Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Blue plaque for physician, anthropologist and writer from West Africa

At 7 Northland Road, Londonderry on Friday 28 September the Ulster History Circle will unveil a blue plaque in honour of Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe who from 1939 to circa 1950 lived there and carried on his practice as a GP. The plaque will be unveiled by his son, Stanley Armattoe who is travelling from London for the ceremony. Present will be representatives from many African organisations in Ireland. 

Dr REG Armattoe
Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe was born in August 1913 to a prominent family of the Ewe people in Togoland, West Africa. He came to Europe at the age of 17 to continue his education. He studied in Germany, France and Britain; coming to Northern Ireland shortly after receiving a medical qualification in Edinburgh in 1938.

Besides practicing medicine in Derry, Raphael Armattoe made a unique contribution to the intellectual life of the city He gave talks on a variety of subjects, mainly medical and anthropological, to diverse groups such as the Great James’ Street Women’s Guild, the Amateur Radio Club and the St John’s Ambulance Society. The doctor wrote articles for the Londonderry Sentinel as well as for academic journals such as Man, Nature and African Affairs.  

From his base at Northland Rd, Armattoe wrote a book on The Golden Age Of West African Civilization (published in 1946) and issued numerous pamphlets. He also found time to give lectures and make presentations in Dublin and London and further afield. He spoke at the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England and the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace in New York in 1949. At both of these major conferences, Dr Armattoe called for independence of the African colonies.

It is a sign of the esteem in which Armattoe was held, that members of both Stormont and Dáil Eireann as well as three Westminster Members of Parliament nominated the doctor for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949.

In 1948 Dr. Armattoe received a grant from the Wenner Gren Foundation for anthropology research. The grant allowed him to return to West Africa for the first time in eighteen years. He returned to Derry half a year later to write up his reports. Most of the papers published as a result of this research trip were studies of Ewe physical anthropology, especially charting the distribution of blood groups, a field of study that was just emerging at the time. Armattoe also brought many botanical specimens back to Ireland with him, intending to study their curative properties.

Towards the end of 1950 Armattoe and his family settled in Kumasi, in what is now Ghana, where he set up a medical clinic and research centre. He now embarked on new adventures in poetry and politics. His two books of poetry, Between The Forest And The Sea and Deep Down In The Black Man’s Mind, are of continuing interest to students of African literature. 

After the First World War, the former German colony of Togoland was divided into two mandates, one under French and the other under British rule. As the Togoland mandates and the Gold Coast colony were moving towards independence, Armattoe called for British and French Togoland to be reunited as a single country, rather than British Togoland becoming part of Ghana, as it eventually did become. Armattoe became active in both the pre-independence Ghana Congress Party, in opposition to Kwame Nkrumah; and the Joint Togoland Congress.

Dr Armattoe travelled to New York in 1953 to address a United Nations commission on the ‘Eweland question’ and Togoland unification. On his way back to Kumasi, he visited the British Isles and Germany. Taken sick en route, Armattoe was treated in hospital in Hamburg, where he died on 21 December 1953

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Blue Plaque for teacher, scholar and Gael - 1 September 2011

Short Biography

Muiris Ó Droighneáin
Muiris Ó Droighneáin was born on 12 November 1901 in Newtownshandrum, An Ráth, County Cork. He was a teacher of Irish in St Malachy’s College, Belfast. During his career, he became an expert in the field of Irish grammar, and was renowned for ensuring that publications used a standardised form of Irish (An Caighdeán Oifigiúil). He married Róisín Ni Mhurchú in 1944 and had two daughters and a son.

Ó Droighneáin was educated in University College Cork where he graduated in 1927 with his BA, taking honours in Irish and English. In 1928/29, he was awarded his MA which he completed under Torna (Tadhg Ó Donnchadh), Professor of Irish in UCC. It proved to be a seminal piece of research into the history of Irish language literature and was published in 1936 under the title Taighde i gcomhair stair litridheachta na Nua-Ghaedhilge  ó 1882 anuas. 

