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Boston College Prof. Philip O'Leary Receives Honorary Degree from National University of Ireland, Galway

Kathleen Sullivan
Boston College
Office of Public Affairs

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (7-1-2009) – Boston College Professor of English Philip O'Leary, a scholar of Irish culture and literature, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from the National University of Ireland, Galway on June 26.

As part of Boston College's Irish Studies Program, Prof. O'Leary teaches courses on Irish language, theater, fiction and poetry. He previously directed the University's Abbey Theatre Summer Program in Dublin. He has served as an Irish-American Cultural Institute Fellow at NUI Galway as well as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Irish Language and Literature at the University of Notre Dame and Andrew J. Mellon Faculty Fellow in the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.

He is author of the books Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State 1922-1939, which won the Michael Durkan Prize from the American Conference for Irish Studies, and The Prose Literature of the Gaelic Revival, 1881-1921: Ideology and Innovation, which received the Donald Murphy Prize from the American Conference for Irish Studies. He also is co-editor of The Cambridge History of Irish Literature.

O'Leary group

Left to Right: NUI Galway President Dr. James J. Browne, BC Professor Philip O’Leary and NUI Professor Nollaig MacCongáil


Excerpts from his honorary degree citation read:

"He is currently Professor of English in Boston College which has been to the fore for decades for the excellence of its Irish Studies programme. His main claim to fame, however, is his tetralogy on Modern Gaelic literature from 1881 to 1951. This four volume work is easily the most ambitious, wide-ranging and comprehensive analysis of Modern Gaelic literature ever undertaken and unlikely to be surpassed. This is his magnum opus, this defines him as a person and a scholar.

Imagine the single-mindedness, the dedication, the perseverance of a scholar located in Boston, visiting libraries in Ireland every summer, without the physical, social and intellectual proximity of colleagues working in the same field, examining in detail every scrap of information in and about the Irish language and its literature during that protracted period he had selected. No other scholar has trawled through such a range of primary sources, particularly the more inaccessible and less consulted ones. He has single-handedly rehabilitated the role of primary sources in Gaelic scholarship. Having consulted the sources, he brought a highly critical and analytical mind to bear on his material and produced a well-articulated, cogently argued, insightful and contextualised exposé of Gaelic literature. In addition, by producing his gargantuan work in English he has introduced Modern Gaelic literature to a global audience and stressed the importance and centrality of Gaelic to Irish Studies."

Others receiving honorary degrees from NUI Galway last week were: businesswoman and philanthropist Anna Ó Coinne; Liam Connellan, a founding member of the Irish Academy of Engineering; Pádraic MacKernan who served as Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, Mexico and France; and business executive Brian Joyce.

Dr. James J. Browne, President of NUI Galway, said: "NUI Galway is fortunate to be associated with many outstanding honorary graduates throughout its history, and those being honoured this year form a particularly distinguished group. Their contributions in many spheres - engineering, business, public service, philanthropy and education - have been outstanding, and NUI Galway is very pleased to be in a position to recognise these exceptional individuals."