O'Growney, Eugene (Ó Gramhnaigh, Eoghan) (1863–99), priest, Gaelic Leaguer, and Irish-language scholar, was born 24 September 1863 in Ballyfallon, Athboy, Co. Meath, second among six children of Séamas Ó Gramhnaigh, steward, and his wife Máiréad (née Nic Gabhann) from Kilskeer, Co. Meath. He received his earliest education in Athboy national school and afterwards entered St Finian's seminary in Navan, Co. Meath, as a day pupil. In September 1882 he continued his studies in St Patrick's College, Maynooth. According to his own account he had no contact with the Irish language until he was fouteen years of age, when he was greeted in Irish by a local workman. Later that year he came across an 1822 edition of Ó Duinnshléibhe's Teagasc Críostaí in the house of a neighbour, Mícheál Mac Cionnaith. Thereafter he set about learning as much about the language as possible, and by the time he entered Maynooth he had begun compiling a dictionary. During his days as a student there he promoted the Irish language at every opportunity and founded a Gaelic society in 1886. This was succeeded in 1889 by Cuallacht Cholm Cille. The college authorities granted him permission to allow copies of Irisleabhar na Gaeilge to be sold there, and he urged his fellow students to become subscribers. His summer holidays (1885–7) were spent learning Irish, mostly on Inis Meáin; he also spent time in the Cork, Kerry, Donegal, and Ring Gaeltachts.
In November 1887 he composed a lament for Fr Uilleog de Búrca (1829–87), president of St Jarlath's College, Tuam, Co. Galway. This was published in the Tuam News and for the following two years he continued to publish translations of songs as well as prose of his own composition in the paper. Some of those translations, such as ‘Caitheamh an Ghlais’ and ‘An tAm fadó’ (‘Auld lang syne’), were later often sung at Irish-language movement events. While a student he also studied German, Modern Greek, and Scottish Gaelic privately. He spent the academic year 1888–9 as assistant dean in St Finian's College, Navan. His duties were light and this allowed him to spend time writing articles for the Tuam News, the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, An Gaodhal, and Irisleabhar na Gaeilge. He was ordained on 24 June 1889; his first post was in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, during which time he first met Douglas Hyde (qv). Around December 1889 he was appointed curate to Ballynacargy parish, eleven miles from Mullingar.
His publications may be classified under five categories: original Irish; original English; modern Irish editions of Old Irish texts such as Immram Curaig Maíle Dúin and Immram Snédgusa & Maic Riagla; translations from English to Irish; and simple lessons in Irish. In November 1890 he published an article, ‘The national language’, in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, in which he explained his views on the Irish language. The following year he was elected to the council of Aontacht na Gaeilge, and in September of that year he took over the editorship of Irisleabhar na Gaeilge from Seán Pléimeann (qv). Emphasis was placed in his first editorial on simplified Irish, and the paper's readership eventually grew to one thousand. The paper had been published every three months at that time but under O'Growney's direction it appeared monthly from March 1894 onwards.
On the advice of Eoin MacNeill (qv) he applied for the newly established post of professor of Irish in Maynooth and was duly appointed professor of Irish language, literature, and antiquities on 15 November 1891. His duties included delivering six public lectures on Irish literature and antiquities a year, in addition to teaching two Irish classes weekly to first-year rhetoric and philosophy students, one weekly to second-year philosophy students, and one optional to the three senior theology classes. He also offered a weekly voluntary class for all students of theology. As there were no suitable Irish-language textbooks available, he set about writing a grammar book and two readers under the title Téacsanna Nua-Gaeilge. He was elected MRIA on 12 December 1892. In 1893, at the request of Archbishop William Walsh (qv), he wrote simple lessons in Irish for publication in the Weekly Freeman and in Irisleabhar an Gaeilge under the title ‘Easy lessons in Irish’. A collection entitled Simple lessons in Irish: giving the pronunciation of each word (1894) was published the following year and became an extremely popular work; thousands of copies were sold.
He was one of the founding members of the Gaelic League, although he was not present at the organisation's inaugural meeting on 31 July 1893 as he was in Scotland at the time. On 25 January 1894 he accompanied Hyde and Michael Cusack (qv) to Galway to found the Galway branch of the League. Later that year he succeeded Euseby Cleaver (qv) as vice-president of the organisation.
In 1894 his health began to fail. As he was suffering from tuberculosis he requested permission from the college to take six months’ leave of absence from his post. He moved to California in November of that year, spending time in San Francisco and Oakland. During the passage from Cobh to New York he completed most of the second volume of Simple lessons in Irish. He also completed the third volume while in America. In the spring of 1895 he moved to Arizona, spending time in Tuscon, Yuma, and Flagstaff, and in a sanatorium in Prescott. He resigned from his post in Maynooth on 23 July 1896 and the following month advised the Gaelic League that they should appoint someone in Ireland as vice-president in his place. His offer was refused, however. While living in America he continued to write articles for journals such as the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Irish World, Catholic University Bulletin, Weekly Freeman, and Donaghoe's Magazine. He also translated ‘The star-spangled banner’ into Irish. He is believed to have been the author of ‘The passing of Conall’ (‘Imtheacht Chonaill’), which was staged at Aonach Thír Chonaill on 18 November 1898.
He returned to Los Angeles at the end of July 1899 and died there 18 November 1899. He was interred in Los Angeles, but a campaign soon began, instigated by his friend Fr Peter Yorke and Lawrence Brannock, to have his remains repatriated to Ireland. Controversy surrounded the arrangements for his funeral, however, and rocked the 1902 Gaelic League convention in Philadelphia. Dr Richard Henebry (qv) who had been professor of Irish at the Catholic University in Washington, DC, was not reappointed to the chair in 1901; he refused to accept the decision, and was supported by Yorke. The League split into Henebrites and anti-Henebrites, their focus being the funeral arrangements. The dispute was eventually resolved and O'Growney's remains were disinterred on 2 September 1903 and brought back to Ireland, accompanied by representatives of the League in America, passing through San Francisco, Chicago, and New York on the way. The funeral cortège travelled from Dublin to Maynooth on 27 September 1903. He was interred in a temporary grave in Maynooth and on 28 February 1905 he was finally interred in a new mausoleum in Maynooth after a private ceremony.