Archer is the eldest son of Rev. Richard Archer (1796? – 1849), perpetual curate of Maghera hamlet, County Down, and his wife, Jane Matilda (née Campbell). Nothing is known of his education, though his two younger brothers attend Trinity College Dublin (TCD). At some point, he apparently appears to become estranged from his family.
Archer moves to Dublin around 1846, where for many years he pursues a business career. He achieves fame as a naturalist, and in 1849, is one of the twelve founder members of the Dublin Microscopical Club, of which he is the secretary and moving spirit for many years. Between 1858 and 1885 he writes over 230 scientific papers on Irish fauna and flora in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, the vast majority of which are short notes on desmids collected in Ireland. Sometimes the same article is published in two or more journals.
Archer begins a new career when he becomes librarian of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in January 1877. The bulk of the society’s library is being taken over by the state to form the National Library of Ireland. He becomes the chief librarian of the new institution and has the task of overseeing the changes. Most of the ideas put forward in his pamphlet, Suggestions as to public library buildings . . . with especial reference to the National Library of Ireland (Dublin, 1881), are used by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane in his design for its new building, which opens in August 1890. His adoption of the Dewey Decimal Classification system and the inception of a dictionary catalogue, both novel in the day, are to prove of lasting value to users of the library.
In poor health, Archer retires in 1895. He dies, unmarried, at his home, 52 Mount Street Lower, Dublin, on August 14, 1897. He is a shy, modest man, who declines professorships at the Royal College of Science for Ireland and at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), and who is nominated for membership of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and the Royal Society without his knowledge.
Wilde is born in March 1815 at Kilkeevin, near Castlerea, County Roscommon, the youngest of the three sons and two daughters of a prominent local medical practitioner, Thomas Wills Wilde, and his wife, Amelia Flynne. His family are members of the Church of Ireland, and he is descended from a Dutchman, Colonel de Wilde, who came to Ireland with King William of Orange‘s invading army in 1690, and numerous Anglo-Irish ancestors. He receives his initial education at the Elphin Diocesan School in Elphin, County Roscommon. In 1832, he is bound as an apprentice to Abraham Colles, the pre-eminent Irish surgeon of the day, at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin. He is also taught by the surgeons James Cusack and Sir Philip Crampton and the physician Sir Henry Marsh. He also studies at the private and highly respected school of anatomy, medicine, and surgery in Park Street (later Lincoln Place), Dublin. In 1837, he earns his medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In the same year, he embarks on an eight-month-cruise to the Holy Land with a recovering patient, visiting various cities and islands throughout the Mediterranean. Porpoises are flung on board the ship, Crusader, and Wilde dissects them. Taking notes, he eventually composes a two-volume book on the nursing habits of the creatures. Among the places he visits on this tour is Egypt. In a tomb he finds the mummified remains of a dwarf and salvages the torso to bring back to Ireland. He also collects embalmed ibises.
Wilde runs his own hospital, St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital for Diseases of the Eye and Ear, in Dublin and is appointed to serve as Oculist-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. At one point, he performs surgery on the father of another famous Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw.
Wilde is awarded a knighthood in a ceremony at Dublin Castle on January 28, 1864, more for his involvement with the Irish census than for his medical contributions, although he had been appointed medical commissioner to the Irish census in 1841. In 1845, he becomes editor of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science, to which he contributes many articles.
Wilde marries the poet Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee on November 12, 1851, who writes and publishes under the pen name of Speranza. The couple has two sons, William (Willie) and Oscar, and a daughter, Isola Francesca, who dies in childhood.
In addition to his children with his wife, Wilde is the father of three children born out of wedlock before his marriage: Henry Wilson, born in 1838, and Emily and Mary Wilde, born in 1847 and 1849, respectively, of different parentage to Henry. He acknowledges paternity of his illegitimate children and provides for their education, but they are reared by his relatives rather than with his wife and legitimate children. Emily and Mary both die in 1871 following a Halloween party at which their dresses accidentally catch fire.
From 1855 until his death in 1876, Wilde lives at 1 Merrion Square, now the headquarters of American College Dublin. The building is named Oscar Wilde House after William Wilde’s son, who also lives at the address from 1855 until 1878. There is a plaque at 1 Merrion Square dedicated to him.
