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    Researchers and writers on Irish


Information on scholars in the field of Celtic studies can be gleaned from various sources. Short biographies are found in general literature such as Brian Lalor (ed.) 2003. The Encyclopaedia of Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, Robert Welch (ed.) 1996. The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature. Oxford: University Press or Henry Boylan 1988. A Dictionary of Irish Biography. 2nd edition. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.

The following list contains short notes on the main scholars in the history of Celtic studies. There are no references to living Irish scholars as this information is freely available through the websites of the universities and colleges where they work.

There are also dedicated volumes on biographies of Irish scholars. The series is called Beathaisnéis ‘biography’ and, to date (mid 2007), ten volumes have been published.

In addition, there are volumes which deal specifically with Celtic scholars, see Ruairí Ó hUiginn (ed.) 1997 Scoláirí Gaeilge, Vol 27 of Léachtaí Cholm Cille (Maynooth: An Sagart) and Brian Ó Catháin (ed.) 2005. Scoláirí Léinn, Vol 35 of Léachtaí Cholm Cille (Maynooth: An Sagart).

Adams, George Brendan (1916-1982) Dialectologist who is known for innovative descriptions of language in Ulster, in particular of Ulster Scots. Adams was Dialect Archivist at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Holywood, Co. Down from 1964 onwards and editor of the volume Ulster Dialects (1964).

Bergin, Osborn Joseph (1872-1950) Old Irish scholar, educated at University College Cork and in Germany. In 1908 he became Professor of Old Irish at University College Dublin. He edited many Old Irish texts including Lebor na hUidre: Book of the Dun Cow with Richard Best (1929) as well as Stories from Keating’s ‘History of Ireland’ (3rd edition 1930). Bergin’s Law is named after him and refers to an unusual word order in Old Irish in which a verb in the conjunct form can occur at the end of a sentence. Assuming that the ‘conjunct’ forms of verbs are more archaic, this word order might be a remnant of the older word order before VSO (verb-initial order) became established.

Best, Richard Irvine (1872-1969) Old Irish scholar who studied in France and was acquainted with many writers of his time including J. M. Synge. He worked in the National Library of Ireland (as assistant from 1904 and director from 1924-40). After this he became professor at the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1940-7) and was chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He produced many bibliographies, including the Bibliography of Irish Philology and Printed Irish Literature (1913), later as Bibliography of Irish philology and manuscript literature. Publications 1913-1941. (1942, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies). He published various early Irish documents, e.g. The Annals of Innisfallen (together with Eoin Mac Neill from a facsimile in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) and The Ancient Laws of Ireland (from manuscript fragments in Trinity College Dublin (together with Rudolph Thurneysen, 1931).

Binchy, Daniel Anthony (1899-1989) Scholar of Irish law. From Co. Cork, he studied at University College Dublin and also in Munich and Paris. From 1929 he was professor of law at University College Dublin and was active in the diplomatic service. After the Second World War he spent a period in Oxford and then became professor at the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. His major publication is the six-volume work Corpus luris Hibernici (1978).

Borgstrøm, Carl Hj. Norwegian scholar working in the first half of the twentieth century. He is known for several book-length studies of Scottish Gaelic dialects.

Chadwick, Nora (1891-1972) British literary scholar who worked on Celtic studies producing several books, some of them in collaboration with other scholars, e.g. The Celts. (1971, Harmondsworth: Penguin) and Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick The Celtic realms. 2nd edition. (1972, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson).

Corkery, Daniel (1878-1964) Irish writer, born in Cork and later professor of English literature at University College Cork. In language studies, he is known for his study of 18th century Gaelic Munster – The Hidden Ireland (1925) – and for The Fortunes of the Irish Language (1954).

