seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Máirín Cregan, Nationalist, Playwright, & Novelist

Máirín Cregan, Irish nationalist who is involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence, is born in Killorglin, County Kerry, on March 27, 1891. She later makes her name writing for children, as well as writing plays and novels for adults.

Mary Ellen Cregan is born to Morgan Cregan and Ellen O’Shea. Her father is a stonemason from Limerick. The family are strong believers in the Gaelic revival movement and Cregan herself learns the Irish language and performs songs at Gaelic League concerts. Although she goes to primary school locally, she goes away to secondary school to St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. After finishing school, she becomes a teacher, working in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny from 1911 to 1914.

In September 1914 Cregan goes to Dublin to study music in the Leinster School of Music, under Madame Coslett Heller. It is while she is in Dublin that she becomes friends with the Ryan family, who are strong nationalists as well as interested in the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. She begins to sing for concerts which are fundraisers for the Irish Volunteers. The last concert is just two weeks before the Easter Rising.

During Easter week Cregan is sent to Tralee with “automatics and ammunition” by Seán Mac Diarmada. While she is carrying a violin case of munitions, she is also carrying details for the wireless technology needed for communicating with the SS Aud, the boat which is carrying more weapons for the rebellion. The communications with the SS Aud goes wrong when the car carrying the Volunteers goes off a pier and the occupants are drowned. She is still in the area to assist with the surviving Volunteer, who unfortunately knows nothing of the details for the SS Aud. She is not easily able to get back to Dublin, because owing to the Rising the city is cut off. By the time she gets back, her friends have been arrested.

When Cregan is going to school in Dublin she is also working in a school in Rathmines. Like many of the teachers, she loses her job after the rising because of her connection to the rebels. However, she is able to get new positions over the next few years in both Ballyshannon and Portstewart until she marries. In Ballyshannon she experiences the early expressions of support and sympathy, but Portstewart is a Unionist enclave with many houses flying union flags on polling day in 1918.

Cregan is a member of Cumann na mBan and with them is active during the Irish War of Independence. She is given a medal for her participation. On July 23, 1919 she marries Dr. James Ryan in Athenry, County Galway. His entire family had been deeply involved in the Easter Rising, as well as the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They have three children, Eoin, who becomes a Senator, Nuala (Colgan) and Seamus.

The family is initially based in Wexford during the War. The house is often raided when the British soldiers are looking for her husband and Cregan herself is arrested in February 1921 for refusing to put up martial law posters. Later the family sells the house and remains mobile while she works for the Sinn Féin government and her husband is in prison. It is during this time that she works as a courier to the continent and to London. After the war, they purchase Kindlestown House in Delgany, County Wicklow, where they remain for the rest of their lives.

Cregan works as a journalist for The Irish Press and The Sunday Press. Her political awareness and involvement means that her work there is on political articles.

Cregan’s first book for children is Old John and gains her considerable international success and attention. Sean Eoin is also published in Irish, and is illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats. Her work is also aired on the BBC and RTÉ. Rathina wins the Downey Award in the United States in 1943. She also writes two plays: Hunger strike (1933), based on experience of her husband’s involvement in such a strike, which is broadcast on Radio Éireann on May 5, 1936, and Curlew’s call (1940).

Cregan dies on November 9, 1975 in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Redford cemetery near her home in County Wicklow.

(Pictured: Máirín Cregan and her husband, Dr. James Ryan)


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Death of Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, Irish Republican & Lifelong Radical

Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, Irish republican and lifelong radical, dies in Sneem, County Kerry, on January 16, 1955. She campaigns passionately for causes as diverse as the reform of nursing, protection and promotion of the Irish language and the freedom of Ireland from British rule.

Ní Bhruadair is born the Hon. Albinia Lucy Brodrick on December 17, 1861 at 23 Chester Square, Belgrave, London, the fifth daughter of William Brodrick, 8th Viscount Midleton (1830–1907), and his wife, Augusta Mary (née Freemantle), daughter of Thomas Fremantle, 1st Baron Cottesloe. She spends her early childhood in London until the family moves to their country estate in Peper Harow, Surrey in 1870. Educated privately, she travels extensively across the continent and speaks fluent German, Italian and French, and has a reading knowledge of Latin.

Ní Bhruadair’s family is an English Protestant aristocratic one which has been at the forefront of British rule in Ireland since the 17th century. In the early twentieth century it includes leaders of the Unionist campaign against Irish Home Rule. Her brother, St. John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton, is a nominal leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance from 1910 until 1918 when he and other Unionists outside Ulster establish the Irish Unionist Anti-Partition League.

