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

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.

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