Life story of Limerick man who translated sacred Sikh text to be told 

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

Life story of Limerick man who translated sacred Sikh text to be told 

The Golden Temple of Amritsar

OVER a hundred years after his death, the ground-breaking work of a West Limerick linguist, scholar and civil servant is to be honoured and his unusual life story is to be published. 

In 1909, Max Arthur Macauliffe, also known as Michael McAuliffe, translated the holy book of the Sikh religion into English and the translation, published by the Oxford University Press, has not been out of print since.

Now, a group, made up of representatives from the Sikh community, Limerick City and County Council and  historians, is planning to honour the man in various ways including the launch of a biography by Prof Tadhg Foley of NUIG.  

In West Limerick, the land of his birth and childhood, he will be remembered through the erection of a plaque at Templeglantine NS, where he was once a pupil and where his father John was headmaster.

Max was born in Glenmore, Monagea,  the eldest of 12 children born to John McAulliffe and his wife Julia Browne. The child was baptised in Monagea and began school there but when he was eight, the family moved to Templeglantine. He later went to school at Springfield College, Ennis, now St Flannan’s. before progressing to what was then known as Queen’s University, Galway, now NUIG.

There, the young Max excelled, securing a first class honours degree in Modern Languages and later becoming a Scholar in Ancient Classics as well as Modern Languages and History.

In 1862, he joined the Indian Civil Service and arrived in the Punjab in 1864 where he was to remain for the next 30 years, becoming Deputy Commissioner and later a Divisional Judge. And it was there he became interested in the Sikh religion.

The Punjab, a district of what is now India and Pakistan, was the location for the establishment of Sikhism in the 16th century. The religion was founded by Guru Nanek Dev Ji and is based on his teachings, and those of the nine Sikh gurus who followed him.

The three pillars or tenets of Sikhism are: to keep God in mind at all times; to earn an honest living and to give to charity and care for others. Sikhism now has some 27m followers world-wide, 2,000 of whom live in Ireland with a significant community of approximately 500 in Limerick.

Max’s Indian legacy was his classic translation into English of major parts of the Adi Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs.  It was seen as a pioneering work, in the preparation of which he collaborated with Sikh scholars. When his masterpiece, The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors was first published in 1909 it ran to 2,500 pages over six volumes. 

Max lived in some wealth in London following his retirement from the Indian Civil Service. He never married but fathered a son with a woman while in India. 

Telling the life story of Max Arthur Macauliffe to local councillors in Newcastle West last week, Anne Rizzo of Limerick City and County Council explained that last year the council had been approached by the Dublin Interfaith Forum which was interested in the West Limerick man. A working group was established last November and has now recommended a number of measures in honour of Mr McAuliffe.

These include a launch of the biography by Prof Foley of NUIG, the erection of a plaque in Templeglantine as well as a one-day seminar on the life and works of Mr McAuliffe as well as an exhibition about him. Books on Sikhism will also be made available through the council’s library service.