Wilde’s reputation suffers when Mary Travers, a long-term patient of his and the daughter of a colleague, claims that he had seduced her two years earlier. She writes a pamphlet crudely parodying Wilde and Lady Wilde as Dr. and Mrs. Quilp, and portraying Dr. Quilp as the rapist of a female patient anaesthetised under chloroform. She distributes the pamphlets outside the building where Wilde is about to give a public lecture. Lady Wilde complains to Mary’s father, Robert Travers, which results in Mary bringing a libel case against her. Mary Travers wins her case but is awarded a mere farthing in damages by the jury. Legal costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. The case is the talk of all Dublin, and Wilde’s refusal to enter the witness box during the trial is widely held against him as ungentlemanly behaviour.
From this time onwards, Wilde begins to withdraw from Dublin to the west of Ireland, where he had started in 1864 to build what becomes Moytura, his house overlooking Lough Corrib in Connemara, County Galway. His health deteriorates in 1875. He dies, likely of cancer, at the age of 61 on April 19, 1876. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.
(Pictured: Sketch of William Wilde by J.H. Maguire, 1847)
Synge attends St. Andrew’s College, Dublin and in 1915 enters Trinity College Dublin (TCD). He is elected a Foundation Scholar his first year, which is unusual as it is normally won by more advanced students. While an undergraduate at TCD, he spots a non-trivial error in Analytical Dynamics of Particles and Rigid Bodies, a textbook by E. T. Whittaker, who had recently taught there, and notifies Whittaker of the error. In 1919 he is awarded a BA in Mathematics and Experimental Physics, and also a gold medal for outstanding merit. In 1922 he is awarded an MA, and in 1926 a Sc.D., the latter upon submission of his published papers up to then.
In 1918, Synge marries Elizabeth Eleanor Mabel Allen. She is also a student at TCD, first of mathematics, then of history, but family finances forced her to leave without graduating. Their daughters Margaret (Pegeen), Cathleen and Isabel are born in 1921, 1923 and 1930 respectively. The middle girl grows up to become the distinguished Canadian mathematician Cathleen Synge Morawetz.
Synge is appointed to the position of lecturer at Trinity College, and then accepts a position at the University of Toronto in 1920, where he is an assistant professor of mathematics until 1925. There he attends lectures by Ludwik Silberstein on the theory of relativity, stimulating him to contribute “A system of space-time co-ordinates,” a letter in Nature in 1921.
Synge is one of the first physicists to seriously study the interior of a black hole, and his early work is cited by both Martin David Kruskal and George Szekeres in their independent discoveries of the true structure of the Schwarzschild black hole. Synge’s later derivation of the Szekeres-Kruskal metric solution, which is motivated by a desire to avoid “using ‘bad’ coordinates to obtain ‘good’ coordinates,” has been generally under-appreciated in the literature, but is adopted by Chandrasekhar in his black hole monograph.
In pure mathematics, Synge is perhaps best known for Synge’s theorem, which concerns the topology of closed orientable Riemannian manifold of positive sectional curvature. When such a space is even-dimensional and orientable, the theorem says it must be simply connected. In odd dimensions, it instead says that such a space is necessarily orientable.
Synge also creates the game of Vish in which players compete to find circularity (vicious circles) in dictionary definitions.
Synge retires in 1972. He receives many honours for his works. He is elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1943. He is elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and in 1943 is the first recipient of the society’s Henry Marshall Tory Medal, as one of the first mathematicians working in Canada to be internationally recognised for his research in mathematics. In 1954 he is elected an honorary fellow of Trinity College Dublin. He is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1961 until 1964. The Royal Society of Canada establishes the John L. Synge Award in his honour in 1986.
Synge dies on March 30, 1995, in Dublin, exactly one week after his ninety-eighth birthday.
Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.
On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).
O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.
O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.
In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.
In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.
Colleran, and her twin Noreen, are born to John and Josie Colleran. One of a family of five children, her father is a school principal and her mother, also a primary school teacher, dies when she is just 11 years old. She completes her secondary education at St. Louis secondary school in Kiltimagh. She spends a lot of time outdoors as a child, particularly fishing, which sparks her interest in the environment.
On entering higher education, Colleran has a grant from the Department of Education, which requires that she do her studies through the Irish language. Her first choice, Medicine, is not available in Irish so she chooses Science. She graduates with a first class primary degree in Science at University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway) in 1967.
