With the encroachment of the English language, British imperialism had a tremendous impact upon the Irish-speaking population. What particularly hit them was the Great Famine, which resulted in the mass emigration of the Irish diaspora. Prior to the 1840s, half of the Irish population spoke Irish Gaelic fluently; but by 1911, there were around 17% of the population, mainly located in rural, remote areas.
In the case of Seán Ó hEinirí–otherwise known as John O’Henry–he was born in County Mayo in 1911. He was among the last people who spoke Irish Gaelic as his native and only language. Around the time that he lived, only 17,000 were left.
For years, he was frequently visited by the Irish Folklore Commission who recorded the stories that he told, for he was a seanchaí, which was a Gaelic story-teller. He was known as being among the last of the seanchaithe, before his death in 1998.
There are no Irish Gaelic monoglots remaining, however the memory of Seán Ó hEinirí is preserved by The National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin. As such, the 21st century should be seen as an opportune time to revive the tradition of using Irish Gaelic within a storytelling medium. It has already seen relevance in the modern time with TG Lurgan’s Irish Gaelic translation of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” so it is possible to see a reemergence of the seanchaithe.
- IVRLA 10443 Ó hEinirí. Wikipedia. UCD Digital Library. 1985. 2017. CC BY-SA 3.0. Changes include removing background and repositioning.
- NationalFolkloreUCD. Storytelling Mayo & Donegal. YouTube. 2013.
- Seán Ó hEinirí. Wikipedia.
- Seanchai. Wikipedia.
- Telling Tales the Old Fashioned Way. RTE Archives. 1985.
- TG Lurgan. Avicii Vs Lurgan – “Wake Me Up” as Gaeilge. YouTube. 2013.
- Watson, Iarfhlaith; Nic Ghiolla Phádraig, Máire (September 2009). “Is there an educational advantage to speaking Irish? An investigation of the relationship between education and ability to speak Irish”. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Retrieved 2017-04-24 – via Digital.ucd.ie.
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