De Brún, Pádraig (Browne, Patrick) (1889–1960), priest, scholar, and academic administrator, was born 13 October 1889 in Grangemockler, Co. Tipperary, third child and second son among four sons and two daughters of Maurice Browne (1844–1911), a national school teacher from Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, who was a fervent and loyal Parnellite, and Catherine Browne (née Fitzgerald) (d. 1923), of Ballyduggan, Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary. A brilliant student from an early age, he received formal primary education in his father's national school, and additional and formative tutelage from both parents in languages and mathematics. After secondary education at Rockwell College, Co. Tipperary, he prepared for the catholic priesthood and studied for an RUI degree at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dublin; in both colleges he was taught mathematics by Éamon de Valera (qv), who remained a lifelong friend and patron. Entering UCD for his last year of undergraduate study, he received a BA (1909), and MA with first class honours in mathematical science (1910), while also excelling in classics and modern languages. Obtaining a travelling studentship, the first awarded by the newly established NUI, he studied at the Sorbonne, Paris, receiving a D.Sc. (1912) for a thesis on problems in integral equations. Completing his theological studies at the Irish College, Paris, he was ordained in 1913. He continued his mathematical studies at Göttingen, Germany, until the outbreak of the first world war. Returning to Ireland, he became professor of mathematics and mathematical physics at St Patrick's College, Maynooth (1914–45).
Having learned the rudiments of Irish in childhood from his mother, whose parents had been native speakers, in early adulthood he attained fluency through private study and regular holidays in various Irish-speaking regions. He was a close friend of the republican insurrectionist Seán MacDiarmada (qv), whom he visited in Kilmainham jail on the two nights prior to his execution on 12 May 1916. He gave his written impressions of Kilmainham to Laurence Ginnell (qv), MP, who used the information in the house of commons to excoriate the government over conditions in the prison, thereby contributing to growing public sympathy for the Easter Week rebels. Suffering profound grief over the deaths of MacDiarmada and his comrades, in summer 1916 de Brún cycled alone to the Dingle peninsula seeking solace and spiritual renewal. There, in the west Kerry Gaeltacht, he resolved to vindicate the sacrifice of his fallen friend by making the revival of the Irish language the dominant motivational force of his life. Becoming associated with the Gaelic League and the cultural movement, and prominent in Dublin nationalist literary circles, in the early 1920s he purchased land and built a small house, Tigh na Cille, at Dunquin, which he used during college holidays as the base for his studies and compositions in Irish.
De Brún was controversially involved in the politics of the war of independence and civil war. He wrote a preface to the Collected works (1917) of Patrick Pearse (qv), and probably authored Aftermath of Easter Week (1917) for the Irish National Aid and Volunteers’ Dependants’ Fund. He canvassed for Arthur Griffith (qv) in the May 1918 East Cavan by-election, despite the strenuous objections of the local bishop. A resultant mandate by the Maynooth trustees, barring their clergy from engagement in active politics without prior permission from the college president and the relevant local bishop, subsequently restricted de Brún's overt activities. Taking the anti-treaty side in the civil war, he was imprisoned briefly in Mountjoy jail for possession of seditious documents (February 1923), and accused of using unpriestly language and being uncooperative; he was cautioned by the embarrassed Maynooth authorities.
De Brún's primary scholarly interest was the translation into Irish of the major works of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. Deeply involved with the short-lived Irish-language literary review Humanitas, in an article in the journal's first number (March 1930) he offered what amounted to a scholarly credo. Contending that the European Renaissance had by-passed Ireland owing to the country's political and cultural subjection, he urged the replication in twentieth-century Ireland, through the medium of the Irish language, of the project of Renaissance humanism: applying the influence of Greek and Latin antiquity on a vernacular language and culture. The argument elicited a vigorous rebuttal in the journal's second issue by Daniel Corkery (qv), who deplored the effects of the Renaissance on continental literatures, argued the purity of Irish as a language unadulterated by classicising influences, and urged writers in Irish to concentrate on native themes and models. The controversy became a defining cause célèbre within the language movement, with Corkery's disciples in the ascendant.
De Brún's Irish-language translations of ancient Greek drama included three tragedies of Sophocles – Antigone (1926), Oedipus rex (1928), and Oedipus at Colonus (1929) – and the Iphigenia of Euripides (1935). From the French he translated Racine's Athalie (1930) and Corneille's Polyeucte (1932). First productions of many of these works were staged in convent schools. Other translations included Plutarch's Lives (1936), and two lays from the Old Icelandic Edda (1940). He collaborated with Pádraig Ó Baoighealláin on a life of Christ in Irish adapted from the Greek gospels (1929), translated (1932) a life of St Patrick (qv) for children from the English text of M. H. Gaffney, and wrote an Irish translation (1954) of a history of Greece by J. B. Bury. His translation of Homer's Odyssey, for which he was unable to find a publisher in the 1940s, was published posthumously in 1990, but his translation of the Iliad remains unpublished, save for excerpts.