Colleran lectures in biology at Athlone Regional Technical College (now Athlone Institute of Technology) and Galway Regional Technical College (now Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) before her appointment as a lecturer in microbiology at NUI Galway in 1976. She is appointed Associate Professor of Microbiology by the Senate of the National University of Ireland in 1990. She is a member of the university’s governing authority for a number of years, but steps down in May 2000 in connection with the selection procedure for the new university president. In October of that year she is appointed professor of microbiology and chair of the department at NUI Galway.
Colleran is the first director of the Environment Change Institute at NUI Galway set up under the Higher Education Authority‘s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions in 2000. In 2010, the Environmental Change Institute and the Martin Ryan Marine Research Institute are merged to form the current day Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.
In 1973 Colleran is elected to the committee of the Galway Association of An Taisce, part of a national voluntary organisation the aims of which are to conservation in Ireland through education, publicity and positive action. She serves as membership secretary and then treasurer to the Galway branch before becoming chairman. In 1981, as chairman of the Galway branch, she hits back at claims from Galway County Council that An Taisce are “an anonymous group, wielding power unfairly.” She is involved in the compilation of a controversial planning report, published by An Taisce in 1983, which highlights abuse of planning laws by city and county councillors across Ireland, and in particular in counties Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry and Louth.
Colleran serves as Environmental Officer for An Taisce before being elected National Chairman in 1987, the first time a chairman has come from one of the western county associations. She continues to use her position to campaign against misuse of planning laws, for a clamp down on pollution of rivers and lakes, and against a move to scrap An Foras Forbartha, a body that provides independent monitoring of pollution. During her three years as chairman, until May 1990, she is particularly involved in debates over local environmental and planning issues, in particular over gold mining in the west of Ireland, a proposed airport for Clifden, and the planned sewage treatment plant at Mutton Island, County Galway.
In 1991 plans are announced for a new visitor centre, to be located at Mullaghmore in The Burren. Colleran is among those who are part of an appeal, saying that while the plan for the national park is welcomed by An Taisce, they want the visitor centre to be located three or four miles from Mullaghmore.
President Mary Robinson appoints seven new members to her Council of State in February 1991, including Colleran. Other new members appointed at the time are Monica Barnes, Patricia O’Donovan, Quintan Oliver, Rosemarie Smith, Dónal Toolan and D. Kenneth Whitaker. The new Council of State represents a wide spectrum of Irish life and is widely welcomed, although Fine Gael is disappointed that its leader John Bruton is not included.
In 1991, Colleran is one of 15 people appointed to TaoiseachCharles Haughey‘s Green 2000 Advisory Group, to determine which problems will face the environment in the next century. The group is led by Dr. David Cabot, special advisor on environmental affairs.
In 2003 Colleran is elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
Colleran is recognised at the annual NUI Galway Alumni Awards in 2004 when she receives the award for Natural Science, sponsored by Seavite Bodycare Ltd., which acknowledges a graduate who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of natural science.
The Bradys are an old and distinguished Munster family who are particularly associated with the town of Bandon, County Cork. Probably the most celebrated of his ancestors is the poet and psalmist Nicholas Brady (1659–1726), who collaborated with Nahum Tate, the Poet Laureate, on New Version of the Psalms of David.
Other notable forebears include Hugh Brady, the first ProtestantBishop of Meath (d. 1584), his father-in-law Robert Weston who, like Maziere serves as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and the judge and author Luke Gernon (d. 1672), who is now best remembered for his work A Discourse of Ireland (1620), which gives a detailed and (from the English colonial point of view) not unsympathetic picture of the state of Ireland in 1620.
According to Elrington Ball, Brady’s Lord Chancellorship is notable for its length but for nothing else. Ball calls him “a good Chief Baron spoiled to make a bad Chancellor.” By general agreement he had been an excellent Chief Baron of the Exchequer, having a reputation for being fair-minded, courteous and approachable, but in Ball’s view the more onerous (and partly political) office of Lord Chancellor is beyond his capacity. Unlike some judges whose training had been in the common law, he never quite masters the separate code of equity. Delaney takes a somewhat more favourable view of Brady as Lord Chancellor, arguing that while his judgements do not show any great depth of learning they do show an ability to identify the central issue of any case and to apply the correct legal principle to it.
