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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2011 10:36 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jan 11, 2008 8:38 pm
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Location: West Yorkshire

This is the first of two articles by Sean Crawford. It describes the time he spent at Saint Brigid's College in Omeath, and provides context for the second article, which I'll post momentarily.


The Gaeltacht at My Door

The old roll book of St Brigid's Irish College, Omeath, lies at my right hand. The last time I saw it was 36 years ago and now it awakens many conflicting emotions within me. Even the cold, formal registers that contain my name when, first as a child, I went to school, always lose their prosaic quality when I read them today, for even the very precise and prim numerals themselves seem to contain for some subtle quality of magic.

"Born December 19th, 1888." Eeven that laconic, matter of fact entry makes me sigh, and thought, ever so evanescent, goes back to the day when someone, now dead, made that recording concerning me. But this old college roll book, in itself, is full of very human quality, and contains not our names alone but also many excellent pen-pictures also. Kindly and witty commentations, along with some photographs, (which need not fear any comparison with modern examples of the art), abound. The college was literally enshrined in trees in 1912. Today, those lovely woods have vanished. A snap, taken in 1914, shows the woodmen standing by neatly-stacked piles of wooden soles. (The shoe, literally and figuratively, began to pinch around this time. Austerity was round the corner).

Look over my shoulder as I turn over the beautifully-written pages of the wonder-book. I can
hardly believe that I once lived in such a world of glamour and sheer felicity. There in trim, Gaelic script, is the name of Eon MacNeill. In a group taken with a sylvan background you can see him, a red-bearded scholarly figure. He is wearing glasses. We were a tiny group in 1912,
but we were very merry and care-free, not at all "up-stage" or high-brow. The little lassie with the big ribbon-bow in her lint-coloured hair was one of Eoin's daughters. Another snap shows Michael MacArdghail, Seanchaidhe. "When once we were young" is the best English I can put on the pencilled Gaelic note that is written over the picture of the old story-teller, with his soft hat on his head, his "mountainy" stick in his gnarled hand.

Outside the half-door of her white-washed cottage, sits "Caiti Sheain." She wears a white-
frilled "granny's cap" and is seated at her spinning-wheel:

"Hundreds of songs and hymns she had and the choicest poetry of the poets of Oriel."

There is the College Choir, singing (most probably), "Drom Lach na nGaedhal,", our own rousing school song. Well do I remember Eoin MacNeill handing the verses he had written to Peadar O'Dubhda who wrote out the parts for us in tonic-solfa. We sang the chorus in four-part harmony and I can recall the smile of rapture on our teacher's face, revealing the keen joy he felt on hearing that lifting air.

The lady singers are wearing enormous hats and they all have skirts that almost touch the ground. The modern girl laughs at them. Let her laugh! She never knows who'll be laughing at her own likeness this day forty years.

A group consisting of Eoin MacNeill, Hugh Graham, Donal O'Boyle and ...Waldron, shows a blackboard inscribed "31st August, 1912. This is Saint Brigid's College, Omeath." It is written in Gaelic. With some sadness, no doubt, a few bars of MacCrimon's Lament are jotted down
beside the picture. "Cha till - Cha Till - cha till MacCrimon!" "Never more shall MacCrimon return. Nevermore!"

A shawled figure with snowy white apron is standing beside a little black ass that is carrying
creels. "I was down at the strand gathering the harvest of the sea." We look at a splendid, frim, yet kindly woman's face. How often has she recited that epic poem of the football match in the meadow of Bavin.

Wearing a black felt hat of Spanish pattern, a warm white "bainin" on him sits Michael MacArdle; is friendly face with its salient cheekbones has a dignity and repose indicating the character of the old man. He is giving life a philosophical consideration as he sits gazing at the hazy distant hills.

Let us turn another leaf.

Standing by a chair is Father Ua Tuathall of Belfast. We are seated in the shade of a tree repeating his phrases. He was wonderfully gentle and kind. There too, is Gus Petersen, the Swede, in his rowing boat. Gus married a native speaker from Omeath. He met her in the States and both returned to Ireland. Gus picked up a good deal of Irish and would often greet you in it.

In the background, you can see a dark segmnent of barren mountain, in the foreground is a thatched cottage. Those people are wearing clothes that one today associates with Aran - nevertheless, it is not Aran but the hill of Tullagh in 1912.

One picture does affect me very deeply. It shows the College with a bicycle leaning against the wall. Dark-coated and whiteblouse students are seated around a blackboard. Back of all are the graceful tapering fir trees. Two little boys are sitting away from the class. With heads bowed down, they are studying something in the grass. They look very quiet and intent. Gasrai Mhic Neill." "Eoin MacNeill's boys." Many a time I carried the youngest lad, Turlough, on my back through that dim dark green wood.

There too is Alice Stopford green, who wrote Irish Nationality. Father Fullerton of Belfast, always, had a friendly word for me and here is kindly Peadar, himself wearing a Norfolk jacket, cycling knicker-bockers, stockings and shoes. His tweed hat is upturned at the brim. An Muinteoir Taisdil, "The Man on the Wheel." Rain, blow or snow. Poorly paid and ill-requited, the travelling teacher surely kept the language alive. Not merely that, but he made us love the old tongue.

A later picture shows a motor-launch carrying the Tricolour at the mast-head. Underneath is printed "Scholars of 1921 going on a pleasure cruise in the Lough. The Black and Tans seized the flag, but another was raised on high."

I shall never forget August 19th, 1912. I walked down, with never a care, to the ferry at Narrow Water. Johnny Bailey rowed me over for a penny, I am quite sure of the date for I am looking at it this very moment. But Peadar has wistfully written "The hand that wrote the roll
is cold and no longer has vigour to wield the pen." Times were simple then, and glorious was it to walk the white dusty road to the College amid the trees. Often did I dawdle to eat the luscious blackberries of Louth. No hurry. Never a worry in the world.

The Ten Townlands of Omeath are still there, that Celtic Decapolis where the old folk once dreamed their visions in the glimmering purple twilight and told you hero-tales of the chivalrous Gael. Where are they all this drear winter hour? I have just pulled aside the window-curtains, but those well-loved hills are veiled and misty today.

I can see simply nothing of the mountain Slieve Foy; but back of it, thank God, Paedar still lives. Old and all as I am, I will cross the lough one day and walk over the winding road to meet him. Some day, when the clouds have passed away and I can clearly see all that enchanting land, where, in my young manhood, I freely found comfort and peace in the laughing, warmhearted Gaels. When all is said and done and one gazes down at the grey ashes of a fireplace golden bright, it is given to but few men to have known such ecstasy.

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PostPosted: Wed May 11, 2011 7:50 am 

Joined: Thu Sep 13, 2007 11:14 am
Posts: 1307
Wasn't Mr Crawford a genius with words.... A true wordsmith.... His language is so beautiful and reaches out and touches the person reading the words...

Oh so wonderful....... and wondrous.....

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