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Náid (Unregistered Guest)
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Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 01:58 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Scholarly archaeologist with a passion to communicate

Many women born in the first half of the 20th century had the talent, vision and drive to be scholars but, because of the social norms of the time, were unable to avail of the professional opportunities and recognition afforded by a university post.

Claire O'Kelly, who has died in Dublin aged 88, was one such. Her achievements illustrate that it is impossible to suppress the scholarly urge and the passion to communicate.

Born in Cork, the third child and only daughter of Edward and Johanna O'Donovan, Claire remained a staunch Corkonian all her life. She qualified as a national school teacher and in the late 1930s achieved her ambition of going to university.

She studied archaeology in University College Cork under Seán P. Ó Ríordáin and there met her future husband, Michael J. (Brian) O'Kelly, later to succeed Ó Ríordáin in the chair of archaeology in UCC.

One of the first of their many joint enterprises was the setting up of the Cork Public Museum in 1945. She described vividly the night prior to the official opening when, following long days single-handedly finalising the exhibits and too tired to cycle the 10 miles home to Monkstown, they camped on army-style camp beds in the museum and had cornflakes with water for breakfast.

That didn't matter to her, but his comment: "Of course you know there are rats here?" was a bit too much.

In the manner of many a scholar's wife before her, she acted as his right hand and supported all his enterprises.

However, Claire O'Kelly's prodigious reading and appetite for knowledge meant that right from the beginning, she carried out her own scholarly projects. A fluent Irish speaker with a great grá for the language and culture, her contributions to the English/Irish Dictionary edited by Tomás de Bháldraithe, for which she created many of the archaeological terms, are a case in point.

When Brian was asked in 1962 to excavate the great Boyne monument of Newgrange, she undertook as a matter of course the feeding and housing of an army of international students and fellow archaeologists each summer, in addition to raising three children. Her own intellectual curiosity though led her to independent research on two important aspects of the monument: the Megalithic art and the literary and antiquarian references to the site.

Before the benefits of present-day technology, her pioneering corpus of the decorated stones at Newgrange was undertaken, painstakingly and in all weathers, by tracing the motifs at actual size from the enormous orthostats, recording a level of detail that no photograph could achieve.

Her interest in Irish language and literature led her to research the references to Brú na Bóinne in early Irish literature and to reaffirm its identification as Newgrange.

It was her research into these older traditions that led her to encourage her husband to investigate the persistent references to Newgrange and the sun, with the subsequent discovery in 1967 of the phenomenon of the midwinter solstice, all documented in their book, Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend (1982).

She wryly commented on the inconvenience of being left without the family car with all the Christmas preparations to do, as Brian made his annual pilgrimages 200 miles north to observe the Newgrange solstice.

Other important published areas of research included a detailed and as yet unsurpassed study of Dowth, the third of the three great Boyne monuments, which was the fruit of many cold and damp hours inside the tomb, working only by candles and lanterns.

She was also a communicator.

Long before anyone thought that Newgrange and the Boyne Valley monuments would become some of Ireland's leading tourist attractions, she saw the need for reading material for the intelligent layperson. Her guide books to Newgrange and to Lough Gur, Co Limerick, were among the first to be written for Irish archaeological sites.

When Brian died in 1982, leaving behind the manuscript of the book that was to become the standard text, Early Ireland, An Introduction to Irish Prehistory, she set out on the major task of preparing it for the press. It appeared in 1989.

Claire O'Kelly's work was recognised by the academic community when she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1984.

Beyond prehistory, interests which she maintained up to her death took in everything from languages and international history to poetry, current affairs and the arts.

Casts of Claire's hands and feet, for instance, were used in many of the sculptures of her late friend, the distinguished artist Gabriel Hayes (wife of Seán P. Ó Ríordáin), most notably the stations of the cross in Galway cathedral.

As a person, she was characterised by her sense of humour, her vigorous opinions, her courage, her persistence, her warmth and her passion for standards.

She is survived by her daughters Helen, Ann and Eve.

Claire O'Kelly: born July 21st, 1916; died October 23rd, 2004.

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Náid (Unregistered Guest)
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Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 02:02 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

The Irish Times 11.08.2004
Spiddal appeal to be held in Irish

An Bord Pleanála is due to hold the first oral hearing of its type in Irish in December, when appeals are heard relating to a housing development in the Connemara village of Spiddal.

The hearing will focus on a language condition attached to the new development which aims to protect the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht.

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