Identity Statement for Muiris Ó Droighneáin

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P154
  • Title: Papers of Muiris Ó Droighneáin (1901–1979)
  • Dates: 1928–79
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 15 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Biographical History

Muiris Ó Droighneáin was born on 12 November 1901 in Clohonora House, Newtownshandrum, Charleville, County Cork to James and Mary Drinan. He had one brother and one sister. He was also related to Archbishop Dr Daniel Mannix, the famously outspoken Irish clergyman based in Melbourne, Australia. He was a teacher of Irish in St Malachy’s College, Belfast. During his career, he became an expert in the field of Irish grammar, and was renowned for ensuring that publications used a standardised form of Irish (An Caighdeán Oifigiúil). He married Róisín Ni Mhurchú in 1944 and had two daughters and a son.

He was educated in University College Cork where he graduated in 1927 with his BA, taking honours in Irish and English. In 1928/29, he was awarded his MA which he completed under Torna (Tadhg Ó Donnchadh), Professor of Irish in UCC. It proved to be a seminal piece of research into the history of Irish language literature and was published in 1936 under the title Taighde i gcomhair stair litridheachta na Nua-Ghaeile ó 1882 anuas (see P154/14–24).

Ó Droighneáin began his career as a teacher in Coláiste Muire na mBráithre Críostaí in Mullingar c.1930. He then accepted a post in Synge Street with the Christian Brothers. He was considered to be one of the finest teachers of Irish in the country but he was unhappy that he had to teach other subjects as well as Irish in Synge Street and decided to move. He subsequently accepted a post in Coláiste Mhaolmhaodhóg (St Malachy’s) in Belfast.

Many notable Irish scholars passed through the doors of Ó Droighneáin’s class in St Malachy’s. In 1944, Professor Proinsias Mac Cana (Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and other universities) achieved the highest mark in Irish ever awarded in Northern Ireland. Other pupils included Professor Emeritus Gearóid Stockman (Queen’s University Belfast).

One of the first obstacles he encountered in his teaching career in Belfast was the difficulty in teaching Irish to Northern students using his Munster dialect, so he resolved to learn Ulster Irish and spent months in the Donegal Gaeltacht. From then on he was a strong supporter of Ulster Irish and when An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was being formulated by Rannóg an Aistriúcháin in the 1950s, Ó Droighneáin sat on a sub-committee, An Fo-Choiste Gramadaí, which was especially established to ensure that particular nuances of the Ulster dialect would be protected in the standardised form of Irish. Ó Droighneáin’s old friend from college, Séamus Daltún, was in charge of producing An Caighdeán Oifigiúil, and a major series of correspondence in the collection relates to this.

Ó Droighneáin waged a veritable campaign against novelists, journalists, academics and broadcasters who did not follow the letter of An Caighdeán Oifigiúil. In an obituary penned by Gearóid Stockman in An tUltach (August 1979), it was said of Ó Droighneáin:

"Is beag údar a scríobh leabhar le fiche bliain nach bhfuair litir ó Mhuiris ag moladh a shaothair ach ag cur in iúl dó go raibh focal aige a bhí baininscneach ar leathanach amháin aige agus firinscneach ar leathanach eile…"

Much of the correspondence in the collection consists of replies from the recipients of such letters. Indeed, the musician and scholar, Mícheál Ó Súilleabhain, responded by penning a verse to him (see P154/122):

"Is buíoch mé don intinn, gan bhréag ná agó A bhrath mé sa litir a cuireadh im’threo As Bóthar an Ghleanna i gcathair an ghleo Inar moladh mo thuairisc ar thraein a bhí beo- In aineoinn an mhí-chaighdeáin is na ndearmad cló!"

Ó Droighneáin put his exact knowledge of Irish grammar and An Caighdeán Oifigiúil to good use with the publication ofNótaí Gaeilge, an instructional booklet for English speakers on the basics of Irish grammar. He also had a great desire to see the standardised Irish format of official placenames and the collection contains many series of letters between Ó Droighneáin and the Irish Placenames Commission as well as other government departments concerning this topic.

Closely related to An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was the production of English/Irish and Irish/English dictionaries, and to this end, Ó Droighneáin painstakingly read through and corrected many lists of words and their meanings to ensure that the correct versions would be recorded for posterity. He corresponded extensively with Tomás de Bhaldraithe, author ofEnglish Irish Dictionary, and Niall Ó Dónaill, author of Foclóir Gaeilge Béarla [FGB], the latter of whom acknowledged Ó Droighneáin’s contribution in the preface to FGB: ‘Muiris Ó Droighneáin as a ghrinnmholtaí i dtaobh téacs agus litrithe agus gramadaí’.

Ó Droighneáin was also very interested in specialist compilations of terminology, i.e. scientific or technical words that needed an Irish translation. The collection includes many letters and notes concerning various areas of expertise in need of accurate Irish translation such as agriculture, the military, culinary arts, ecclesiastical matters, medicine, science, education, business and the skilled trades. Ó Droighneáin contributed to this ‘stór focal’ by compiling An Foclóir Talmhaíochta for An Coiste Téarmaíochta and by writing Nua Gach Bia: a dictionary of culinary terms in 1973.

