Gearóid Mac Eoin

An tOllamh
Gearóid Mac Eoin

Biography of Gearóid Mac Eoin

Gearóid Mac Eoin was born on the 25th January 1929.  He received his primary education at the Model School, Limerick (1933-1942) and his secondary education in Good Counsel College, New Ross, Co. Wexford (1942-1947). On the results of the Leaving Certificate Examination in 1947 he was awarded the 'Aiken' Scholarship, which had been founded by the Irish Government for those who opted to take their University course through Irish. At University College, Galway, he took Celtic Studies (Old Irish, Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh (Old and Modern), Archaeology, History, Latin and Greek) under Professors Kathleen Mulchrone, Tomás Ó Máille, Tomás Ó Broin, Michael Duignan, Síle Ní Chinnéide, and Mairéad Ní Éimhthigh. He was awarded the degree of B.A. with First-Class Honours in 1951.

Gearóid attended the first Summer School of the School of Celtic Studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1952. He was awarded the Travelling Studentship in Celtic Studies in 1952 and the degree of M.A. in 1953 for a thesis entitled Dán ar Chogadh na Traoi ('A Poem on the Trojan War'). He spent the following two years attending the University of Bonn, Germany. There he attended the lectures of Professors Hertz, Weisgerber, Ewig, Menzerath, Meyer-Eppler, Rüfner, and Thoma. He was awarded the degree of D. Phil. in 1955 for a dissertation, prepared under the direction of Professor Rudolf Hertz and entitled Das Verbalsystem von Togail Troí (H. 2. 17). On his return to Ireeland, with introductory letters from Professors Tomás Ó Máille and Michael Duignan, he soon got work with Radio Éireann, giving a weekly news-talk in the series Nuachtchaint and with a slot in the weekly programme Nuacht Anall, Nuacht Abhus.

In the year 1956 the Government of Iceland offered a scholarship to an Irish student to attend the University in Reykjavík to study the language and literature of Iceland. He was awarded the scholarship. In that summer  he was awarded a scholarship at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and began to work there. When he got the scholarship from the Icelandic government his scholarship at the Institute was put on hold until he should have returned from Iceland. In Reykjavík he found about a dozen students from as many countries on the same course. At the very end of 1956 he met Guðrún Helga ('Gimma') Hallgrímsdóttir and by the time he left Iceland in May 1957 they had become close.

That summer he was back in Dublin at the Institute for Advanced Studies, but was appointed 'lektor' for Celtic Languages and Folklore at the University of Uppsala to run from 1957 to 1959. Shortly thereafter he and Gimma were married in Uppsala. In due course four children were born to them. He returned to Ireland in 1959 to a Professorship of Irish at St Patrick's Training College, Drumcondra, Dublin. There Dr Dónall Cregan, Séamus Ó Mórdha, Dr Breandán Mac Aodha, and Tadhg Ó Ceallaigh and himself founded Studia Hibernica in 1961. He remained Secretary of the Editorial Committee until 1965During that time he was also President of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge, an organisation aimed at improving the methods of teaching Irish in the schools. He set out to spread its influence to the Irish departments of the Universities, but with little success.

In 1963 he was appointed Assistant Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. In 1966 he was appointed to the Chair of Old and Middle Irish and Celtic Philology at University College, Galway, where he spent the rest of his academic life. He was elected Dean of the Faculty of Celtic Studies on a couple of occasions. He became a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1975. As President of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge he organised conferences and summer-schools for the members. Among the conferences  organised by colleagues and himself in the Department of Old and Middle Irish during his professorship were the Sixth International Congress of Celtic Studies (1979), the Third International Conference on Minority Languages (1986), and the XXVth Annual Meeting of Societas Linguistica Europaea on the Spread of European Languages to America, North and South (1992).

He became a member of Gluaiseacht Cearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta about the time when Peadar Mac an Iomaire was a candidate for election to Dáil Éireann in 1969. He and Peadar continued to organise parish committees throughout the Gaeltacht in preparation for the foundation of Údarás na Gaeltachta, which finally happened in 1979. All this activity forced the Government to establish Radio na Gaeltachta and Údarás na Gaeltachta, which had, however, much less power than the Gluaiseacht had demanded.

He was Visiting Professor at the University of Bonn (1979-80), at the University of Freiburg (1985), and at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin (1993). From the end of the eighties he organised a programme under the ERASMUS Scheme set up by the European Union to promote educational cooperation between the European countries. Its programme was to promote the study of the languages and literatures of the Celtic countries and by the time he retired there were 22 European universities participating in the programme. The Royal Irish Academy appointed him as representative on the Standing Committee for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation in 1985 and renewed the appointment until 1994.

He retired from the Chair in 1994. The National University of Ireland conferred the Honorary Degree of D. Litt. Celt. on him in 1999. His wife, Gimma, died in 2007. His children prosper, each in their own professions. His nine grandchildren too are doing well, some of them now at University age. He continues to work as an independent scholar, prepared to give a lecture when invited, attending conferences, and publishing his work.