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The Library of Osborn Bergin

Guide to the collection of O.J. Bergin, outstanding Irish scholar and philologist

Osborn Joseph Bergin (Osborn Ó hAimhirgín), MRIA, 1873-1950, an eminent scholar in the field of Irish Studies, was a native of Cork. He was educated at Cork Grammar School and Queen’s College Cork (now University College Cork). He learned Irish from Pádraig Ó Laoghaire, a national teacher in Beara. Bergin was appointed a lecturer in Celtic at Queen’s College Cork in 1897, the post having been created as a result of lobbying by Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League). Funded by a scholarship from the School of Irish Learning he later continued his studies of Old Irish in Berlin under Heinrich Zimmer and in Freiburg under Rudolf Thurneysen, obtaining his doctorate at Freiburg in 1906.

Bergin was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in March 1907. He held the post of Professor of Old and Middle Irish at University College Dublin from 1909 to 1940. He had a reputation as an inspiring teacher, with exacting standards. He specialised in the fields of philology and grammar, and had an exceptional knowledge of the Irish language from Old Irish to the spoken language of his day. His published editions of Irish texts include a diplomatic edition of Lebor na hUidre, done in collaboration with Richard I. Best, and editions with translations of numerous bardic poems, published in Irish scholarly journals including Ériu, Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review, and the Irish Review. He was appointed as Director of the School of Celtic Studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1940, but resigned within a year.

Professor Osborn Bergin died in October 1950, bequeathing his library to the Royal Irish Academy. The collection of over 850 titles includes a comprehensive range of editions of Irish language texts dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, works relating to the etymology of the Irish language, and its relationship to other Indo-European languages, as well as philological works on other languages. The books in Bergin’s library are of special value to philologists because in many instances they contain extensive manuscript annotations by Bergin himself.

Online catalogue records for the books in the Bergin Library are available on the Main Catalogue of the Royal Irish Academy.

Select Bibliography

Bernadette Cunningham, ‘Twentieth century Irish language collections’ in B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick, Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 173-6.

George Huxley, ‘Osborn Bergin and his books in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy’ (1993).

George Huxley, ‘Some works on languages and comparative philology in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy’ 1991.

Biographical notices of Osborn Bergin have been published in Diarmuid Breathnach & Máire Ní Mhurchú, 1882-1982, Beathaisnéis a dó (Dublin, 1990), 17-19; Seán Uá Súilleabháin, ‘Osborn Bergin’ in Scoláirí Gaeilge: Léachtaí Cholm Cille 27 (1997), 150-76.

Obituaries of Osborn Bergin were published in The Irish Press, 7 Oct 1950; The Irish Times, 7, 12, 14 Oct 1950; Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review, Dec. 1950; Ériu 16 (1952), 1-3 (by Eleanor Knott).

Bibliography of the writings of Osborn Bergin

Comprehensive listings of the publications of Osborn Bergin are included in the following published bibliographies available from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies).

R.I. Best, Bibliography of Irish philology and of printed Irish literature (Dublin, 1913).

R.I. Best, Bibliography of Irish philology and manuscript literature: publications 1913-1941 (Dublin, 1942).

R. Baumgarten, Bibliography of Irish linguistics and literature, 1942-1971 (Dublin, 1986).

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