Prof Terence Dolan dies following long illness

Sparkling professor of English could ‘turn a sentence on a ha’penny’

Prof Terence Dolan, English academic and radio expert on all manner of phraseology and word use, has died following a long battle with illness.

A former Emeritus Professor of English at the National University of Ireland (UCD), Prof Dolan was described on Friday as a man could "turn a sentence on a ha'penny" and deftly produce a turn of phrase faster than Oscar Wilde.

"He sparkled and crackled with energy; he was an amazing speaker and orator," his friend and colleague of more than 40 years, UCD Prof Alan Fletcher told The Irish Times.

Prof Dolan was well known in academic circles as an expert in medieval English literature and as the author of the celebrated Dictionary of Hiberno-English.


Born in London to Irish parents, he began his academic pursuits at the University of Sheffield, before studying at Oxford University and later completing his PhD at UCD. He also spent some time teaching in the US.

In more popular circles, however, he was a familiar radio voice dissecting the English language with the ability to explain on demand the origin of a variety of words and phrases.

He had also been a weekly guest on Newstalk’s Sean Moncrieff Show, and on Friday the host paid tribute to his life and career.

“He was particularly interested in the words we use specifically in Ireland and where those words come from and how their meanings may have changed over time, and had a colossal brain,” he said.

In a short clip of some of his contributions, Dr Dolan could be heard explaining the origins of “going on the lash”, meaning to be legless or falling all over the place; a “conniption fit” when one is out of control; and a “hat trick”, when a hat would traditionally be given as a prize for doing something in threes.

In 2008 Prof Dolan had a stroke and had been in poor health ever since. He died last Saturday at St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

His death notice described the “loss of a man who touched so many lives with his brilliant knowledge and charismatic presence.”

He is survived by family members James, Faith and Luke, and wider relatives, as well as by Mary Reilly "a close companion and friend to Terry throughout his life".

His funeral will take place on Saturday at 10am in The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Kingscourt, Co Cavan with burial afterwards in the adjoining cemetery.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times