Curtis, Edmund (1881-1943) Historian, born in Lancashire to Irish parents. He studied in Oxford and later became Professor of History at Trinity College Dublin (1914), later becoming Lecky Professor (1939) at that university. Among his major works are A History of Medieval Ireland (l923) and A History of Ireland (1938). Curtis also worked for the Irish Manuscript Commission and published (with R. B. McDowell) Irish Historical Documents, 1172-1922 (1943).

de Bhaldraithe, Tomás (1916-1996) was a major scholar and lexicographer of Irish. His main book publications include The Irish of Chois Fhairrge, Co. Galway (1945, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies) and Gaeilge Chois Fhairrge. An deilbhíocht. [The Irish of Cois Fhairrge. The morphology] (1953, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies). de Bhaldraithe made an equally important contribution to the language with his English-Irish Dictionary (1957, Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair). He held the chair of modern Irish at University College Dublin from 1960 onwards.

de Blacam, Aodh (l890-195l), Irish literary historian and novelist. He was born in London and as a young man moved to Ireland and became active in nationalist politics. His Gaelic Literature Surveyed (1921) is a critical overview of literature in Irish in the context of the development of the Irish language and of Irish literature in English.

Dillon, Myles (1900-1972), Irish philologist. He was born in Dublin and studied in University College Dublin and later in Germany and France. He worked for a while at Trinity College Dublin (1928-30) and later in University College Dublin (1930-7). He subsequently worked at American universities (Wisconsin and Chicago) and spent a period at Edinburgh University before returning to Ireland to the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Dillon wrote on early Irish literature and on particular matters of modern Irish as well as writing on more general aspects of Celtic culture (see Nora Chadwick).

Dinneen, Patrick Stephen (1860-1934) Irish priest and lexicographer. He was born in Co. Kerry and studied at University College Dublin. He was active in the Gaelic League and produced plays and translations. He is remembered for his Irish - English Dictionary published in 1924 and revised in 1927. For many decades this remained the standard reference work in Irish lexicography. The Irish form of his name is Pádraig Ó Duinnín,

Dorian, Nancy American linguist working at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She is known for her pioneering work into the linguistic manifestations of language death, done in the context of East Sutherland Gaelic in Scotland.

Dottin, Georges (1863-1928) French Celtic scholar. Studied at the University of Rennes in Brittany and later became professor there. He is now known for Manuel d’Irlandais Moyen (1913) and for La langue gauloise. Grammaire, textes et glossaire (1920).

Fleuriot, Léon (1923-1987) French Breton scholar. Born in the department of Finistère, he studied archaeology and history and trained as a teacher, a profession which he practised for many years. He later moved to the Centre national de la recherche scientifique and in 1966 he obtained a chair in Celtic studies in Rennes. Fleuriot is best known for his work on Old Breton for which he edited hundreds of glosses and manuscripts.

Greene, David William (1915-1981) Irish scholar. Studied at Trinity College Dublin and worked in the National Library of Ireland (1941-48) before becoming Professor of Irish at Trinity College Dublin (1955-67). After this he moved to the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He was a contributor to the Dictionary of the Irish Language and published many articles on the Irish language in its various stages.

Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone (1909-1991), an English scholar who initially studied and worked at the University of Cambridge. Then he moved to Harvard and was the first to hold the chair of Celtic there. He returned to Europe in 1950 to take up the chair of Celtic languages at the University of Edinburgh in 1950 where he remained until his retirement. His major book publications are the following: Language and history in early Britain: A chronological survey of the Brittonic languages, first to twelfth century A.D. (1953, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, revised version by William Gillies, 1994), Contributions to the study of Manx phonology (1955, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press), The oldest Irish tradition: A window on the Iron Age (1964, Cambridge: University Press), A historical phonology of Breton (1967, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies). He also wrote on the early stages of Scottish Gaelic.

Jones, Daniel (1881-1967), the most prominent English phonetician in the first half of the 20th century. He was born in London and studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1905/6 he studied phonetics in Paris under Paul Passy and on his return took up an appointment at University College London and remained there. From 1921 to 1949 he was professor of phonetics. Jones was the first to describe rigorously the (standard) sociolect of British English which he termed ‘Received Pronunciation‘. His two main books in this connection are An outline of English phonetics (1918 with later revisions) and An English pronouncing dictionary (1917 with later revisions). Jones had contact with Irish scholars such as T. F. O’Rahilly and advised them on how to construct the phonetic studies of Irish which appeared in the 1940s and 1950s.

