Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Aodh Mag Eoin (Hugh McGeown), BA 1949

(published in The Guardian, 1 April 2011)

Our friend Aodh Mag Eoin, who has died aged 83, was a renowned Irish teacher at the boys' grammar school St Columb's college, in Derry, Northern Ireland. His pupils won many scholarships, debating competitions and awards for their proficiency in Irish. Some became excellent writers in Irish and continued as university lecturers and academics. Two of them, Seamus Heaney and John Hume, won the Nobel prize. Aodh also helped many colleagues achieve distinction.

A noted scholar, he was an authority on Irish grammar and was consulted by Tomas de Bhaldraithe when he was editing his English-Irish dictionary in the 1950s. At all times Aodh ensured that he preserved the Ulster dialect, while he also had an understanding and admiration for dialects from other provinces.

Born on the Falls Road, Belfast, Aodh won a scholarship to St Malachy's college and then Queen's University Belfast, where he obtained first place in Celtic studies in 1949. He taught for a short period at St Matthew's school, Short Strand, and carried out further research at University College Dublin.

He attended Gaelic League classes early in life and he was soon to become a member of the Ulster branch of the Gaelic League. He was also the treasurer of the Irish Dancing Commission. Aodh had a keen interest in swimming, and was a qualified instructor. He founded the Derry city swimming club and took part in competitions around the world.

Alongside his work at St Columb's, he was appointed to the staff of St Brigid's Gaeltacht college in Ranafast, Co Donegal, where he taught each summer for 50 years. He was part of the local culture there and was often in the company of storytellers, singers and historians. He was well-known by young and old in nearly every house in the area. Aodh had a great passion for life and remembered every name and face going back to the 1920s. In his retirement, his wide interests ranged from opera to Indian cooking. Despite his decreasing mobility, he would often take the bus from Derry to Belfast to catch the afternoon screening of a classic film.

Aodh was an only child and never married, although he loved a few women dearly. He is survived by several distant cousins. His heart belonged to his language and his country, along with a deep faith in God. He will be missed by many friends, who are left with fond memories of drinking and storytelling until dawn.

Aodh Mag Eoin's former pupils included two Nobel prize winners - Seamus Heaney and John Hume.



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