Gwynn, Edward John (1868–1941), Celticist and provost of TCD, was born 1 April 1868 at Aughnagaddy, Ramelton, Co. Donegal, the second son of Rev. John Gwynn (qv), DD, fellow of TCD (1853) and regius professor of divinity (1888–1917), and his wife, Lucy Gwynn (née Smith O'Brien), the daughter of Young Irelander William Smith O'Brien (qv). Edward was the brother of the author Stephen Lucius Gwynn (qv) and uncle of the historian and Jesuit priest Aubrey Gwynn (qv).
Educated initially at St Columba's College, Gwynn entered TCD in 1885, where he was awarded a scholarship in classics and graduated with a first-class BA (1888) and an MA (1894). In 1893 he was elected fellow of the college and was junior dean (1897–1900). He became lecturer (1907–26) in the newly created post of Celtic languages at TCD, was appointed senior lecturer in 1926 and senior fellow in 1927. Following the death that year of John Henry Bernard (qv), former archbishop of Dublin, Gwynn succeeded him as provost of TCD on 5 October 1927. As such he was the first provost to be appointed by the Irish Free State and, moreover, was the only provost until 1991 to be in receipt of an honorary degree from the NUI (1926). He held this post until 20 April 1937, when recurring tuberculosis forced him to resign, at which time he was replaced by the scientist and mathematician, William Edward Thrift (qv).
Gwynn was actively involved in college and national scholarly administrative bodies. His responsibilities included joining the board of governors of the newly established School of Irish Learning (1903), acting as commissioner for national education (1915–19), and taking the chair at the founding meeting of the Trinity College (Dublin) Association (11 June 1928). In fierce opposition to the proposed amalgamation of Irish universities, he was vigorous as secretary to the Trinity College Defence Committee, trumpeting their rallying cry: ‘hands off Trinity’. Elected MRIA in 1896, he was the Academy's Todd lecturer in Celtic languages (1898–1904), a member of the RIA council (1904–33), secretary for foreign correspondence (until the abolition of the post in 1930), academy librarian (1931–4), secretary of the Irish studies committee in 1934, and RIA president (1934–7). He was a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission from its inception in 1928.
Described as ‘almost without a rival among Irish scholars’ (RIA Proc., vii), Gwynn was ushered into Irish studies at Trinity by Professor Robert Atkinson (qv). A prolific scholar, he contributed many papers to journals such as Ériu and Hermathena; among his most famous works was the publication of the Dindshenchas (1900–35), a collection of legends illuminating the origins of Irish place-names. Gwynn, although not credited, was general editor of the RIA's catalogue of Irish manuscripts and was responsible for overseeing the compilation of TCD's collection of Irish manuscripts. He also did much work on documents relating to the early Irish church, two of his most well-known pieces being ‘The rule of Tallaght’ (Hermathena, xliv ) and ‘An Irish penitential’ (Ériu, vii, , ix , xii ). An edition of his own discovery of an Old Irish tract, ‘Privileges and responsibilities of poets’, his last publication, appeared in print in late 1940. Gwynn was also working on reassembling the lost Saltair of Cashel, the work on which he passed on to a friend as his days grew short.
In recognition of his contribution to the field of Irish studies, Gwynn was awarded honorary doctorates from universities in Oxford, Durham, Glasgow, and Wales. He died 10 February 1941, survived by his wife Olive Mary Gwynn (née Ponsonby), their two daughters and three sons.