Writer, political cartoonist and language activist

Flann O'Riain: FLANN Ó RIAIN, who has died, was the creator of the 1960s television series for children Daithí Lacha, and also…

Flann O'Riain:FLANN Ó RIAIN, who has died, was the creator of the 1960s television series for children Daithí Lacha, and also wrote the weekly Where's That? column for this newspaper.

Daithí Lacha was broadcast by Telefís Éireann for seven years, from 1962 to 1969. A static comic strip produced on a shoestring budget and shown one frame at a time, it recounted the adventures of the eponymous hero and his friends Maidhc, Puisín and Circín. Ó Riain developed another series Rí Rá agus Ruaille Buaille, which was also broadcast by RTÉ.

Where's That?, concerning the origins and meaning of place names, was first published in the 1980s and was a popular and informative column. As the journalist and local historian Richard Roche wrote, it "admirably illustrates Thoreau's saying that 'wherever men have lived there is a story to be told'."

Born in 1929, he was one of the Rábaire Ryans from Hollyford, Co Tipperary. Having completed his secondary education he trained to be a teacher and first taught in Cappamore, Co Limerick, before joining the staff of Scoil Chiaráin, Donnycarney, Dublin.


An Irish-language activist, in February 1971 he resigned from Comhairle na Gaeilge over the Government's decision not to reopen Scoil Dún Chaoin (a decision that was later reversed). In 1977 he refused to pay the full television licence fee in protest at what he considered to be the neglect of Irish by the national broadcaster. He refused to pay a court fine, opting to go to jail.

Imprisoned in Mountjoy prison, he was released after the £25 fine was paid anonymously.

In 1989, he delivered his television set to the offices of the Department of Communications after he had been fined £50 for not having a licence.

A regular contributor to The Irish Timesletters page, he frequently was critical of the mispronunciation by RTÉ presenters of Irish place-names and names in Irish of people and institutions.

On one occasion, he came to the defence of the second national language, slating an RTÉ newsreader's "mangled English".

The "Montrose accent" was a particular bugbear. "Why should this accent, spoken by the Dublin 4 set, be imposed by RTÉ on the rest of the country?" he wrote.

A committed nationalist, in 1971 he issued a public invitation offering to host a typical unionist couple on a visit to Dublin. A couple from Belfast responded and spent a weekend with himself, his wife Norita and family in their home.

He brought them to his local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, where they were "much impressed" by the uileann pipe playing.

The following night he brought them to an Irish-speaking club and before the night was out the Belfast man was ordering his round in recently acquired Irish.

Subsequently Ó Riain stayed in Belfast with a Presbyterian who attended Irish classes.

Of these encounters he said: "I am interested in Irish place names, music and song, and it is not too hard to sell back to the people of Northern Ireland things which are in fact their own. This is a cultural bridge on which we could without bitterness start talking."

As "doll" he drew political cartoons for Comhar, Hibernia and the Irish Independent. His cartoons were exhibited in Dublin and at Listowel Writers Week and were also published in book form. Other publications include Lazy Way to Irish(1995), Lazy Way to Welsh(1995) and Townlands of Leinster and the People Who Lived There(2000).

As a young man he played handball and basketball. A member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, he enlivened many a session with his whistle and concert flute playing. He regularly attended the Merriman summer and winter schools. In recent years he lived in Aherlow, Co Tipperary.

He is survived by his companion Annette McHugh, Norita, daughters Aoife, Muireann and Ciara and sons Aengus, Tiernán and Fiach.

Flann Ó Riain: born 1929; died December 6th, 2008.