The work begun in 1632 in the Abbey of Donegal was originally entitled by the compilers as the 'Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland' and it was also known as the 'Annals of Donegal' and was later styled and popularly known as the Annals of the 'Four Master'.
The Four Masters were Brother Michael (Tadhg) O'Cleary, his cousin Peregrine or Cucogry O'Cleary, Fearfasa O'Mulconry and Peregrine O'Duigenan. For the period of their work the scribes were kept by the Friars of Donegal and their fees were paid by Feargal O'Gara who was presented with a copy of the Annals in appreciation of his patronage.
Brother Michael O'Cleary (the only Franciscan, the other scribes were lay professional writers) descended from a long line of scholars. After he had joined the Franciscan Order he was sent from Louvain to Ireland to work on a history of Irish Saints, and while here he got the idea of compiling the 'Annals'.
The Four Masters are commemorated in Donegal today by a beautiful Church incorporating examples of Celtic Art and design, a community hall, a school and a 10 metre monument of local cut stone on which the names of the four are inscribed.
The original 'Annals of the Four Masters' is now kept in Switzerland, by the Franscians, but details can be obtained from the National Library on Kildare Street in Dublin.
Four meek men around the cresset,
With the scrolls of other days;
Four unwearied scribes who treasure
Every word and every line.
Not for fame or not for fortune,
Do these eager penmen dream.
Oh ! that we who now inherit
All their trust, with half their toil,
Were but fit to trace their footsteps
Through the Annals of the Isle;
Oh ! that the bright Angel, Duty,
Guardian of our task might be,
Teach us as she taught our Masters,
In that Abbey by the sea,
Faithful, grateful, just to be !