Wednesday 17 January 2018

Diarmaid was a scholar of deep kindness and intellect

Diarmaid O Muirithe receiving his honorary doctorate from the NUI
Diarmaid O Muirithe receiving his honorary doctorate from the NUI

Scholar and noted columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe died suddenly in Vienna earlier this month and his passing has occasioned great sadness in his native place and across the country.

Diarmaid was educated in New Ross CBS and friends from his home town will remember him as Dermot Murray. A son of two primary school teachers, he grew up in Priory House on Priory Street in the town.

On completing his secondary education, Diarmaid went to Dublin, where he studied Irish and English at Trinity College, receiving both an MA and an MLitt. He and his first wife, Mary, married young and started a family. Mary was unfailingly supportive of Diarmaid and his career during the many years they spent together.

Diarmaid started his career as a primary teacher, (including a spell at the CBS in New Ross), and worked at RTE, reading the news in Irish and scripting Irish language programmes. In 1969, he won the very first Jacob's Radio Award at a ceremony attended by President Jack Lynch. Diarmaid went on to hold various academic positions, including acting as Fulbright Scholar in Villanova University, Fulbright Professor of English in the United States, Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Halifax and Senior Lecturer in Irish at University College Dublin.

Since 1991, he also wrote a hugely popular column in the Irish Times, 'The Words We Use', which brought a complex topic to the general public in an accessible, entertaining way. The column, which proved to be enormously successful and formed the basis of a number of books, ran for over twenty years. In addition, Diarmaid wrote a column, Words, Words, Words, for the Oldie Magazine, which also ran for many years. In recognition of his many achievements, the NUI awarded Diarmaid an honorary doctorate in Celtic Studies in 2011.

Despite the many years he spent living away from his home town, Diarmaid remained at heart a Wexford man all his life. A number of his publications were on matters of great interest to Wexford people, including The Dialect of Forth and Bargy (co-authored with TP Dolan), The Wexford Carols, and The Folklore of County Wexford (co-edited with Deirdre Nuttall) His most recent book, Words We Don't Use (Much Anymore) was published in 2012 and launched in Dublin to great acclaim.

Diarmaid was a complex man: a renowned scholar who was unfailingly easy to talk to, without an ounce of snobbery; a bon vivant who loved the finer things in life but was just as at home in the student canteen at UCD or the diner in the mosque in Clonskeagh near UCD for a cheap and cheerful meal as at one of his favourite bars and restaurants (of which there were many); a lover of both his native languages, Irish and Hiberno-English, and a citizen of the world with no time for the petty insularism that is sometimes found in Irish academic circles.

A family member said: 'He was one of those rare people who are genuinely interested in everyone they meet, regardless of their age or position in life. As a university teacher, Diarmaid was able to see which of his students needed extra help and moral support and knew how to provide it without drawing attention to the fact.'

Diarmaid is remembered as a man of big gestures, deep kindnesses and endless conversation.

'He was a man who bore his sorrows lightly, and relished in the things and the people that made him happy. He was a man who will be much missed, but memories of whom will never fail to raise a smile.'

In recent years Diarmaid lived in Vienna, which has been his home since his marriage to second wife, Karin Lach, who is the librarian of the English Department of Vienna University.

Diarmaid is survived by his brother Frank Murray; sister, Máire Fitzsimons; children John, Barry, Dermot, Donncha, Aifric; wife Karin Lach, and his five grandchildren. His first wife, Mary Murray Ó Muirithe, passed away in 1998.

His funeral and burial are taking place in Vienna, Austria, and a memorial service will be held as Gaeilge at the UCD chapel in Belfield, Dublin, on Thursday, August 7 at 11 am. Friends from New Ross are warmly invited to attend. May he rest in peace.

New Ross Standard

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