Many notable Irish scholars passed through the doors of Ó Droighneáin’s class in St Malachy’s. In 1944, Professor Proinsias Mac Cana (Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and other universities) achieved the highest mark in Irish ever awarded in Northern Ireland. Other pupils included Professor Emeritus Gearóid Stockman (Queen’s University Belfast).

One of the first obstacles he encountered in his teaching career in Belfast was the difficulty in teaching Irish to Northern students using his Munster dialect, so he resolved to learn Ulster Irish and spent months in the Donegal Gaeltacht. From then on he was a strong supporter of Ulster Irish and when An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was being formulated by Rannóg an Aistriúcháin in the 1950s, Ó Droighneáin sat on a sub-committee, An Fo-Choiste Gramadaí, which was especially established to ensure that particular nuances of the Ulster dialect would be protected in the standardised form of Irish. 

Ó Droighneáin put his exact knowledge of Irish grammar and An Caighdeán Oifigiúil to good use with the publication of Nótaí Gaeilge, an instructional booklet for English speakers on the basics of Irish grammar. Closely related to An Caighdeán Oifigiúil was the production of English/Irish and Irish/English dictionaries.

The Plaque
One of Ó Droighneáin’s other great interests was the correct form of Irish surnames, and one of his lasting achievements was the publication of An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus An tAinmneoir in 1966. Many people corresponded with him about surnames, some suggesting amendments or additions, others sharing their wealth of knowledge such as Éamonn MacGiollaIasachta (Edward MacLysaght), author of A Guide to Irish Surnames

Ó Droighneáin had a lifelong interest in the production and translation of religious texts into Irish, such as the Bible or the liturgy of the Mass, and he corresponded on such matters with An tAthair Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and An Cairdinéil Tomás Ó Fiaich. 

The scope of Ó Droighneáin’s work in the world of Irish grammar can be seen in the monthly articles he wrote for An tUltach, the journal of Comhltas Uladh of Conradh na Gaeilge, between 1933 and 1979. An index to An tUltach lists approximately 400 articles under his name.

Ó Droighneáin died on 28 June 1979.

The Plaque Unveiling - 1st September 2012

After a week of rain and high winds the sun smiled warmly on the family and friends of Muiris Ó Droighneáin as they gathered at his former home to celebrate his memory and unveil a blue plaque as a permanent memorial to his life and achievements.

Introducing the event, Sean Nolan, Secretary of the Ulster History Circle said that, although a native of Munster, Muiris Ó Droighneáin became one of the most influential figures in the development of Irish in Ulster during the mid-twentieth century. His own scholarship in the language inspired others, resulting in a lasting legacy that the Ulster History Circle was proud to acknowledge with this blue plaque. He thanked Belfast City Council for their financial support; in particular their agreement to fund 16 plaques over the next three years. He also thanked the Greenwood family, present owners of the property, for allowing the Circle to erect the plaque there.

Councillor Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, Deputy Chairman
of Belfast City Council Development Committee
Councillor Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, Deputy Chairman of Belfast City Council Development Committee said that it was important to recognize Belfast's rich and diverse cultural heritage and the role that all of its citizens have played in developing the city we know today. It is for this reason that the council has agreed to fund a new series of blue plaques celebrating and commemorating the lives of those who have played their part in weaving the rich tapestry of modern Belfast. Muiris Ó Droighneáin played a crucial role in the promotion of the Irish language in Belfast and his progressive ideology and wise advice made a strong impression on him he was growing up, but also on several generations of Irish speakers in this city. He thanked the Ó Droighneáin family for their support of the Irish language that their father had always displayed, and the Ulster History Circle for erecting the plaque.

Councillor Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín, who had nominated Muiris for the plaque, spoke about the enduring value of Muiris' work in the service of the language and its enduring legacy.

