Richard Irvine Best (1872-1959)

[usually R. I. Best;] b. on Bishop St., London/Derry, Richard Irvine Best, Londonderry; ed. Foyle [Presbyterian] College; worked in a bank; moved to Paris to study Old Irish [Goídelc or Old Gaelic] in Paris, 1902; met Synge and Kuno Meyer; his trans. of also trans. D. Arbois Jubainville’s Le cycle mythologique irlandais et la mythologie celtique, was serialised in the United Irishman in 1903; appt. Asst. Dir. of the National Library 1904; m. Edith Oldham, musician and dg. Professor C. H. Oldham of UCD, 1906, with whom he shared the organisation of Feis Ceoil; appt. Dir. National Library 1924-40; Snr. Prof. Celtic Studies, DIAS, 1940; chairman of MSS Commission and Hon. Fellow Bib. Soc. of Ireland; elected Pres. of the RIA, 1943-46;
received Leibniz Medal of Royal Prussian Academy, 1914; hon. docts. NUI & TCD; issued The Martyrology of Tallaght (1931); and The Book of Leinster, formerly Lebar na Nuachongbála (1954-67), with Bergin and O’Brien; read a tribute written by George “AE” Russell at the funeral of George Moore; retired from Nat. Library, 1947; served as Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1948-56; d. 25 Sept., at his home, 57 Upr. Leeson St.; Best is a character in the National Library Scene of James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Scylla and Charybdis”) - a treatment which he disliked; a portrait by W. R. Rodgers was omitted from the Irish Literary Portraits issued by his wife Marianne (1972), but is available in PRONI. DIB DIH DUB OCIL

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Bibliography of Irish Philology and of Printed Irish Literature (Dublin: DIAS 1913); Bibliography of Irish Philology and Manuscript Literature, Publications 1913-1941 [2 vols.] [Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies] (Dublin: Browne & Nolan 1942).

Also trans. The Irish Mythological Cycle and Celtic Mythology, by D. Arbois Jubainville, with additional notes(Dublin: Hodges, Figgis 1903, 1905) [add. notes, pp.225-30]; [?with Bergin and O’Brien], ed., The Martyrology of Tallaght (1931).

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Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS], 1996 Catalogue lists: Bibliography of Irish Philology and of Printed Irish Material (Dublin 1913; 1992) [rep. with augmented indexes; orig. 1913)], xii, 339pp. 1 85500 159 4]; The Book of Leinster, formerly Lebar na Núachongbála, 6 vols. [1 85500 036 9]: Vol. I, ed. Best, Osborn Bergin, and M. A. O’Brien (1954). xxvi, 260pp., pls. [1 85500 037 7]; Vol. II, ed. and O’Brien (1956). xi, 261-470pp., pls 1 85500 038 5]; Vol. III, ed. Best & O’Brien (1957), xix, 471-760pp. 1 85500 039 3 B 3.2.4]; Vol. IV, ed. Best and O’Brien (1965). xvii, 761–1117pp. [1 85500 040 7]; Vol. V, ed. R. and O’Brien (1967). xvi, 1119–1325pp.; [1 85500 041 5]; Vol. VI, ed. Anne O’Sullivan (1983), xv, 1327-1708pp. [0 901282 76 6]; also, with M. A. O’Brien, ed., Togail Troí from Book of Leinster (1966), 1063-1117pp. [1 85500 071 7] [diplomatic edition without translation or commentary, from The Book of Leinster (2965 edn., as supra), Vol. IV].

De Burca Books (Cat. 44; 1997) lists with Rudolf Thurneysen, Facsimile in Collotype of Irish manuscripts - The Oldest Fragments of the Sencas Mar with descriptive introduction (Dublin: Sol. Oif. 1931), xv, 56 [ltd. edn. 360].

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James Joyce: Richard Ellmann writes, ‘After his [Joyce’s] death, when the [BBC] was preparing a long program about him, its prerpresentatives went to Dublin and approached Dr Richard Best to as him to participate in a radio interview. “What makes you come to me?” he said truculently. “What makes you think I have any connection with this man Joyce?” “But you can’t deny your connection”, said the men of the BBC, “After all, you’re a character in Ulysses.” best drew himself up and retored, “I am not a charater in fiction. I am a living being.”’ (Interview with John Garvin, 1953; supported with minor demurs by Best in interview with Ellmann; quoted [from Ellmann, in Carol Shloss, ‘Chioce Newseryreels: James Joyce and the Irish Times’, in James Joyce Quarterly, p.326.)

Myles na gCopaleen [Flann O’Brien] satirised Best, with others, in “Binchy and Bergin and Best” [‘My song is concern’ / Three sons of great learnin’ / Binchy and Bergin and Best [...&c.] (See The Best of Myles, London: Grafton 1987; Paladin edn. 1992, pp.266-67; text copied under Flann O’Brien, Quotations, infra.)

Henri d’Arbois de Jubainville: an authority on Celtic languages, literature and law, he was appointed to the newly founded professorial chair of Celtic at the Collège de France in 1882.

Portrait: a drawing of R. I. Best by Seán O’Sullivan in lead pencil, dated July 1938, is held in National Gallery of Ireland. A wash-and-brush port. of Mrs. Best by Sarah Celia Harrison is likewise held in NGI.

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