The polar opposite of Ní Bhruadair, her brother is consistent in his low opinion of the Irish and holds imperialist views that warmly embrace much of the jingoism associated with social Darwinism. The young Albinia Lucy Brodrick conforms to her familial political views on Ireland, if her authorship of the pro-Unionist song “Irishmen stand” is an indicator. However, by the start of the twentieth century she becomes a regular visitor to her father’s estate in County Cork. There she begins to educate herself about Ireland and begins to reject the views about Ireland that she had been raised on. In 1902 she writes about the need to develop Irish industry and around the same time she begins to develop an interest in the Gaelic revival. She begins to pay regular visits to the Gaeltacht where she becomes fluent in Irish and is horrified at the abject poverty of the people.

From this point on, Ní Bhruadair’s affinity with Ireland and Irish culture grows intensely. Upon her father’s death in 1907 she becomes financially independent and in 1908 purchases a home near West Cove, Caherdaniel, County Kerry. The same year she establishes an agricultural cooperative there to develop local industry. She organises classes educating people on diet, encourages vegetarianism and, during the smallpox epidemic of 1910, nurses the local people. Determined to establish a hospital for local poor people, she travels to the United States to raise funds.

There Ní Bhruadair takes the opportunity to study American nursing, meets leading Irish Americans and becomes more politicised to Ireland’s cause. Upon her return to Kerry she establishes a hospital in Caherdaniel later in 1910. She renames the area Ballincoona (Baile an Chúnaimh, ‘the home of help’), but it is unsuccessful and eventually closes for lack of money. She writes on health matters for The Englishwoman and Fortnightly, among other journals, is a member of the council of the National Council of Trained Nurses and gives evidence to the royal commission on venereal disease in 1914.

Ní Bhruadair is a staunch supporter of the 1916 Easter Rising. She joins both Cumann na mBan and Sinn Féin. She visits some of the 1,800 Irish republican internees held by the British in Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and writes to the newspapers with practical advice for intending visitors. She canvasses for various Sinn Féin candidates during the 1918 Irish general election and is a Sinn Féin member on Kerry county council (1919–21), becoming one of its reserve chairpersons. During the Irish War of Independence she shelters Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and consequently her home becomes the target for Black and Tans attacks.

Along with Dr. Kathleen Lynn she works with the Irish White Cross to distribute food to the dependents of IRA volunteers. By the end of the Irish War of Independence she has become hardened by the suffering she has seen and is by now implacably opposed to British rule in Ireland. She becomes one of the most vociferous voices against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921. She becomes a firebrand speaker at meetings in the staunchly republican West Kerry area. In April 1923 she is shot by Irish Free State troops and arrested. She is subsequently imprisoned in the North Dublin Union, where she follows the example of other republicans and goes on hunger strike. She is released two weeks later. Following the formation of Fianna Fáil by Éamon de Valera in 1926, she continues to support the more hardline Sinn Féin.

In October 1926 Ní Bhruadair represents Munster at the party’s Ardfheis. She owns the party’s semi-official organ, Irish Freedom, from 1926–37, where she frequently contributes articles and in its later years acts as editor. Her home becomes the target of the Free State government forces in 1929 following an upsurge in violence from anti-Treaty republicans against the government. She and her close friend Mary MacSwiney leave Cumann na mBan following the decision by its members at their 1933 convention to pursue social radicalism. The two then establish an all-women’s nationalist movement named Mná na Poblachta, which fails to attract many new members.

Ní Bhruadair continues to speak Irish and regularly attends Conradh na Gaeilge branch meetings in Tralee. Although sympathetic to Catholicism, she remains a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland, and regularly plays the harmonium at Sneem’s Church of Ireland services. Described by a biographer as “a woman of frugal habits and decided opinions, she was in many ways difficult and eccentric.” She dies on January 16, 1955, and is buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Sneem, County Kerry.

In her will Ní Bhruadair leaves most of her wealth (£17,000) to republicans “as they were in the years 1919 to 1921.” The vagueness of her bequest leads to legal wrangles for decades. Finally, in February 1979, Justice Seán Gannon rules that the bequest is void for remoteness, as it is impossible to determine which republican faction meets her criteria.


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Death of Pádraic Ó Conaire, Writer & Journalist

Pádraic Ó Conaire, Irish writer and journalist whose production is primarily in the Irish language, dies in Dublin on October 6, 1928. In his lifetime he writes 26 books, 473 stories, 237 essays and 6 plays. His acclaimed novel Deoraíocht has been described by Angela Bourke as “the earliest example of modernist fiction in Irish.”

Ó Conaire is born in the Lobster Pot public house on the New Docks in Galway, County Galway, on February 28, 1882. His father is a publican, who owns two premises in the town., and his mother is Kate McDonagh. He is orphaned by the age of eleven. He spends a period living with his uncle in Gairfean, Ros Muc, Connemara. The area is in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) and Ó Conaire learns to speak Irish fluently.

