• Liam Price and Wicklow

    William George Price, youngest son of George Roberts Price and Katie Askin, was born on 23rd February, 1891. William, or Liam as he was more usually known, went to Aldenham Public School in England. He was a graduate of Classics from Trinity College, Dublin, where he subsequently qualified as a barrister. While apparently unsympathetic to the Republican cause during 1916, only a few years later he practiced in the underground Republican courts, and after the foundation of the State he became a District Justice, serving as such initially in Mullingar and Kilkenny, and from 1924 until his retirement in 1960 he served in Wicklow.

    In 1923 Price met Dorothy Stopford, a medical doctor, and a niece of the historian Alice Stopford-Green. One day during the autumn of 1924 at Luggala in County Wicklow, Price proposed, and they were married on 8th January 1925. The best man at the wedding was his good fried, Dermot Coffey, son of George Coffey, a former Keeper of Antiquities in the National Museum of Ireland. The diaries of Signe Toksvig, the Danish-born wife of the writer Francis Hackett, provide rare glimpses into the personalities of Liam and Dorothy Price. Following a visit to their home on 11th October 1932, Toksvig wrote; “Price so straight-forward and shyly sweet and she herself well in hand, was a good hostess” (Pihl 1994, 213).

    Liam Price had an inexhaustible passion for local archaeology, history, folklore and placenames. He was a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a member of the Board of Visitors of the National Museum of Ireland. From 1949-1952 he was President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Indeed, it is perhaps fitting that he began his term of Presidency during the centenary year of the Society. He was also editor of the Society’s Journal for twenty years, and the diversity of his own interests and research is highlighted by the impressive range of topics featured in his own articles and notes, which appeared frequently that Journal, and also the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Outside archaeology and history, as a member of the Folklore Commission since its foundation, Price encouraged the documentation of oral folk traditions. Joseph Raftery noted “his interests took precedence over his formal work, so that, in the minds of his contemporaries, he appeared to be a scholar of note whose hobby was the law” (obituary, Annual Report of the Royal Irish Academy, 1966-7). Price principally focused his research in County Wicklow, and he published a wide range of articles on the antiquities, history and placenames of the county. He frequently used his free time before or after a session at one of the Wicklow Courts to visit an antiquity or interview an old man about the local placenames and traditions. Over the years Price recorded much of his field work in a series of 28 notebooks (Corlett & Weaver 2002), which provide a wonderful account of his travels, primarily through Wicklow, and highlight the breadth of his interest.

    Price was also a patron of the Irish Placenames Commission until his death. He was not a fluent Irish speaker, but he acquired a good knowledge of the language. Despite this, Price is best remembered for his outstanding work The Placenames of County Wicklow, which was published by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in seven volumes (1945-1967). He compensated for his lack of fluency in Irish, with a methodical analysis of the evolution of placenames in historical documents. Following his publication of the placenames of the barony of Arklow in volume 46C of the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, T.F. O’Rahilly wrote to Price proposing to him that he should publish his research into Wicklow placenames in book form for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. In his letter (dated 21/3/1941, and preserved in Price’s papers in the Placenames Branch) O’Rahilly wrote “I regard your work as a model of its kind”. Following the publication of the second Wicklow volume for the Institute, Michael Duignan of University College Galway wrote; “What labour, care and patience and skill you have brought to your task” (letter dated 29/1/1947, preserved in Price’s papers in the Placenames Branch). Price did not confine his work on placenames to the seven Wicklow volumes published by the Institute – he also published a variety of short notes on placenames elsewhere, and his familiarity with both placenames and historical document must have proved invaluable in his compilation of an index to accompany the publication of Archbishop Alen’s Register (McNeill 1950).

    Another important piece of work which Liam Price was involved in was the Poulaphuca Survey of 1939. Co-ordinated by Price, small teams of people from various backgrounds volunteered their time and skills during the summer months of 1939 in an attempt to record as much information as possible about the landscape to be flooded the following year by the Liffey Reservoir Scheme. The main fieldwork was carried-out during the months of May, June and July, 1939. The fieldworkers quickly returned typescript copies of their reports, supported with sketches and photographs, to Liam Price. The main themes targeted by the Survey were placenames, vernacular architecture and folklore. The vast majority of photographs and sketches relate to the exteriors and interiors of houses, as well as domestic and agricultural furnishings. In terms of folklore and folk life, special attention was given to aspects of vernacular architecture, including thatching, as well as farming and land divisions. One of the great strengths of the Survey is the photographic record. Price would not see this material published in his own lifetime (Corlett 2008).

    In an introduction to Volume 95 of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, papers in honour of Liam Price, A.T. Lucas wrote that wherever “there was good to be done by counsel, persuasion, diplomacy and, above all, by work, he has been there to do it, but so successful has he been in doing good by stealth that even his closest friends hardly realize how pervasive has been his influence”. In an obituary only three years later, Eamonn de hÓir (1968) wrote “He was kindly, considerate and hospitable, and was always willing to help others from his own store of knowledge, often going to considerable trouble to do so”. An obituary in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society claimed “His passing is not only a loss to our Society, but to the many other Societies of which he was a member” (Anon. 1966/7).


    Anon. 1966/7 Obituaries. Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society 14(2).

    Corlett, C., 2008, Beneath the Poulaphuca Reservoir – the 1939 Poulaphuca Survey of the lands flooded by the Liffey Reservoir Scheme. Dublin.

    Corlett, C. & Weaver, M. 2002 The Price Notebooks, 2 Vols. Dublin.

    de HÓir, E. 1968 Liam Price. Onoma 12(1966/67), 2-3.

    McNeill, C. (1950) Calender of Archbishop Alen’s Register c. 1172-1534. Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Dublin.

    O’Broin, L. 1985 Protestant nationalists in revolutionary Ireland: the Stopford Connection. Gill and MacMillan, Dublin.

    Pihl, L. (ed.) 1994 Signe Toksvig’s Irish Diaries 1926-1937. The Lilliput Press Ltd., Dublin.



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