A great man, and great friend both of the English Department and of St Columba’s, left us recently. Professor T.P. Dolan, of the English Department of University College Dublin, more commonly known as ‘Terry’, visited us for over 35 years until recent times. His funeral was held earlier today in Kingscourt, County Cavan, where he was buried alongside his mother, and we were represented by the current and former Heads of English.

In his homily, the priest appositely quoted Goldsmith:
“And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

Terry’s particular talent was a humorous lightness of touch, in discussing language and literature, that belied the deep scholarship on which that knowledge rested. This talent became known nationally-recognised due to his weekly slot on the Sean Moncrieff show on Newstalk FM, in which he explained the etymology of a bewildering range of words. This was also his party piece for so many Literary Society meetings here over the years: no pupil could catch him out (though at times he stretched things: he would look you in the eye and insist after some rather unlikely explanation “It’s true”, while a twinkle in his eye suggested otherwise). Regular subjects for his talks included American English, Geoffrey Chaucer (see below) and of course Hiberno-English: his masterpiece is his book A Dictionary of Hiberno-English, regularly updated, the definitive collection of English as it is used all over Ireland. He also particularly enjoyed talking about ‘bad’ language, his Queen’s College Oxford voice articulating the origins of the ‘f’ word to startled pupils. The photograph at the top of this post shows him lecturing in the Lower Argyle on a Saturday evening.

Terry’s Hiberno-English website can still be accessed via the Web Archive here.

In February 2008 Terry suffered a shock stroke that confined him to Tallaght Hospital for a long time. Visiting him there was to witness again his ease with everyone, particularly the nurses and doctors who looked after him, and his fellow patients. In these distressing circumstances, he never faltered from his inner core: kindness and cheerfulness. Almost a year later he returned to the Sean Moncrieff Show to public delight, and in February 2010 he gave an interview to Marian Finucane on surviving his stroke. Indeed, he became a prominent advocate of stroke awareness.

He was in great form when I interviewed him for a podcast on his beloved Geoffrey Chaucer. So here‘s a 30-minute treat from ten years ago (and at the bottom of this post).

Terry was also a stalwart of our annual Transition Year English evenings in May as a guest speaker, always commenting on pupils’ work with great sensitivity. He never patronised 16 year-olds but found the best in what they wrote. His imprimatur always gave such pleasure to them.

Terry Dolan was a wonderful man. May he rest in peace.

JMG

[first posted on SCC English]