Author of popular work on surnames


Sean de Bhulbh:SEÁN DE Bhulbh, who has died aged 86, was an engineer by profession and the author of Sloinnte na hÉireann: Irish Surnames, published in 1997. The book, the realisation of a life-long ambition, took 10 years to write and a second, amended, edition followed in 2002.

In the introduction, he wrote: "This book is intended for Irish-speaking people, to provide them with an account of the native surnames in the language which gave them birth . . ."

However, he recognised the need to cater to a wider, English-speaking readership and Part Two of the book was written in English. It included names of European, Asian and African origin.

In writing Sloinnte na hÉireann, he followed in the footsteps of his kinsman, the Rev Patrick Woulfe, whose Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall was published in 1923. And he continued the work of Éamonn Mac Giolla Iasachta (Dr Edward MacLysaght), former Chief Herald of Ireland, whose Surnames of Ireland (1969) was for many years the standard work. He acknowledged his debt to both men's work.

Sloinnte na hÉireann became a popular reference work, consulted by genealogists worldwide, and was often cited by Flann Ó Riain in his column for this newspaper.

Born John Maurice Woulfe in 1922 in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, he was the son of Maurice Woulfe, a solicitor, and his wife Sarah (née McCarthy). He attended Springmount School, where the syllabus included classics, horticulture and Irish, and received his secondary education at St Gerard's Senior School, Bray, Co Wicklow.

He studied engineering at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1943. He worked in London and in Scotland before serving for two years with the Royal Engineers in Kenya. Returning to Ireland in 1956, he worked for Dublin Corporation and Kerry County Council. He completed his civil engineering career with Limerick County Council. He retired in 1982.

He was first and foremost a family man. And as an active member of the Society of St Vincent de Paul he gave practical expression to his religious beliefs.

He served as cathaoirleach of the Limerick branch of Conradh na Gaeilge in the 1970s. The branch recently named an educational grant after him.

A member of Foynes Yacht Club, he also enjoyed fishing, gardening and travel. An enthusiastic linguist, Russian and Swahili were among the languages he taught himself. He was an avid reader and a keen student of world affairs.

His final work Síth agus Eísíth (Peace and War) was published in October 2008. A novella set in the turbulent years between 1558 and 1583, it explores how various Limerick members of the Irish nobility negotiated the struggle between the Gaelic order and the forces of England's Elizabeth I.

He married in 1956 Mary Murphy who predeceased him in 2005. He is survived by his daughters Eibhlín, Sadhbh and Sibéal and sons Muiris and Seán C.


Seán de Bhulbh: born September 22nd, 1922; died February 7th, 2009