Myles Dillon was a man of such boundless energy that it would have been difficult to imagine him resigning himself to years of quiet retirement, and in retrospect it seems wholly in character that he should have died, as he did, en plein travail. He was on one of his frequent forays abroad as an ambassador of Celtic studies when he fell ill in London and he died a couple of days after his return to Dublin, on June 18th, 1972.
Born in 1900, son of John Dillon, one-time leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he was educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Mount St. Benedict in Wexford, and later at University College, Dublin, where he took his B.A. and M.A. degrees. He was the most peripatetic of scholars and his delight in travelling is reflected even in the bare record of his academic appointments. He spent three years, from 1922 to 1925, on the Continent on a travelling studentship, during which time he studied in Berlin, Bonn and Heidelberg under such famous teachers as Meyer-Lübke, Pokorny, Schulze, Sommer, Zimmer and Thurneysen, and in Paris under Silvain Lévi, Meillet and Vendryes, and followed this with a further year in Paris as a lecturer in Irish at the Sorbonne in 1925-26. In 1928 he was appointed Lecturer in Sanskrit and Comparative Philology in Trinity College Dublin, and in 1930 took up a similar post in University College,  Dublin. In 1937 he was appointed Professor of Irish in the University of Wisconsin and remained there until 1946 when he became Professor of Celtic Philology and Comparative Linguistics in the University of Chicago . The following year he re-crossed the Atlantic to the chair of Celtic in Edinburgh, and after a further two years he returned to Ireland as a Senior Professor in the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. From 1960 to 1968 he was Director of the School. This was the end of his academic odyssey, but still neither his new responsibilities nor his increasing years prevented his embarking on frequent lecture and study tours in Britain, the Continent and America, and as far afield as India and Australia . In the period 1969-71, for instance, he spent two semesters at Simla and Poona at the invitation of the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies.
Among his many honours were the Vice-Presidency of the Linguistic Society of America, the Presidency of the Irish Texts Society and honorary degrees from the universities of Rennes, Louvain, Oslo, Belfast and Edinburgh, and from the National University of Wales. He was elected to the Academy in 1929 and held the office of President in 1966.
Irish Celticists have often been criticized for the sins, or scruples, of the one or two distinguished scholars whose unending pursuit of accuracy set severe limits to their productiveness. Such criticism could never be levelled at Myles Dillon, who was one of the most prolific of scholars. Not only did he publish extensively on linguistic, literary and textual matters, while volumes III to IX of Celtica bear witness to his exceptional editorial qualities, but at the same time he distinguished himself from most other Irish Celticists of his day by his active and uninhibited concern with haute vulgarisation: for many students throughout the world his various semi-popular volumes were their first introduction to the Irish language and its tradition. Nor was he merely a Celticist. By training he was admirably equipped as a linguist and he enjoyed a very considerable reputation as a Sanskritist. He collaborated in the edition of the Nátakalahsanaratnakósa of Sagarandin, and, still more important, his familiarity with the early Indian sources led him to engage in a number of fruitful compartaive studies in IndoEuropean tradition, amongst them his well-known Rhys lecture on "The Archaism of Irish Tradition" and his Celt and Hindu shortly to be published in India. Indeed these comparative essays may come to be regarded as his outstanding contribution to Celtic, as well as to Indo-European, studies.
Those who knew Myles Dillon will remember him as an excellent linguist, a witty lecturer and a natural raconteur. They will also recall his extraordinarily youthful buoyancy and the shameless pleasure which he took in his work. His enthusiasm will be sadly missed in Celtic studies.