Royal Irish Academy to unveil Galway Irish language activist exhibition

Saíocht & Saoránacht on display at the Royal Irish Academy (Source: aransongs on Twitter)

An exhibition originally on display at the University of Galway has been moved to the Royal Irish Academy.

Saíocht & Saoránacht – Culture & Citizenship – showcases the life and work of the University’s first Professor of Irish, Tomás Ó Máille. The display at the University’s James Hardiman Library originally ran from September to December 2022. It provided a history of Ó Máille’s impact as an educator, writer and language activist.

The move to the Royal Irish Academy gives the exhibition access to new material. This includes Ó Máille’s work on the Doegen archive. The archive collected folklore, songs and poetry from Gaelgóirí in the early days of the state.

Ó Máille was originally from Joyce Country in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He was appointed Professor of Irish at Queen’s College, Galway in 1909. He was the institution’s youngest professor at the time, aged only 29.

His work focused on the preservation, promotion and revival of his native language. He was described by one of his successors as “a scholar of importance, as well as being a man of action fully engagé in the cultural and political revolution of his time.”

The move hopes to provide more recognition to an oft overlooked participant in the early 20th century attempts at Irish language revival. A prominent aspect of the display are the wax cylinder recordings that Ó Máille took of speakers in his native Connemara Gaeltacht.

The original exhibition on display at University of Galway

The exhibition’s digital curator, Dr Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, is optimistic about the move. She says that her hopes for the recordings are that “people, especially outside of Gaeltacht communities, recognise this as their own heritage. I’m looking forward to learning more about how today’s generation and coming generations create space for Irish. That’s the only way it’s going to survive, if that space is created.”

Saíocht agus Saoránacht will be on display at the Royal Irish Academy from 7 February until 21 April.


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