UCD School of Archaeology was deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of Professor George Eogan
Prof Eogan was the leading Irish archaeologist of his generation, and over many years, a Neolithic and Bronze Age scholar of European and wider renown. His contribution to the discipline of Archaeology, to our understanding of Ireland’s past, and to the careers of many people was and is immeasurable.
Prof George Eogan was born in Nobber, Co. Meath. He studied at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, where he completed his PhD on Late Bronze Age swords in Ireland. He was Professor of Archaeology at the (then) Dept of Archaeology between 1979-95, having been first appointed to UCD as a Lecturer in 1965, and having previously worked as a researcher at Trinity College Dublin, University of Oxford, and Queen's University Belfast.
Professor Eogan, as part of his research into the Neolithic passage tombs of Ireland and western Europe, directed since 1962 over 40 years of archaeological excavations at the Knowth passage tomb, Co. Meath. The Knowth Research Project culminated in the successful publication of a sequence of major monographs on the Neolithic passage tomb and its associated monuments and its multiple phases of prehistoric and medieval use and occupation, including by Prof Eogan, Excavations at Knowth vol. I: Smaller Passage tombs, Neolithic occupation and Beaker activity (RIA, 1984); Excavations at Knowth vol. 2: Settlements and ritual sites of the fourth and third millennium BC (with Helen Roche, 1997); Excavations at Knowth, Co. Meath vol. 5: The archaeology of Knowth in the first and second millennium AD AD (RIA, 2012) and Excavations at Knowth 6: The Passage Tomb Archaeology of the Great Mound at Knowth (with Kerri Cleary, , 2017) and also his popular book, Knowth and the Passage Tombs of Ireland (Thames and Hudson). The final RIA monograph on Knowth, entitled Excavations at Knowth 7: The megalithic art of the passage tombs at Knowth, County Meath is currently being printed and will be published in Spring 2022.
Prof George Eogan was a key and leading scholar of Bronze Age Europe, with a particular focus on its extensive assemblages of metalwork of bronze and gold. He used his extensive international travels and decades of connections with museums to develop a unique understanding and insights into the things of Bronze Age Europe in particular. This enabled him to see and pursue cultural and technological connections in the past that few scholars could achieve. His Bronze Age publications are foundational to any understanding of Bronze Age material culture in Ireland, and beyond. His books include Catalogue of Irish Bronze Swords (1965), The Hoards of the Irish Later Bronze Age (1983); The Accomplished Art: Gold and Gold-working in Britain and Ireland during the Bronze Age (1994) and The Socketed Bronze Axes in Ireland (2000). His numerous journal papers are too lengthy to enumerate and describe, but students of Irish prehistory will remember ‘The Later Bronze Age in Ireland in the light of recent research’ (Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1964), ‘The lock-rings of the Late Bronze Age’ (Antiquity 1969); ‘Megalithic art and society’ (Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1999), amongst many others.
Notable too was his faithfulness to local and regional journals, writing papers that were accessible to those beyond academia, including the Meath journal, Riocht na Midhe. Long proud of his Meath background, he was a regular attendee of Gaelic games at Croke Park, Indeed, he was named as ‘Meath Personality of the Year’ in 2003. In 2016, the George Eogan Cultural & Heritage Centre was opened at Nobber, Co Meath by President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins in honour of the town’s own native archaeologist, Professor Eogan.
Prof Eogan was truly an international archaeologist with extensive field and museums experience in Ireland and abroad. He worked with Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho, and also worked on the Neolithic passage tomb of Fourknocks (which he brought to publication) and at the Mound of the Hostages, Tara excavations in the 1950s. Professor Eogan taught, trained and mentored numerous Irish archaeologists, who themselves have gone on to enhance the study of prehistoric Ireland in particular. His mentorship of fellow field archaeologists was to lead to John Bradley’s excavations at Moynagh Lough crannog, near Nobber, Co. Meath, and to Muiris O’Sullivan’s excavations at the Neolithic passage tomb at Knockroe, Co. Kilkenny, while both Eoin Grogan’s and Helen Roche’s careers, amongst many others, as leading archaeologists of Bronze Age Ireland began under Prof Eogan’s mentorship. In recognition of his career and achievements, his colleagues edited a book in his honour, entitled From Megaliths to Metals: Essays in Honour of George Eogan (Oxbow Books, 2004).
Throughout his university career he could be seen cycling from his home in Rathgar to University College Dublin in all weathers. He was a memorable teacher. Generations of UCD students will remember his famous jokes, passed down by students from class to class so that when he uttered them, his students knew what to expect and greatly enjoyed his own enjoyment of them (e.g. Question: “Now class, who can spell ‘Waldalgesheim sword’? His own Answer “Sword” whereupon he would break into his distinctive chuckles). Diggers at Knowth will remember meeting him first in the hot days of summer, as a figure emerging from the billowing smoke of his burning of the grass at the excavations site.
His leadership in Irish archaeology and heritage was recognised by his appointment by An Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey as an Independent Senator to Seanad Eireann (1987-89). Prof Eogan was also appointed as the founding Chairman of the Discovery Programme in 1991. He was highly influential through his agenda-setting book, The Discovery Programme: Initiation, consolidation and development (1997) in the design of its first research programmes, notably the Tara Project, the North Munster Project, the Western Stone Forts Project and the Ballyhoura Hills Project.
Throughout his career, Prof Eogan received many prestigious honours. He was a Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA), a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA), a Member of Academia Europa, and an Honorary Member of the German Archaeological Institute. He was also formerly during his career a member of Council and Vice President of the Prehistoric Society, a member of the National Monuments Advisory Council (Republic of Ireland), and of the Historic Monuments Council (Northern Ireland). He was member of both Council and Executive of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (IUPPS), Liege. He served on the Archaeology Committee of the European Science Foundation (ESF), the Higher Education Committee of the Council of Europe, the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, and the Irish Folklore Commission. He was awarded the Royal Irish Academy Gold Medal in the Humanities in 2007.
However, there are few archaeologists whose work has been celebrated in songs. Prof George Eogan is key to as many as three generationally-famous songs composed by the late Tom Delaney, including ‘George Eogan’, ‘The Knowth Troweler’ (sung to the tune of the Bard of Armagh) and ‘The Department Line’.
We will not see his like again.
UCD School of Archaeology extends its deepest sympathies to his wife Fiona, his children James, Maeve, Deirdre, Clíona, his wider family, friends and many colleagues.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.