The Papers of Proinsias Mac an Bheatha
Reference code: G40
Title: The Papers of Proinsias Mac an Bheatha
Date(s): (1998)- 1940-1990
Extent: 14 boxes
Location: James Hardiman Library, N.U.I. Galway
Biographical History

Francis McVeigh was born in Belfast on 16 November 1910 and raised at first in Killough, Bangor (county Down), and Belfast. His father died when he was very young, and in 1922, in a serious outbreak of sectarian violence targetting also the McVeigh household, his mother took him and his two sisters to Dublin, where he attended the Christian Brothers' School in Westland Row. His early youth is described in "Téid focal le gaoith" (1967), and his Ulster origins formed his outlook and remained an important aspect in his writings. Early on he developed a deep interest in the Irish language, joining Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) in 1928, and receiving tuition from teachers such as Séamus Ó Grianna ('Máire'), his brother Seosamh Mac Grianna, as well as Niall Ó Dónaill, acquiring a spoken idiom close to the Ulster dialect, and emulating northern styles of writing. In 1928 he entered the civil service, and by the time he joined the Customs and Mail service in 1932 he did so under his Irish name. His early experiences in Customs and Mail (Customs and Excise), in Dublin and on working tours around the country, are reflected in "An Earnáil agus an Ghaeilge" (1985) - in the main this work contains portraits of Gaeilgeoir Customs officials. He remained in Customs for over forty years, and was Chief Collector by the time he retired in 1975, but the archives and indeed his writings contain little regarding his career. Mac an Bheatha's activism for the Irish language was against the backdrop of the new revival particularly in the early 1940s - following the endorsement of Irish as the official language in the 1937 Constitution. His involvement in the movements of the 1930s and particularly 1940s (as of the following decades when their impetus had however abated) is documented also primarily in "Téid focal le gaoith". He joined Conradh na Gaeilge's branch Craobh na hAiséirí (old spelling "Aiséirghe") in the year of its inception, 1940; the movement was founded by another Belfastman living in Dublin, Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, and its annual publication was named "Aiséirghe". The title of Mac an Bheatha's autobiography, together with his later collection of essays "Téann buille le cnámh" (1983) - "Words go with the wind while a blow will pierce the core" - form two parts of the motto used by Ó Cuinneagáin to express his movement's dedication to activism, in the face of what was seen as the apathy and indifference towards the language which had set in soon after the foundation of the Free State. Ó Cuinneagáin was a man of charisma, eventually differing from Mac an Bheatha in his wish to pursue the more radical aims of the language movement politically. For that reason, and although they agreed that it was better to leave the ineffective and unspirited Conradh na Gaeilge mother organisation, as they saw it, Mac an Bheatha did not join Ó Cuinneagáin's radical political party Ailtirí na hAiséirí of summer 1942. Like the Craobh, the Ailtirí also supported the development of the spoken Irish language within a context of exemplary Catholicism, but pledged to realise this within the 32 counties, and in a one-party system. Mac an Bheatha compares the relationship Craobh/ Ailtirí to that of Sinn Féin/ Conradh na Gaeilge in 1918. At the end of 1942, Mac an Bheatha and other disaffected members of Craobh na hAiséirí founded Glúin na Bua (Ulster spelling Glún na Buaidhe), a continuation of the Craobh but independent from the Conradh; Ciarán Ó Nualláin, Anraoi Ó Liatháin, and Monica Ní Mhurchú were among the first members. Mac an Bheatha remained general director ("ardstiúrthóir") for over a decade, despite personal misgivings about assuming leadership. Similar to the Craobh, their constitution was demanding on its members, and foresaw activism in the shape of marches, printing of pamphlets, holding meetings, céilís, staging plays, and screening films, with an emphasis on activising young people. The aim was to reinstate Irish, the national language, as the daily spoken language of the people. Nationalism, Catholicism, republicanism and socialism were aspects of varying importance to the movement's raison d'être. Despite an initial cooling of relations with the Gaelic League [G40/ 46], contact was upheld, and Mac an Bheatha was one