Knowth archaeologist Prof George Eogan dies aged 91

Meath man and UCD professor well known for his research of passage tomb builders

George Eogan, who was widely seen as one of the leading archaeologists of his generation, has died aged 91.

Professor emeritus of celtic archaeology at University College Dublin (UCD), he had a particular interest in the Neolithic and Late Bronze Age studies and was the director of the Knowth excavations for more than 40 years.

He was well known for researching the passage tomb builders of Ireland and Western Europe and authored and co-authored volumes of the Excavations at Knowth series as well as several other books.

He died on Thursday at Our Lady’s Hospice following what his family described as a long and happy life.


In a tribute, the UCD School of Archaeology said Prof Eogan’s contribution to his field and to people’s understanding of Ireland’s past was immeasurable.

Having begun his academic pursuits with a PhD on late bronze age swords, Prof Eogan would go on to lead activities at Knowth for decades.

“He used his extensive international travels and decades of connections with museums to develop a unique understanding and insights into the things of Bronze Age Europe in particular,” his former university said.

“This enabled him to see and pursue cultural and technological connections in the past that few scholars could achieve.”

An ardent GAA fan and community man, Prof Eogan was awarded the "Meath Personality of the Year" award in 2003, at which he was described as having given "more than 40 years of his working life to exploring the secrets of The Boyne Valley". He was appointed to Seanad Eireann in 1987.

His university colleagues and students recalled his wry sense of humour and jokes, which were passed on among students and classes.

In a 2008 letter to The Irish Times, expressing concern over development works near the Rath Lugh monument at Tara, he described three lines of defence comprising spiked fencing, security staff and gardaí.

“For me, this was an intimidating experience and one that I never expected to see in order to facilitate the destruction, by our own Government, of a key portion of our own great archaeological inheritance,” he wrote.

In 1996, Prof Eogan lost his High Court bid to overturn a decision by UCD to retire him, seeking instead to continue until the age of 70. The university's governing body had decided in 1987 not to recommend the continuance of a statutory lecturer or professor after the age of 65.

He is survived by his wife Fiona and children James, Maeve, Deirdre and Clíona, as well as extended family. His funeral Mass will take place on Monday at 10am in St Joseph's Church, Terenure, Dublin, followed by burial at St John's Old Cemetery, in his home of Nobber, Co Meath.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times