Sunday 4 December 2016

Ulick O'Connor: A soldier and scholar hit by cruellest blow

The achievements of Eoin MacNeill were mighty, but the death of his son haunted him

Ulick O'Connor

Published 30/12/2012 | 05:00

Eoin MacNeill, about whom his grandson Michael McDowell was quite revealing in an interview in this newspaper recently, was a close friend of my grandfather.

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As young civil servants, they used to go to the Aran Islands every summer with their children and spend a month there. Irish was the language of both their homes. My mother would refer to Eoin MacNeill as "uncle Eoin". As a boy in short pants, I would go with my parents to a beautiful mansion in the Phoenix Park where his son Niall used to give marvellous afternoon tea parties.

Eoin MacNeill was recognised to be one of the three greatest scholars in the Gaelic revival. Professor Francis John Byrne wrote of him: "To MacNeill belongs the credit of having dragged Celtic Ireland practically single-handed from the antiquarian myths into the light of history."

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