Fr. Desmond Wilson, a former pupil, spoke movingly about Muiris' committment to the purity of the language and his unceasing pursuit of perfection, often in the face of official and unofficial indifference. He also outlined Muiris' committment to social justice at a time in the 1930s when it was regarded with suspicion to hold and advocate such views.

Alan and Diarmuid Torney unveil the plaque
Diarmuid Torney, Muiris' grandson, on behalf of the whole family, including his son Jimmy and his family in Australia, thanked everyone, from near and far, for being here today. His grandfather died the year before he himself was born but he has always been a very important part of their lives. They knew of the work he did as a teacher, a scholar, and a promoter of the language. They were very proud that he was being honoured in this special way today. And although she died a few years ago, he knew that his grandmother, Roisin, would also have been very happy to see Muiris's life's work recognised in this way.

The Ó Droighneáin family at the ceremony
Alan Torney said that more would be said at the reception later about his grandfather's passion for the language. He was sure that Muiris would be impressed by the progress that has been made by the language movement in Belfast in the 33 years since his death - and we were honoured to be joined by some of the pioneers of that movement here today. He thanked Fr. Wilson for drawing attention to his grandfather's fearless advocacy in the area of what would today be called "social justice" but which, for my grandfather, was just an instinctive expression of the Christianity that guided him for his whole life.

In the Culturlann
Later, at a receception in the Culturlann on the Falls Road, Professor Gerry Stockman spoke at length about Muiris' passion for the language. He knew him as a teacher, a colleague and a scholar. He recalled the discipline Muiris had brought to the teaching of Irish and of his concern to make Irish as easy as possible to learn, compiling the rules of grammar into a little booklet. His scholarship was recognised nationally and internationally and he was always generous in assisting other scholars who were working on behalf of the Irish language. He thanked the Ulster History Circle and the O Droighneain family for helping to keep green the memory of a teacher, writer, scholar and upright man.

Professor Stockman,  Caitriona O Torna and Harry Torney
Muiris' granddaughter, Caitriona O Torna, remarked that it was difficult for people today to imagine a language without an official standard for spelling or grammar, yet that was how it was for Irish when Muiris started out on his studies. Throughout his life he had laboured diligently for standardisation, despite criticism. His devotion to the language carried through to his personal life and his children were raised through the medium of Irish. This influence also carried through to subsequent generations. Her grandfather was a man out of the ordinary. The family was delighted with the erection of the blue plaque which not only marked the place where he lived for half his life, but would be a reminder of him for all who passed by.

The final tribute to Muiris was given by his son-in-law, Harry Torney, who remembered his dry wit. He suggested that throughout his life Muiris would have thought it inconceivable that his life's work would have been so 'wonderfully and publically celebrated' as had happened today. And if we were to ask him 'Well Muiris, what do you think of your blue plaque?' he would probably reply, with his usual clarity and wit 'Does it help the language?'. It certainly does that and it certainly celebrates a wonderful, life-long champion of the language.

Classical Scholar, Educationalist and Writer - 15 June 2012

Short Biography
Samuel Dill was born on 26 March 1844 at Hillsborough, Co. Down, the eldest son of the Revd. Samuel Marcus Dill DD, Presbyterian minister of Hillsborough.

Dill was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and the Queen's College Belfast, where he took his degree in arts in 1864. In Lincoln College, Oxford, he obtained firsts in classical moderations (1867) and in literae humaniores (1869). In 1869 he was elected fellow and tutor of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Later he became librarian and dean of the college, and was made an honorary fellow in 1903. In 1877 he was appointed High Master of Manchester Grammar School. During his time there the school was reorganised; new buildings were erected and school societies developed. His liberal conception of education is illustrated by his development of the teaching of modern subjects, and by the connection that he established between the school and working boys' clubs. He attached particular importance to developing the corporate life of the school outside the classroom.

