Tomas de Bhaldraithe


SOME years ago in Cardiff Prince Charles told Tomas de Bhaldraithe that he would like to visit Ireland but feared open hostility. Tomas encouraged him to circle the island by sea coming ashore whenever and wherever he wished. He said the Prince would have returned to his yacht before word of his presence reached hostile elements. He might then go ashore again at some other spot. It was unclear to the Prince whether or not he was being gently mocked.

Tomas de Bhaldraithe used words and expressions with care, seldom making unconsidered remarks, and was a master of nuance and of concealed meaning. He loved words and the use of language. Words were both his hobby and his profession; lexicography was his delight.

But for the Hitler war he might have been a professor of French rather than of Irish. In Paris in the late 1930s, where he held an NUI travelling scholarship, he was an outstanding student as well as being an active supporter of Breton nationalism. All that ended in September, 1939. Tomas returned to Cois Fharraige and seriously started his life long study of Irish and of dialectology.

His success in modernising and standardising writing in Irish, in making modern Irish a central part of Celtic studies, and in giving status to Irish scholarship have already been well recorded in recent days. Possibly not sufficient attention has been given to the continuing support and encouragement he received from his friend Eamon de Valera, both as Taoiseach and President. At different times Mr de Valera's help was required to overcome bureaucratic barriers.

Although reserved in manner, in contrast to his more outgoing, indeed exotic, friend and fellow scholar the late Professor David Greene, Tomas de Bhaldraithe enjoyed life to the full. At Merriman Schools, international peace congresses, Conradh na Gaeilge Ard Fheiseanna, sessions in discreet Dublin, Gaeltacht and western Scottish islands watering hole was often the centre of groups of amusing and merry folk. He never lost the enthusiasm of youth.

But yet he had a developed sense of seriousness and propriety. He dressed formally. He was thoroughly committed to his work; he always realised that life is a complicated and not a simple experience.

Most Sundays he walked in the Dublin or Wicklow mountains with the same small group of Irish speaking friends who discussed matters of high learning and political and academic gossip with equal intensity. Tomas held the native Galway oyster in high regard and for some 37 years was a member of an oyster group which meets regularly in the "R" months.

Few could be more secretive than Tomas when secrecy was called for he built a fine house at Maonais in south Connemara completely unknown to his devoted and lovely wife Vivienne and then presented it to her. His quiet and successful work together with a friend in ensuring that the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies was not closed down by two philistine Departments of State some short years ago is still known only to very few. Nor is all that he achieved for publishing in Irish yet appreciated. Tomas de Bhaldraithe did not seek public thanks or special recognition.

He had a vision of a cultured and independent Irish speaking republican Ireland and believed he had a duty to do all in his power to bring it about.

In 1943 Tomas married Vivienne Turley, a UCD economics graduate and his intellectual equal. They reared nine children, all of them fluent Irish speakers, successful in their different ways, all subscribing to idealistic visions of life rather than to materialistic values only. They, more than others, will miss the thoughtful, enthusiastic and merry scholar who was so central to their lives.