Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí obituary: Irrepressible broadcaster who brought unique talent to Irish language and cultural activism

Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí will be remembered as a pioneer in Irish language broadcasting who was a boon to musicians and public activists alike

Born: May 6th, 1970

Died: September 19th, 2023

During his lifetime, Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí established a new movement, and new way of engaging with the Irish language, that will serve as his lasting legacy.

The energy and dynamism of Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí touched everybody who encountered this exceptional broadcaster. He gave a platform to musicians, artists, writers and language activists throughout Ireland during the course of his career, cut short by his untimely death. Mac Aodha Bhuí's bubbly enthusiasm and his vision for the community of Irish speakers combined to create an ecosystem where Irish speakers could navigate a modern multicultural – and indeed countercultural – Ireland, using their own native tongue.

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He was born in 1970 in Cork, the youngest of nine children, to Fionntán and Eibhlín Mac Aodha Bhuí. The family moved to Donegal in 1973 and settled in Cois Cláidí in Gaoth Dobhair. He was educated at the primary school in Bun Beag and in Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair.

His broadcasting career began as a teenager with voluntary work on pirate radio stations in Dublin and Donegal as he completed a communications course in Coláiste Dhúlaigh in Coolock. He wrote for Irish publications such as Anois and Lá, as well as contributing to the Beoscéalta column in the Irish Press.

His first big break came in the early 1990s when he was taken on as a television presenter in RTÉ for shows such as Scaoil Amach an Bobailín and Ecu! Ecu!

In 1993, in a significant moment for young adult Irish speakers, together with his friends, he created An Ciorcal Craiceáilte, a social club that set out to give Irish speakers all over Ireland, both in the Gaeltacht and beyond, a social outlet that would compare to anything that English language events could offer. They were held once a week.

That same year, he was offered a position as a broadcaster with RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG) on the programme Cois Life. His natural ability as a broadcaster and journalist was evident from early on.

Four years later, in 1997, Mac Aodha Bhuí decided to return permanently to the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht, by which time he was an established national broadcaster. Soon after arriving home, he started An Cabaret Craiceáilte, a monthly concert where a diverse array of musicians drawn from all over the country would play an eclectic mix of music.

At the same time, he and Hughie Mac Gairbheith were presenting Cúl an Tí, a magazine programme that never shied away from controversy when dealing with current affairs. Mac Aodha Bhuí, a firebrand at heart, sometimes held opinions at odds with the official RTÉ position. He had a natural affinity for those who were oppressed – he supported causes such as that of Palestine and the Basque Country, he was a strong advocate for the Welsh language movement, and was a strong supporter of Cuba. In general, he supported any community that was campaigning for human rights equality, and cultural and language rights equality.

In 1999 he became one of the presenters of An Taobh Tuathail and later of Géill Slí. Both programmes assumed cult status and had their own dedicated following, who remained loyal over many years. Mac Aodha Bhuí would play music from all over the globe as well as giving a stage to Irish language musicians. The musical genres ranged from reggae and radical new wave to trad and sean-nós singing.

Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí won Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the Oireachtas on five occasions: 2002, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2016

In 2006, he began a new phase of his career, presenting Rónán Beo, his most celebrated programme. He discussed the events of the day with special guests and gave voice to people throughout the world who were involved with public issues.

However, it was the Irish language community that was to prove his strongest spiritual and cultural home. As a host and as MC his high-octane style was electric, his energy infectious and his genuine affection for guests created a sense of family among Irish speakers, culminating each year with his legendary presentations live from Oireachtas na Samhna. In that context, when it came to his broadcasts, it was clear the people of Tory Island were always closest to his heart.

He won Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the Oireachtas on five occasions: 2002, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2016. He won Radio Series of the Year with Rónán Beo on three occasions and he also won Radio Personality of the Year at the Celtic Media Festival in 2011. In addition, Rónán Beo won Radio Series of the Year at the PPI Radio Awards in 2012, and again in 2018.

In 2019, Mac Aodha Bhuí got the terrible news that he had stage-three cancer. He battled the disease bravely – and all the adversity that came with it – over four years. During that time, he never gave in.

Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí was an eminently likable person, popular with many thousands of people. He will be remembered as a pioneer in Irish language broadcasting who was a boon to musicians and public activists. He will be seen as an open-minded person, willing to share his wonder for the world with an audience far and wide. He was seen as a friend to Irish speakers and a beloved husband and father.

His funeral was held in Gaoth Dobhair in September 2023. He is survived by his wife Bernie, his daughter Fionnuala, his sisters Bríd, Ríona and Colma and his brothers Cian, Iarla, Cuimín and Barra.

Read the original Irish language version of this obituary.