Rynne, Etienne Andrew (1932–2012), archaeologist, was born on 11 September 1932 at 20 Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin, one of six children (five boys and a girl) of Dr Michael Rynne (qv), a civil servant and diplomat, and Nathalie Rynne (née Fournier), from Auvergne, France. Etienne had a twin brother, Michael, and was a nephew of the writer and broadcaster Stephen Rynne (qv). He received his early education in a number of institutions in Ireland and abroad, including Terenure College, Dublin; Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare; Coláiste na Rinne, Co. Waterford; and École des Roches, Normandy. He then attended UCD, where he graduated BA (archaeology and French, 1953) and MA (archaeology, 1955), and won the prestigious NUI travelling studentship for his thesis on iron-age weapons.
After spending a year on the continent, Rynne returned to Ireland in 1957 to join the antiquities division of the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) in Kildare Street. One of his first assignments was to participate in the excavations at the Hill of Tara, previously headed by his old mentor at UCD, the recently deceased Professor Seán P. Ó Ríordáin (qv). Already an expert on the iron age, Rynne expanded his expertise to cover Irish Celtic and early Christian art. He became an influential figure at the museum, remaining until 1967 and gaining much valuable experience in archaeological research, cataloguing and display, and was once described as the 'true master of the Kildare Street crypt' (Wallace, 213). Intimately acquainted with the museum's early Christian artefacts, he was particularly drawn to the eighth-century Ardagh chalice, on which he compiled extensive research notes relating to its dismantling and conservation. Although he was recognised as a leading authority on the chalice, his workload at the NMI and various academic commitments (not least his thirty-five years as editor of the North Munster Antiquarian Journal (NMAJ)), prevented publication of his great work on the treasure.
During his time at the NMI, Rynne developed a close friendship with its director, Dr A. T. Lucas (1911–86), and on 1 April 1967 married his daughter Aideen in the church of the Miraculous Medal, Clonskeagh, Dublin. That year, he left the museum to take up a lectureship in archaeology at University College Galway, and remained there for thirty-one years, until his retirement as professor of Celtic archaeology in 1998. During his professorship, Rynne introduced many innovative changes at UCG, placing great emphasis on the value of well-planned field trips to historical monuments and archaeological sites around Connacht and north Clare, including Poulnabrone in his beloved Burren and Dún Aengus on Inishmore (which in 1991 he was first to suggest was built for ceremonial rather than defensive purposes). He often ventured further afield to sites such as the Jorvik Viking Centre, York, and the West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire. Many local expeditions included small excavations, which Rynne continued to conduct on behalf of the NMI.
Despite his heavy workload, Rynne wrote close to one hundred academic papers in local and international journals, his expansive subject matter including not only archaeology but also folklore and war of independence history (the latter interest stemming from his father's involvement in the formation of the Irish state (1917–23)). His editorial tenure at the NMAJ included the publication in 1975 and 1978 of dedicated issues on Edward MacLysaght (qv) and John Hunt (qv) (1900–76) respectively, and he was editor of Figures from the past (1987), the Festschrift for Helen Maybury Roe (qv). He also used the national press to express his sometimes eccentric views on various subjects, such as Irish neutrality, the American justice system, and running the M3 motorway through Tara (Ir. Times, 12 November 1996; 4 November 1997; 15 August 2003). A highly engaging and entertaining speaker, Rynne thrived in front of an audience, be it a small group of students standing in a muddy field, or an official address to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, of which he was president (1985–9). His lectures were marked by his erudite and characteristically passionate delivery, complete with subtle intonation, and he was as comfortable speaking French as he was English or Irish.
Rynne's legacy cannot be fairly assessed without reference to his largely unpopular stance in the Wood Quay controversy of the late 1970s. When Dublin's original viking settlement at Wood Quay was unearthed by archaeologists, Rynne sided with the NMI, which, under the directorship of Joseph Raftery (qv), had decided to excavate only a small section of the site (around the Hiberno-Norse wall), before handing it over to developers. This resulted in the destruction of much unexcavated archaeology. The NMI's decision resulted in serious damage to its reputation, with Rynne one of the few archaeologists publicly supporting its unpopular stance. His loyalty to the NMI administration, which included his father-in-law Lucas, alienated many fellow archaeologists, and has been described by Patrick Wallace, then director of excavations at Wood Quay and among the many scholars who campaigned to save the site, as 'excessive, unnecessary and so unquestioning that it led to his being on the … wrong side during the Wood Quay court case' (Wallace, 214).
Rynne's contribution to the history and heritage of his adopted province of Connacht and city of Galway was, however, widely acknowledged as immense. Once settled in UCG, he made his home in the medieval town of Athenry, where he engaged enthusiastically with the local community via lectures, walks and talks (as was his style) on the town's famous walls and castle. Although Dublin-born, he became firmly entrenched in Galway's colourful past, and was instrumental in the founding of the city's first municipal museum, in Comerford House, adjacent to the Spanish Arch, in 1971. Drawing on his considerable NMI experience, he acted as honorary curator for the Galway museum for over a decade, before its move to the present purpose-built building in 2007. Ever willing to disseminate the story of Galway's past beyond the twin towers of its university, to its citizens and the wider public, he compiled the Tourist trail of old Galway (1977). This signposted walking tour of Galway communicates the city's importance in the medieval world, not only from an Irish, but also from a European and global perspective, and represents an enduring legacy to the self-styled promoter and protector of the city's heritage.
Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (1966), Rynne was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1975), and president of both the Cambrian Society of Wales (1999) and the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society (1989–94). Although diagnosed with heart disease in 1991, he remained active long after his retirement in 1998, continuing to publish papers on aspects of Irish archaeology up to his death. In summer 2012 Rynne suffered a stroke, and died aged 79 on 22 June 2012 at University College Hospital Galway. He was survived by Aideen, his wife of forty-five years, their four sons and one daughter; a fifth son pre-deceased him. He was buried in the New Cemetery, Athenry.