JIM REES remembers writer, journalist, teacher, and raconteur Pádraic Ó Conaire (left) who died in tragic poverty in a Dublin hospital at the age of 46. He was a man who had established himself as one of the leading lights of the Gaelic Revival, an innovative writer who pioneered the short story in Irish.
There are two writers in Irish who are remembered by legions of men and women throughout the country – and not necessarily with affection. They are Peig Sayers and Pádraic Ó Conaire.
It’s not that their writing was bad, but to children reared in English-speaking homes the stories they told were to a great degree irrelevant. This was especially true in urban areas. But their works were on the curriculum and therefore had to be endured.
Let’s leave Peig aside for another day and have a look at Pádraic Ó Conaire.
When I first discovered that he was born in High Street in Galway I was surprised because I have always associated him with open roads and wild spaces. I had never suspected that he could have been a ‘townie’.
He was born Patrick Joseph Conroy on 20 February 1882. His parents were middle-class, running a profitable family pub. His father died in 1887 when Patrick was five, and his mother followed in 1894 when he was twelve.
Still too young to make his own way in the world, he moved to his grandparents in Connemara, and this was where his ruralisation and his love of the Irish language and traditions began.
His grandparents ensured that he would have the best education they could afford – and, as his list of schools indicate, they were obviously not short of a few bob.
After attending the local primary school at An Turlach Beag, near Ros Muc, he went on to the fee-paying college at Rockwell, County Tipperary, before transferring to Blackrock College in Dublin in 1899.
Unfortunately, he displayed a restlessness at Blackrock that was to dog him for the rest of his life. He didn’t finish his course, preferring to head to London where he joined the British Civil Service in a lowly-paid position.
This was a period of heightened consciousness of what it meant to be Irish. Not only had all sorts of cultural groups and organisations sprung up, but the boundaries between culture and politics were very hazy indeed.