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19 May 2022

'Teanga showcases Irish in poetry, prose and song' - Liam Mac Lochlainn

Mo thuras go Fheis Dhoire Cholmcille

'Teanga showcases Irish in poetry, prose and song' - Liam Mac Lochlainn

'Teanga showcases Irish in poetry, prose and song' - Liam Mac Lochlainn

Derry Feis is celebrating its 100th birthday this Easter. To mark this special occasion, Derry News, is publishing a series of articles titled: Mo thuras go Fheis Dhoire Cholmcille 2022.

Today, Gaeilgeoir, author, former Feis adjudicator and retired teacher, Liam Mac Lochlainn, describes his personal journey to Derry Feis 2022.

Glengad native, Liam Mac Lochlainn, poignantly described how Irish disappeared from the North Inishowen fishing village as a living language in just two generations.

“There was not much Irish in our house,” said Liam, “but my grandfather used to say his night prayers in Irish.

“My father's nickname shows how Irish died out in Glengad. He was called, John William Owen. Owen or Eoghan was purely Irish; William or Uilliam was Irish and English; and John was completely English. Irish had disappeared as a living language in two generations.

“I went to school in Scotland. There was no Irish taught in the schools there, instead I attended Conradh na Gaeilge classes in Glasgow. I was greatly helped by the late Pádraig Ó Gallchóir (Pádraig Hannah Móire) from Rannafast.

“I, eventually, became a tutor with Conradh. I taught Irish to adults in my own school in Glasgow, and some students passed their GCSE,” said Liam.

Liam's family emigrated from Inishowen to Scotland when he was four years old and his sister, Annie, was two.

He vividly recalled the experience in the book 'Tar isteach – A walk down memory lane' which detailed the history and families of Glengad and Inishtrahull, the most northerly island of Ireland, 10 kilometres northeast of Malin Head. Liam edited the book and the proceeds went to the Alzheimers Society (Donegal Branch Home Care) and Glengad Community Centre.

Describing the move as 'traumatic, 'Liam said: “I asked the Brian's across the road to hide me in the churn before we went away.

“Anne never stopped crying. ‘Take me across the road to papa (granddad)’ was what she kept saying when we landed in Glasgow. She did not eat for a week. My mother took her to the doctor and he said, ‘Give her three more days. If she does not eat within three days, you will have to send her back to Ireland.’ And the end of a week she took some of my father’s egg and she settled down after that.

“We stayed in the house of my aunt Anne, my mother's sister. Apparently, when I went into the living room in the flat, I began looking behind the radio. 'What are you looking for?' my aunt asked me. 'The little man playing the melodeon,' I answered. That was the first time I had seen a radio.

“Everything was new: electric light, running water, a toilet, a gas stove in the house. Outside there were buses, cars, trams, big shops, factories. It was a completely different world,” said Liam.

Liam's father worked first of all as a labourer on a building site and then in a foundry in Paisley.

Liam added: “Both jobs were tough and poorly paid. Three other children were born over there: James, John and Gerald.

“My father was not able to return home every year, but he kept in touch with Glengad through letters and through other people who came to Scotland from Glengad.

“My mother was Scottish, of Irish descent. She knew a little French and I think that aroused my interest in languages. She liked Irish songs: I think she was more Irish than many people who were born and reared in Ireland. She was a housewife for most of her life.

“Life in Scotland was not easy, but we were able to get a good education. We were able to benefit from the health service and living standards were higher than back in Ireland. Although we were brought up in Scotland, the whole family was aware of where we came from,” said Liam.

When he came home to Ireland, Liam was employed as a teacher in St Columb's College in Derry.

He took up the story: “Father (now Archbishop) Martin asked me to contribute a poem in Irish to the Feis Dhoire Cholmcille brochure. I was also asked to select the poems for An Teanga, which I did for a number of years.

“I also entered students from St Columb's for some of the competitions. These included action poetry and an audio-visual presentation on the life of St. Colm Cille.

“I also adjudicated at the Feis and I enjoyed this thoroughly. The standard of Irish was extremely high and the enthusiasm of the young people was impressive.

“I have adjudicated at Feis Ghlaschú, the Glasgow Feis, and again the standard of Irish was amazing. Both adults and children showed a level of fluency which is difficult to achieve outside of Ireland with few opporunities to practice,” said Liam.

Liam said he passionately believes Derry Feis plays a central role in the cultural life of the city, promoting Irish culture in Derry and beyond.

He added: “The Teanga section is particularly important since it showcases the language in poetry, prose and song. It gives people the opportunity to use and enjoy the language outside of the classroom.”

Liam's weekly Irish column in the Journal, a short article and a translation, is greatly appreciated among Irish speakers, learners and those who are fluent in the language, in Derry and further afield.

“I often write about current affairs,” he said, “which shows that Irish is a modern language that can deal with modern themes. I also write historical articles, which I hope make people proud of their country's past. This is perhaps the only opportunity some people have to read Irish in the course of the week.

“I suppose I am basically optimistic about the future of the language. Through Irish medium schools (Gaelscoileanna) the number of fluent speakers is increasing every year.

“But governments and local authorities could do much more to promote the language. Irish education is not sufficiently funded. School buildings are often in a state of disrepair. There should be more courses for teachers.

“I must say in passing that we should be proud of the Irish nurseries, the three Irish primary schools and the Irish language stream in St Brigid's College in Derry City whose teachers do a first rate job,” said Liam.

Although Liam was of the opinion Irish language newspapers and magazines had died through a lack of support, he encouraged Irish speakers to support the remaining publications.

“Books in Irish are now readily available in the town, so there are no excuses,” he smiled, while congratulating Feis Dhoire Cholmcille on successfully reaching its 100th birthday.

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