An anonymous pamphlet from 1850, which is highly critical of the Irish judiciary in general, describes Brady as being unable to keep order in his Court, and easily intimidated by counsel, especially by that formidable trio of future judges, Jonathan Christian, Francis Alexander FitzGerald, and Abraham Brewster. The author paints an unflattering picture of Brady as sitting “baffled and bewildered” in a Court where he is “a judge but not an authority.” On the other hand, Jonathan Christian, who had often clashed with Brady in Court, later praises him as “no ordinary man” despite his shortcomings as a judge. He describes him as “independent-minded, patriotic, natural and unaffected.”
Brady is a founder member of the Stephen’s Green Club and a member of the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy. In addition to the arts he shows a keen interest in science, especially after his retirement. Like most judges of the time he has both a town house in central Dublin and a place some distance from the city centre. His country house is Hazelbrook, Terenure, Dublin. He changes his town house several times, settling finally in Pembroke Street.
Brady marries firstly Elizabeth Anne Buchanan, daughter of Bever Buchanan, apothecary of Dublin, and his wife Eleanor Hodgson, in 1823 and they have five children. Elizabeth dies in 1858. In 1860, Brady marries Mary Hatchell, daughter of John Hatchell, Attorney-General for Ireland and Elizabeth Waddy, who survives him. He dies at his house in Pembroke Street on April 13, 1871. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
A supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the repeal movement, Meehan is particularly attracted by the ideals of Young Ireland, and becomes friendly with the principal writers of The Nation, especially Charles Gavan Duffy and James Clarence Mangan. He is Mangan’s confessor, and attends his deathbed in 1849. The Young Irelanders often meet in his presbytery in Lower Exchange Street. From 1842 he contributes occasional verse and translations to The Nation using the pseudonym ‘Clericus’ and the initials ‘C. P. M.’ He defends the Young Irelanders from accusations of irreligion. During the debates on physical force in Conciliation Hall in July 1846 he supports the Young Ireland position and is shouted down by O’Connellites.
He secedes with the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association and becomes a member of their Irish Confederation on its foundation in January 1847. Later that year he becomes president of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club, and delivers lectures to it on Irish history. A strong believer in the importance of history in creating national pride and awareness, he contributes The Confederation of Kilkenny (1846) and a translation of Daniel O’Daly, The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (1847) to The Nation‘s Library of Ireland historical series. He publishes a translation, with a valuable introduction and notes, of John Lynch‘s Latin life of Francis Kirwan, bishop of Killala 1645–61, as Portrait of a Christian Bishop (1848). In 1848 he resigns his presidency of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club in the hope of becoming librarian or professor of modern languages at Queen’s College Galway, but is unsuccessful.
For the rest of his life Meehan devotes himself to parish work and historical research, occasionally publishing articles and poems in the Hibernian Magazine and Irish Catholic Magazine. He also edits six volumes of the second series of James Duffy‘s Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine (1862–65). Having acquired a vast store of anecdotes and curious information from his researches, he is an interesting companion who loves the company of poets and scholars and forms friendships with many young nationalist writers, including Denis Florence MacCarthy, John Keegan Casey and John Francis O’Donnell.
Most of Meehan’s research is devoted to Irish history, but he occasionally tackles other subjects, such as his translation from the Italian of Vincenzo Marchese’s Lives of the most eminent sculptors and architects of the order of St Dominic (2 vols, 1852). Although his work is marked by a strong sympathy for Catholicism and Irish nationalism, he is among the more scholarly historians associated with the Young Ireland movement. He is elected Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in February 1865. Gavan Duffy lauds his efforts and ranks him with the great patriotic clerical scholars of the past who had devoted their lives to the study of Irish history.
Meehan repeatedly takes the opportunity to amend and expand his published works, producing revised editions of The Geraldines (as The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (reprinted 1878)), Confederation of Kilkenny (1882), and Lynch’s Life of Kirwan (1884). His other important publications are The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O’Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile (1868), and Rise and Fall of the Irish Franciscan Monasteries and Memoirs of the Irish Hierarchy in the Seventeenth Century (1870). He edits the essays of the Young Irelanders in The Spirit of the Nation (1882) and publishes editions of the poetry of Mangan in The Poets and Poetry of Munster (1883), with an important biographical memoir. His last scholarly work is to re-edit Literary Remains of the United Irishmen (1887) to include material left in manuscript by Richard R. Madden.
