Mgr Brendan Devlin: County Tyrone-born priest was one of the great Gaelic scholars
Monsignor Bendan Devlin was one of the great Irish scholars of the modern era.
A holder of the French Légion d’honneur, he was a former vice-president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and a former rector of the Irish College in Paris as well as professor of modern languages at Maynooth for more than 40 years.
Monsignor Devlin passed away on Tuesday of this week, September 19, in Dublin, at the age of 93.
From Rouskey, Gortin in west Tyrone, he was one of a family of five children of primary school teacher James and his wife, County Mayo native Sarah (née Doherty). He was educated at St Columb’s College in Derry and later St Patrick’s, Maynooth and in Rome, where he displayed a deep thirst for learning. He was ordained a priest in 1955
In an academic career which had many accolades, perhaps the greatest achievement was his 30-year work with fellow priest Fr Pádraig Ó Fiannachta to produce the first modern Irish translation of the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. He also translated the completed Catechism of the Catholic Church into Irish in 2001.
Scholarship ran strong in the Devlin household. Monsignor Devlin’s younger brother, Fr Kieran (who passed away in 2012), was also an academic of great standing.
Fr Kieran taught at St Columb’s College as well as the Coláiste Bhríde Irish language summer school in Rann na Feirste, Co Donegal for many years.
A scholar of Latin, Irish and French, he also became Derry diocesan archivist and with the late Bishop of Derry Edward Daly, compiled The Clergy of Derry (Four Courts Press), a history of the Church in the north west from earliest times until the sixteenth century.
Monsignor Devlin’s great academic ability was also quickly recognised and just three years after his ordination, he was appointed professor of modern languages in Maynooth. He was particularly well known for his work in French and Irish.
In a joint statement issued after his death on Tuesday, President of Maynooth Rev Professor Michael Mullaney and Rector of the National Seminary, Dr Tomás Surlis, paid tribute to their former colleague.
They recalled a celebration last May at Maynooth where his contribution to the Irish and French languages was marked.
“It was a joyful, timely and poignant celebration,” they said.
“Brendan’s contribution to the French language was recognised by the French government which awarded him the Légion d’honneur in 2001 for his services to cultural relations between France and Ireland, in particular his work for the restoration of the Irish College in Paris, his development of French studies at Maynooth University, and for his work as a translator of several of the classes of French literature into Irish.”
His work in overseeing the restoration and transformation of the College des Irlandais in Paris into the present day Centre Culturel Irlandais was particularly appreciated.
As well as his scholarly work in Irish and French, Monsignor Devlin was a creative writer and found time to pen three novels in Irish. Néal Maidine agus Tine Oíche (1964), An Branar gan Cur (1979) and Sliocht ar Thír na Scath (2018) were all well received.
Despite his reputation as an internationally acclaimed academic, he was at heart a mid-Ulster man. In 2012, it was the Co Tyrone-born priest who delivered the moving homily for his fellow St Columb’s man and Nobel laureate, Séamus Heaney.
For all his great achievements, Monsignor Devlin was first and foremost a priest, always true to his calling, a fact highlighted by Fr Mullaney and Fr Surlis.
“We give thanks to God for Monsignor Devlin’s authentic and faithful priestly witness and for his rich scholarly legacy,” they said.
Monsignor Devlin’s Requiem Mass was held at his academic home at Maynooth University yesterday, after which he was laid to rest in his native Gortin, in the shadow of the Sperrins.