Lúnasa 2005     Iris na Gaeilge          uimh 9

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Padraic Ó Conaire- Seacht mBua an Éirigh Amach

Padraic Ó ConaireDomhnall MacAmhlaigh, the Irish language writer, who died in 1989, often said that, nearly all writers in the Language wrote mostly for readers in the Gaeltacht. Padraic Ó Conaire, he claimed, wrote almost entirely for the outside world and for the man in the urban street. The fact that so many of his works, at least seven, were translated into foreign languages, seems to bear out that point of view. No other writer of Irish had such an achievment. Some say that the test of a good writer is whether his work attracts translation into foreign languages.

There is a striking difference between Ó Conaire's writing and, say, the great Ulster writers. Ó Conaire seems so simple and so low-key. He achieves a limpid clarity. He is deft and direct. He avoids all obscurities, colloquilisms and regional usage. This is a profound advantage for the learner of Irish. And compared with Máirtín Ó Cadhain, a fellow Connachtman, he is crystal clear and so simple, although his subject-matter is just as profound and as challenging.

In a short, underprivileged life, part of which was spent in England in very poor circumstances, he produced a considerable output of writing. His early death, at 42 years of age in 1928, was a sad loss, indeed. Like the Bronte sisters, Yorkshire daughters of an Irish father, he was careless of his health and its needs. He was not a very easy person to live with either, it seems.

Today, he is remembered chiefly for Seacht mBua an Éirigh Amach', but many will fondly recall An Chéad Chloch, Fíor, Síol Eabha, Cubhar na dTonn or Deoraiocht also. After his death, Seosamh Mac Gríanna wrote a fine essay on his works, Pádraic ÓConaire agus Aistí eile.

Seacht mBua an Éirigh Amach is a collection of short stories in which Ó Conaire explores how the 1916 Rebellion affected the lives of a number of very different characters and their acquaintances, although living in different places. It is not in any way a patriotic rant. Serious public events effect us all in some way or other. As always, the writing is supberb. Every page is a work of the good writer's art - like Allagar na hInse, it can also be an ideal book for the learner of Irish, for those who want to brush up their knowledge, or those who want to keep in touch and avoid forgetting. "Comhar" once told of a Breton who had learned Irish. As he travelled on the Paris underground to work he was often reading Seacht mBua na Éirigh Amach. It was a pleasant way not to forget his Irish.

In his book Gaelic Literature Surveyed, Aodh de Blacam had the following to say about Padraic Ó Conaire's work.

"Ó Conaire is a Connacht story-teller who owes his racy modern style to O'Leary's example. It is claimed for him that he ranks among the best short story writers of contemporary Europe. Certainly, his gift for drawing scenes and characters in a few strokes, his power of holding the reader, and the ingenuity of his stories - every one of them has in it something unique that makes it worth retelling - render him the most consid-erable and most original of revival writers. No more virile spirit has appeared since the great men of the seventeenth century.

Sometimes Ó Conaire writes of droll fellows met in the tavern, or at the fair; sometimes he draws compassionately the men and women who work in the fields, sometimes he draws on the nervous, scholarly priest, the modern Columcille; and sometimes the patriot, the poet, the modern Amergin'.

Published by Sáirséal agus Dill, Teoranta, Dublin. ISBM 0 901374 47 4.