of two asked to summon the first meeting of the newly-founded Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge of 1943: this was established by the Gaelic League to co-ordinate the work of all existing language organisations, and Mac an Bheatha talked at the first meeting; Taoiseach de Valera and Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin were interested parties in the new institution. In 1946, Glúin na Bua and the Irish universities' organisation, the Comhchaidreamh, essentially ousted Conradh na Gaeilge from the Comhdháil, which until then had been perceived as a rather ineffectual organisation despite the government funding it received [G40/ 162]. It was by instigation of the Comhchaidreamh that the Comhdháil was responsible for establishing Gael-Linn in 1953. Following the 'take-over' of 1946, Mac an Bheatha became the Comhdháil's vice-president and thereby second to president Ernest Blythe, a man he held in admiration to the point of dedicating to him "Téid focal le gaoith". In this book, Mac an Bheatha offers pen sketches of his other colleagues at the Comhdháil, such as Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, Liam Ó Luanaigh, Dónall Ó Móráin, and Donncha Ó Laoire. The archives suggest that Mac an Bheatha was centrally involved at least until the early 1960s. The Glúin's active phase reached its apogee in the mid-1940s when there were around thirty branches around the country. Eager to prove that it was not merely a middle-class interest group, and to contribute to other similar national efforts it launched its "Seirbhís Náisiúnta" programme one of whose results was a scheme for cheaper distribution of foodstuffs, the "Scéim na bPrátaí" of 1947. From the 1950s onwards, while the Glúin was not very influential on its own, it played a part as member of the Comhdháil Náisiúnta in lobbying the government in Irish language matters. The establishment of the Department of the Gaeltacht in 1956 had been opposed by the Comhdháil and Mac an Bheatha personally, having tried instead unsuccessfully for an independent Bord na Gaeltachta. Glúin na Bua's lasting achievement was in the institution of the newspaper "Inniu" - this was discussed by Mac an Bheatha in his essay in "I dtreo na gréine" [1988]. Its inception and name (old spelling "Indiu") were due to Ciarán Ó Nualláin (brother of Flann O'Brien/Myles na gCopaleen), a freelance journalist formerly with the "Irish Independent", and subsequently long-time editor of "Inniu" until his retirement in May 1972. The two men were close friends, and Mac an Bheatha dedicated "Téann buille le cnámh" (1983) to him. The paper ran from 17 March 1943 until 24 August 1984, and changed from monthly to weekly publication in [April] 1945; its demise was due to the abrupt withdrawal of government funding which had made the paper viable from 1946 onwards. Mac an Bheatha had remained intimately involved with the paper as one of the board members, and in writing regular columns for it, including the column "Timpeall" that ran from circa 1976 until the last issue. Proinsias Mac an Bheatha was also involved in the establishment of the printing press "Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta" (FNT), incorporated in 1947 in Westport by taking over the press from "The Mayo News" and continuing to publish that paper also. FNT was established mainly to ensure the continued existence of Inniu, and fulfilled this role for over 35 years, but because of the geographical distance this was at great cost to both FNT and "Inniu" (G40/ 158). FNT became an important publisher of Irish books, issuing for instance Máirtín ó Cadhain's "Cré na Cille" in 1949. By 1984 "Inniu" had ceased publication, and while FNT was further publishing the weekly "Mayo News", printing books as well as doing 'job printing', it went into liquidation in 1988. While Inniu and FNT, as offshoots of Glúin na Bua, are well documented by the archives, the Glúin is not covered well beyond the 1940s, partly through its scaling down of activities. Mac an Bheatha dedicated more time to writing, but also had increasing family commitments. In 1944, he had married co-activist Monica Ní Mhurchú; Risteárd Ó Glaisne testifies to her own great spirit and energy within the language movement but she rarely surfaces in this archival collection. The couple had seven children, Máire, Monica, Eilís, Pádraig, Proinsias, Éamonn, and Dónal. One of the Glúin's later campaigns, organised in 1964 to gather signatures in asking greater commitment from the government