Language, literature expert and former curator of Cork Public Museum


Séamus Ó Coigligh:SÉAMUS Ó Coigligh, polymath, expert in European languages and literature and former curator of Cork Public Museum, has died at the age of 94. During the Cold War, he wrote a column in The Irish Times, An Eye on Russia and An Eye on Eastern Europe, from 1959 until 1972. He was a frequent book reviewer on Russian affairs in The Irish Times, and also contributed articles to various European and Irish language journals.

He received two Oireachtas prizes for studies in the Irish language of the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and the Hungarian poet, Sándor Petöfi.

Ó Coigligh was responsible for encouraging the premier Irish language poet of the 20th century, Seán Ó Ríordáin, to publish his first and subsequent poems and was his best critic and supporter through an ongoing friendship while they were colleagues in Cork Corporation until Ó Ríordáin died in 1977.

Ó Coigligh was known for his outstanding integrity and humility as a person, and was always helpful to third-level and professional researchers. He had a quiet sense of humour, often based on clever play on the contradictions of words and ideas.

He was known for his diligent work and empathy when responsible for dispensing home assistance to Cork’s post-war needy, when many families met hardship due to tuberculosis.

Before the 1966 commemorations of the Easter Rising, he was appointed curator of the Cork Public Museum and incrementally built up its reputation until he retired in 1981.

Ó Coigligh was born on March 12th, 1916, the son of James Quigley of Timahoe, Co Laois and Anna Flavin from Glanworth, Co Cork. He was reared in Magazine Road, Cork, with four sisters, Lulu (died aged 12), Sr Mary (Bon Secours), Vera, and Alice, and four brothers, Jack, Martin, Paddy, and Fr Michael (SMA). His father died while Ó Coigligh was only nine years old. Battling poor health in his childhood, Ó Coigligh moved from Glasheen School on a scholarship to Sullivan’s Quay CBS until the Intermediate Certificate when he moved to the North Monastery CBS where he received his Leaving Certificate in 1934.

In that year he started working with Cork Corporation. During the 1940s he was involved with the nationalist organisation Ailtirí na hAiseiri. In 1953 he married Christina Foley from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, who predeceased him.

Ó Coigligh lived among his thousands of books in all rooms of his house, books which he referred to as his “friends”. He was able to read all current European languages, as well as a number of extinct languages such as Manx. As well as understanding Aramaic and Hebrew, he had a good grasp of Urdu and Arabic. He usually introduced himself to a new language by first studying the Bible in that language.

He was an expert in old, middle, and modern Irish, and was the official translator of street names and Irish consultant for Cork City Council up to a decade ago.

He admitted that two European languages gave him some trouble, Finnish and Hungarian, with their multiple noun forms, but argued that one could manage any grammar, with hard work, in order to properly understand poetry and other literature in their original languages. He also had a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of Irish and European history and politics, Thomist, biblical and other religious literature, classical music and opera, science, and mathematics, as well as an interest in football and other sports.

In the 1950s, his broadcasting contributions included an Irish language series on Spanish literature of the period from 1898 to 1950.

He is survived by his son Colm, daughter Aideen, his sister Alice, and six grandchildren.

Séamus Ó Coigligh, born March 12th, 1916; died September 14th, 2010