Seán de Fréine receives honorary doctorate from DCU

Padraig Conlon 01 Dec 2021

Dublin City University conferred the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) on Seán de Fréine.

He joins noted figures from politics, sport, literature and industry in receiving this award from DCU.

They include Jim Gavin, Paula Meehan, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Sonia O’Sullivan, Bill Clinton, Seamus Mallon, David Trimble, and most recently Annette Kennedy and Vivien Lusted.

Seán de Fréine is a scholar and a public servant whose work has been of fundamental importance in the cultural sphere in Ireland for six decades.

He has been a foundational influence on the sociolinguistics of Irish society and on questions of language policy.

Since the 1960s onwards, his published work has been central to academic and public discussion of issues of language, society and identity in Ireland.

In a citation prepared and delivered at the event by Professor Ciarán MacMurchaidh, Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge at DCU, he said:

“We are here this morning to honour and celebrate not only Seán de Fréine, the man, but his incredible contribution to Irish society. Service is at the heart of this contribution – as an advocate for the Irish language, a thinker and writer, a public servant and one who has consistently put the common good to the fore in all his many achievements.”

“Seán has had a remarkable career as an independent scholar and has written several original and ground-breaking works on the sociology and history of the Irish language, as well as his other important publications.

“The values that Seán holds dear and has demonstrated throughout his long years of service to the public good and the world of scholarship chime closely with the values DCU holds up to be emulated by all who aspire to serve their community and improve the lives of their fellow citizens.

“Mairimid uile ar scáth a chéile agus mana é sin a bhí ag croí-lár shaol Sheáin agus is éacht nach beag a bhfuil bainte amach aige lena linn.”

Seán de Fréine said:

“It is a great honour and a pleasure to receive this award.

“To get it, as in my case, for pursuing something which I have always enjoyed doing, makes it doubly pleasurable.

“It gives me great pleasure to receive this award from DCU in particular.

“This is a young university, and already its Irish Department, under its manifestations of Gaois, Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge, has done an incredible amount of valuable and pioneering work for Irish language scholarship and research, including digitising and making available many millions of words of modern Irish texts.

“What is significant about it is the aim to use the resources of the present to utilise the Irish language of today for the benefit of the future.”

Prof. Daire Keogh, President of Dublin City University, said:

“Seán de Fréine in his profession and passions has embodied the DCU mission to ‘transform lives and societies’.

“Through his extraordinary scholarship and exemplary public service, Seán has made a unique contribution to the preservation and promotion of the Irish language, and to the development of Ireland’s cultural life.”

Brid Horan, Chancellor of Dublin City University, said:

“I’m delighted that DCU is honouring Sean de Freine for his outstanding achievements.

“His contribution serves as an inspiration for us all and in particular for young people and DCU students, who aspire to excellence.”

The small celebratory event took place in the Helix on DCU’s Glasnevin Campus at which a small group of Seán’s family and friends were in attendance. Traditional Irish music group, Na Casadaigh, composed and recorded a piece of music ‘Ómós to Sheán’ to celebrate Seán and to mark the occasion.

About Seán de Fréine

Seán de Fréine’s earliest published work, written in the Irish language, Saoirse gan Só (1960), was the first book to explore the social and cultural effects of the language shift in nineteenth-century Ireland and has been the fundamental reference point in subsequent discussion, both academic and public.

It is more familiar in its expanded English version as The Great Silence, first published in 1965 and in a revised edition in 1978. It is one of the most cited works in Irish studies, influencing scholars of Irish, Anglo-Irish literature, sociology and translation studies.

de Fréine put his sociolinguistic expertise at the service of public policy and was involved in the development of language planning in the Irish state over several decades, particularly in his capacity as a chief executive of Bord na Gaeilge from 1975 to 1978.

His role in cultural policy also extended to the fostering of writing and publishing in the Irish language, and his work as a member of Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge from 1994 to 2006 is regarded by those who work in Irish-language publishing as a major contributor to its current vitality and diversity.

His interest in literature led to another major reference work, Croí Cine, a themed anthology of writing in Irish. First published in 1990, it was republished in an expanded form in 2019.

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