to the Irish language, is not manifest in the documents at all. In 1966, Mac an Bheatha retired from the directorship of Glúin na Bua, having lost hope for the language revival as envisaged originally, and disillusioned particularly with how succeeding governments had handled the issue. By the time of publication of "Téann buille le cnámh" (1983), Glúin na Bua had ceased to exist. A number of press articles and drafts of such by Mac an Bheatha in the archives bear out his own criticism of the government in its lack of constructive policies for the language (G40/ 265, 303, 329), despite initial hopes after the issue of the White Paper of 1965. In 1983 he conceded that the Glúin and others had possibly set their aim too high - "Éire Ghaelach lenár linn" -, or pursued it at the wrong time, with the wrong means. The collection does not reflect any of the serious conflicts of the 1940s where the revivalists were challenged by national school teachers over what was seen to be an irrational and exaggerated approach to bringing the spoken idiom back through teaching, though there is an interesting file of press cuttings dealing with the 'pitched battle' of 1966 when the Language Freedom Movement, an organisation joined by Irish writers such as 'Máire' and John B.Keane, was engaged in fierce debates with those in favour of obligatory teaching of Irish. [G40/ 820] Neither is there any any hint of the intellectual challenges thrown out by Seán Ó Faoláin, partly through his journal "The Bell", to Irish revivalists whose romantic conceptions he despised, and whose decline into mere jobbery he condemned. Mac an Bheatha first began doing press work for "Inniu", but by the early 1970s he was a regular contributor of columns to the "Irish Press", occasionally also to the "Evening Press", to "The Irish News", and contributing articles and letters also infrequently (in English) to "The Irish Times"; less again (it would seem) to "The Irish Independent". He seems to have also been contributing regularly to "An tUltach", by then the longest-serving monthly Irish journal (established in 1924), from the mid-1970s onwards: when "Inniu" ceased publication, "An tUltach" provided for Mac an Bheatha's column "Timpeall" to be continued. In the summer of 1984, "The Irish News" discontinued his column "Cabaireacht" [G40/ 224], but a year later "The Irish News" (Belfast) agreed with him on weekly contributions in Irish, also in the format of a personal column. Far beyond his work for the press, Mac an Bheatha's literary and historical work was formidable, resulting in two biographies ("Tart na Córa" 1963, "Jemmy Hope" 1985), three historical novels ("An faoileán bán" 1975, "Cnoc na hUamha" 1978, "Roth an Mhuilinn" 1980), an autobiography ("Téid focal le gaoth" 1967), four collections of essays that are mostly autobiographical reflections ("Seosamh Mac Grianna agus cúrsaí eile" 1970, "Téann buille le cnámh" 1983, "I dtreo na gréine" [1988], "Mé féin agus an gairdín" 1987), two historical studies ("An Earnáil agus an Ghaeilge" 1985, "Dóchas aduaidh" 1991), and a collection of poetry ("Henry Joy agus véarsaí eile" 1992). Proinsias Mac an Bheatha had a special interest in northern writers: he sought out Ulster teachers when attending classes with Conradh na Gaeilge, and eventually made Seosamh Mac Grianna's personal acquaintance when the latter lived in Dublin in the mid-1950s. The writer had no means of income at the time, and together with Liam Ó Luanaigh of Conradh na Gaeilge and Séamus Ó Néill of An Comhchaidreamh Mac an Bheatha signed public notices circulated to around 300 people, so raising money to be payed out to the writer regularly, continued after he returned to Donegal in 1957. [See G40/ 632-633] Mac an Bheatha offers an appreciation of MacGrianna and his writings, and describes their acquaintance, in the eponymous essay in "Seosamh Mac Grianna agus cúrsaí eile" (1970, pp 1-84). Here he describes how he took some of the writer's notebooks in his possession after his departure from Dublin; they now form another archival connection. In writing his essay, he drew on his own diary, now lost, kept from July to September 1954; a transcript however, survives and is now part of the Mac Grianna collection. The marginalisation of the northern Irish dialect within the wider context of the language in society was naturally one of Mac an Bheatha's concerns and finds some expression in this collection [e.g. G40 / 533, 865]. He was further invited to give talks on the theme of Donegal writers at the