Hamp, Eric (1920- ) American scholar known for his detailed work on various Indo-European languages, including Albanian. Hamp worked at the University of Chicago and in his active career published widely on many aspects of early Celtic and its relationship to Indo-European.

Hartmann, Hans German scholar, previously professor of comparative philology at the University of Hamburg. He is known for his studies of Irish in Connemara where he collected a considerable amount of material in the 1950s and 1960s.

Holder, Alfred (1840-1916) German Indo-Europeanist who is remembered today for his comprehensive Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz [Linguistic compendium of ancient Celtic] (3, vols 1896, 1904, 1907). This has been revised and amended recently.

Holmer, Nils Swedish scholar, formerly professor at the University of Uppsala. He is known for his work on dialects of Scottish Gaelic and for a study of remnants of Irish in Co. Clare and on Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim.

Hyde, Douglas (1860-1949) Irish scholar and statesman, born in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, he studied at Trinity College Dublin and began collecting and translating Irish folklore and poetry and published much of this as Love Songs of Connacht (1893) along with Literary History of Ireland somewhat later (1899). He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League and active in the promotion of the Irish language. From 1909 to 1932 Hyde was professor of Irish at University College Dublin. He was elected first president of Ireland under the Irish constitution of 1937 and served a period from 1938 to 1945.

Joyce, Patrick Weston (1827-1914) Historian, geographer, place name researcher and linguist. Joyce was born in Co. Limerick, educated locally, became a teacher in Clonmel and later studied at Trinity College Dublin. His main achievement in onomastics is The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places (3 vols., 1869-70) for which he used his good knowledge of Irish in explaining the composition of names. As an historian and geographer he made his name with The Geography of the Country of Ireland (1883) and A Social History of Ancient Ireland (2 vols., 1907). He is also the author of A Grammar of the Irish Language (1878) and Old Celtic Romances (1879). In Irish English studies he is remembered for English as We Speak It in Ireland (1910) (reprinted with new introductions in 1979 and 1988) which was remarkable for its time.

Lewis, Henry (1889-1968) Welsh scholar of Celtic. He is known for work on Middle Cornish and for his translation and edition of Holger Pedersen’s Celtic grammar which appeared in 1937 as A concise comparative Celtic grammar.

MacAlister, Robert A. S. (1870-1950) Dublin archaeologist and professor at University College Dublin. He is renowned for many books on the archaeology of pre-Celtic Ireland. In language studies he is remembered as the author of the linguistically naive but nevertheless copious book The secret languages of Ireland (1937).

Mac Neill, Eoin (1867-1945) is best known today for his part in the struggle for Irish independence which preceded the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922. But he was also an academic and in 1908 he was appointed professor of early Irish history in University College Dublin. Mac Neill’s Law is named after him and refers to the situation in which a sonorant which appears in the coda of a syllable with a short unstressed vowel and whose onset is itself a sonorant (l, n, r) is then ‘strengthened’ to a double sonorant. This accounts, for instance, for the genitive Érenn from the nominative Ériu ‘Ireland’ in Old Irish.

McCurtin, Hugh (1670-1755) Irish poet and lexicographer. He was born in Co. Clare and educated privately by his cousin. He studied in France and returned to Ireland around 1714. In language studies he is known for two books: (1) The elements of the Irish language, grammatically explained in English, published in 1728 in Louvain and (2) an incomplete English-Irish Dictionary published in Paris in 1732.

Meid, Wolfgang Austrian scholar who is known for his work on early stages of Celtic. Formerly professor of Indo-European studies at the University of Innsbruck.

Meyer, Kuno (1858-1919) German Celtic scholar. He studied at Edinburgh and Leipzig and in 1884 he became lecturer in German at the University College of Liverpool. He later founded The School of Irish Learning in Dublin (1903) and then started the journal Ériu which is still in print. In 1911 he was appointed Professor of Celtic at the University of Berlin. Meyer published widely on Celtic cultural and literary matters. He also had an interest in ‘gypsies’ (both genuine Roma and Irish travellers) and in their supposedly independent language in Ireland, Shelta.

