seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Peig Sayers, Author & Seanchaí

peig-sayersPeig Sayers, Irish author and seanchaí, is born in the townland of Vicarstown, Dunquin, County Kerry, on March 29, 1873. Seán Ó Súilleabháin, the former archivist for the Irish Folklore Commission, describes her as “one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times.”

Sayers is born Máiréad (Margaret) Sayers, the youngest child of the family. She is called Peig after her mother, Margaret “Peig” Brosnan, from Castleisland. Her father Tomás Sayers is a renowned storyteller who passes on many of his tales to Peig. At age 12, she is taken out of school and goes to work as a servant for the Curran family in the nearby town of Dingle. She spends two years there before returning home due to illness.

She spends the next few years as a domestic servant working for members of the growing middle class produced by the Land War. She plans to join her best friend, Cáit Boland, in the United States, but Boland writes that she has had an accident and can not forward the cost of the fare. Peig moves to the Great Blasket Island after marrying Pádraig Ó Guithín, a fisherman and native of the island, on February 13, 1892. She and Pádraig have eleven children, of whom six survive.

The Norwegian scholar Carl Marstrander, who visits the island in 1907, urges Robin Flower of the British Museum to visit the Blaskets. Flower is keenly appreciative of Sayers’ stories and tales. He records them and brings them to the attention of the academic world.

In the 1930s, a Dublin teacher, Máire Ní Chinnéide, who is a regular visitor to the Blaskets, urges Sayers to tell her life story to her son Micheál. She is illiterate in the Irish language, although she receives her early schooling through the medium of English. She dictates her biography to Micheál. He then sends the manuscript pages to Máire Ní Chinnéide in Dublin, who edits them for publication. It is published in 1936.

Over several years beginning in 1938 she dictates 350 ancient legends, ghost stories, folk stories, and religious stories to Seosamh Ó Dálaigh of the Irish Folklore Commission.

Sayers continues to live on the island until 1942, when she leaves the Island and returns to her native Dunquin. She is moved to a hospital in Dingle, County Kerry where she dies on December 8, 1958. She is buried in the Dún Chaoin Burial Ground on the Dingle Peninsula. Her surviving children, except for her son Micheál, emigrate to the United States and live with their descendants in Springfield, Massachusetts.


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Founding of the Gaelic League

conradh-na-gaeilge-logoThe Gaelic League (Irish: Conradh na Gaeilge), a social and cultural organisation which promotes the Irish language in Ireland and worldwide is founded in Dublin on July 31, 1893.

Conradh na Gaeilge is founded by Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector from Frenchpark, County Roscommon, with the aid of Eugene O’Growney, Eoin MacNeill, Thomas O’Neill Russell, and others. The organisation develops from Ulick Bourke‘s earlier Gaelic Union and becomes the leading institution promoting the Gaelic Revival, carrying on efforts like the publishing of the Gaelic Journal. The League’s first newspaper is An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light) and its most noted editor is Patrick Pearse. The motto of the League is Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin amháin (Ourselves, Ourselves alone).

The League encourages female participation from the start and a number of women play a prominent role. They are not restricted to subordinate roles, but play an active part in leadership, although males are in the overwhelming majority. Local notables, such as Lady Gregory in Galway, Lady Esmonde in County Wexford, and Mary Spring Rice in County Limerick, and others such as Norma Borthwick, found and lead branches in their communities. At the annual national convention in 1906 women are elected to seven of the forty-five positions on the Gaelic League executive. Executive members include Máire Ní Chinnéide, Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh (who writes pamphlets on behalf of the League), Bean an Doc Uí Choisdealbha, Máire Ní hAodáin, Máire de Buitléir, Nellie O’Brien, Eibhlín Ní Dhonnabháin, and Eibhlín Nic Néill.

Though apolitical, the organisation attracts many Irish nationalists of different persuasions, much like the Gaelic Athletic Association. It is through the League that many future political leaders and rebels first meet, laying the foundation for groups such as the Irish Volunteers. However, Conradh na Gaeilge does not commit itself entirely to the national movement until 1915, causing the resignation of Douglas Hyde, who feels that the culture of language should be above politics. Most of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation are members. It still continues to attract many Irish Republicans. Seán Mac Stíofáin, the first chief of staff of the Provisional IRA was a prominent member in his later life.

After the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the organisation has a less prominent role in public life as Irish is made a compulsory subject in state-funded schools. It does unexpectedly bad in the Irish Seanad election of 1925, when all the candidates it endorses are defeated, including Hyde.