The Plaque
In 1890 Dill returned to the Queen's College as professor of Greek. As a member of the Belfast University Commission, he took a large share in transforming the college into a university in 1909. He was chairman of the viceregal committee of inquiry into primary education (1913-14). He influenced Irish education by his work as a member, and later as chairman, of the intermediate Board of Education. He received a knighthood from the Liberal government in 1909 for his services to education. In 1898 Dill published Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, which was followed in 1904 by Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius. His Roman Society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age was edited and published posthumously in 1926 by his son-in-law, the Revd C. B. Armstrong. These books are less histories of a period than studies of the life of societies in dissolution or in spiritual crisis or decay, and reveal his moral and religious sympathies.

In 1924 Dill received the honorary degrees of LittD from the University of Dublin, and of LLD from Edinburgh and St Andrews.

Dill died at Montpelier, Malone Road, Belfast, on 26 May of that year

The plaque unveiling - 15 June 2012
An unseasonable day in the middle of June brought heavy rain to an otherwise pleasant and convivial occasion at the Headquarters of the Ulster Teachers' Union when the plaque dedicated to Sir Samuel Dill was unveiled before an audience of over fifty people.

Diane Nugent unveils the plaque
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle said that Samuel Dill was an exceptional example of a pioneer and innovator in education, and the Ulster History Circle was delighted to be honouring his achievements with this blue plaque. During his lifetime his brilliance was recognised by the many accolades he received, and in this new century as an educationalist sine pari he is venerated once more. The Circle would especially like to thank the Ulster Teachers' Union and the Heritage Lottery Fund for generously supporting this plaque.

Diane Nugent, President of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said that the union was extremely proud to have this building recognised by the Ulster History Circle, and it has given Blue Circle status to the union's headquarters. She applauded Professor Evans' insight and wealth of historical knowledge about the great Sir Samuel Dill and the time he spent here. Sir Samuel Dill was a real pioneer and innovator in education and she recognised the many accolades that he gained for his work as a Professor of Greek in Queens University, Belfast. It was gratifying to learn about the building's legacy and for the union it was significant that the work carried out here continues to initiate changes. The union would endeavour to follow Sir Samuel Dill's example and create a legacy of its own. She thanked the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the event and all the neighbours, guests, colleagues from INTO and others for sharing in it.

With Sir Samuel's portrait
Mark Glover, member of the The Heritage Lottery Fund Northern said that it was a pleasure to once more join the Ulster History Circle in the unveiling of another Blue Plaque from the Celebrating Achievers Project. As an alumni of Queen's University Belfast it is also wonderful to learn something more about his own academic heritage. He said that the Heritage Lottery Fund was the UK's leading advocate for the value of heritage to modern life. HLF sustains and transforms our heritage through innovative investment in projects with a lasting impact on people and places. The Fund was delighted to support the Ulster History Circle in raising awareness of local achievers.

Professor Williams
Professor Alun Evans said that he had always been aware that Sir Samuel had lived next door and when the Ulster History Circle in 2005 erected a blue plaque there to his father, E Estyn Evans, he had suggested to Avril Hall-Callaghan that a blue plaque to Sir Samuel might be appropriate. He regretted that Sir Samuel's great grandson, Professor William Farley, of Heidleburg, was unable to attend.

Professor Frederick Williams,the last Professor of Greek at QUB before the Department was closed down, thanked the Ulster History Circle and the Ulster Teachers' Union for giving him the opportunity to say a few words about Sir Samuel Dill. He chronicled the career and achievements of "an outstanding Ulsterman"; First class honours at Oxford in both parts of the "legendarily formidable course Literae Humaniores, a uniquely wide-ranging and uniquely demanding amalgam of Greek and Latin languages and literature, ancient history, and philosophy both ancient and modern"; Fellowship at Corpus Christi College; eleven years as High Master in Manchester Grammar School; thirty-three years as Professor of Greek at Queen's College Belfast (later QUB); his three formidible and learned publications (still in print today)