Cowen launches biography dictionary


LAUNCHING THE nine-volume Dictionary of Irish Biography last night, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said it was “the most significant Irish publication of the 21st century so far”.

At a reception in St Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle, Mr Cowen said: “This is a wonderful project of scholarship and a powerful statement of Irish nationality.”

Biographical entries are devoted to 9,700 Irish people, all of whom lived and died in the centuries and millenniums up to the end of 2002. This is the cut-off point for the print edition but an online version will be updated on a regular basis.

“It is the fruit of years of research by many of our most distinguished historians,” Mr Cowen said, adding that it was “the largest humanities research project ever undertaken in Ireland.”

Speaking in Irish, he said there was never a publication like it before in this country. “Is clochmhíle í, i stair an léinn in Éirinn (It is a milestone in the history of scholarship in Ireland).

“I can feel proud and fortunate to hail from the same country as so many people of note,” he added.

The publication would become a reference book for everyone from scholars to “pub-quiz masters” and should find a place on the shelves of educational and other institutions.

A joint project of the Royal Irish Academy and Cambridge University Press and backed by State funding from the Higher Education Authority, the dictionary , consisting of some eight million words, was edited by James McGuire and James Quinn.

Mr Cowen paid tribute to the “leading role of the Royal Irish Academy in the intellectual life of Ireland” since its foundation in 1785. The academy was “a real national resource as we seek to build our smart and modern economy”.

Former taoisigh Liam Cosgrave and Dr Garret FitzGerald were also at the launch.

RIA president Prof Nicholas Canny said the dictionary was “a landmark publication”.

Managing editor James McGuire said the project was “a great adventure” and “a huge collaborative effort” with 700 individual contributors.

At more than eight million words, the dictionary is said to be the biggest work ever published on the lives of Irish people.

Subjects range from St Patrick to Patrick Pearse, Gráinne O’Malley to Maud Gonne MacBride, Dáibhí Ó Bruadair to Samuel Beckett, Shane O’Neill to Eamon de Valera, and Edward Carson to Bobby Sands.

New entries will be added to the online version twice a year, starting from May 2010.

The Irish Timesis running an excerpt from the book each Saturday in Weekend Review