Tributes pour in for musician, scholar and Irish language champion Risteard Mac Gabhann
The 84-year-old died in the Foyle Hospice on Saturday following a short illness.
He was one of the foremost promoters of the Irish language in Derry over the past half century and in 2006 was elected President of Oireachtas na Gaeilge in recognition when the festival was held in his home city.
Earlier this year a new compendium of songs ‘Claisceadal cois Baile’, compiled by Risteard, was published by Colmcille Press.
“He was an inspiration to so many Irish speakers, students and campaigners - and a great and loyal friend to all who knew him. He will be truly missed,” the publisher said, following Mr. Mac Gabhann’s passing on Saturday.
Gael Linn stated: “Chuir sé comhairle thacúil orainn ar thionscnaimh éagsúla thar na blianta. Ba mhaith linn comhbhrón ó chroí a chur in iúl dá chlann & dá chairde ag an am seo. Suaimhneas síoraí ar a anam uasal. [He provided us with supportive counsel on various initiatives over the years. We would like too express our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends at this time. Eternal rest on his gentle soul].”
Local gaeilgeoir Mary Durkan remarked how Mr. Mac Gabhann had been a ‘scoláire, scríbhneoir agus saoi [a scholar, writer and a wise man]’.
“Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann. RIP Risteard Mac Gabhann. Comhbhrón lena chlann [We will not see his like again. RIP Risteard Mac Gabhann. Condolences to his family],” she added.
Former Derry Journal reporter Martin Cowley reflected: “Risteard (Dick) Mac Gabhann, Gaeilgeoir, erudite, quiet spoken, fine singer, droll, thought filled, calming presence, always a delight to be with. An immense loss to his family and friends, to Irish language/music/studies and to Derry, the city he loved. RIP.”
Mr. Mac Gabhann was educated at St. Columb’s College.
Seamus Heaney, a contemporary, fondly remembered Risteard in his poem The Gaeltacht, from his 1995 collection ‘Electric Light’ in which the poet wished he was back in Rosguill in the early 1960s and that ‘Paddy Joe and Chips Rafferty and Dicky [Risteard] Were there talking Irish’.
A lifelong scholar he studied at Queen’s and the University of Essex and taught at Castlederg, the New University of Ulster (NUU) at Coleraine and Magee.
An award-winning accordion player and singer he was ‘Fear an tí’ at weekly sessions at various venues over the decades, often bringing proceedings to a close with his version of ‘The Parting Glass’.
His last book ‘Claisceadal cois Baile’ grew from his course on Irish song-writing - Claisceadal in which he took a song every week and wrote about its provenance, history and origin.
Brian Friel was an admirer of Risteard’s course and sought out the notes prior to its being collated in book form.
“It’s a great accomplishment – smartly executed, abundantly clear and lucid, skilfully laid out, all in all a splendid piece of work...I liked particularly the notes on the various songs – they give the pieces a most valuable provenance,” the playwright declared.
Risteard is mourned by his wife Joan, daughters Ciara, Áine and Treasa, grandchildren Éava, Tom, Fionn and Cian, sons-in-law Salvatore, Paddy and Nick and wider circle.
His funeral will take place in St. Eugene’s at 11.30am on Tuesday.