By Dymphna Lonergan
Much has been written about the problem of poverty and congested living in the west and north-west of Ireland during the nineteenth century that resulted in the establishment of a Congested Districts Board in 1891. The Board was incorporated into the Land Commission in 1923 by the new Irish Free State Government who devised an innovative approach to congested living in one identified area, the Gaeltacht, a collective term for districts where the Irish language was strong. One answer to the poverty problem was the establishment of a Gaeltacht colony outside of the identified Gaeltacht districts. Families would be moved to fully equipped farms on fertile land in the east. At the same time, the Irish language revival would receive an extra boost in its establishment in the east of the country. The hope was that the language would then spread further. Was it successful? A comprehensive answer to that question can be found in Suzanne Pegley’s 2007 MLitt thesis from Maynooth University.
What we seldom see in print, though, are those individuals’ stories from the Lambay-Rathcairn Gaeltacht experiment that point to another kind of success. Éamonn Ó Neachtain is one such person. This self-effacing, quietly-humoured man has been a stalwart of the Irish language community in Melbourne, and nation-wide through his teaching at the annual daonscoileanna in Melbourne and Sydney. Through Éamonn’s teaching, we hear stories of his upbringing in Irish. I remember a time when he told us about the Irish word for the sound a tree makes when it is moving, ag díoscadh and how in his mind there is no English equivalent. I imagined him as a child, perhaps sitting on a tree branch, or moving through trees, and the swing in the word díoscadh coming to him.
In January 2020, Éamonn gave a talk about his upbringing in the Lambay-Rathcairn Gaeltacht that I missed as I was travelling in Europe at the time. Below is a summary of that talk from the sixth Tionól Gaeilge Griandóite in January 2020 in Melbourne. Our thanks to Val Noone and to Éamonn for agreeing to share it here. The English translation is provided at the end.
Tháinig muintir Ráth Chairn go Co na Mí i mí Aibreán 1935. Tháinig muintir Laimbé go Co na Mí i mí Aibreáin 1937. Tá scéal Ráth Chairn ar eolas ag morán ach ní thugtar morán aird ar Mhuintir Laimbé.
‘Sé mo sheanachas féin agus an saol a mhair mé ann ar feadh fiche bliain ar a mbeidh mé ag labhairt ar fead cúpla nóiméad. Rugadh in Laimbé mé i 1938. Bhí seisear buachaillí in mo chlann, gan aon chailín. Tá triúr dúinn beo fós. Thosaigh na gasúir ba shine ar scoil i Ráth Chairn, áit a raibh Seán Ó Coistealla agus a bhean chéile ag múineadh sa scoil náisiúnta, Scoil Uí Ghramhnaigh.
Níor thaitin an modh múinteoireachta a bhí ag Ó Coistealla le mo mhuintir, go mór mór le m’athair. D’athraigh sé na gasúir go scoil Cill Bhríde, scoil lán-Bhéarla. Ar mo chéad lá ar scoil ní raibh focal Béarla in mo phluc seachas Hello. Le buillí a rinne mé teagmháil leis na paistí scoile eile. Bhí ceathrar deartháireacha ar scoil romham agus bhí beagán Gaeilge ag mo mhúinteoir, “Gaeilge státseirbhíse”.
Nuair a tháinig muid do Laimbé ní raibh sagart ná doctúir ná dlíodóir líofa le Gaeilge. Bhí Gaeilge ag sáirsint na nGardaí in Átha Bui mar ba as Corcaigh é.
Mar a dúirt mé bhí dhá bliain idir muintir Laimbé agus muintir Ráth Chairn agus d’fhág sin go raibh cineál deighilt éigin eadrainn. Bhí gaolta agam i Ráth Chairn ó thaobh athar agus máthar ach bhí cantal éigin ann.
Ní dheachaigh muid go dtí an seipéal céanna ach oiread mar bhí Ráth Chairn ceangailte le paróiste Átha Buí agus Laimbé le paróiste Chill Bhríde/Dhún Doire. Tháinig an post as Átha Buí go Ráth Chairn agus as Átha Throim go Laimbé.
Ar scoil ‘Gael Talks’ nó ‘galtees’ a thugtaí orainn. Fiú i scoil Chill Bhríde ní raibh morán cairdeas ag na “Galtees” agus gasúir na Mí. Nuair a bhí mé ag déanamh an scrúdú séú rang in scoil náisiúnta bhí cúigear againn sa rang, ceathrar cailíní agus mise. Bean ab ea an príomhóide agus na cailíní mar pheataí aici. Dúirt sí liom nach raibh seans ar bith agam go n-éireodh liom sa scrúdú. Nuair a tháinig torthaí an scrúdú amach bhí marcannaí níos airde agam i ngach ábhar ná ag ceachtar de na peataí. Ní raibh aon mholadh ón múinteoir ach aon rud amhain a thugann sásamh dom fós nuair a smaoiním air.
Mheas go leor daoine go mbeadh an Ghaeilge múchta sa nGaeltacht taobh istigh do dheich mbliana, agus na tuairimí céanna ag polaiteorí ach ní mar sin a tharla. Cé nach raibh aon chabhair ón rialtas – ní fiú aitheantas mar Ghaeltacht go dtí 1967 agus dá bharr sin ní raibh cur isteach againn ar Roinn na Gaeltachta. Tá an teanga beo bríomhar agus ag dul ó neart go neart.
Suas le Laimbé.
Rathcairn people came from Connemara to County Meath in April 1935 in a government plan to ease the congestion in Connemara and settle on farms acquired by the Land Commission. In 1937 a second group came to Lambay in the adjoining townland of Kilbride. The Rathcairn story is known to many people but Lambay hardly ever gets a mention.
It is my own story and life in Lambay for 20 years that I will focus on for a brief few moments. I was born in Lambay in 1938. There were six boys in my family, no girls. Three of us are still around. The older boys started school in Rathcairn where Seán Ó Coisdealladh and his wife taught in the national school.
My parents had no great regard for Ó Coisdealladh’s teaching methods so they moved the kids to the school in Kilbride, an English-speaking national school. On my first day in school, I did not have a word of English except Hello. My first contact with the other kids was through the fist.
When we came to Lambay there was no doctor, priest, or solicitor with enough Irish to talk to us. The Garda sergeant in Athboy had Irish as he was a Corkman.
The two-year gap between Rathcairn and Lambay people coming to Meath left a division between us. I had relatives from both my mother’s and father’s side in Rathcairn but close friendship did not manifest itself.
We did not go to the same church because Rathcairn was in the Athboy parish and we were in the Kilbride parish. The post for Rathcairn came from Athboy and Lambay’s from Trim.
At school, we were called “Gael talks” or “Galtees”. Even in Kilbride school, there was not any warm friendship between the Galtees and the Meath kids. When I was doing the primary cert, sixth class, there were five of us in the class, four girls and myself. The headteacher was a woman and she had four girls as her pets. She told me straight out that I had no hope of passing the exams. When the results came out I had higher marks in every subject than her pet girls. Even when I think about it now, it gives me a certain thrill.
Many people predicted that the Irish would be dead within ten years, and politicians were among them. That did not happen. The language is strong and vibrant and still growing.
Dymphna Lonergan is one of Tintean’s group of editors and a research fellow at Flinders University.