Inspirational stalwart of the Irish-language movement in Belfast

Sat, Mar 9, 2013, 00:00

Méabh Uí Chriagáin:Méabh Uí Chriagáin (Maeve Cregan) was a stalwart of the Irish language movement in Belfast, and a bridge between its early years and the current upsurge in interest. She helped keep Irish alive through long years when the political atmosphere was hostile.

The younger generation in the language movement found her inspirational and encouraging. They felt she had her finger on the pulse of what was happening in Irish-language circles.

Uí Chriagáin first became involved in Irish-language activities in the 1940s. Some she worked with then had been involved in the revival of the early 20th century. Over the years, she served on the executive of Comhaltas Uladh (as the Gaelic League was known in the North), and was active in Irish-language drama.

Her work helped give birth to Cumann Cultúrtha Mhic Reachtain in north Belfast and to Irish-language primary and nursery schools. All her activities were carried out while a mother of six, working as a primary school teacher.

Irish was important in her life. She met her late husband, Ruairí, while both were learning Irish in the Donegal Gaeltacht. They raised their family through Irish.

Uí Chriagáin was also one of the founders of Newington Youth Club, in north Belfast. She had great compassion, often accommodating young people suffering family problems, and was active in the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Her interests were wide. She was a talented painter and spoke Spanish, French and Italian and enjoyed visiting Europe. Her final visit to Italy was in May of last year.

Uí Chriagáin was born in May 1932, near Ardglass in Co Down, the only child to Michael Quinn, a school attendance officer, and his wife Annie (née Gracey), a seamstress. Her father was from Belfast, her mother a native of the Ardglass area.

The family moved to Belfast, living for some years in a house where Lieut Gen Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement, had lived when a British army officer in Belfast.

Her secondary schooling was at St Dominic’s High School. Briefly, she undertook a Celtic Studies degree at Queen’s University. She left, to qualify as a teacher at St Mary’s Training College. As well as teaching at various primary schools in Belfast, she worked in the Pigs Marketing Board.

In her late 60s, Uí Chriagái returned to university and completed her degree in Celtic studies. Years earlier, she had taught one of her lecturers at primary school.

She was predeceased by her husband, Ruairí, and is survived by daughters Anne, Carrie, Ita, Tina and Una, son Ciarán and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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