In last week’s ‘Journal’, Derry Gaeilgeoir DERMOT KELLY recalled Taoiseach Eamon De Valera’s historic visit to the city in 1951 to open “Gaelic Week” - an event that brought thousands of people onto the streets to welcome the ‘Long Fella’. This week, Dermot reveals that the success of the first ever Gaelic Week resulted in a welcome boost for the local Irish language, sporting and cultural movement.
Our success with Gaelic Week in 1951 prompted us to make the ‘Week’ an annual event. Of course, we never achieved the same response or support.
In 1952, our guest speaker, Seamus MacManus, opened the week to an audience of less than 100 in Celtic Park. Nevertheless, the art exhibition in the Guildhall’s minor hall was well supported by exhibitors and viewers and the other competitions for singers, dancers and the language were very successful.
All events were held in the Guildhall including the ceili and the Michael O’Higgins concert.
In the same venue the following year, we had no guest to open the Gaelic Week nor did we have any well known personalities performing at our presentations.
The dancing competitions, under the management of Sheila McGuinness, were very successful.
The enthusiasm engendered by the Gaelic Week led to an expansion in Craobh numbers and activities - more classes were established while football, hurling and cycling groups were organised.
Additional classes meant more teachers who were drawn from existing class members.
I was given responsibility for a Bun Rang without any direction or programme. My personal target was three tenses of the irregular verbs which left my students lacking in vocabulary as shown in the results of competition examinations.
This led to discussions between Risteard MacGabhain, Jim O’Sullivan and myself about student progress and recognisable achievement.
We felt that there was no recognisable course or link between the various classes and teachers and no way of measuring progress.
On Risteard’s suggesion, we proposed to the committee that we adapt the Fainne as a standard and plan class programmes accordingly.
Our proposal was not received enthusiastically and, while it was faintly praised, it was not accepted.
Lack of teacher and student confidence was probably the reason why we never established a formal teaching discipline. This did not, of course, deter us from spreading the Gaelic word locally and loudly.
Our efforts did not always bear positive results as shown by the following overheard female conversation: “Were you at the dance last night?” “Aye, the dresses were lovely”. “Anybody we know there?” “Aye, there was a big crowd, I saw Jim O’Sullivan, Dick McGowan and Dermot Kelly”. “Aw them three scunners, they are always talking Irish”.
Building on our continuing success, in co-operation with the GAA, we organised the ‘Streets League’ in Celtic Park.
This was a football competition to encourage participation in Gaelic games by turning a blind eye to Rule 21 of the GAA code.
It attracted twelve teams and some teams actually fielded Protestants on Sunday afternoons.
Although it was played to a conclusion, it ended in acrimony when a team of GAA members were defeated by a team that included soccer players who had never played Gaelic previously.
The spiteful and pedantic arguments at the committee meetings that followed meant that the competition was never
Cycling was a summer activity which took us to the standing stone at Ture, An Grianan, the seaside and many other places.
Our success attracted other groups. Craobh Padraig closed its doors and joined us and the ‘Colmcille Debating Society’ challenged us to debate that ‘Irish is a dead language’.
We won the argument although we had to take a firm stand to get our one Protestant member, Jackie Woods, admitted to their premises.
Fundraising was an erratic and difficult part of our work which depended mainly on the annual collection on Easter Sunday which usually realised between £50-£100.
On being elected treasurer, it was one of my tasks to organise the collection.
I purchased a map of the city and marked and numbered all the collection areas made up of three or four streets.
Two collectors were appointed for each area whose duty it was to write the names of the residents on envelopes, distribute them and collect them.
On a blackboard in the Craobh, I drew a table of all the collection areas, the collectors and a space for the amounts gathered.
This created a competitive spirit as amounts were written on the table opposite their areas and collectors.
Rivalry was so intense that those involved often went back to their areas to take up the requests to call back later or to knock doors closed on their first round.
Our final total exceeded £200.
Another fundraiser was the sale of team badges at a football match which was very successful.
For weeks before the opening of the new Gaelic Park at Draperstown, we made paper rosettes and button holes in the colours of Derry and Cavan when we were not attending classes.
On the day of the opening we swamped all entrances to the park - much to the annoyance of the professional hawkers and vendors.
After selling more than £20 worth of favours, we still had time to listen to Doctor Farren open the facility and to watch Cavan defeat Derry.
It was decided not to continue with this activity because it was unfair to the people who earned their living in this way.
My last job as treasurer and member before going to work in Belfast was to negotiate a bank guarantee from Comhaltas Uladh with Padraig Mac Con Midhe for the purchase of the site which comprised the Albert Hall - a shed off Bishop Street near the Long Tower School where Craobh members met - and the house in Bishop Street.