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O'Neill, George (1863–1947)

by J. Eddy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

George O'Neill (1863-1947), Jesuit priest, academic and author, was born on 16 April 1863 at Dungannon, Tyrone, Ireland, son of George F. O'Neill, inspector of schools, and his wife Mary Teresa, née McDermott. He was educated at the Catholic University School in Dublin and at St Stanislaus College, Tullamore, and entered the Jesuit novitiate in September 1880 at Milltown Park. In 1880-89 he taught at Belvedere and Clongowes Wood colleges, studied at Milltown Park and took his B.A. with first-class honours in classics from the Royal University of Ireland. He spent a postgraduate year in Prague in 1890, followed by a year in Paris. On his return to Ireland he took his M.A. with first-class honours in modern languages at the Royal University.

From 1891 O'Neill pursued philosophical and theological studies at Milltown Park and was ordained priest in 1895. In 1897, after completing his tertianship at Tronchiennes, Belgium, he was appointed to the staff of University College, St Stephen's Green, an independent Jesuit college which prepared its students for the examinations of the Royal University. Fr O'Neill was prefect of the library and church, choirmaster, and taught ancient and modern languages until 1901, when he became a fellow of the Royal University, while continuing to teach at St Stephen's Green as professor of English literature, in succession to Thomas Arnold. In 1909 when the Royal University was replaced by the National University of Ireland, O'Neill became a founding fellow and was nominated the first professor of English language and philosophy in 1910. He held this post until his departure at the age of 60 for Australia. One of his pupils was the young James Joyce.

O'Neill was sent to the Australian Jesuit Mission in 1923 at his own request, influenced by a period of ill health and a sense of dissatisfaction at the approach of retirement. Archbishop Mannix was keen to obtain distinguished staff for his new seminary, Corpus Christi College, Werribee, Victoria, and O'Neill became professor of modern languages (1923-45) and of church history (1932-45), and lectured and wrote in theology, history, literature and aesthetics. In 1945 when his eyesight and health were failing, he retired to Canisius College, Pymble, Sydney. He died on 19 July 1947 and was buried in Gore Hill cemetery.

A somewhat reticent and scholarly figure, O'Neill was nevertheless warm, frank, cultured and friendly, respected for his good critical judgement, his moral qualities of courage and sympathy for others, and his spiritual outlook. He was a precocious linguist, being thoroughly at home in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, German and Italian, a fine pianist and occasional composer, an omnivorous reader and, though not a great supporter of the Irish revival, was a correspondent of Canon Sheehan, Lady Gregory and Louise Guiney. Among his publications were studies of Shakespeare and of English poetry, a history of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay, scripture and poetry anthologies, a Newman reader, and a study of Job. He served as editorial consultant and wrote for a number of scholarly journals, including the Lyceum and the New Ireland Review, and contributed over thirty articles to the Jesuit publication Studies. His best writing is to be found in the Life of the Reverend Julian Edmund Tenison Woods (1929) and Life of Mother Mary of the Cross, 1842-1909 (1931).

Select Bibliography

  • U. M. L. Bygott, With Pen and Tongue (Melb, 1980)
  • Irish Province News, 5, no 3, July 1947, p 238
  • Society of Jesus, Irish province archives, Dublin and Australian province archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne.

Citation details

J. Eddy, 'O'Neill, George (1863–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oneill-george-7909/text13757, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 September 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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