Renowned folklore collector and scholar with a talent for poetry

 

Daithí Ó hÓgáinDAITHÍ Ó hÓGÁIN, who has died aged 62, was former associate professor of Irish folklore at University College Dublin. The author of more than 20 books, his work ranged from academic studies to biography and he also became known for his poetry and fiction. In addition he edited collections of folk tales and folk poetry.

His first major book, An File: Staidéar ar Osnádúracht na Filíochta, was published in 1983.

A study of the supernatural imagery connected with the gift of poetry in Irish tradition, it was described in this newspaper as a “magisterial work”.

The Hero in Irish Folk History(1985) deals with the characters who became folk heroes in Ireland, ranging from St Patrick to Biddy Early, and from the poet Carroll O’Daly to Dan Donnelly the boxer. Fionn Mac Cumhaill: Images of the Gaelic Herofollowed in 1988.

The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland(1999) was praised in The Historianfor making “impressive use of source materials, providing a comprehensive guide around the labyrinth of beliefs and rituals that made up religion in pre-Christian Ireland”.

Born in Bruff, Co Limerick, in 1949, Daithí Ó hÓgáin was the son of Davy Hogan, a former jockey, and his wife Mary (née Tyrell); both his parents were from Kilkenny. His great grand-uncle was the celebrated historian of Ossory, Canon William Carrigan.

Irish was spoken in the family home, and at De La Salle national school, Bruff, he got a good grounding in Irish grammar. His grasp of the language was further improved by visits to the Kerry Gaeltacht.

He was awarded a county council scholarship and continued his education at the CBS Limerick. A second scholarship in 1967 brought him to UCD, where he studied Irish, English, philosophy and history. He graduated in 1970 and secured an MA in 1971.

He then joined RTÉ and worked as a journalist for 18 months. From there he moved to the Irish folklore archive at UCD, taking up a position as a researcher under the directorship of Prof Bo Almqvist.

In 1976 he completed his doctorate, and his thesis formed the basis for An File.

A former member of the Sinn Féin ardchomhairle, in the 1970s he was involved in policymaking and was associated with the development of the federal Éire Nua programme.

Later he threw his energy into participating in various initiatives centred on Irish cultural heritage and the organisation of folk schools and summer schools on a regional basis.

A constant collector of folklore in Irish and English, he procured some very valuable traditional Irish manuscripts for the folklore archive.

He was rapporteur-general at the Unesco conference in Paris in 1987, at which that organisation’s policy on the preservation of world folklore heritage was decided.

In 1989 he was a founding member of the European Centre for Traditional Cultures in Budapest, later travelling to conferences across Europe and further afield.

He also was, in the early 1990s, a founder of Craobh na hÉigse, an organisation dedicated to infusing new interest into the writing and reading of Irish language material. And he was a founder of the Irish National Folk Company, which liaised with many youth festivals in Europe.

He wrote seven collections of poetry, six in Irish and one in English. He also wrote three collections of short stories as well as a series of books on Irish surnames.

He was a stalwart of Cumann Merriman. He lived with his wife and family in Bray, Co Wicklow, and contributed to a history of the town published in 1998.

He regularly contributed to radio and television programmes. Most recently he appeared on a TG4 documentary on the origins of the ballad Molly Malone. His research showed that what has become the Dublin GAA supporters’ anthem was written by a Scotsman in the 1880s as a send-up of the Irish taste for lamentation.

He is survived by his wife Caitríona, daughters Aisling, Orla, Niamh and Sadhbh and son Ruán.

Daithí Ó hÓgáin: born June 13th, 1949; died December 11th, 2011.