Neilson, William (1774-1821) Presbyterian minister and schoolmaster of a denominationally open school in Dundalk. He wrote several grammar books, including a number on Greek. In Celtic studies he is known for his An Introduction to the Irish Language (Dublin, 1808, 2nd edition 1843). Latterly he was Professor of Hebrew in Belfast and held the Chair of Greek at Glasgow University at the end of his life.

Ó Cléirigh, Micheál (1575-1645) Irish chronicler and lexicographer. Born in Co. Donegal, he entered the priesthood and became a Franciscan in Louvain. He is best known for his Annála Ríoghachta Éireann, a chronicle of Irish history from its beginnings down to 1616. Because it was a collaborative work with others it is usually referred to in English as Annals of the Four Masters. Ó Cléirigh was also the author of Foclóir [Irish dictionary] (1643, Louvain) which is among the earliest lexicographical works for Irish.

Ó Cuív, Brian Irish scholar and professor at the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He is known for his phonetic study of spoken Irish in Muskerry, south-west Co. Cork as well as for many publications on early modern and modern Irish.

Ó Dónaill, Niall (1908-1995), born in Donegal, educated at Letterkenny and then at University College Dublin. He was an Irish civil servant and worked for An Gúm (literally ‘The scheme’, an Irish publishing department of the government (now part of Foras na Gaeilge). He was the editor of Fóclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (1977) which replaced Dinneen’s dictionary as the standard work in this field. Ó Domhnaill was also a consultant to the other major scholar Tomás de Bhaldraithe for the latter’ work on English - Irish lexicography.

O’Donovan, John (1806-1861) was born at Attateemore, Co. Kilkenny. He received an education at a local hedge school and later on in Waterford. After a brief period running a hedge school of his own he left for Dublin in 1823 where he continued his classical education with a view to entering the priesthood. He never took up orders but during the 1830s he travelled widely in Ireland collecting language and folklore material as part of his work for the Ordnance Survey Office in Dublin. Later, in the 1840s, O’Donovan worked academically preparing an edition of Annals of the Four Masters. Nowadays he is chiefly known for his A Grammar of the Irish Language which appeared in 1845.

Ó hEódhasa, Giolla Brighde (also known as Bonaventura c. 1570-1614). born in Co. Fermanagh and educated in Ireland. He went abroad, first to France and then to Louvain (present-day Belgium) where he entered the Irish Franciscan College of St Anthony. He lectured in theology and published his An Teagasg Críosdaídhe [The teaching of Christ] (Antwerp, 1611; Louvain, 1614), the first of a number of works published by the Irish Franciscans at Louvain. Ó hEódhasa is known to language studies for his treatise on the Irish language, Rudimenta Grammaticae Hibernicae, an original work which contains a classification of nouns by declension as in Latin.

Ó Maolmhuaidh, Proinsias (Francis Molloy) (?1614-1684). Born in Co. Offaly and educated in Ireland and later in Rome, he worked on the continent and taught philosophy at Klosterneuberg near Vienna and was appointed to the chair in theology at Graz ((1645). Later he was made professor of theology at St Isidore’s in Rome (1650). Apart from theological and philosophical works, Ó Maolmhuaidh produced a Grammatica Latino-Hibernica (1677), one of the first modern grammars of Irish (it was consulted by Edward Lhuyd in Archaeologia Britannica of 1707). This also contains a plea for the continued use of Irish as a vehicle for the transmission of Irish culture.

O’Rahilly, Thomas Francis (1883-1953), born in Kerry and educated at Blackrock College and at University College Dublin. He wrote extensively on early Irish history and mythology. His most important contribution to Celtic linguistics is Irish Dialects Past and Present (1932, Dublin: Browne and Nolan) which remains in use to this day. O’Rahilly was latterly appointed senior professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and encouraged other scholars to produce phonetic studies of the main Irish-speaking regions (see Ó Cuív). O’Rahilly also wrote on early Irish mythology and hagiography, e.g. The Two Patricks. A Lecture on the History of Christianity in Fifth-Century Ireland (1942, Dublin).

