Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sáirséal agus Dill

Seán Sáirséal Ó hÉigeartaigh & Brighid Uí Éagartaigh
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I have just listened to a radio programme which brought me straight back to my schooldays. Cian Ó hÉigeartaigh and his sister Aoileann have just published a large tome on the history of their parents' publishing company Sáirséal agus Dill. Seán founded the company in 1947 and his wife kept it going for a further 14 years after his premature death in 1967.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain, speaking at Seán's funeral, credited Seán with the salvation of writing in Irish.

I remember this publishing house very well. I had some of their books in school.

Stair na hEorpa nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. It came into the classroom at a critical point. We were changing over from the old Irish script (with the séimhiús) to the new Roman script (which substituted a "h" for the séimhiú). This was a severe culture shock and the text suddenly looked like gobbledegook (or Welsh!). We eventually got used to it and here we are today.

I also had not only Albert Folens's French course book, Nuachúrsa Fraincise, but had Albert himself teaching me with it. There was an element of fiction in this book as far as Albert's class was concerned. We were learning French through Irish, hence the need for this particular text book. But Albert didn't have hardly any Irish so we were effectively taught through the direct method.

And then there was poor Julius Caesar. Never made it to Ireland but his Gallic Wars were now published with Irish language footnotes. What next? Mind you, this particular book was not quite up to the rigours of our Latin class and had started to come apart by the end of the year.

Sáirséal agus Dill also published Bás nó Beatha, a translation into Irish by Máirtín Ó Cadhain of Saunders Lewis's rallying call to supporters of the Welsh language in 1961/2. Lewis's call, Tynged yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language), was originally a radio broadcast and then a pamphlet which became highly influential in the subsequent development of the fortunes of the Welsh language.

Update 12/1/2017

Following the death of TK Whitaker on Monday (9/1/2017) this letter appeared in today's Irish Times.
A chara, – When my father Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh died unexpectedly in 1967, he was a principal officer in the Department of Finance. Soon after the funeral, the secretary of the department, TK Whitaker, phoned my mother, Bríghid Uí Éigeartaigh.

After expressing his condolences, he asked what would become now of the Irish-language publishing house Sáirséal agus Dill, run by my father and mother. Bríghid said it would have to close immediately, since it could not continue without my father’s salary.

Whitaker then asked Bríghid if she would wish to continue the business, if adequate financial arrangements could be made. He thought special arrangements might be possible, and was willing to do what he could to help. After thinking for a few days, she told him she would be glad to continue, provided reliable financial assistance could be provided quickly. Negotiations followed, with unaccustomed speed, and Sáirséal agus Dill continued in business for a further 15 years.

In the scale of Ken Whitaker’s achievements, this is a small matter. Nonetheless, I would welcome the opportunity to place this small stone on his cairn. – Is mise,


Dublin 14.

1 comment:

An Grádach said...

I am blanking on Sean A. O Murchu (i.e. John A, late of UCC) but the others all still resonate. Cé mhéid bliain ó shoin é sin?! Don't ask...