Lón Nollag Uí Ghadhra – Nua Eabhrach  - 16 NOV 2008

 The award luncheon for presentation of the Eoghan O’Growney award for contribution to the Irish language was held at O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub in New York City.  In opening the occasion, Liam Ó Murchadha, Chairman of Cáirde na Teanga, asked for a moment of prayer for the soul of Joe Madden, All-Ireland champion accordionist, and father of Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies, and for Joe’s family (Joe having just died as the result of an accident).  Liam read a message received from Mary Coogan (also of Cherish the Ladies) which described Joe’s death as “a tragedy beyond words.” 

Liam reflected that The Irish nation suffered another great loss earlier in the year, a loss felt not only by the people of Ireland, but by Ireland’s exiled children in America, and throughout Europe and, in deed the world.  When Nollaig Ó Gadhra was taken from us this past summer we lost a man who, while he was with us, was what the Japanese would have called a living national treasure.  Throughout his lifetime, he was our teacher, and our inspiration.  He capped a career as a champion of the Irish language (An Ghaeilge) as Uachtarán (President) Conradh  na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) he directed the campaign to have Irish recognized as an official European language in the European Union (EU), gaining not only recognition for the language, but enhancing the employability of Irish people in the EU, which has a three-language requirement for many positions. 

Cáirde na Teanga, to help keep green the memory of Nollaig and of his mighty works, have re-named the award luncheon for the Eoghan O’Growney award for the promotion of the Irish language as Lón Nollag Ghadhra.   

The late Brother Charles B. Quinn of the Irish Christian Brothers at Iona College was a great friend and admirer of Nollaig Ó Gadhra; it is unlikely, that any word, other than in Irish, ever passed between them.  But it was not just the language which was Irish, it was the ideas and the content of their conversation.  Brother Quinn, himself a recipient of the Eoghan O’Growney award, paid Nollaig what was the highest compliment he ever paid to anyone.  He described Nollaig as Fíor Gael.  He also used the term to describe Pádraic Pearse.  Nollaig was our Fíor Gael. 

Nollaig was our teacher - our inspiration.  As the champion of An Ghaeilge, as Uachtarán (President) Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), he ramrodded the campaign to have Irish recognized as an official European language in the European Union (EU).  We shall not see his like again

Of particular note was the original artwork of Brian Mór Ó Baoighill, and the stalwart support of Nollaig’s old friends Frank Skuse of the Kinsale Tavern, Séamus De Bláca of WFUV Radio, 90.7 FM, whose Míle Fáilte is the only Irish language radio show in New York, Micheál Ó Coisdealbha of Conamara and Muiris Ó Bric of Gorta Dubha, as well as the warm hospitality of Hugh O’Lunney and Maureen. 

The reason for the gathering – the main event - in the spirit of the life work of Nollaig Ó Gadhar, was the presentation of the Eoghan O’Growney award Mary Holt Moore of the Bronx Gaelic League, in recognition of over half-a-century of the most exemplary effort in this cause.   

Fear an Tí Séamas Ó Neachtain of the Philo-Celtic Society (Cumann Na Carad Gaeilge) was also the virtual representative of the Council of Gaelic Societies and of all of Ireland’s exiled children in America who value the language and culture of the Gael.  Séamas expressed his gratitude on being chosen to do the honors for this historic event.  

Native speakers of Irish who were present, noted that Séamas, who was born and has learned his Gaeilge in the New York area, spoke with an ease and a command that would have made Nollaig Ó Gadhra very proud.  No doubt Nollaig would have used the fluency of Séamaus as validation of his mantra that everyone can learn An Gaeilge with the right effort.  (As an additional bonus for Nollaig the speakers introduced by Seamas included Gaeilgóirí mhilis, Séamus De Blaca, Muiris Ó Bric and Máire Holt Bean Uí Mhórdha. In addition most all those present who had at least book Irish, many self-taught).   