He translated poetry between Irish and English, and wrote original verse in both languages. He was among seventeen poets included by Edmund Curtis (qv) in the collection Cuisle na hÉige (1920). Several of his lyrics in Irish became widely known through their inclusion on the schools’ syllabus, including ‘Sráideanna naofa Átha Cliath’ (1923), and ‘Valparaiso’; the latter was a translation of ‘The ship’ (1918), an original lyric in English by his friend Oliver St John Gogarty (qv). De Brún's most familiar poem in English was the elegy ‘In memoriam’, on the four anti-treaty prisoners executed in Mountjoy jail on 8 December 1922; widely circulated as a broadsheet in 1923, the poem was reprinted in the Irish Press for many years on the anniversary of the executions. A collection of his poems on the Easter rising was published as 1916 (c.1960). He composed some of the English translations of popular lyrics included alongside the Irish texts in the Amhráin Mhuighe Seóla (1918) of Eibhlín Uí Choisdeailbh (qv), including the lengthy narrative poem ‘Anach chuain’ (attributed to Anthony Raftery (qv)). His translation of ‘Coinnleach glas an fhómhair’ was anthologised as ‘The green autumn stubble’ in the Oxford book of Irish verse (1958). He wrote Irish translations of songs and poems by Shakespeare, and translated modern French poetry into both Irish and English.
De Brún was chairman of the council of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies from its foundation (1940), and sat on the governing body of its school of Celtic studies. He intervened with the Irish government to secure sanctuary from Nazi persecution for the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (qv), who became director of the institute's school of theoretical physics. He resigned his Maynooth professorship to become president of UCG (1945–59). A new college building, Árus De Brún, was constructed during his tenure to the design of his friend Michael Scott (qv). A member of the NUI senate, he served for a time as vice chancellor of the NUI. He was created a domestic prelate by the pope (1950). The government of France made him a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1949), and he was conferred by the government of Italy with the order Al merito della Republica Italiana (1956). He chaired the board of interchange scholarships between universities in Ireland and the USA. In the 1950s he wrote a treatise in Irish on non-Euclidean geometry. Appointed by de Valera to the first Arts Council (1951–6), owing to his commitments as UCG president he failed to attend many meetings. His appointment was not renewed by the inter-party government. On retiring from the UCG presidency he became director of the Arts Council (1959–60). During his brief tenure he organised an important exhibition of paintings and etchings by the recently deceased Georges Rouault (1871–1958). A posthumous publication, Miserere (1971), comprises poems in Irish by de Brún to accompany reproductions of the Rouault etchings, together with English translations by Máire Mhac an tSaoi.
Described as ‘a linguist, classicist, and humanist in the great tradition of Erasmus and More’ (Cruise O'Brien, 79), de Brún was tall in stature, handsome, and urbane, with deeply set expressive eyes. His recreations included golf, fishing, sailing, and hunting. A scintillating conversationalist, he enjoyed numerous friendships in the spheres of literature, politics, and higher academia, reflecting the protean range of his character and interests. Wearing his learning and honours lightly, he was equally at home with the farmers and fishermen of Dunquin, whom he consulted on the intricacies of translation; his home there was a lively centre of local popular culture: music, song, storytelling, and dance. He wrote a heartfelt lament in Irish for his dearest Dunquin friend and mentor, Peats Mhíchíl Connor. A bronze portrait bust by Seamus Murphy (qv) was presented to him by the teaching staff of UCG in May 1960. After suffering a heart attack in the house at Seapoint, Dún Laoghaire, into which he had recently moved, he died 5 June 1960 in St Vincent's nursing home, Leeson St., Dublin. He left a typescript translation of Dante's Divine comedy; his rendering of the Inferno was published in 1963, and that of the entire work in 1997, edited by Ciarán Ó Coigligh.
Two of his siblings were also notable catholic clerics. His eldest brother, David, whose name in religion was Michael Browne (qv), became master general of the Dominican order and a cardinal. Maurice Browne (qv) was parish priest of Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare, and a writer. The youngest brother, John Browne (1894–1919), was active in Sinn Féin, and died after suffering a ruptured spleen in a football injury. The surviving sister, Margaret (d. 1976), was lecturer in modern Irish at UCD, and married revolutionary and politician Seán MacEntee (qv). Their daughter, Máire Mhac an tSaoi Cruise O'Brien, has written introductions to de Brún's posthumous publications, and is an interpreter of his work.