Éigse Uladh (at least in 1972 and 1979), and for radio series run by Raidió na Gaeltachta in 1989 on the Donegal writers in general, and 'Máire' (Séamus Ó Grianna) in particular. Nollaig Mac Congáil, organiser of the radio series, gave expression to Mac an Bheatha's special connection with Donegal and Ulster writers, in his dedication of a book of essays on 'Máire': "I gcuimhne ar Phroinsias Mac an Bheatha, nach maireann, Gael, Ultach agus cara riamh anall le Griannaigh Rinn na Feirste." Mac an Bheatha discusses his politics openly within the various formats his autobiographical writings took. Brought up in a republican household where the Treaty was seen as an act of betrayal of the North, and an admirer of James Connolly and Pádraig Pearse, he assessed himself as a republican though never a member of a military wing. He became a member of Fianna Fáil but by 1988 he found that the republican spirit was much diminished in the party. He was known personally to Éamon de Valera and to Charles Haughey, with whom he usually talked Irish [G40/ 270, 572, 586]. He befriended George Gilmore, the Irish socialist and co-founder of the Republican Congress of 1934; an account of their acquaintance is contained in his essay "George Gilmore" ("I dtreo na gréine" [1988]). Through Gilmore he met and corresponded with Erna Bennett, a pioneer in genetic conservation of Belfast extraction, a Marxist and journalist, whom he and his wife visited in Italy. [G40/ 233, 236, 237, 902] Mac an Bheatha's ideals for the Irish state and the language were informed foremostly by the ideas of Pearse and Connolly, but also thinkers and activists such as Theobald Wolfe Tone and James Fintan Lalor. His biographies of James Connolly and of the 'Templepatrick Weaver' James 'Jemmy' Hope bear out his interests and aspirations for Ireland. While neither work can be said to be groundbreaking historiographically, his work on Hope is still the only such biography available, if long out of print. Where the future of the Irish language was concerned, his later writings have less of the 'rallying call', veering instead between a spirit of pessimism and giving out quiet challenges for policy-makers and the "lucht na Gaeilge" in general. However, his reference to Séamus Ó Grianna’s "Ní hí seo an Éire a bhí in anallód ann" is typical of his fear of the ultimate erosion of the old Gaelic and Catholic values ["Cá bhfuil ár dtriall?" G40/ 297]. A devout and committed Catholic, his writings are self-reflectively informed by his religion, and his critics and reviewers usually stress this point. In 1972 he was instrumental in organising a campaign through "Inniu" to establish in Dublin a weekly Mass in Irish [G40/ 202] and was later one of the church wardens in Clontarf. One of his correspondents and friends was Tomás Ó Fiaich to whom Mac an Bheatha also dedicated a number of articles [G40/ 312, 313, 558, 614]. He also corresponded with Róisín Ní Mheara, an English expatriate in Germany (of Irish extraction), organiser of a series of conferences on Irish pilgrim saints in Europe that also involved Ó Fiaich; Mac an Bheatha gave her cautionary advice on her autobiography "Cé hí seo amuigh" (1992). The archives only sporadically reflect criticism that sprang from the close-kit relations between "Inniu", the publishing house that served as its printing press, and what some perceived to be a narrow approach to editing and to the matter covered in the paper and the published books [G40/ 778]. Mac an Bheatha found it necessary at times to defend the paper against accusations of Fianna Fáil partisanship, protesting its journalistic spirit of objectivity despite its sponsorship from mainly Fianna Fáil governments [G40 /150, 491]. He defended himself against Tarlach de Blacam's accusations on RTE television in May 1972 that he and other perceived reactionaries ("frithbheartaithe") controlled "Inniu" and other papers [G40/ 125]. The disagreements that existed between Mac an Bheatha and Máirtín Ó Cadhain also surface at times but are predictably - in the absence of correspondence from Ó Cadhain- informed by Mac an Bheatha's viewpoints [see G40/ 290, 291, 473, 552]. Rosenstock's letter [G40/ 184 (undated)] to Mac an Bheatha may be seen as indicative of criticism of his conservative views, which he was well aware of [cf G40/ 538]. Other critics point to his unceasing and quiet work for the language, and honesty and astuteness when commenting on the state of Irish affairs [G40/ 705]. Proinsias Mac an Bheatha died on 27 November 1990.