Ó Conaire emigrates to London in 1899 where he gets a job with the Board of Education and becomes involved in the work of the Gaelic League. A pioneer in the Gaelic revival in the last century, he and Pádraig Pearse are regarded as being the two most important Irish language short story writers during the first decades of the 20th century.

Ó Conaire marries Molly Ní Mhanais, with whom he has four children: Eileen (b. 22 Feb 1905), Patrick (b. 3 Nov 1906), Kathleen (b. 24 Feb 1909), and Mary Josephine (b. 28 Jul 1911), who dies of diphtheria in 1922.

Ó Conaire returns to Ireland in 1914, leaving his family in London. Living mostly in Galway, he earns a meagre living through writing, teaching at Gaeltacht summer schools, and as an occasional organiser for the Gaelic League.

Ó Conaire dies at the age of 46 on October 6, 1928, while on a visit to Dublin, after complaining of internal pains while at the head office of the Gaelic League. His fellow poet Frederick Robert Higgins writes a celebrated Lament for Pádraic Ó Conaire.

Ó Conaire has family still living to this day in England, as well as in Galway and Canada. The Ó Conaire surname is still strong in the Ros Muc area.

Ó Conaire’s short story M’asal Beag Dubh is the inspiration for an Internet-based satire on the football transfer market. The fictitious character Masal Bugduv is created. The name sounds similar to the Gaelic pronunciation of M’asal Beag Dubh. Journalists who did not fact check quite as thoroughly as they should have missed the satire and tell the world of the up-and-coming Moldovan star.

A statue of Ó Conaire’s is unveiled in 1935 by Éamon de Valera in Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City. It is popular with tourists until it is decapitated by four men in 1999. It is repaired at a cost of £50,000 and moved to Galway City Museum in 2004. A bronze replica of the statue is unveiled in Eyre Square in November 2017.


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Death of Margaret Emmeline Dobbs, Scholar & Playwright

Margaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish language, dies in Cushendall, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on January 2, 1962.

Dobbs is born in County Antrim on November 19, 1871 to barrister Conway Edward Dobbs who is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875 and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. Her mother is Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland of Eglantine, County Down. The family spends time living in Dublin where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish, however, when her father dies in 1898 her mother moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs is interested in learning Irish and finds it easier to learn in County Donegal where it is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. She is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The year 1904 sees the “Great Feis” in Antrim and Dobbs is a founder member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are actually performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. Her plays, however, are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique and in the Irish magazine Ériu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. Although her political views are not clearly known, Dobbs has been a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

Dobbs dies at her home, Portnagolan House, Cushendall, on January 2, 1962.


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Founding of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language

The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (Irish: Cumann Buan-Choimeádta na Gaeilge), a cultural organisation which is part of the Gaelic revival of the period, is formed in Dublin on December 29, 1876.

Present at the initial meeting are Charles Dawson, High Sheriff of Limerick City, Timothy Daniel Sullivan, editor of The Nation, and Bryan O’Looney. Writing in 1937, Douglas Hyde also remembers himself, George Sigerson, Thomas O’Neill Russell, J. J. McSweeney of the Royal Irish Academy, and future MP James O’Connor as being present. Its patron is John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, its first president is Lord Francis Conyngham and its first vice-presidents include Isaac Butt and Charles Owen O’Conor.

Unlike similar organisations of the time, which are antiquarian in nature, the SPIL aims at protecting the status of the Irish language, which is threatened with extinction at the time. Its mission statement says that it is “possible and desirable to preserve the Irish Language in those parts of the Country where it is spoken, with a view to its further extension and cultivation.” Hyde writes that the formation of the society can truly be said to be the first attempt made to recruit the common people to the cause of the Irish language. The society succeeds in having Irish included on the curriculum of primary and secondary schools and third-level colleges in 1878.

The membership of the SPIL includes Protestant Ascendancy figures such as John Vesey, 4th Viscount de Vesci, and Colonel W. E. A. Macdonnell. Horace Plunkett represents the Society at the 1901 Pan-Celtic Congress in Dublin. It takes a conciliatory approach to the British government and civil service in pursuing its aims, in contrast to the later Gaelic League, which is anti-British in character.


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Birth of Poet James Clarence Mangan

Mangan bustJames Clarence Mangan, Irish poet, is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


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Birth of Peadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Irish Language Writer

peadar-toner-mac-fhionnlaoichPeadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Irish language writer during the Gaelic revival known as Cú Uladh (The Hound of Ulster), is born in Allt an Iarainn, County Donegal on October 5, 1857. He writes stories based on Irish folklore, some of the first Irish language plays, and regularly writes articles in most of the Irish language newspapers such as An Claidheamh Soluis.

