Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth announces the death of Monsignor Brendan P Devlin

20 Sep 2023

[2015 painting of Monsignor Brendan Devlin by Sara Kyne, part of the Maynooth College Sara Kyne collection]

Joint Statement from the President and Rector of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is saddened to announce the death of Monsignor Brendan P Devlin: Distinguished French and Irish Scholar.  On behalf of the staff and students of Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, the President, Rev Prof Michael Mullaney, and the Rector of the National Seminary, Dr Tomás Surlis, we extend our condolences to Monsignor Devlin’s family, to Bishop Donal McKeown and the priests of the Diocese of Derry, and to his wide circle of devoted and close friends.

Last May, friends from the Irish Department at Maynooth University, Cumann na Sagart, Saint Patrick’s College, and members of his family, united to celebrate Brendan’s contribution to the Irish language.  It was a joyful, timely and poignant celebration.  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 translator of several of the classics of French literature into Irish.

We give thanks to God for Monsignor Devlin’s authentic and faithful priestly witness and for his rich scholarly legacy.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Comhráiteas ó Uachtarán agus ó Reachtaire Choláiste Phádraig, Maigh Nuad
Is cúis mhór bhróin do Choláiste Phádraig, Maigh Nuad a fhógairt go bhfuil an Moinsíneoir Breandán P. Ó Doibhlin, ardscoláire Fraincise agus Gaeilge ar shlí na fírinne. Thar ceann fhoireann agus mhic léinn an Choláiste, déanann an tUachtarán, an tOll. Urr. Michael Mullaney, agus Reachtaire na Cliarscoile Náisiúnta, an Dr Tomás Surlis, comhbhrón ó chroí le muintir Bhreandáin, leis an Easpag Donal McKeown agus sagairt Dheoise Dhoire, agus lena chuid cairde dílse.

I mí na Bealtaine seo caite, tháinig cairde ó Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, Ollscoil Mhá Nuad, ó Chumann na Sagart agus ó Choláiste Phádraig le chéile le gaolta agus le cairde Bhreandáin chun comóradh a dhéanamh ar na gaiscí ar fad a rinne sé ar son na Gaeilge. Ba cheiliúradh lúcháireach, tráthúil agus tochtmhar é. Thug rialtas na Fraince aitheantas dá shaothar ar son na Fraincise nuair a bronnadh an Légion d’honneur air in 2001 as a chuid oibre ar son caidreamh cultúrtha idir an Fhrainc agus Éire, agus as a chuid oibre, leis, ar athchóiriú Choláiste na nÉireannach i bPáras, an fhorbairt a rinne sé ar léann na Fraincise in Ollscoil Mhá Nuad, agus as an aistriúchán a rinne sé ar roinnt de chlasaicí na Fraincise go Gaeilge.
Gabhaimid buíochas ó chroí le Dia as a fhinnéacht shagartúil dhílis aiceanta agus as a oidhreacht shaibhir scolártha.
Funeral Details
Devlin, Very Rev Mons. Brendan, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare and late of Rouskey, Gortin, Co Tyrone, 19 September 2023, peacefully at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, in his 93rd year, predeceased by his loving brothers Colum, Rev Fr Kieran and baby Brian and sister Carmel, deeply regretted by his loving nieces Anne, Una, Sara and Rachel, nephews James and Michael, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, colleagues and friends, Rest In Peace.
Reposing in the College Chapel, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on Thursday 21 September from 5.00pm, concluding with Evening Prayer at 7.30pm.   Requiem Mass on Friday at 10.00am in the College Chapel, followed by removal to Saint Mary’s Church, Rouskey, Gortin, Co Tyrone, arriving at approximately 4.00pm for prayers, followed by burial in the adjoining cemetery.

Monsignor Brendan P Devlin (Breandán Ó Doibhlin) – Biography
Monsignor Brendan P Devlin was born in Rouskey, Co Tyrone, in 1931.   He was educated in Saint Columb’s College, Derry, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.  He was ordained priest in 1955.  In 1958, he became Professor of Modern Languages at Saint Patrick’s College, a position he held with distinction until his retirement in 1996.  He is known for his work in French and Irish.

Monsignor Devlin is the author of three novels in Irish, Néal Maidine agus Tine Oíche (1964), An Branar gan Cur (1979), and Sliocht ar Thír na Scáth (2018).  In a series of articles in Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad in the 1960s, he adopted the methods of the French nouvelle critique, spearheaded by Roland Barthes, to his analysis of works of writers writing in the Irish language.  

Monsignor Devlin wrote ground breaking articles in the 1960s on the nouvelle critique, and on the Catholic novel in France in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record.  He also published a very handsome bilingual text, with translations into Irish, of a range of French poets from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.  Poets included, among others, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud and Apollinaire.  Other publications include a translation into Irish of Gargantua by Rabelais and of Pascal’s Pensées.   In 2006 and 2007, he published a series of manuals on literature written in Irish, Manuail de Litríocht na Gaeilge, covering the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  These volumes provide the historical context to the works of various writers in addition to analyses of selected passages from their works.

In addition to translation of works of French writers into Irish, Monsignor Devlin also translated the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Irish in 2001, a volume which runs to almost one thousand pages.  Working with his colleague, An tAthair Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, Monsignor Devlin was involved in translating the Holy Bible from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, into Irish.  An Bíobla Naofa, thirty years in the making, was the first modern edition of the Bible in the Irish language. 

In his later retirement years, Monsignor Devlin occupied himself with making key conciliar texts and recent magisterial documents available in Irish: Lumen GentiumGaudium et Spes and Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangeli Gaudium; among others.  In the last few months, he translated two medieval Irish poems dedicated to Our Lady into the English language.
Monsignor Devlin was Vice-President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, from 1977 to 1980, and Rector of the Irish College in Paris from 1984 to 2001.  He will be remembered for his trojan work in overseeing the restoration and transformation of the Collège des Irlandais, Paris, into the present Centre Culturel Irlandais.

In 2001, he was invested as an Officier of the Légion d’honneur, the highest French award available to a foreign national.  On 2 September 2013, he celebrated the Funeral Mass of Nobel Laureate Séamus Heaney, also a past pupil of Saint Columb’s College, Derry.

Monsignor Devlin’s output was monumental.  Like Horace, he could have said Exegi monumentum aere perennius, ‘I have raised a monument more lasting than bronze’.  He brought style and finesse to everything he did.  Pascal distinguished between the esprit de géométrie and the esprit de finesse.  Monsignor Devlin was the esprit de finesse.