Msgr Patrick Fenton (Pádraig Ó Fiannachta): Scholar, linguist and poet

Obituary: Among his scholarly achievements was the translation of the Bible into Irish

Msgr Patrick Fenton (Pádraig Ó Fiannachta), who has died in his 90th year, was a scholar, linguist, poet and former parish priest. He was also a distinguished author, editor and publisher and in 1996 founded An Díseart, a centre for Irish spirituality and culture, in Dingle, Co Kerry.

He was born in Ballymore, Ventry, Co Kerry, and attended St Finian’s NS, Baile an Ghóilín and St Brendan’s College, Killarney. His family suffered tragedy in that three of his brothers died young: two of them drowned while fishing, the other lived to be only two years old. His father died at 47 (Fenton felt his loss keenly), leaving seven children.

Fenton prepared for the priesthood in Maynooth, also following a course in Celtic Studies, and was ordained in 1953. After a year spent in Wales, working on a farm and learning Welsh as well as doing parish work, he returned to Maynooth for further study. In addition to studying, he played a lot of football. A kick to his head during a match and a failure by the church authorities to allow him time off to recover caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown.

Following his MA, he returned to Wales, where he spent six years as a priest and teacher before being invited back to Maynooth, where he was to spend the next 32 years. He was appointed professor of old and middle Irish in 1962, as well as Welsh-language lecturer, and in 1982 he became professor of modern Irish.


Among his major scholarly achievements was the translation of the Bible into Irish. He translated half of it from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts; the other half was translated by scholars whose work he edited. It was published as as An Bíobla Naofa. "There would be no Maynooth Bible this century but for the tireless enthusiasm and the enormous capacity for work of Fr Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, " wrote Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich. "Just as the 17th-century translation is called the Bedell Bible, we think that it would not be inappropriate to call the 20th-century version the Ó Fiannachta Bible."

In an interview he gave to the Irish-language magazine Beo in 1992, he described the Bible translation as one of three achievements of which he was most proud. The other two were his contributions to the Dictionary of the Irish Language of the Royal Irish Academy and his cataloguing of the Gaelic manuscripts held by the Russell Library in Maynooth. Other publications included De Valera (1968 and 1970, with TP O'Neill) and Sean-Ghaeilge Gan Dua (1981), an old-Irish textbook.

He was a prolific poet; among his collections are Rúin (1969), Feoirlingí Fileata (1972), Donn Bó (1977), Deora Dé (1987) and Léim an Dá Mhíle (1999). His themes are mainly religious and celebrate the pleasures of nature and the joy he felt in God's love. For 50 years, from 1964, he was director of An Sagart, a publisher of religious books in Irish. In addition, he was editor of Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad for 40 years. He received the Douglas Hyde Prize for Literature (1969) and the American Irish Historical Society's Cultural Award (2015).

He retired from Maynooth in 1992 and became parish priest of Dingle. He donated more than 6,000 books and other material to Dingle Library. He retired in 2007, aged 80. He loved music and travelled most of the world.

His siblings Eileen, Mary, Eugene, Jimmy, John and Micheál predeceased him. He is survived by his brother Maurice and nieces and nephews.