Máirtín Ó Cadhain, one of the most prominent Irish language writers of the twentieth century, dies on October 18, 1970. Perhaps best known for his 1949 work Cré na Cille, Ó Cadhain plays a key role in bringing literary modernism to contemporary Irish language literature.
Born in Connemara, County Galway, Ó Cadhain becomes a schoolteacher but is dismissed due to his membership in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In the 1930s he serves as an IRA recruiting officer, enlisting fellow writer Brendan Behan, and participates in the land campaign of the native speakers, which leads to the establishment of the Ráth Cairn neo-Gaeltacht in County Meath. Subsequently, he is arrested and interned in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare during the Emergency years due to his continued involvement in the violent activities of the IRA.
Ó Cadhain’s politics are a nationalist mix of Marxism and social radicalism tempered with a rhetorical anti-clericalism. In his writings concerning the future of the Irish language he is, however, practical about the position of the Catholic Church as a social and societal institution, craving rather for a wholehearted commitment to the language cause even among Catholic churchmen. It is his view that, as the Church is there anyway, it would be better if it were more willing to address the Faithful in the national idiom.
As a writer, Ó Cadhain is acknowledged to be a pioneer of Irish language modernism. His Irish is the dialect of Connemara but he is happy to cannibalise other dialects, classical literature and even Scots Gaelic for the sake of linguistic and stylistic enrichment of his own writings. Consequently, much of what he writes is reputedly hard to read for a non-native speaker.
Ó Cadhain is a prolific writer of short stories. His collections of short stories include Cois Caoláire, An Braon Broghach, Idir Shúgradh agus Dháiríre, An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, An tSraith Tógtha and An tSraith ar Lár. He also writes three novels, of which only Cré na Cille is published during his lifetime. The other two, Athnuachan and Barbed Wire, appear in print only recently. He translates Charles Kickham‘s novel Sally Kavanagh into Irish as Saile Chaomhánach, nó na hUaigheanna Folmha. He also writes several political or linguo-political pamphlets. His political views can most easily be discerned in a small book about the development of Irish nationalism and extremism since Theobald Wolfe Tone, Tone Inné agus Inniu. In the early 1960s he writes, partly in Irish, partly in English, a comprehensive survey of the social status and actual use of the language in the west of Ireland, published as An Ghaeilge Bheo – Destined to Pass. In August 1969 he delivers a speech, published as Gluaiseacht na Gaeilge: Gluaiseacht ar Strae, in which he speaks of the role Irish speakers should take in ‘Athghabháil na hÉireann’, or the Re-Conquest of Ireland as James Connolly first coins the term.
He and Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin are considered the two most innovative Gaelic authors to emerge in the 1960s. He has frequent difficulties to get his work edited, but unpublished writings have appeared at least every two years since the publication of Athnuachan in the mid-nineties.
A lecture hall at Trinity College, Dublin is named after Ó Cadhain who was professor of Irish. A bronze bust is also located in the Irish department.