Controversialist deeply committed to Gaelic Ireland

 

Proinsias Mac Aonghusa: Proinsias Mac Aonghusa, who has died aged 70, was a journalist and broadcaster with a deep commitment to Gaelic Ireland. He was a former president of Conradh na Gaeilge, and as chairman of Bord na Gaeilge caused considerable controversy when he urged nationalists in West Belfast to support Gerry Adams in the Westminster election of 1992.

Writing in an Irish-language weekly, he said that Adams's defeat would be "a victory for British imperialism". He further called on Sinn Féin supporters in South Down to vote for the SDLP candidate, Eddie McGrady. A vote for Sinn Féin in South Down would split the nationalist vote and be "almost the same" as voting for a unionist. In the event, the SDLP's Joe Hendron won the West Belfast seat.

There were calls for Mac Aonghusa's dismissal from Bord na Gaeilge. He remained defiant and, at the height of the controversy, in his presidential address to the Conradh na Gaeilge árdfheis he attacked Ireland's "false leaders" declaring: "The mind of the slave, of the slíomadóir, of the hireling and the vagabond is still fairly dominant in Ireland."

In contrast, Conradh na Gaeilge's aim was "a Gaelic Ireland in which Irish was the principal spoken language". The loss of the language, he warned, "would be a greater defeat than the Battle of the Boyne or the Battle of Kinsale". He continued as Bord na Gaeilge chairman until 1993.

He argued for the restoration of Irish as forcefully as he once advocated socialism. With David Thornley and others he was a founder of the 1913 Club and identified with the politics of James Connolly. He joined the Labour Party in the late 1950s, quickly making his mark by being elected party vice-chairman. But success eluded him when he stood in the 1965 general election in Louth. Although he was close to the Labour leader, Brendan Corish, he antagonised other senior party members. His constant criticism of some TDs cost him dear when he was expelled from the party in 1967. His career in electoral politics ended in 1969 when, standing as an independent Dáil candidate in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, he lost his deposit.

By now openly contemptuous of "mere parlour pinks", he became a fervent supporter of Charles Haughey. As "Gulliver" in the Sunday Press, he regularly wrote in praise of Haughey while pouring scorn on other politicians. When in 1991 Haughey announced plans for the establishment of an Irish-language television station Mac Aonghusa was overjoyed, declaring that the then taoiseach would be "remembered among the families of the Gael as long as the Gaelic nation shall survive". That Haughey was an otherwise inactive Aire na Gaeltachta went without comment.

He was born on June 23rd, 1933, in Rosmuc, Co Galway, the eldest of the four children of Criostóir Mac Aonghusa and his wife, Mairéad (née de Lappe). His father was a teacher, Fianna Fáil councillor and respected writer in Irish. His parents separated when he was 10 years old and he moved to Dublin with his mother and siblings.

Having completed his secondary education, he joined the Abbey Theatre as an actor. He was equal to the demands of the Abbey's standard fare of run-of-the-mill melodramas and what Hugh Leonard called "parish-pump Ibsenism". Acting brought him to Raidió Éireann, where he took part in drama presentations, read short stories and then moved to current affairs. In the early 1960s he presented Aer Iris on radio, while the Telefís Éireann series An Fear agus A Scéal earned him a Jacobs Award.

He had a long and sometimes stormy association with the television current affairs programme, Féach. The programme team included Eoghan Harris and Breandán Ó hEithir, and the issues of the day were covered in a lively and provocative manner. In 1972 Mac Aonghusa withdrew from the programme after taking exception to an article in an RTÉ staff magazine that he attributed to Harris. He eventually returned, becoming editor. In 1976 the RTÉ Authority rejected the unanimous recommendation of an independent interview board and failed to appoint him head of Raidió na Gaeltachta. He retired from RTÉ in 1985.

In the mid-1970s he worked for the United Nations, helping to prepare the ground for Namibian independence. He took an active interest in civil liberties, and represented the Irish Peace Council at many international conferences. A keen bibliophile and art collector, he was twice appointed to the Arts Council. A regular contributor to newspapers and periodicals, he won the Oireachtas award for print journalism in Irish on several occasions. His books included Ar Son na Gaeilge: Conradh na Gaeilge 1893-1993 - Stair Sheanachais (1993).

His wife, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, sons Donal and Diarmaid, and daughter Caitríona survive him.

Proinsias Mac Aonghusa: born June 23rd, 1933; died September 28th, 2003