Dr Colmán Etchingham

Dr Colmán Etchingham
Tuesday, June 13, 2023 - 09:15

Dr Colmán Etchingham (d. 6 June 2023)
The Departments of History and Early Irish at Maynooth University are greatly saddened by the untimely death of our colleague Dr Colmán Etchingham, which occurred while he was on holiday in Greece. Dr Etchingham was Emeritus Lecturer in Early Irish History, having taken early retirement in 2019. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Etchingham was an expert in many aspects of early medieval history, most notably the history of the early Irish Church, early Irish law and the history of the Scandinavian raiders and settlers in early medieval Ireland, Britain and the wider ‘Viking World’.
Among his many ground-breaking publications, his most influential include his monograph, Church Organisation in Ireland, AD650–1000, published in 1999, and his 2001 article on ‘North Wales, Ireland and the Isles: the Insular Viking Zone’ in the journal Peritia. More recently, in 2019, he published a book that was jointly written with Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, Elizabeth Ashman Rowe and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, entitled Norse-Gaelic Contacts in a Viking World. One of his co-authors, Prof. Ní Mhaonaigh (University of Cambridge), states that Dr Etchingham’s research ‘has altered fundamentally our understanding of medieval Irish society and of Viking activity, broadening and deepening our knowledge of relations between Ireland, Britain and beyond in the early medieval period. His incisive close textual readings and forensic scholarship, combined with utter clarity of thought, has transformed and will continue to inform our knowledge of the past’.
Dr Etchingham’s scholarship was robust, as was his rhetoric, and his reviews of the work of other scholars could often be exacting – sometimes controversially so. Dr Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews), who served as external examiner to the MU Department of History from 2014 to 2018, notes that no matter how heated the discussion might become, in print or in person, Dr Etchingham was ‘respectful of the sources and never lost sight of the principles of textual criticism’. Dr Woolf also observes that when Dr Etchingham moved his intellectual focus from the Irish Church to the Scandinavian background of the Viking Age, he ‘retrained himself with extraordinary rapidity in the sources, language and historiography’ of that field; an indication of his exceptional capacity as a scholar.
In 2009 Dr Etchingham gave the annual Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture at Cambridge. His paper, on whether some of the larger early church sites in Ireland could be considered as ‘towns’, was later published as The Irish ‘monastic town’: is this a valid concept? It is typical of his close and relentless scrutiny of the sources that he determined that not only were they not ‘towns’, they were not ‘monastic’ either!
Dr Etchingham demonstrated a kindness and loyalty to his students that was returned with great affection. In the days since his passing, several former students have got in touch to make it known how highly he was regarded and how inspirational were his guidance and scholarship. Colleagues have remarked how supportive and empathetic Colmán was, especially when he saw someone in difficulty. He was exceptionally generous with advice, lecture notes and materials to new tutors and lecturers.
Dr Etchingham had several major works in an advanced state of preparation at the time of his death and it is to be hoped that they will see the light in due course. In the meantime, both the Department of History and the Department of Early Irish offer sincere condolences to his loved ones and look forward to future generations of scholars reading and engaging with his work.
Dr Elizabeth Boyle (Early Irish) and Dr Michael Potterton (History)