Immediate Source of Acquisition or Transfer

This collection was deposited in February 2007 in the archives of University of Ireland, Galway, by Proinsias Mac an Bheatha's family.

Scope and Content

The bulk of the papers covers a period of fifty years. All material contained in the collection illustrates Mac an Bheatha's two main private areas of interest: that in the development of the Irish language, and that in the labour and trade union movements. The papers contain large sections of press cuttings - non-archival sources described mostly at item level because a broad picture of his work and interests would not emerge were these dealt with too summarily. Involvement with Craobh na hAiséirí: administrative material (membership lists, constitution, accounts, correspondence. Involvement with Glúin na Bua/Glún na Buaidhe: administrative material (membership lists, constitution, accounts, correspondence. Involvement with "Inniu": administrative material (accounts, correspondence), copies of "Indiu/Inniu", press cuttings relating to the development of the paper. Involvement with Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teo.: administrative material (business reports, correspondence). Involvement with Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge: press cuttings, publications, correspondence). Private correspondence (not relating to specific monograph publications): mostly letters from friends, members of the public, colleagues, often concerning his publications in preparation or in review. Isolated items of correspondence with members of the academic and literary Irish-speaking community, such as Liam MacMathúna, Muiris Ó Droighneáin, Ciarán Ó Coigligh, and Gabriel Rosenstock. Notable correspondence: 7 items of correspondence from (later Cardinal) Tomás Ó Fiaich; 7 from Róisín Ní Mheara. Mac an Bheatha's own press work (except in relation to Ulster poets): drafts, faircopies, press cuttings of his work for "nniu", "An tUltach", "The Irish Times", "The Irish Press", "The Irish News", most extensive for 1971-1973 and 1988-1990.Usually personal reflections in format of 'personal column' with recurrent themes of Irish language policies and culture, trade unionism. Ulster writers: collection of printed works by and about Seosamh MacGrianna, correspondence and accounts relating to personal relations with MacGrianna, drafts and faircopies for press and radio work on MacGrianna and Ulster writers. Mac an Bheatha's monograph publications and drafts of unpublished material: research notes, correspondence, drafts and faircopies, press cuttings (reviews) pertaining to Mac an Bheatha's 13 book publications; drafts for two translations of monographs, and a short play (unpublished). Collection of press cuttings: recurrent themes of Irish history, language, socialism; notable cuttings on the Language Freedom Movement events 1966; documents concerning life of Ó Fiaich. Collection of pamphlets, book (1898-1979): emphasis on the Irish language, and on trade unionism (excepting pamphlets on James Connolly). Notebooks, songs and poetry, research, programmes etc: notably notes from interview with first president of the Republic Denis McCullough; programme for opening of Liberty Hall in 1965 with trade union member signatures; Butler and Shaughnessy awards ceremony programme 1971 with signatures.

System of arrangement

The collection is in good physical condition. Arrangement was mostly imposed, although most of the press-cuttings (both by Mac an Bheatha and other authors) were found together, as was the material for book publications. The arrangement falls broadly into three sections, namely Mac an Bheatha's involvement in various language movements - of which sprang his part in the founding of "Inniu" and Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teo. -, papers related to his publishing activities, and various papers collected by him. These fall further into twelve chapters, to deal with particular language movements such as Glúin na Bua, and particular publications. The publications sections usually divide further into subsections, since there are often holdings of drafts besides research notes and reviews. While these are arranged by publication date, "I dtreo na gréine", is mistakenly listed early. (It can be dated to 1988 by the review G40/ 718.) 'Faircopy' is used to denote a a draft that is identical to the published item, or has very few handwritten amendments. Mac an Bheatha's interest in the Ulster writers and brief personal involvement with Seosamh Mac Grianna warranted a special chapter in the second section that combines documents pertaining to his own publications and collected material on Mac Grianna.

Conditions governing access

This collection is available to all bone fide researchers, and subject to the conditions of access governing consultation of archival material at the James Hardiman Library. For a full statement of these conditions see: . No material may be reproduced from this collection without the written permission of the archivist, and all reproductions are subject to conditions of access. The most appropriate form of reference is Title of item; date of item: Reference Number (G40/ ), James Hardiman Library Archives, NUI Galway/ Leabharlann Shéamais Uí Argadáin, Cartlann, Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh.

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