Liam S. Gogan

Brian Gogan's recollections of his father, his life and work.

I have lived with this dictionary of the Irish language compiled by my late father, Liam S. Gogan, since its inception in 1950 till its conclusion in 1979. Only Liam's death stopped further expansion. I can recall his pleasure and excitement at being asked to prepare a supplement to Dinneen's dictionary. He had often spoken at home about the deficiencies in the material, in particular that contained under the first three letters of the alphabet.

As youngsters we watched with interest as the files gradually filled up and the collection of words grew, newly found words and variants of those already in print. The collection expanded rapidly. Unfortunately, it extended too rapidly and when the deadline was reached, the collection had well outgrown the dimensions spelled out in the original commission. When asked to reduce the content, with characteristic stubbornness Liam Gogan refused to select from the mass of information he had brought together. The publishing house, The Irish Texts Society, then declared they could not afford to publish the extra material he had brought together.

This came as a hard blow to Liam. In a memorandum he left to his family, he wrote an encomium on Patrick Dinneen, editor of the first two editions of Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla , 1904 and 1927. Liam had the greatest regard for Dinneen, his intelligence and his learning. As Ó Conluain and Ó Céileachair have shown in their life of Dr Dinneen, this respect was more than well founded. Dinneen should be remembered, Liam wrote, as the polymath of the Irish language movement.

Patrick Dinneen had wanted to include Liam's name as co-editor on the title page of the second edition of his pioneering dictionary. He wrote a letter to the ITS requesting this, but the request was unfortunately turned down. This would have formed a critical entry for Liam's curriculum vitae, then aged 35. But The Irish Texts Society refused They made generous amends quite soon after by asking Liam to produce an English — Irish Dictionary but that stubborn streak which marked his life led him to refuse.

When he was approached in 1950 to produce a supplement to Dinneen, the disappointment had passed and he set to work with great enthusiasm. Failure to publish at that time, as I have described above, came as a blow to his ambitions as a lexicographer. Having lost his beloved wife Máire in 1940 he was now to remarry Norah O'Hea whom he had met on the number 15 bus going into Stephen's Green on his way to the National Museum. With Norah, he enjoyed a very happy retirement. They did many interesting things together including regular holidays in Rome which Norah, in particular, enjoyed. Liam never appeared to need holidays. He seemed to draw energy rather than fatigue from study and he continued working on his favoured topics at that time, Ptolemy, the Egyptian geographer, St Patrick with his British and continental links, a dictionary in Irish of architectural terms , published serially in various reviews and periodicals. And many other topics of ancient and modern history that caught his attention. But his greatest interest remained his complementary study to Dinneen's Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla.


At the time of Liam's death in 1979, his collection had grown from four to fourteen large boxes. Liam never finished his work on this complement to Dinneen. He died in medias res. Nonetheless he had been preparing the document for publication, clarifying or rewriting entries so as to be legible by the typesetters who might have to deal with it at some future date. His manuscript is now available in this digital publication.

Liam died in 1979. Two or three years later I got the idea of publishing his work on micro-film or preferably in digital format, which by the early eighties had come into vogue in Ireland. This was probably a mistake as digital formatting added significantly to the expense. My intention had been to give this work to the public in an inexpensive format and await the judgment of scholars before seeking further resources from the Irish language establishment.

Other matters unfortunately engaged my time and attention . It was only in late 2003 that my nephew Michael Gogan suggested that we revive the project. Michael Gogan himself works in digital media and has his own company, The Virtual Experience Co. We set to work thinking this was a fairly straightforward process. However, we realised that we needed to make this rather imposing manuscript more user friendly if it was to be of help to a wider public.

I approached an old friend, John O'Loughlin Kennedy whom I had met with his wife Kay when founding Concern. Subsequently John set up his own digital printing company and it was from that background he advised us on how to prepare a reader for the database which could access it using two forms of spelling and two type styles, Gaelic and modern Roman.

We still needed expert guidance in lexicography and Dr Diarmaid Ó hAirt most generously agreed to assist us. Diarmuid had spent a good deal of his life working in the Royal Irish Academy on the historical dictionary of modern Irish. The Academy has published a dictionary edited by him and he has published a dialect dictionary and other work in digital format on the internet. Diarmaid was anxious to see Liam Gogan's collection made available to the public and so agreed to act as literary editor of the project. As well as bringing the warmth of his good humour to the task, Diarmuid has been extremely helpful in clarifying many issues that have arisen as well as contributing to the interpretative sections of the complete product.

Numerous other people have helped on this project in voluntary and professional capacities. If any name has inadvertently or through oversight been omitted from our list of credits, we regret this and assure all of our deep gratitude. Nontheless, I have also to mention my own community of Blackrock College whose hospitality enabled this work to be carried out. To these and to many other collaborators and donors I offer my sincerest thanks. Lastly I have to thank my dear father, Liam Gogan, for leaving to us this wonderful contribution to the living heritage of our Irish language.

Brian Gogan CSSp, PhD., STL, MLit.