Risteárd Ó Glaisne, teacher and writer with a lifelong commitment to the Irish language, dies in Dublin on November 6, 2003. He is the author of biographies of two former Presidents, Douglas Hyde (pictured) and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.
Risteárd Earnán Ó Glaisne is born on September 2, 1927 near Bandon, County Cork, the third of four children of George William Giles and his wife, Sara Jane (née Vickery). Educated at Bandon Grammar School and Trinity College Dublin, he graduates with a BA in 1949 and obtains a master’s degree in 1959. At TCD he is greatly influenced by Daithí Ó hUaithne.
Ó Glaisne first becomes interested in the Irish language at school in Bandon. His headmaster gives him a copy of Liam Ó Rinn‘s Peann agus Pár, along with a book of poems by Ivan Turgenev translated into Irish by Ó Rinn. “I suddenly found myself breaking into a world vastly larger than my own world in Irish,” he recalls. “The quality of mind I encountered made me realise I could never again connect Irish only with poteen and potatoes.”
Ó Glaisne further explores the language by making contact with the few native Irish speakers left in the Bandon area. He gradually comes to the conclusion that he is a member of a nation that has an extremely old and in many ways distinguished culture, of which Irish has been historically an integral part. Deciding that Irish best reflects the society in which he grew up and reflects him as an individual, he adopts it as his first language.
On graduating from TCD Ó Glaisne teaches Irish at Avoca School, Blackrock. He later teaches in St. Andrew’s College, Dublin, and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, where he ends his teaching career in 1989. He took a career break in the mid-1960s to study the French educational system and to travel on the Continent.
To perfect his Irish Ó Glaisne holidays on the Great Blasket Island, where he immerses himself in the rich oral culture. He makes many friends among the islanders, and the friendships continue after they are resettled on the mainland in Dún Chaoin. He regularly visits Corca Dhuibhne to meet friends like Muiris Mhaidhc Léan Ó Guithín, one of the last surviving islanders, and to enjoy the annual Ceiliúradh an Bhlascaoid.
Ó Glaisne holds that Protestants have enjoyed a long association with Irish, pointing to 18th-century followers of John Wesley such as Charles Graham, Gideon Ousley and Tomás Breathnach, who evangelised in Irish. He firmly believes that Protestants can be “every whit as Irish” as Roman Catholics. He urges his co-religionists to identify fully with Ireland.
Ó Glaisne is the founder and editor of Focus (1958-66), a monthly magazine that aims to help Protestants “come to an understanding of their cultural heritage.” He is a regular contributor to programmes on RTÉ and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, and writes for Comhar, Inniú, An tUltach and The Irish Times.
Ó Glaisne is the author of over 20 books and pamphlets in Irish. These include biographies of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ian Paisley, Tomás Ó Fiaich and Dúbhglas de hÍde. Other works include a history of Methodism in Ireland, a book of essays on early revivalist writers and a manual for beginners in journalism. He also writes Saoirse na mBan (1973), Gaeilge i gColáiste na Trionóide 1592-1992 (1992) and Coláiste Moibhí (2002), a history of the preparatory college for Protestant teachers.
Generous with his time and knowledge, Ó Glaisne makes a point of encouraging young writers.
(From: “Worked to make Protestants aware of Irish culture heritage,” The Irish Times, Saturday, November 15, 2003)