Oftedal, Magne Norwegian scholar who was professor at the University of Oslo in the latter decades of the 20th century. He is known for work on Scottish Gaelic dialects and for comparative work on dialects of Spanish and Celtic with respect to similarities in phonology and morphology (Lenition in Celtic and in Insular Spanish. 1986).

Pedersen, Holger (1867-1953), a Danish linguist who wrote many books on language, including several on Celtic linguistics but also on distant linguistic relationships. He coined the term Nostratic for the assumed mega-language family which is supposed to incorporate many established families including Indo-European. Pedersen studied in Copenhagen and was later appointed professor there. In the 1890s he travelled to Ireland and spent time on the Aran Islands gathering material for the study of lenition, Aspirationen i Irsk ‘Lenition in Irish’. Pedersen’s major work is the three volume historical grammar of Celtic, Vergleichende Grammatik der keltischen Sprachen (3 vols, 1913). A concise version of this appeared in English as Henry Lewis and Holger Pedersen A concise comparative Celtic grammar (1937, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht).

Pokorny, Julius (1887-1970) was born in Prague and studied at Vienna. He quickly advanced academically and in 1920 became professor of Celtic in Berlin, a position which he had to give up in 1935 because of his Jewish ancestry. Pokorny is known both for his work on Indo-European and on Celtic. In the former area he published a key work, his Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (‘Indo-European Etymological Dictionary’, 1959), and in the latter area many articles and a grammar of Old Irish, Altirische Grammatik (‘Grammar of Old Irish’, 1969, Berlin: de Gruyter). Pokorny also concerned himself with the non-Indo-European elements in Irish and published a series of articles on this subject: ‘Das nicht-indogermanische Substrat im Irischen’ [The non-Indo-European substrate in Irish], Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie (1927-30) 16: 95-144, 231-66, 363-94; 17: 373-88; 18: 233-48. A biography of Pokorny appeared recently, see Pól Ó Dochartaigh 2004. Julius Pokorny, 1887-1970: Germans, Celts and Nationalism. (Dublin: Four Courts Press).

Quin, Ernest Gordon (1910-1986) Irish scholar and editor of Ériu. He is known for his work on Old Irish, e.g. through his work on Dictionary of the Irish Language and his Old Irish workbook (1975, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy).

Sarauw, Christoph A Dane who was among the early Celtic scholars. He published Irske studier ‘Irish studies’ in 1900.

Schmidt, Karl-Horst German Indo-European scholar. Formerly professor of comparative philology at the University of Bonn, he is known for his work on continental Celtic, e.g. his monograph on Gaulish names and many articles on the Indo-European background to Celtic.

Sommerfelt, Alf (1892-1965) Norwegian scholar who studied in France and came back to Norway where held a chair of linguistics at the University of Oslo from 1932 onwards. He wrote monographs on Breton (Saint-Pol-de-Leon) and Irish (Torr in Co. Donegal) and well as articles on general linguistics.

Stokes, Whitley (1830-1909) was a lawyer who was interested in Celtic studies. His father and grandfather were professors at Trinity College Dublin. He spent a large part of his life in the British legal service in India but also published works of Celtic interest, starting with Three Irish Glossaries (1862) and later Three Middle-Irish Homilies (1877) as well as Old Irish Glosses at Merzburg and Carlsruhe (1887) and Saltair na Rann: A Collection of Middle-lrish poems (1883). He also did translation work, published as Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore (1890)-

Strachan, John (1862-1907) Celtic scholar who also worked on Greek and Sanskrit and held chairs in these languages, latterly at the University of Manchester. Together with Whitley Stokes he edited the Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus (1901, reprinted 1975). He also produced a volume Old Irish paradigms and selections from the Old Irish glosses (4th edition, rev. by Osborn Bergin, 1949, reprinted 1976).