Mac Fhionnlaoich is the son of Micheal McGinley and Susan Toner. He attends school locally until he is seventeen. He then attends Blackrock College in Dublin for two years. Upon leaving school he enters into the British Civil Service becoming an Inland Revenue Officer. In 1895 he marries Elizabeth Woods (Irish: Sibhéal Ní Uadhaigh) and they have twelve children. He speaks Irish from an early age and keeps an interest in the language throughout his life, first publishing an Irish language short story and poem in The Donegal Christmas Annual 1883. It is not until 1895 while living in Belfast that he becomes involved in the Gaelic Movement.

It is in Mac Fhionnlaoich’s Belfast home that the first meeting of the Ulster branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge takes place in 1895. From this point on he becomes very involved in Conradh na Gaeilge becoming the organisations president on several occasions.

Mac Fhionnlaoich is a member of Seanad Éireann from 1938 to 1942 when he is nominated by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera.

Mac Fhionnlaoich dies at the age of 84 on July 1, 1942 in Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Michael Cusack, Founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is born to Irish speaking parents on September 20, 1847 in the parish of Carran on the eastern fringe of the Burren, County Clare during the Great Famine.

Cusack becomes a national school teacher, and after teaching in various parts of Ireland becomes a professor in 1874 at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own Civil Service Academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also “reputed” to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Conradh na Gaeilge who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his. He recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agreed it was time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack, together with Maurice Davin of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, call a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and found the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke (May 28, 1824 – July 22, 1902), Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin at the age of 59 on November 27, 1906.


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Death of Michael Cusack, Founder of the GAA

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, dies in Dublin on November 25, 1906.

Cusack is born on the eastern fringe of the Burren to Irish speaking parents in Carran, County Clare on September 20, 1847, during the Great Famine. He becomes a national school teacher and in 1874, after teaching in various parts of Ireland, becomes a professor at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own civil service academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also reputed to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival, initially as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Gaelic League who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that he and Nally agree on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics.

He would recall how both Nally and himself, While walking through Phoenix Park in Dublin and seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depresses Cusack and Nally that they agree it is time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to artisans in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack together with Maurice Davin, of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, calls a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and founds the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin on November 27, 1906 at the age of 59. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.


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Birth of Eugene O’Growney, Priest & Scholar

Eugene O’Growney, Irish priest and scholar, and a key figure in the Gaelic revival of the late 19th century, is born on August 25, 1863 at Ballyfallon, Athboy, County Meath.

The Irish language has largely retreated from Meath when O’Growney is born, and neither of his parents speak it. He becomes interested in the language when he chances upon the Irish lessons in the nationalist newspaper Young Ireland. He has help at first from a few old people who speak the language, and while at Maynooth, where he continues his studies for the priesthood from the year 1882, he spends his holidays in Irish-speaking areas in the north, west and south. He gets to know the Aran Islands and writes about them in the bilingual Gaelic Journal (Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge), which he is later to edit. He is ordained in 1888. His proficiency in the language leads him to be appointed in the re-established Chair of Irish at Maynooth in 1891. He is editor of the Gaelic Journal between 1894 and 1899 and during his tenure ensures that more material is published in Irish.

For O’Growney language, nationality and religion are closely linked. In 1890, writing in the Irish Ecclesiastical Review, he describes literature in Irish as “the most Catholic literature in the world.” He is aware, however, of its other aspects, adding that “even if Irish were to perish as a spoken language, it would remain valuable from the pure literature point of view.”

His Simple Lessons in Irish, first published in the newspaper The Weekly Freeman, proves so popular that they are published in booklet form. There are five books in the series and 320,000 copies have been sold by 1903. In a foreword he states:

“The following course of simple lessons in Irish has been drawn up chiefly for the use of those who wish to learn the old language of Ireland, but who are discouraged by what they have heard of its difficulties… But the difficulties of Irish pronunciation and construction have always been exaggerated. A I myself was obliged to study Irish as a foreign language, and as I have been placed in circumstances which have made me rather familiar with the language as now spoken, I have at least a knowledge of the difficulties of those who, like myself, have no teacher.”

O’Growney is a founding member of the Gaelic League, which is created in Dublin in 1893 “for the purpose of keeping the Irish language spoken in Ireland,” and later becomes its vice-president.

In 1894, failing health causes him to go to Arizona and California, where he dies in Los Angeles on October 18, 1899. Some years later, with the aid of Irish sympathisers in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland. His funeral, held on September 26, 1903 at the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by 6,000 people, including members of the trade guilds, clerics, politicians, members of the nationalist Gaelic Athletic Association and students. He is buried at Maynooth.

(Pictured: Statue of Fr. Eugene O’Growney on the grounds of St. James’ Church in Athboy, courtesy of http://www.athboyparish.ie)