Mairtin O'Cadhain's visit to Mayo in 1957

Article by James Reddiough

Some time back I wrote about the value of another schools/community folklore collection similar to what we had in 1938. This piece looks at a moment in time when the noted Gaelic writer and scholar Mairtin ó Cadhain interviewed Sean Loftus in 1957 and as the interview was conducted as Gaeilge then I have decided to make this a bi - lingual piece.

The article is based on a taped interview lasting about 75 minutes or so. The tape had been stored in the archives in the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin and I obtained a copy from them in 1989.

It is a rich source of folklore and social history with some comments on the improvements in life since Sean Loftus’ youth between the years 1884 to 1957.

Sa bhliain 1957, thug Máirtín Ó Cadhain cuairt ar an mBaile Fearainn beag Aileach Mór, I gCo. Mhaigh Eo. Bhi cúpla teach thart san áit ag an uair sin agus ina measc bhi Seán Ó Lachtnain agus bhi togha na Gaeilge aige ón gclaibhán. Chomh maith le seo bhi neart seanchas agus staire san méid a bhi le rá aige le Máirtín Ó Díreáin. Bhi go leor amhráin aige fosta agus iad ar fad I nGaeilge.

Ellaghmore is located in north Mayo in the foothills of the Ox Mountains and in the summer they have a dark green colour with the occasional light patch here and there with a stone path leading up to the bogs. The house where Sean Loftus was born and lived for most of his eighty - three years was located there not far from that path. Bhi Seán Ó Lachtnáin ceithre scór nuair a thainig Máirtín Ó Cadhain ar chuairt agus bhi an Cadhanach deich mbliana is dhá scór. Chaith Seán a shaol mar fheirmeoir agus mar spalpín ag dul anonn is anall idir Éireann is Sasana ag obair do na feirmeoirí móra thall. Thosaigh Máirtín Ó Cadhain a shaol mar mhúiniteoir bunscoile agus bhi sé ina léachtoir sa Nua - Ghaeilge I gColáiste na Traoínóide an bhliain a thainig sé go Aileach Mór.

Mairtin Ó Cadhain himself was no stranger to the farming life and would have seen the seasonal, migrant labourers leaving Connemara for England for the Summer and Autumn, and the landscape through which he had travelled would have been similar in some respects to the Cois Fharraige region.

Bíonn an siúlach scéalach agus bhi go leor scéalta ag Seán Ó Lachtnáin. Labahir sé faoi dhaoine ar nós Diarmaid Mór agus Captean Gallagher, na feirmeoiri, an lín a d’fhás siad, an olann, na síógaí agus na taibhsí, agus an feabhas a thainig ar an saol le blianta anuas ón am a bhi seisean ina mhalrach óg sna 1880’s agus 1890’s.

Ba mhór an spórt a bhi ag na daoine an uair sin ag damhsa sna tithe ceoil, ag imirt cártaí agus ag buaileadh báire agus ag léim agus ag rith nó ag rásaíocht. Bhi an iomáint sa cheantar an uair úd cé nach bhfuil ann anois ach an pheil. Bhíodh seisear no seachtar an taobh don iomáint agus bhiodh sé á imirt acu in éis an Aifrinn gach Domhnach. Bhiodh na cluichí garbh go leor agus bhiodh daoine gortaithe I ngach cluiche.

As the conversation/recording continued what was unfolding was a history of the area in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Sean Loftus was born in 1877 and first went to work in England in 1893 when he was sixteen, interestingly enough this was the year that the Gaelic League was founded.

D’inis sé scéalta faoin bhfear láidir a bhi san dúiche agus na héachtaí a rinne sé, Diarmiad Mór a bhi air agus b’é an fear ba láidre sa cheantar nó in áit ar bith. Bhi fear eile ann darbh ainm Captean Gallagher agus bhiodh seisean amuigh de ló is d’oíche ag stopadh na daoine mór le rá agus ag tógáil uathu a gcuid airgid chun cuid de a thabhairt do na daoine bochta chun a gcíosanna a íoc má bhi baol ann go meadh siad caite amach ar thaobh an bhóthair. Bhi na scéaltaí de ghlanmheabhair aige agus bhi siad uilig I nGaeilge.

The stories that Sean told about Diarmaid Mor and Captain Gallagher were legends built around the feats of two men who were born in the Attymass area. They have gone now from the tradition of the people and had it not been for the work of O'Cadhain and the memory of the people, along with the schools project in 1937 - 1939, and the efforts of individual collectors them most of the stories would be lost forever in a changing world.

Lá mór mar sin I saol agus stair na áite é nuair a thainig Máirtín Ó Cadhain go dti an Aileach Mór, murach sin, bheadh neart Gaeilge agus sheanchas caillte ach míle buíochas le Dia, tá sé ar fad caomhnaithe do na glúnta atá amach rómhainn. Fuair Sean O Lachtnain bas I 1960 nuair a bhi se tri bliana is ceithre scor. Fuair Mairtin O'Cadhain bas deich mbliana ina dhiadh sin in aois tri bliana is tri scor do I 1970, Bhi se ina Ollamh le Nua - Ghaeilge I gColaiste na Trionoide an uair sin.

Another storyteller and ballad composer who was recorded by the Folklore Commission was William “Cinty” Loftus 1881 - 1953; he composed a ballad seen through the eyes of an exile looking back on the place he had left behind; and it was called Graffy, the neighbouring town land to Ellamore and it would be nice to conclude this piece with these lines:

“Of all the spots Saint Patrick blessed, there is none so dear to me, Than beneath the blue Ox mountains in the Village of Graffy.”