A small man, Meehan always wears a monocle attached to a silk ribbon, a tall silk hat, and a stout blackthorn stick. He suffers badly from indigestion for most of his life, and this aggravates a testy personality and a waspish tongue. He regularly falls out with friends, and few parishioners are foolhardy enough to brave his confessional. He retains strong anti-English views all his life. In the 1880s he encounters the young Arthur Griffith pulling down a union flag from a lamppost in Dublin, and astounds the boy by congratulating rather than chastising him. His Young Ireland nationalism and irascible personality ensure that he never progresses beyond the position of curate in his forty-five years at Saints Michael and John. Here, he works alongside Fr. James Healy, a renowned wit, and the two men delight in trading caustic remarks. Healy is present at Meehan’s deathbed and admits to brushing away a tear – the only thing, he remarks, that had been brushed in that room for many years.
Meehan dies on March 14, 1890 at his presbytery in Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. He is survived by two brothers, one of whom is also a priest. He is commemorated by a mural tablet erected by his parishioners in the church of Saints Michael and John.
(From: “Meehan, Charles Patrick” by James Quinn and Linde Lunney, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)
Jellett graduates B.A. in mathematics in 1837, M.A. 1843, B.D. 1866, and D.D. 1881. He is ordained a priest in 1846. In 1848 he is elected to the chair of natural philosophy at TCD, and in 1868 he receives the appointment of commissioner of Irish national education.
In 1851 Jellett is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his work on the “Calculus of Variations.” The society later elects him their president, a position he holds from 1869 to 1874.
In 1870, on the death of Dr. Thomas Luby, Jellett is co-opted a Senior Fellow, and thus a member of the Board of TCD. William Ewart Gladstone‘s government in February 1881 appoints him provost of Trinity. In the same year he is awarded a Royal Medal by the Royal Society.
After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act 1869, Jellett takes an active part in the deliberations of the general synod and in every work calculated to advance its interests. He is an able mathematician, and writes A Treatise of the Calculus of Variations (1850), and A Treatise on the Theory of Friction (1872), as well as several papers on pure and applied mathematics, articles in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. He also writes some theological essays, sermons, and religious treatises, of which the principal are An Examination of some of the Moral Difficulties of the Old Testament (1867), and The Efficacy of Prayer (1878).
Jellett dies of blood poisoning at the provost’s house, TCD, on February 19, 1888, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 23. The funeral procession is the largest that ever left Trinity.
(Pictured: “John Hewitt Jellett,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser)
Deane is the fourth child of Frank Deane and Winifred (Doherty), and is brought up as part of a Catholicnationalist family. He attends St. Columb’s College in his hometown, where he befriends fellow student Seamus Heaney. He then attends Queen’s University Belfast (BA and MA) and Pembroke College, Cambridge (PhD). Although he too becomes noted for his poetry, he chooses to go into academia instead. He workws as a teacher in Derry, with Martin McGuinness being one of his students. McGuinness later recalls how Deane was “gentle, kind and never raised his voice at all, an ideal teacher who was very highly thought of.”
Deane is the co-editor of Field Day Review, an annual journal of Irish studies. He also serves as general editor of the Penguin Classic James Joyce series and of Critical Conditions, a series in Irish Studies which is jointly published by the University of Notre Dame Press and Cork University Press. He co-founds the book series Field Day Files, which contains key works by David Lloyd, Joe Cleary, Marjorie Howes, and Kerby A. Miller.
The first collection of Deane’s poetry, Gradual Wars, is published in 1972 and receives the AE Memorial Award for Literature. His first novel, Reading in the Dark, is published in 1996 and is partly autobiographical. It wins the 1996 Guardian Fiction Prize and the 1996 South Bank Show Award for Literature, is a New York Times Notable Book, wins The Irish Times International Fiction Prize and the Irish Literature Prize in 1997, besides being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996. The novel is translated into more than twenty languages. He is also the general editor of the monumental Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, which is 4,000 pages long and whose first volumes are released in 1990. It is later criticised for excluding the voices and experiences of Irish women. He responds to this by stating, “To my astonishment and dismay, I have found that I myself have been subject to the same kind of critique to which I have subjected colonialism … I find that I exemplify some of the faults and erasures which I analyse and characterize in the earlier period.”
Deane’s first marriage is to Marion Treacy. Together, they have four children. He is in a civil partnership with Emer Nolan until his death. They have one child together.
Following a short illness, Deane dies at the age of 81 on May 12, 2021 at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.
After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.
Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.
Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.
A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.
On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.
Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.
Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.
Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.
In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.
Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).
(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)