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Posted 02 February 2010

Most authoritative biographical reference work ever produced in Ireland catalogues the lives of remarkable Irish men and women

With over 9,000 biographical entries documenting the lives of more than 9,700 Irish men and women, the Dictionary of Irish Biography is the most comprehensive and authoritative biographical dictionary ever published for Ireland. Spanning 2,000 years of Irish history, the work edited by UCD Adjunct Professor James McGuire MRIA and James Quinn, Royal Irish Academy, took 12 years to compile.

Consisting of some eight million words, it is a joint project of the Royal Irish Academy and Cambridge University Press, backed by State funding from the Higher Education Authority.

The nine volume work includes signed biographical articles which describe and assess the careers of Irish men and women who made a significant contribution in Ireland and abroad, as well as those born overseas who had noteworthy careers in Ireland - from James Ussher to James Joyce, St Patrick to Patrick Pearse, St Brigit to Maud Gonne MacBride, Shane O'Neil to Eamon de Valera, Edward Carson to Bobby Sands.

The Dictionary will put their lives into every major library in the world and on the shelves of scholars, journalists, teachers, broadcasters, diplomats and general readers. It will be especially important in helping to sustain Irish studies courses in universities throughout the world.

Dr John McCafferty, Director of the UCD Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute, introduces UCD Adjunct Professor, James McGuire who describes the making of the Dictionary of Irish Biography. Followed by a reader response from Dr Ivar McGrath, UCD School of History and Archives -
22 January 2009, UCD Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute.

From the earliest exploratory stages of the project to the completion of the first edition in 2008, the editors received authoritative advice from the many distinguished scholars and experts they consulted on the choice of subjects for inclusion in the Dictionary of Irish Biography or on the contents of the biographical entries.

Pictured at the launch of the Dictionary of Irish Biography, November 2009 (l-r): James Quinn, An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen and James McGuire
Pictured at the launch of the Dictionary of Irish Biography, November 2009 (l-r): James Quinn, An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen and James McGuire

Articles in the Dictionary of Irish Biography range in length from 200 to 15,000 words. “The main consideration determining length was the importance of the particular career, but other considerations have also had to be taken into account,” says James McGuire.

“Lack of sources, for example, has meant that some entries are shorter than would otherwise be warranted. A paucity of written sources can apply to a variety of groups such as early medieval subjects, craft workers, sportsmen and even modern entrepreneurs, few of whom seem to have left substantial written records.”

“Clearly, some careers lend themselves more readily to extensive treatment in biographical dictionaries than others. The achievements of the writer, the artist or the architect tend to be tangible and often long-lasting, and may be written about from generation to generation, while those of the performer, the stage actor, singer or musician (at least in the age before film or sound recording) tend to be more ephemeral. In many cases the length of a particular career influenced the length of the relevant article.”


An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen:
“The most significant Irish publication of the 21st century so far”

Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney:
"Publication of the RIA's Dictionary of Irish Biography is an epoch-making event in the history of Irish scholarship. It changes the state of knowledge in the twenty-first century as decidedly as the Ordnance Survey did in the nineteenth"

Irish Writer, Colm Tóibín:
"The Dictionary of Irish Biography will be greeted with delight by all those who study Irish literature and Irish history. It will not only make life easier for scholars and students, but become a palimpsest of the Irish achievement over many centuries"


The Dictionary of Irish Biography

General Editors:

  • Managing Editor, James McGuire, MRIA, University College Dublin
  • Executive Editor, James Quinn, Royal Irish Academy

Editorial Board:

  • Professor Aidan Clarke, MRIA Trinity College, Dublin
  • Professor Ronan Fanning, MRIA University College, Dublin
  • Professor K. Theodore Hoppen, FBA University of Hull
  • Professor Edith Mary Johnston-Liik, Ulster Historical foundation and formerly of Macquarie University, New South Wales
  • Professor Maureen Murphy, Hofstra University, New York

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Dictionary of Irish biography