Songwriter and campaigner for Irish language and culture

CONALL Ó DOMHNAILL: Conall Ó Domhnaill (Condaí Mhicí Hiúdaí), who has died aged 91, devoted his life to the promotion of the…

CONALL Ó DOMHNAILL: Conall Ó Domhnaill (Condaí Mhicí Hiúdaí), who has died aged 91, devoted his life to the promotion of the Irish language and all aspects of Irish culture.

A songwriter of note and an accomplished sean-nós singer, music and poetry were in his blood. He was descended from Séamas Ó Domhnaill, one of the early 19th-century poets celebrated by Seosamh Mac Grianna in Filí gan Iomráidh. His sister Neilí was an outstanding traditional singer famous for her song repertoire, while his brother Aodh, a singer and flute-player, collected songs for the Irish Folklore Commission. He was the uncle of Maighréad and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill and their brother Mícheál, singers and musicians who made their name with the group Skara Brae.

The winner of the Newcomers' Hour competition on Raidió Éireann, he also won the Oireachtas sean-nós competition in 1942. As the only survivor of the earliest Oireachtas winners he was awarded a gold medal in 1997.

He was born on July 16th, 1911, in Rannafast, Co Donegal, one of the eight children of Micí Ó Domhnaill and his wife Maggie Ní Dhuibheannaigh. In the late 1930s the family moved to Donaghpatrick in the Meath Gaeltacht.

Facilities were few and far between, and the newcomers did not immediately adapt to the locality: "Ghlac sé tamall orainn uilig éirí cleachtaithe leis an áit, ar an ábhar nár fágadh na háiseanna ansin le riaradh dúinn agus a bhí tuillte againn. Ní raibh teach scoile nó teach pobail maite dúinn. Ní raibh siopa ná córas iompair le feiceáil ná le fáil again agus sinn uilig suite idir Ceanannas Mór agus An Uaimh."

Conall Ó Domhnaill also maintained that more land should have been allocated to each family to make their holdings viable. The size of the farms made them uneconomic and many young people were forced to emigrate to England or Scotland. Thus emigration became part of the way of life in the new Gaeltacht just as it was in the established Gaeltachtaí.

However, the people of the Meath Gaeltacht were determined to secure their community's future. "Baineadh amach ár gceart os comhair ár neart." Conall Ó Domhnaill recalled. "Agus chuir muid romhainn ár dteanga agus ár ndúchas a chur os comhair na tíre. Ní shílim go ndearna aon dream riamh i mbeagán blianta iad féin a eagrú agus iad féin a chur in aithne ar a dtoil féin ná ar a gconlán féin, le dlús agus difríochtaí, le bunadh na Gaeltachta seo."

He was a founding member of the Pearse branch of Conradh na Gaeilge in Donaghpatrick, which made an impact throughout Co Meath. On foot of a branch resolution all Conradh business in the county was conducted in Irish.

The Donaghpatrick drama group produced plays to a very high standard and was renowned for the quality of its music, song and dance presentations. Classes in Irish were organised in the neighbouring towns and Conall Ó Domhnaill taught in Athboy, Slane, and Drumconrath. He helped to get the Kells céilí band, Réalt an Airgid, off the ground and was proud of the success it achieved - particularly its many broadcasts from Raidió Éireann.

In 1946 he began working for Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, teaching Irish to adults. He also conducted drama classes for young people in Gaeltacht areas as well as selling Irish-language books and periodicals throughout the country.

He emigrated to England in 1958. Having worked in Huddersfield, he moved to London where he worked on the buses.

He continued to teach Irish, not only to Irish people but also to the wider population of Camden Town. Returning to Ireland in 1974, he settled in Falcarragh. There he involved himself in halting what he perceived to be the decline of the Gaeltacht.

He set up branches of Glór na nGael in Cloughaneely and in other areas, and strove to revive interest in Irish music, song and drama - particularly among the young. And, recognising the need for increased employment opportunities, he was a strong advocate of local development.

A solo recording of his singing on cassette, Ó Ghlúin go Glúin, was released in 1990 and he was one of four singers featured on the CD, Seoda Sean-Nóis as Tír Chonaill (1996). A wealth of material is held in the BBC and RTÉ archives. A book of his compositions that includes some historical essays, Mairfidh na Filí má Mhaireann ár gCuimhne, was published in 1999.

A regular and lively contributor to discussion programmes on Raidió na Gaeltachta, he was president of Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1980.

His wife Bríd and sister Mary survive him.

Conall Ó Domhnaill: born, July 16th, 1911; died, June 8th, 2003.