Archibald McSparran and an Irish Legend

The book "An Irish Legend of McDonnell and the Norman De Borgos" was published in London and Glasgow in 1869 and has proved popular ever since. It is a story from the 16th century, set in the northern parts of counties Londonderry and Antrim, describing the life of the people of those times. The author, Archibald McSparran, writes in archaic english with frequent lapses into gaelic, and blends prose, poetry, local history and romantic folklore, in a classic drama of love and war.

Archibald McSparran was born near Dungiven in County Londonderry in the north of Ireland, at a date variously estimated between 1782 and 1795. He was brought up by relatives at Flanders near Dungiven and attended the Free Grammar School in Londonderry (later Foyle College). Lttle else is known about his early life except that in his youth his hand was injured by the tramp of a horse and as a result he developed a withered arm. He entered Trinity College Dublin on 4th November 1816, it is believed to study as an Episcopalian minister, but apparently he changed his mind. Instead he became a teacher in a private school and in 1823 published his first book, a 68 page work on the subject of Greek grammar. His residence at this time was 'Broomfield' near Drumachose old church, on land provided by a good friend, the rector of Drumachose. It is here that became so familiar with the area, its scenery and its legends, giving him the inspiration to embark on his most famous work. He was later evicted from the house, it is said for his controversial opinions, and he moved to a mountain home near Limavady. However, in 1829, the first edition of "Norman De Borgos" was published in Belfast. There were some difficulties in selling the book as the Irish could not afford it and the English would not read it, but despite this he managed to sell sufficient copies himself to be able to emigrate in 1830 to the United States, taking with him two sisters.

Archibald settled in Philadelphia and started a boarding school with his sister Mary. He republished "Norman De Borgos" and it was a great success. He is said to have been offered a college professorship, but to have declined it because of the requirement to take U.S. citizenship. He also published two further writings, "Tales and Stories of the Allegenys" and "The Hermit of the Rocky Mountains". He and Mary were both affected by rheumatism, and moved 170 miles west to mineral springs near Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania where they embarked on a silkworm venture. This was not a success and he returned to Philadelphia to resume teaching. He died there on 2nd May 1848 and is buried in the Presbyterian churchyard on Germantown Avenue.

The most recent edition of "Norman De Borgos" ISBN 0 907528 082, was published in 1986 by North-West Books of Northern Ireland although this company has unfortunately since ceased operating.

It has come to our attention, that the most recent telling of Archibald's Legend occurred in December 2004, when Limavady High School presented it in the form of a musical drama entitled "O'Donnell's Daughter".

A copy of the book has recently been made available on Google Books.

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