An exhibition showcasing the life and work of Tomás Ó Máille, University of Galway’s first Professor of Irish, has been unveiled at the James Hardiman Library.
Saíocht & Saoránacht was officially opened on 30 September by Minister for Sport and the Environment Jack Chambers. The exhibition’s director is Dr. Lilis Ó Laoire (University of Galway), and its curator is Dr. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile.
The exhibition came about as a result of the work between Drs Ó Laoire and Ní Chonghaile, who saw the lack of readily available information on Ó Máille as something that needed to be addressed. The exhibition comes as part of a series of events documenting significant milestones in the university’s history.
Originally from Joyce Country in the Connemara Gaeltacht, Ó Máille was appointed Professor of Irish at Queen’s College, Galway in 1909 (he was also the institution’s youngest professor at the time, at 29). His work focused on the preservation, promotion, and revival of his native language, and he was described by one of his successors as “a scholar of importance, as well as being a man of action fully engagé in the cultural and political revolution of his time”
A primary focus of the exhibition has been the collection and digitisation of wax cylinder recordings that Ó Máille collected during his tenure, which document stories and songs of his native Connemara Gaeltacht. His efforts were quite ahead of their time says Ní Chonghaile.
“Machines were rare so for Tomás Ó Máille to have invested in a machine, he’s really pioneering in that respect”.
The project is currently focused on enriching the metadata of the digitised recordings. This involves attributing the recordings to individual performers to properly catalogue them. So far, a small number of recordings have been released to the general public and have been met with a positive response.
“We released the recordings on 23 September […] immediately there’s been a response from the general public […] the appetite is enormous” says Ní Chonghaile.
A website for the exhibition is currently under development, with a host of different resources slated for upload. This includes the digitisation of the newspaper Ó Máille edited and printed on campus, An Stoc, and Irish language material being digitised in collaboration with New York University. The international dimension is an important aspect says Ní Chonghaile.
“Gaeilge research is about cultural mobility worldwide, there’s Irish diaspora everywhere”
Looking to the future, there is a hope that the exhibition can be toured, especially to the Royal Irish Academy who hold recordings made by Ó Máille on behalf of the national Doegen survey.
So far, the exhibition has been a resounding success, and Ní Chonghaile is optimistic for its future.
“My hopes for all these recordings is that people, especially outside of Gaeltacht communities recognise this as their own heritage […] I’m looking forward to learning more about how today’s generation and coming generations create space for Irish, because that’s the only way it’s going to survive, if that space is created”.
Funding for the exhibition was provided by University of Galway and Foras na Gaeilge. It was commissioned by Roinn na Gaeilge, Ollscoil na Gaillimhe. The exhibition is partnered with the National Library and the Royal Irish Academy. The digitisation effort was funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and the ongoing metadata work is funded by the Heritage Council.