A passionate yet pragmatic crusader for the Irish language


Pádraig O Cuanacháin:  PÁDRAIG Ó CUANACHÁIN, who has died at the age of 76, was a passionate crusader for the Irish language, a tireless promoter of the Gaelscoileanna (all-Irish primary schools) concept, and a committed republican who was interned in the Curragh in the 1950s.

He was born in Cork in 1932, his father Tommy Cooney a veteran of the Great War, where in 1917, as a 17-year-old piper with the Munster Fusiliers, he was wounded at Malines. Pádraig attended North Monastery primary school and, having gained his Leaving Certificate at Coláiste Chríost Rí secondary school, secured a position with the local county council.

It was perhaps inevitable that his love affair with Irish saw him drawn to the republican movement where he became active with Sinn Féin. Ultimately, his political convictions were to lead to his internment in the Curragh in 1956. In the early 1970s, he was sentenced to six months in jail relating to the possession of a secret State file of registration numbers of the cars of activists in the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. Ironically, while his sojourn in Mountjoy was to cost him his job with Cork County Council, it proved a turning point.

After losing his local government job, he became marketing manager with Fastnet Co-op before joining Udarás na Gaeltachta as cultural and language development officer for Munster. This brought him into contact with native Irish-speakers ranging from Ring, Co Waterford, to Cuil Aodha, Co Cork, and the gaeltachts of West Kerry.

For the past 20 years the focus of his work had been on marketing Irish as a living entity on the basic philosophy that the language must be seen to have economic relevance in a rapidly developing Ireland, soon gaining him a reputation as one of its most persuasive and effective promoters. Viewing the more traditional Irish language revival organisations as too narrow and conservative, he felt they had failed to sell Irish to people at grassroots level.

As marketing director with Gael-Taca, which he co-founded in 1987, he sought to bring Irish into greater play in everyday life, lobbying groups like the banks, Iarnród Eireann, Bus Éireann, shops and developers. To a remarkable degree, he succeeded in getting Irish used in signage, names of housing developments, bilingual announcements on the Cork-Dublin trains, plus advertisements "as Gaeilge" on Cork city buses.

Today, more than 230 developers around the country currently use Irish language names on new housing developments. The concept of marketing Irish from a business and economic viewpoint struck a chord with Minister Éamon Ó Cuív who officially opened the new Gael-Taca office in Cork last year, significantly increasing his department's subvention of its work.

Prior to his time with Gael-Taca, Pádraig was instrumental in setting up Gaelscoileanna throughout Munster, ranging from disadvantaged areas like Southill in Limerick to the sprawling dormitory town of Ballincollig near Cork city where the local Gaelscoil is named after Seán Ó Ríordáin, one of Ireland's greatest poets, who lived nearby.

Despite his relentless campaign to promote Irish, Pádraig was never one to force it on others. Both English and Irish were spoken in the family home in Cork. To reach the man and woman in the street, he organised Gael-Taca's free, in-house information service, a highly pragmatic development aimed at helping people with translations and general language queries. For more than four decades, he also taught Leaving Cert students at weekends in accountancy, business organisation and economics.

A keen student of local and national history, he was a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers, including the letters columns of The Irish Times, an occasional Irishman's Diary, plus articles for both the Holly Bough and Ireland's Own. He also contributed to a controversial work entitled Kilmichael: The False Surrender. A discussion on why the ballot was followed by the bullet, published by the Aubane Historical Society.

An intense love of Irish was the motivating issue in his life and doubtless his vision of marketing the language as a living entity will be his enduring legacy. He is survived by his wife Nóirín, daughter Deirdre and sons Colm, Ciarán, Fergus and Brian.

Pádraig Ó Cuanacháin: born January 11th, 1932; died March 2nd, 2008.