Tributes follow death of world’s leading scholar on Irish-English

Prof Terence Dolan (Photo: Frank Miller – The Irish Times)

British and Irish scholarship has said farewell to the London-born Irish professor who became the world’s leading authority on Hiberno-English – the distinct form of English spoken by Irish people today.

Terence Dolan, a former Emeritus Professor of English at the National University of Ireland (UCD), was a highly regarded and thorough lexicographer, known for teasing out the unique grammatical features of Hiberno-English.

Tributes hailed his “charismatic presence” and unparalleled knowledge of the English language.

His friends and colleagues said that he possessed the uncanny ability to explain, on demand, the origin of a variety of words and phrases.

Following a long battle with illness, he passed away at St. James’s Hospital in Dublin less than a fortnight ago. His death notice described the “loss of a man who touched so many lives with his brilliant knowledge and charismatic presence.”

Expert

He was well known in academic circles as an expert in medieval English literature and as the author of the celebrated 2006 book, A Dictionary of Hiberno-English. It is considered the most thorough catalogue of the dialect that exists, which is out-of-print but fetches over £100 online for original copies.

Because of Dolan, we discovered vivid words such as ‘bowsie’, ‘codger’, ‘carry-on’, ‘debs’, ‘foster’ and ‘buckaroo’ were all Irish inventions.

He also revealed how ‘galore’ “is one of the few words of Irish origin that have made their way into standard English usage”.

Another expression, ‘hames’, traditionally a word for a horse’s collar which became the word for mess, possibly arose, Dolan explained, as “it is difficult to put the hames on a horse the right way up”.

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.

Sparkling

In the 2006 edition of his book, a leading referencing point for how and what Irish people say in their everyday language, he pointed out the construction of sentences, such: “I’m after having my dinner,” which translates, in local Irish villages and towns, as the opposite of most foreigners think.

Professor Alan Fletcher, a UCD colleague and friend of Dolan’s for over 40 years, told The Irish Times that Dolan was capable of producing a turn of phrase faster than Oscar Wilde.

“He sparkled and crackled with energy; he was an amazing speaker and orator,” Fletcher said.

He was also a familiar radio voice and had regularly been a weekly guest on Irish radio station Newstalk’s Sean Moncrieff Show, with the host has paying 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.

Dolan 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”.

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