Thurneysen, Rudolf (1857-1940) born in Basel and educated there. He studied classical languages in Basel, Leipzig and Berlin. He specialised in Romance and Celtic languages and worked for a time at the University of Jena and then at the University of Freiburg. From 1913 to 1923 Thurneysen taught as professor of Indo-European linguistics at Bonn University. Thurneysen is known today for his work on Celtic, above all for his milestone grammar of the early stages of Irish which appeared as Handbuch des Altirischen [Handbook of Old Irish] in 1909 and which was later translated into English, appearing in 1946 as A grammar of Old Irish.

Vallancey, Charles (1721-1812) An English army general and Irish antiquarian. Born in Windsor to a Huguenot family, Vallancey came to Ireland in 1762 as a member of the army and by 1803 had attained the rank of general. In keeping with the antiquarian fashions of his age, he founded a journal Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis (1770-1804) which dealt with all aspects of Irish culture. He speculated on the origin of the Celtic languages, seeing their origins in Asia Minor. Although Vallancey did not know Irish well, he published a Grammar of the Hiberno-Celtic or Irish Language in 1773 in which he praised the genius of Irish and characterised the language as masculine. He was also one of the founders of the Royal Irish Academy (1782) after he had established the Hibernian Antiquarian Society in 1779.

Vendryes, Joseph (1875-1960) French Celtic scholar. He studied Indo-European with Antoine Meillet and later specialised in Old Irish and wrote a grammar of the language, Grammaire du vieil-irlandais (1908). He was also the founder of the journal Études celtiques. In his latter years he began the large-scale project Lexique étymologique de l’irlandais ancien [Etymological dictionary of Old Irish]. This remained incomplete at his death and has been continued by the present-day French Celticist Yves Lambert. The dictionary is, however, not yet finished.

Wagner, Heinrich (1923-1988) Born in Switzerland and educated there. He studied Celtic and Indo-European philology and came to support interpretations of common features among languages as deriving from their close geographical proximity. The notion of Sprachbund ‘language federation/grouping’, which goes back to Trubetzkoy, lies behind his major book publication Das Verbum in den Sprachen der britischen Inseln [The verb in the languages of the British Isles] (1959, Tübingen: Niemeyer). Wagner is known to Irish scholars for his detailed study of the Irish of Teileann, south-west Co. Donegal and, most of all, for his monumental four-volume work, Linguistic atlas and survey of Irish dialects (1958-64, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies).

Windisch, Ernst (1844-1918) German Indo-European scholar, born in Dresden, who worked at the University of Leipzig. He is remembered for his work on Old Irish, set out in two publications, his Kurzgefaßte irische Grammatik [Concise Irish grammar] (1879) and his Handbuch der irischen Grammatik [Handbook of Irish grammar] (1883). Somewhat later he published a book on the Táin, Die altirische Heldensage Táin Bó Cuailnge nach dem Buch von Leinster [The Irish heroic tale Táin Bó Cuailnge from the Book of Leinster] (1905).

Zeuß, Johann Kaspar (1806-1856) is commonly regarded as the founder of Celtic studies as a modern academic discipline. He was born in Franconia, went to school in Bamberg and studied in Munich. After working as a secondary school teacher for a while he accepted an offer of a professorship in Munich, but for reasons of ill health he relinquished this and returned to Bamberg. His main publication is his monumental Grammatica Celtica published (in Latin) in 1853 shortly before his death. A second edition, revised by H. Ebel, appeared in 1871.

Zimmer, Heinrich (1851-1910) German Celtic scholar. He was born in the Mosel district and became Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Greifswald in 1881 and was founding professor of the chair of Celtic at Berlin (1901). He published widely, e.g. Keltische Studien in 1881 and the text of the Würzburg Glosses (in the same year). Zimmer stressed the contribution of the Irish to medieval culture in Europe, see his Über die Bedeutung des irischen Elements für die mittelalterliche Kultur [The significance of the Irish contribution to medieval culture] (1887).