Séamas spoke of the role of Cumann Na Carad Gaeilge’ s history and work in promoting Gaeilge from its founding by Miceal Ó Lorcáin in Brooklyn in the 1870s.  He said that in 1891 Douglas de hÍde (Dr. Douglas Hyde) attended the Gaeilge classes in Brooklyn and on his return to Ireland he used this experience to help found Conradh Na Gaeilge in Ireland.  He noted that Conradh Na Gaeilge has been the leading organization in the world in the promotion of Gaeilge.  He said that   the honor of being its Uachtarán fell to Nollaig a few years ago, emphasizing the high regard in which Nollaig was held amongst his peers and amongst Gaeilgeóirí around the world.  

Séamas shares Brother Quinn’s high opinion of Nollaig as a very precise writer, pointing out that Nollaig had authored many important books and articles (in both languages) and had contributed to the magazines Cóir and Feasta in Ireland. 

 Séamas gave a brief history of Cumann na Carad Gaeilge and the role the Gerry Tobin Irish Language School (www.scoilgaeilge.org) played in their survival and how they have grown in the last four years.  Séamas held up a copy of one of Nollaig’s earlier books, bearing the photo of a much younger Nollaig on the fly-leaf, and noted that some years ago Nollaig had visited them in Babylon and spoken, as Gaeilge, and had a suitcase full of books, as Gaeilge of course.  He drew attention to the art work of Brian Mór O Baoighill, as making the point brilliantly.  He also said that the magazine An Gael that was originally published as a newspaper as Gaeilge in Brooklyn in the1890s is now available on their website as a web publication. 

 Séamus said that that is the best legacy to leave for the next generation is a living language with published material, including books, and noted that Síofra, Nollaig’s grand daughter, who was present, will also keep Nollaig’s memory alive 

The stage thus having been verbally set, Séamas Ó Neachtain introduced Séamus De Bláca, Ph.D., whose  Irish language radio show (he does explain things in English as well) is heard at 8 AM on Saturday mornings, broadcast and on-line streaming live; it is also archived on www.wfuv.org .  After expressing his delight at being able to participate in the occasion, he welcomed Nollaig’s family, and congratulated Mary Holt Moore on receiving the Eoghan Ó Growney Award.  He singled out Brian Mór for the magnificent artwork and line drawings that were displayed in the hall, and on the event program.   

 On his radio show on October 4, 2008, Séamus had paid a generous tribute to Nollaig and his mighty work.  He opined that Nollaig was a very precise journalist, as well as historian, who numbered among his subjects, Ghandi, John Boyle Ó Reilly, Ignatius Loyola, and Mayor Daley of Chicago. 

He also noted that anyone listening to the Radio Free Éireann show every Saturday afternoon (1:30 PM, WBAI, 99.5 FM) could testify that Nollaig was extremely exact and very detailed about all of his political, historical and cultural analysis, as he displayed his great knowledge of various matters, often butting against time constraints and sometimes challenging John McDonagh’s patience.  

He said that the late Barry Ó Donavon and Nollaig traveled together through most of the Tri-State area, and no doubt did it all as Gaeilge.  He said that Barry, who hailed from Co. Cork, was also a Gaelic scholar.  But, knowing their personalities, De Bláca suggested that it seemed that they must have been indeed the Gaelic odd couple.   

Nollaig, himself a Harvard international scholar, was always very happy to visit Conamara families in the Boston area (including family of Máirín), who continued speaking as Gaeilge.  He felt that it was a great example of the right way to respect An Gaeilge  

 Next Fear An Tí introduced Muiris Ó Bric, an old friend both of Nollaig and of Brother Quinn.  Muiris is a native speaker of Irish from Gorta Dubha near Slea Head at the end of Corca Dhuibhne, the Dingle Penninsula, and former President of the Kerrymen’s Association. 

 Muiris said that he was highly honored to be chosen to present the Eoghan Ó Growney award to his long time soul friend Máire Holtaig Bean Uí Mhórha, who was a most deserving recipient of the Award.  Muiris said that he and Máire had worked together on Irish language for many years, and in the process they had also managed to resolve the problems confronting the world, if only the world listened. 

 Muiris went on to say that every time that Nollaig came to America they would meet up and he enjoyed  Nollaig’s company immensely and that he was one of three special people, gaisci Gaeilge, who had greatly influenced him:  Brother Cathal Ó Cuinn  who died  a few years ago, who was also a great Gael, and a great friend that Muiris said that he still misses greatly; as he does miss Barry Ó Donavon, who with Nollaig and An Bráthair Ó Cuinn, are at this moment enjoying the view of this event from Heaven on high. 

