over time, Hannon’s collection would become an important source utilised by other scholars, including all of the above-mentioned, as more and more compilations, articles and books on the Gaelic oral tradition of South-east Ulster came to be published over the course of the early twentieth century.

Hannon’s extensive collection of material, including his own original handwritten copybooks and loose slips of paper, and also copies of his collection which he re-transcribed for others, has been generally well preserved and the majority of it remains in good legible condition. The main Hannon Ms Collection has been in the possession of the late Dr Diarmaid Ó Doibhlin, consisting of 18 standard school copybooks, five small pocket notebooks and numerous loose leaves, and includes details of over 50 of his informants from which he collected an extensive body of primary material in the oral tradition.This main collection consists of vocabulary, idioms, proverbs, prayers, charms, curses, riddles, anecdotes, prose tales, place names, surnames, personal names, local lore as well as over 100 songs of the oral traditional which he wrote down primarily in phonetic transcript form the original Gaelic as spoken by the informants. Over 50 of these songs and other miscellany was rewritten by Hannon in additional copybooks and notebooks which he supplied to his correspondents and these can now be found in the Éamonn Ó Tuathail Collection (EOT Nachlass 10/9 & 15/9) of The Irish Folklore Commission at University College Dublin, in the Séamus Ó Casaide Collection of The John Rylands University Library in Manchester, England (GB 133 Ms 1098) and in the Seosamh Laoide Collection of The National Library of Ireland (G 855 19-21). Another copybook and a small bundle of loose leaves with phrases and songs, also in Hannon’s hand and mostly in phonetic script, is held in the Ó Fiaich Papers Collection at Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library in Armagh (FC 2: 20 and NP 1: 28).

John Hannon was the leading pioneer in preserving the remnants of the declining Gaelic oral tradition in South-east Ulster and his unique collection of material, both published and unpublished, remains one of the most important phonological sources on that last generation of native Irish speakers from the Greater Crossmaglen district at the beginning of the twentieth century. Hannon never married and he spent the latter two years of his life in Newry Workhouse. The Hannon family name in Crossmaglen subsequently ceased to survive after the death of his younger brother Francis who also died a bachelor six years later in the Newry Workhouse. The original Hannon homestead and shop premises survives as a derelict building at 6 Creggan Street in Crossmaglen and John Hannon rests in the Hannon family plot in Crossmaglen graveyard.

Born: 27 January 1867
Died: 27 October 1931
Gearóid Trimble

Gearóid Trimble, "John Hannon – A Forgotten Gaelic Scholar from Crossmaglen", Creggan – Journal of the Creggan History Society no. 17 (2015-2016).