Former ‘Irish Times’ columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe dies

Lexicographer’s ‘Words We Use’ columns ran for 22 years

Former Irish Times columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe died suddenly aged 78 in Vienna yesterday. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Former Irish Times columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe died suddenly aged 78 in Vienna yesterday. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 15:59

Former lexicographer and Irish Times columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe died suddenly in Vienna yesterday. He was 78

His “Words We Use” column ran in The Irish Times for 22 years and was collected in a series of books.

In recent years, he spent his time between Dungarvan and Vienna.

Ó Muirithe was born and grew up at New Ross in Co Wexford. He attended Trinity College Dublin and at the National University of Ireland.

Ó Muirithe first became a primary school teacher and later he worked as a freelance writer and a newsroom journalist at RTÉ.

He had also been a senior lecturer in Irish at University College Dublin, a Fulbright Professor of English in the United States and had held the chair of Irish Studies in St Mary’s University at Halifax in Canada.

His first column with The Irish Times ran in 1991, when then editor Conor Brady asked him to submit “a few pieces” to see if readers might be interested.

More than 1,000 columns later, his colourful etymologies continued to attract a devoted following through the years but he decided to lay down his pen last December.

“Conor’s hunch was right. People in Ireland are fascinated by words,” he said.

“The English we speak in Ireland has been influenced by Latin, Old Norse, Norman French, Scots, the English dialects and, of course, Irish. So the words we use in Ireland reflect the social history of the island. It is an extraordinarily rich language.”

He signed off his final column with a muse on the word “pad”. He wrote the word was once, depending on the dialect, a type of saddle; a small pack or bundle; dried cowdung; and the foot of an animal, especially a fox’s foot.

Ó Muirithe is survived by his wife Karin Lach and his children John, Barry, Dermot, Donncha and Aifric. His first wife, Mary Murray, died in 1999.