 Upon introducing Máire Holtaig Bean Uí Mhórha, Muiris said, “Is onóir mhór dhom é seo a bhronnadh ort agus tá sé saoirthe go maith agat.”  

Máire Holtaig Bean Uí Mhórha recounted the history of the Gaelic League in New York throughout the twentieth century.  While space does not permit a thorough review of her remarks there were two themes which ran through her remarks.  The first was the devotion of earlier generations to the keeping alive of An Gaeilge, through even the worst of times in the Great Depression (she recounted how children in the 1930s would go through parks picking up discarded pop bottles and then handing them in when they went to class, to support the Gaelic League).  Regarding the role of the Gaelic League, she pointed out that, while the language was the core activity of Conradh na Gaeilge, there were also classes in history and literature and céilí dancing, all activities which would strengthen the family and the community. 

The second theme was that those who were good for the Irish language and culture also tended to be those who were also good for the Cause of Irish Freedom.  Her own father, the late Charlie Holt (native of Wicklow, via Dublin) was the chief gun-runner for Cathal Brugha (Minister for War of the Irish Republic Proclaimed on Easter Week 1916, ratified by the Irish electorate in 1918 and re-organized by the First Dáil Éireann in 1919).  It was also Charlie Holt, a direct descendant of General Joseph Holt of 1798 fame, who worked on the ships bringing Guinness to a thirsty New York, who smuggled Liam Mellows out of Ireland to America, and then back again.  One day, some fifty or so years later when asked how he did it, he refused to divulge the details, because of a promise made at the time not to do so.  Her mother, an O’Rourke of Brefney, was equally strong for the language and for the Cause. 

There were a number of Gaelic League patriots in New York who were mentioned, including Brian Calendar, who was also a judge for the feisanna.  Perhaps the most telling comment was a quotation from Padraic Pearse to the effect that the ground for the resurgence of the Cause of Irish Freedom in the 20th century was prepared through the work of the Gaelic League. 

However, Mary waxed most eloquent when she told of her Irish teacher, Martin Thornton, and how he had taught her the poem, “A cean dubh dílis,” which she then recited, entirely from memory in a tone so sweet and melodic that anyone would have been convinced that they were listening to a native speaker – exactly the way that she must have received it from Martin Thornton, over half a century ago. 

Mary, the mother of eight children, and the grandmother of more than can be counted on all your fingers and toes, was accompanied to O’Lunney’s by her daughter Kathleen McNulty, one of whose sons has the unique distinction of having had Brother Quinn as a godfather.  Mary’s husband, Tom Moore, a native of County Kerry and a retired Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief, is of the same Ó Mordha family as Ruairi Ó Mordha (King of Laois) and Patrick Sarsfield.  Both in the Kerry Pipers and in the Gaelic League they have practiced what they preach and do keep the tradition alive. 

Liam Ó Murchadha cited Nollaig’s plea for all-inclusive Peace and Reconcilliation, from a speech delivered as a centenary lecture for executed IRA man George Plant in his native Fethard in 2004.  Nollaig had always maintained that the pen was mightier than the sword, and in his hands that was certainly true.  He insisted that we “Seek truth even where it is clearly hard to come by the totality.”  This was certainly done in Nollaig’s Civil War in Connacht and in Guth an Phobail and in his other works.   

Liam then asked Brian Mór Ó Baoighill to come forward to present an original work of art, depicting Nollaig’s traveling kit, to Máirín Baintreach Nollaig Uí Ghadhra.  After thanking Hugh O’Lunney for his wonderful hospitality in his upstairs private dining room, and Séamas Ó Neachtain for his brilliant job as Fear an Tí, and especially thanking the family of Nollaig O Gadhra for traveling all the way from Conamara for the occasion,  

Liam closed the ceremonies with the remark of Frank Skuse of the Kinsale regarding his old and dear friend Nollaig, “In omós do Nodhlaig Ó Gadhra, Ní bheidh a leitheid ann arís…’”

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