Local Faces: Brian Ó Gáibhín
WHEN a group of like-minded people came together socially in the mid-1960s in an effort to promote the Irish language in Clondalkin, they were visited by Fr Tomás Ó Fiach.
Fr Ó Fiach had established a competition at the time called Glór na nGael, and one night, he visited the group in Moyle Park College.
At this meeting, Fr Ó Fiach said: “Ar mo bhealach isteach sa bhaile seo anocht, chonaic mé túr.”
“Ar feadh na mílte bliain, níor chuala an túr sin ach Gaeilge.
“Mo dhúshlán duit anocht, go gcloisfidh an túr sin Gaeilge arís.”
This translates to: “On my way into this town tonight, I saw a round tower.”
“For thousands of years, that tower only heard Irish.
“My challenge to you here tonight, that that tower will hear Irish again.”
This was the spark that lit the flame for what Clondalkin is today, one of the first areas in the country to be designated a Líonraí Gaeilge by the State.
Líonraí Gaeilge is an Irish Language Network, with Clondalkin included with West Belfast, Loghrea, Carn Tóchair and Ennis in it – such was the strength of the Irish language in these pockets outside of the Gaeltacht.
It all started with an idea, to keep the Irish language alive and help revive the native tongue in the Clondalkin area.
That group which Fr Ó Fiach visited was the humble beginnings of Muintir Chrónáin, a community organisation which promotes and develops the Irish language in a practical environment.
This year, Muintir Chrónáin is celebrating 50 years since its official establishment. In 1989, the group purchased a 2.9-acre property in the heart of Clondalkin village, turning the old Georgian house on the land into their centre, or the Áras. And so, Áras Chrónáin was born.
Someone who has been at the forefront of this over the last 30 years is Brian Ó Gáibhín.
A Clondalkin native, Brian has been involved with Muintir Chrónáin, and in turn, Áras Chrónáin, since the 1990s and today is the Chief Operating Officer along with being the chairperson of the Líonra Gaeilge national committee.
For Brian, sustaining the Irish language is very simple in theory – use it or lose it.
“It’s something unique to Ireland, you’ll only learn that through travel, growing up and everything else,” he says to The Echo.
“It is something really, really unique to us, it’s unique to us as a people, as a race.
“Even the way we speak English, the words we sound, it all comes from that. It’s something we can all be very proud of.
“When we see our national teams in sport, we’re all really passionate about it.
“I think it could be taught an awful lot better in school, but that’s the same with most languages, most languages you pick up.
“I think by doing activities in school – it’s just a suggestion, a personal idea – if you’re doing sport or art or music, the language of them being taught would be the Irish language.
“Then, you and I, when we went to school, you would have been learning the language in a practical way. Using it in a practical way.
“Whereas at the moment, you’re learning something, and you don’t have the opportunities to use it in a practical way.
“That’s why we’re here. We’re trying to provide facilities and outlets for people to live a normal life, and use the Irish language in a normal way through different activities, hobbies and in events they might partake in Áras Chrónáin – that’s explaining it really simply.”
Clondalkin is the perfect example of Irish revival in motion. Walk into some shops around the village and you’ll be greeted with a “dia dhuit” and a “slán” on the way out.
For example, Brian asked his brother Jim Gavin, former Dublin senior footballer and manager, to use the phrases of “slán” and “go raibh maith agat” at the end of his interviews.
By making it more audible and visible, the language becomes more accessible.
Brian’s parents Jim senior and Anne Gavin moved from West Clare in the 1960s, and raised their four children, Barry, Brian, Jim, and Anne-Marie in Clondalkin.
“My folks were big into their traditional music, set dancing and all of that. That was around us,” Brian explains.
“My mam was a schoolteacher, and my dad had his own haulage business.
“Yeah, to be straight honest with you, Irish wasn’t in the house whatsoever. Irish was a thing I would have come to later on in life.
“There would have been a youth club in Muintir Chrónáin when I was a kid, in my teens, all of us went to that.”
First, Brian attended his mam’s school, Goldenbridge, and then St Michael’s, before being enrolled in Clonburris Primary School after it was built.
Moyle Park College was next up, and he never thought during his Leaving Certificate that he would be working with the Irish culture and language – so he started studying primary school teaching in St Patrick’s College.
It was during his college years that Brian’s affinity for the Irish language really started to take shape.
“When I was in college, I played hurling and football here in Round Towers, we all played GAA growing up,” Brian details.
“There was a guy who was teaching in Coláiste Chillian and he was playing hurling with us, Michael Ó Fhaoil.
“Michael has a very famous summer college down in Connemara, Coláiste Lurgan. Micheal would be speaking Irish on the pitch, and we’d be telling him to stop you know?
“He says, ‘come down to Connemara, you’ve got to go as part of your teacher training. Get a job in the summer college and you’ll pick up the Irish’.
“So I went for three weeks. I ended up spending three months that summer, three months the following summer, three months the following summer and then just kept going for years.”
Coming out of teacher training, Brian picked up a position as a primary school teacher in Gaelscoil Chluain Dolcáin, where he spent the guts of eight years.
After that, seeking a change of scenery and different challenge, Brian upped sticks and jetted off to the Middle East to teach music in Dubai.
Over the years, having initially learned how to play the piano accordion, Brian developed an ear for music and evolved into a multi-instrumentalist – which helped when socialising in Áras Chrónáin in the 1990s and ultimately with the move abroad.
Brian spent some time as the head of music in an international school in Dubai, before being asked to take over the rapidly expanding Áras Chrónáin – and he did, becoming manager.
One day, the parents of Andrew Strong, of The Commitments fame, were drinking a coffee at Áras Chrónáin. Impressed with Brian’s togetherness, Andrew’s father Rob asked Brian to fill in as tour manager for the upcoming weekend.
He did, and it turned into 10 years of tour managing in his spare time.
Through tour managing, Brian developed essential organisational skills which he, in turn, reinvested into Áras Chrónáin.
“I ended up doing it for years, I got to see wonderful parts of the world and work with musicians, on the same stage at festivals and gigs with bands I admired as a kid. Wonderful experience,” Brian smirks.
Using the transferable skills picked up on tour, and which he developed as a teacher, Brian has a wide role with Muintir Chrónáin today as the Chief Operations Officer.
With a team around him, Brian is responsible for coordinating the whole operation at Áras Chrónáin.
Under his remit comes finance, classes, education, the core aims of the organisation, social aspects, dealing with government departments, local authority – everything, essentially.
If there is something culture or language related in Clondalkin, it would be a safe bet to say Brian has been involved in it in some capacity over the years.
If the people of Clondalkin are the beating heart of the Irish language in their town, Áras Chrónáin is the brains through its provision of an oasis for the teanga to flourish.
At the Irish language centre, there is a place for people from all walks of life to learn the language and embrace the culture through music lessons, dance classes and events.
“The core aim of Muintir Chrónáin and Áras Chrónáín is to keep the Irish language alive as an active means of communication. That’s our core aim and out of that falls education and the social and everything else.
“They had a scheme called dátheangachas – bilingualism, promoting bilingualism and through that scheme they were able to engage me, because they were getting funding for it.
“It just developed out of that. We applied for different schemes over the years, and they had part-funded our whole operation so we could engage people.
“The role just got bigger and bigger, as I was here, we just kept developing as a group and develop on a bigger scale.
“Fast forward to today, it’s a fantastic institution and facility that we have here in Clondalkin, in South Dublin.
“We are respected and spoken about throughout the country and internationally for the work that we’re doing.”
To get involved with the Irish language centre and the community, visit Araschronain.