One of Ó Droighneáin’s other great interests was the correct form of Irish surnames, and one of his lasting achievements was the publication of An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus An tAinmneoir in 1966. Many people corresponded with him about surnames, some suggesting amendments or additions, others sharing their wealth of knowledge such as Éamonn MacGiollaIasachta (Edward MacLysaght), author of A Guide to Irish Surnames. Ó Droighneáin also felt very strongly that the method of indexing employed by institutions and government departments was fundamentally flawed, and for example, he constantly complained about the method by which Irish surnames were assimilated with English surnames in the telephone directory, and believed that indexing should follow The Easy to File and Find Order (International Usage).

Ó Droighneáin was a devout Catholic and thus had a lifelong interest in the production or translation of religious texts into Irish, such as the Bible or the liturgy of the Mass, and he corresponded on such matters with people such as An tAthair Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and An Cairdinéil Tomás Ó Fiaich. Indeed, many of his closest friends were members of the clergy, including An Bráthair de Nógla, An tAthair Colmán Ó Huallacháin and An tSúir Annuntiata le Muire. There are also many newspaper cuttings concerned with the decision by the Second Vatican Council that the Mass should be in the vernacular, and the impact this had in Ireland when Gaeltacht regions needed the liturgy translated into Irish.

The fruit of Ó Droighneáin’s labours in the world of Irish grammar can be seen in the monthly articles he wrote for An tUltach, the journal of Comhltas Uladh of Conradh na Gaeilge, between 1933 and 1979. Mainly under the heading ‘Teagasc agus Foghlaim’, Ó Droighneáin wrote at length on the issues and topics outlined above. An index to An tUltach lists approximately 400 articles under his name.

Ó Droighneáin suffered from a stroke in 1975 but continued his work proofreading, letter writing, and composing articles for journals. His health declined subsequently and he died on 28 June 1979.

Archival history

The Papers of Muiris Ó Droighneáin, one of a number of Non-Franciscan Private Paper Collections previously held in Franciscan Library Killiney, were transferred to UCD Archives in July 1997 as part of the OFM-UCD partnership agreement.

Scope and Content

Family and Personal: letters concerning the genealogical links between Ó Droighneáin and Archbishop Dr Daniel Mannix; memoirs concerning both his mother’s family and his father’s family; photographs [c.1950].

Education and Career: letters, notes and newspaper cuttings concerning the publication of his MA thesis, Taighde i gcomhair stair litridheachta na hÉireann ó 1882 anuas in 1936; notebooks containing lecture notes taken in University College Cork (1927–29); minutes of meetings of Irish language teachers’ organisations (c.1930s); notebooks containing Old Irish notes taken at Queen’s University Belfast (c.1934).

Standardisation of Irish grammar and spelling: minutes of meetings of An Fo-Choiste Gramadaí (1957–58), correspondence from Rannóg an Aistriúcháin (1948–79), academics (1961–78), writers (1957–78), publishers (1959–77), religious (1954–71) and others giving their views on An Caighdeán Oifigiúil; notes and correspondence concerning the publication of Ó Droighneáin’s Nótaí Gaeilge (1959), as well as his notes and reviews on other works on Irish grammar; correspondence and notes concerning standardised spoken Irish; notes and correspondence related to the pronunciation of the Gaelic alphabet (1945–72), the standardisation of spoken Irish in RTÉ (1963–74), and the administration of Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann (1958–75); correspondence and notes concerning the standardisation of Irish placenames (1956–77).

Dictionaries and terminology: correspondence concerning the publication of English-Irish Dictionary by Tomás de Bhaldraithe (1954–70), Foclóir Gaeilge Béarla by Niall Ó Dónaill (1957–79), Nua Gach Bia: a dictionary of culinary termsby Ó Droighneáin (1973); lists of terminology devised by An Coiste Téarmaíochta, most interestingly An Foclóir Talmhaíochta, which was compiled by Ó Droighneáin over many years (1954–77).

Spelling and indexing of Irish surnames: correspondence with publishers, distributors (1962–73), as well as individuals such as Éamonn MacGiollaIasachta (1964–70) concerned with the publication of An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus An tAinmneoir; drafts and first editions of An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus An tAinmneoir (1966); correspondence and notes concerning indexing rules (1965–77).

Translation of religious texts into Irish: letters and notes concerning the translations of the Bible and the liturgy of the Mass (1956–79).

Involvement with the Irish language movement: drafts of articles that were published in An tUltach (1956–1972), correspondence concerning other Irish language journals such as InniuFeastaComhar and Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad(1931–1978); minutes, constitutions and regulations of various Irish language bodies such as Conradh na Gaeilge, Na Fánuidhthe, and Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge (1930–1977).

General Correspondence: letters from government departments and officials (1961–77); general letters from Ó Droighneáin’s friends in the clergy (1955–79); letters that concern aspects of folklore or archaeology (1937–74); letters concerning the European Commission and some translation work that Ó Droighneáin carried out for them (1969–76); letters containing general news or references (1934–78).

Notebooks: containing notes on almost every subject of interest to Ó Droighneáin as well as drafts of his articles for An tUltach [c.1950–79].

Ephemera: obituaries, newspaper cuttings containing biographical details of Ó Droighneáin’s contemporaries, pamphlets and song transcripts [c.1940–72].

  • Access: Non-Fransiscan private paper collection subject to terms of the OFM-UCD partnership agreement. Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in original format. Original material will be retrieved at 11am and 2pm only.
  • Language: Irish; occasional English
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue
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