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Eoin McKiernan, 89; promoted Irish culture, language

ST. PAUL -- Eoin McKiernan, founder of the Irish American Cultural Institute, died Sunday of natural causes at a nursing home. He was 89.

Mr. McKiernan was credited with leading efforts to revive and preserve the Irish culture and language in the United States. He wanted people to see beyond the hoopla of St. Patrick's Day and enjoy Irish folktales, artists, dances, and history.

As Irish-Americans assimilated in the United States, Mr. McKiernan feared that their heritage was being lost, his son Kevin said. That prompted Mr. McKiernan to create dozens of public television programs celebrating Irish artists and history.

He also started the institute, organized tours to Ireland, and established a journal of Irish studies.

He wanted people ''to know who they were. To understand that they weren't acting in a vacuum, but that they came from somewhere," Kevin McKiernan said.

Born in 1915 in New York City, Mr. McKiernan earned his bachelor's degree in literature and classical languages from St. Joseph's College in New York, a master's degree in psychology from the University of New Hampshire, and his doctorate from Penn State University.

He moved to St. Paul in 1960 to head the English department at the University of St. Thomas.

While in St. Paul, he founded the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1962 as an educational, cultural, and information resource.

Programs benefiting from his work send US students to study and travel in Ireland.

In 1999, Mr. McKiernan was named by Irish America magazine as one of the Greatest Irish-Americans of the century, along with President John F. Kennedy and artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

''Eoin McKiernan's achievements in and contributions to the world of Irish studies and Irish culture are immeasurable. Ireland and Irish America have lost a great man," John P. Walsh, chairman of the Irish American Cultural Institute, now based in New Jersey, said in a statement.

''He was a major pioneer in restoring a sense of Irish culture in the United States," said Lawrence O'Shaughnessy, a St. Paul philanthropist who donated $1 million to St. Thomas in 1997 for a Center of Irish Studies in honor of Mr. McKiernan.

Mr. McKiernan leaves nine children, 34 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be held today in St. Paul.

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