Pet O’Connell meets Corkman Seán Ó Muimhneacháin who is set to take up the role of president of Oireachtas na Gaeilge.
"Tá dóchas i mo chroí ag tabhairt aghaidh ar an mbliain atá romham, dóchas i leith na teanga agus dóchas i leith an chultúir.”
This message of hope for the Irish language and culture is that of writer, actor, and composer Seán Ó Muimhneacháin as he takes on the role of president of Oireachtas na Gaeilge. The Corkman’s hopes are founded on the upsurge in attendance of young people at the Oireachtas, the premier annual Gaelic festival, which returns to Killarney this November. “The Oireachtas always inspires hope in me, when I see young people to the fore, competing in the competitions and deriving pleasure from Oireachtas na Samhna, each one of them with fluent Irish,” adds Seán, who was presented with his chain of office recently in a ceremony at Dublin’s Mansion House.
A retired national school teacher from Cill na Martra, his presidency follows those of fellow Corkmen Seán Ó Sé and Donnchadh Ó hAodha in recent years.
A dramatist and composer of music and song, Ó Muimhneacháin has a long association with the Oireachtas, which he first attended in 1962. He has won many of its stage competitions, for writing and performing sketches, and witty exchanges in verse - the two-person agallaimh beirte, and the sung lúibíní, ceapóga, and amhráin saothair. “I’ve won some, I’ve lost more, but the greatest thing about competitions was that I’ve got to know some marvellous people and at this stage the competition isn’t as important as the camaraderie,” he says.
His works are performed from Australia to America, but it was at home in Gaeltacht Mhúscraí that Ó Muimhneacháin developed his love for these poetic dialogues, and the Oireachtas itself.
“There were always people going to the Oireachtas from Múscraí going way back to the beginning of the last century, and some of my relatives would have been competing.
“The first people I heard performing them were Diarmuid Ó Riordáin and Peataí Thaidhg Pheig on stage in Cúil Aodha back in the 1960s. I thought they were the most enjoyable entertainment — the richness of the vocabulary and the music of the words.”
Determining to see for himself the Oireachtas, which until the 1970s was not held outside Dublin, he got his first glimpse while a trainee teacher in the capital.
“I was going to the Oireachtas for a long time before I dared compete,” he recalls. “The first time I competed was in 1994 when the Oireachtas was down in An Rinn (Waterford).”
Ó Muimhneacháin, who says the verses should contain “plenty humour” and saibhreas cainte (richness of speech), found agallaimh beirte and lúibíní useful in his teaching career. “I started writing simple ones as a teaching tool, using them in school with the children, and they took to them. As well as learning vocabulary that they wouldn’t normally get in a text book, it increased their confidence no end to go up on stage and put something across with conviction.”
It is the involvement of young people in the Oireachtas that gives Ó Muimhneacháin optimism for the future of the event and the language.
“It has grown to be such a major event and there is such an emphasis on youth. There are just hundreds of youngsters competing, taking part and enjoying it. It’s all very pleasant, civilised, great camaraderie, and a great atmosphere. I’m delighted that it’s back in Killarney this year.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved