NUI Galway’s oldest graduate 101 . . . and still not out

Anne Gannon left university during Europe’s darkest hour, as tide of fascism was rising

The young Anne Gannon on her graduation from NUIG and as she is now – the mature centenarian.

The young Anne Gannon on her graduation from NUIG and as she is now – the mature centenarian.

 

When Irish-Argentinian student Anne Gannon graduated from university in Galway, Europe was engulfed by a wave of fascism.

Adolf Hitler had become Führer in Germany and Irish dockers joined with Hasidic Jews to protest over a British Union of Fascists march through London’s East End.

The young commerce graduate from Carrigeen, Co Longford, who worked in England during the second World War, is now NUI Galway’s oldest living graduate – at 101.

She is also the most senior member of the Irish Argentine community in the midlands, and a pioneering collector of Irish music. She has agreed to talk about all this at a public interview on the NUIG campus this Thursday night.

“Honoured, excited, nervous, but I will take it all as it comes” is her response to the invitation.

Now Mrs Anne Byrne, she will be accompanied by her daughter Úna to discuss her work as the first private individual to make tape recordings of traditional music in Ireland.

Mrs Byrne made her first field recordings in 1954, using a tape recorder she had bought while working with the Reader’s Digest (italics) in New York. Her aim had been to record the music of her father, Bernard Gannon. An accordion player, he had been born and reared in Argentina of Co Longford parents, and had moved to Ireland in 1906 at the age of 25 to take over a family farm.

Different world

Anne was the seventh of 17 children brought up in Carrigeen, Legan, Co Longford, and remembers a Black-and-Tan raid at home. She heard her father playing Argentinian music which he had picked up as a young boy. His repertoire was laced with Irish tunes, including those he had picked up from his brother-in-law, fiddle player Christopher “Kit” Kelly.

Anne Gannon, as she then was, had no electricity at home at the time, and had to transport her heavy equipment to neighbouring houses to avail of power. She had also brought home a movie camera from north America, and her tape recordings and colour film footage have been digitised. Her music collection has been donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Mrs Byrne, who settled in Ardagh, Co Longford , taught five languages, including Latin, as well as other subjects at secondary level. She had many other strings to her bow at that stage, as she had been active in drama productions at the Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc in Galway, and both acted with Walter Macken and appeared in some of his plays.

She is a prominent figure in the Irish-Argentinian community in the midlands and she has published a history in verse of her home place at Ardagh. She undertook that piece of writing when she was almost 100 years old.

Accordionist Mairtín O’Connor will perform some of Mrs Byrne’s favourite tracks during the public interview, which will be conducted with NUIG acting director of the Centre for Irish Studies Dr Méabh Ni Fhuartháin. The free public event is hosted by NUIG Alumni Relations, with booking details available from Aisling Nolan at aisling.nolan@nuigalway.ie