Credit: NLI. Kuno Meyer

ON THIS DAY: 11 October 1919: Death of Kuno Meyer, Celtic Scholar

Kuno Meyer was a German scholar who as an expert in Celtic philogoy and literature and a pioneering scholar of old Irish. He edited and translated scripts and documents which made him the chief interpreter of early Irish literature for English and German readers. He founded and edited four journals devoted to Celtic Studies, published numerous texts and translations of Old and Middle Irish romances and sagas, and wrote prolifically.

Born in Hamburg on 20 December 1858, he studied there at the Gelehrtenschule of the Johanneum. Following that he spent two years in Edinburgh as a teenager (1874–1876) learning English. After that he attended the University of Leipzig, where he was taught Celtic scholarship by Ernst Windisch. He received his doctorate for his thesis Eine irische Version der Alexandersage, an Irish version of the Alexander Romance, in 1884.

He was passionate about the Irish language and it was his main focus. He wanted to ensure that the Irish people, and the wider world, were aware of beauty, richness and importance of the Irish language and culture. He reproved Irish institutions of learning for their neglect of the language. He proclaimed its importance in the context of European civilization. In 1903 he founded the School of Irish Learning in Dublin to promote the rich treasures of Irish literature which had been hidden and abandoned for generations. He promised to devote the remainder of his life to this task of the promotion our language, which he did.

In his introduction to Ancient Irish Poetry, Meyer, wrote on Ireland’s influence upon Europe during the nations “Golden Age” :

““Ireland has become the heiress to the classical and theological learning of the western empire of the fourth and fifth centuries and a period of humanism was thus ushered in which reached its culmination during the sixth and following centuries.

For once, at any rate, Ireland drew upon herself the eyes of the world, as a haven of rest in a turbulent world overrun by hordes of barbarians, as the great seminary of Christian and Classical learning.

Her sons, carrying Christianity and a new humanism over Britain and the Continent, became the teachers of whole nations, the counsellors of kings and emperors. The Celtic spirit dominated a large part of the western world and imparted new life into a decadent civilisation” (1)

In 1904 the school created its influential journal Ériu of which he was the editor. Also in 1904, he became Todd Professor in the Celtic Languages at the Royal Irish Academy. In October 1911, he followed Heinrich Zimmer as Professor of Celtic Philology at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin; the following year, a volume of Miscellany was presented to him by pupils and friends in honour of his election, and he was made a freeman of both Dublin and Cork.

(After Meyers death in 1919, the school was incorporated into the Royal Irish Academy in 1926, and it continued the publication of the journal, in the same format and with the same title. Originally, the journal was published in two parts annually, together making a volume, but parts slipped further apart after Volume III. Articles are written in either Irish or English.)

In April 1912, when he was being conferred with the Freedom of Dublin, he said that Irish people were the heirs of a great and unique literature, a national possession and a rich heritage of memories of which they should be proud.

According to Seán Ó Lúing”, Irish Historical Studies, Meyer was considered first and foremost a lexicographer among Celtic scholars but is known by the general public in Ireland rather as the man who introduced them to Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry in 1911. (2)

No single individual did more to promote the Irish language in the decades before and after 1900 than Kuno Meyer. Letters that Meyer sent to Douglas Hyde during the years 1898 1919 now reveal the full extent of that background activity and the extraordinary level of encouragement and support that he gave to the movement to establish a native school of Irish scholars. He played a crucial role in the Gaelic Revival.

WT Cosgrave said he had “done more for Irish scholarship and Irish national glory than any other living man” and wrote in a letter that Meyer was recognized as “the greatest Celtic authority since the death of Whitley Stokes” and that he has “done more for Irish scholarship and Irish national glory than any other living man”.

In 2004, on the centenary of the publication of Ériu, Proinsias Mac Cana described Kuno Meyer as “great” scholar, in “brilliant” partnership with John Strachan as the first editors of Ériu, his predecessors in that position. Meyer is among those credited with playing a crucial role in fostering native Irish Celtists in the initial phases of Ériu and the School of Irish Learning.

His brother was the distinguished classical schola Eduard Meyer.


UCC’s CELT Project and NUIG have Kuno Meyer’s edited works available at these links:


(1) The Story of the Irish Race, Seumas MacManus, p 232, available on Google Books here

(2) Murphy, Maureen (November 1994), “(Review) Kuno Meyer, 1858–1919: a biography, by Seán Ó Lúing”, Irish Historical Studies, Cambridge University Press, 29 (114): 268–270, 

Kuno Meyer, c 1903. Photo Credit: National Library of Ireland under CC licence


Copy of Éiru journal established by Kuno Meyer



Kuno Meyer featured on the front page of The Gaelic American newspaper – Vol. XII No. 14, April 3, 1915, Whole Number 603.


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