Monday, April 19, 2010

A very modern contest!

One of the most exciting events in the Irish language movements for some years passed virtually unnoticed in the English language media these past few weeks.

This was the Ard Fheis (or AGM) of Conradh na Gaeilge which was held in Limerick City 16th/17th Márta 2009. In recent years this might have passed with little notice in the Irish language media too. This say something perhaps about how apparently the movement who over a hundred years ago was arguably primarily instrumental in revitalising the Gaelic nation leading to the 1916 rising and what came after.

Na hIomathóirí
P Mac Fhearghusa
Pádraigh Mac Fhearghusa

S Ó hAdhmaill
Seán Ó hAdhmaill

However a small message in facebook by a young Belfast man took wing among the not insubstantial community of Irish-speakers who use that medium. The message read: (don't worry we give the translation in brackets!)
    "Tá sé oifigiúil anois — tá mé ag seasamh d'Uachtaránacht Chonradh na Gaeilge! Má tá duine ar bith ag iarraidh tacú liom — cuirigí ríomhphost tapaidh chugam. Tá go leor oibre le déanamh idir seo agus an 16-17 Aibreán 2010, Óstán Strand, Luimneach. Beirimis bua! Fiú muna bhfuil tú ábalta freastal — tá neart stocaireacht le déanamh go fóill chun na baill a mhealladh síos go Luimneach"
    (It's official now - I am standing for the presidency of Conradh na Gaeilge! If anyone wishes to support me — send a quick e-mail to me. There is much work to be done between now and 16/17 April 2010 Strand Hotel, Limerick. Let's win! Even if you are unable to attend — a power of lobbying is required still to encourage members attendance at Limerick!
That message on 22nd Márta, alone attracted seven open comments on face book and twenty "I like it" clicks and God knows how many private messages.

The young man's name was Seán Ó hAdhmaill and he is of the new crop of idealistic and enthusiastic Gaels from a branch of the Conradh called the Gael Óg, which have been creating ripples for the past number of years with campaigns like one to "Gaelicise" mobile phones and others. He comes from the active urban Gaeltacht community in Belfast, raised in Irish in the six counties, an area which politically, has been positively inimical to things Irish since its creation (rather than ambivalent as is the case in the 26 counties!).

This declaration was the start of a three week whirlwind of activity on the web, blogs were written, new ones instituted, radio interviews (all Irish language events). Perhaps the most famous of these was that on Glór Anoir (The voice from the East) on Radio na Gaeltacht where the two protagonists, the incumbent president Pádraigh Mac Fhearghusa and Seán Ó hAdhmail had a debate which quickly became quite heated, due, in this correspondent's view to a misunderstanding but also to a perceived view of the competition as a conflict between urban and rural viewpoints.

Another remark that incensed some was that of Pádraigh Mac Fhearghusa and sounded very patronising was one which intimated that Ó hAdhmaill was "too young" for the position although he welcomed young members for their energy and enthusiasm. A remark, even if it was true, is quite breathtaking in it's starkness. It is interesting that there were no more direct confrontations on air throughout the campaigns. The final addresses of both of these candidates at the Ardfheis itself was an amicable affair and thankfully lacked the

The campaign when viewed from the social media platforms looked very promising from the point of view of the Ó hAdhmail camp. Mac Fhearghusa was nowhere to be seen. In fact if one does a google on the two names there is hardly a better example of how important it is to have a presence there. The contest was in fact one between two approachs, two paradigms if you like. The new "brash, young" approach symbolised by use of the new "free" means of communication and the "old fashioned" less exciting and essentially slower person to person relationship.

Indeed when this correspondent spoke with Seán Ó hAdhmaill this was mentioned. The fact that the e-campaign was naturally skewed in his favour could engender a false security, whereas his opponent had two advantages, one being that he was "in situ" as existing president, and the other was that he had at least two years of contact with the various branches and members which no doubt he would find useful in his campaign.

In the event it appears that that is what won the day. The result was a comfortable victory for MacFhearghusa with 120 votes to 78 votes, in many ways a worthy candidate and a good steady, if unexciting pair of hands at the helm for another twelve months. Ó hAdhmaill's acceptance of the result was generous and he vowed to continue his work for the Conradh in the spirit of his campaign while thanking those who so enthusiastically supported him. As he said himself, quoting those Munster folk who comiserated with him, "Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach..." (There'll be more chances!)

The opinion may have been given in the above that the Conradh IS old fashioned and backward looking. However this is not the impression given by it's embracing of the new technologies especially during the past few years, two of which have been under the stewartship of Pádraigh Mac Fhearghusa. In fact most of the Ardfheis was broadcast live as it happened over the web. There were some problems but by and large it was a successful Árdfheis hopefully we will be able to give a flavour of the campaigns and ideas being promulgated by this organisation and its members throughout the land.


  1. Good article. I would like to make one point though; I'm not sure if it's fully accurate to say it was a case of modern technology vs person to person approach. While Seán Ó hAdhmaill certainly made full use of the new technology, he is very very quick to establish personal contacts with those cyber-contacts. I've been in Conradh na Gaeilge since 1996, we are a very local branch and rarely get involved in national stuff, but in those 14 years only 3 people at national level have visited our area, or attempted to meet with those, or showed any interest in what we were doing: those three were Julian de Spáinn, Seán Ó hAdhmaill and Niall Comer.

    I think for some of our members, they think the Conradh is a bit like a prayer group which also studies canon law. For other members, like Seán Ó hAdhmaill, the organisation is a potential vehicle for really bringing the Irish language back to the Irish people, real people, right now, no waiting around...

  2. I must agree with Seán Mór. To us in Irish language societies in Ireland's universities, the Conradh is a distant thing. Much praise is due to Julian de Spáinn and his team for the training weekends they organise, and this year a Glac Leis workshop was provided for us too, but Ó hAdhmaill was the first member of the Coiste Ghnó I am aware of ever having visited our university just for the sake of showing that the Conradh belongs to its members.
    I wish him every success in the future. An tUas Mac Fhearghusa will have his work cut out to integrate the crowds of new and enthused people Seán has brought into the Conradh this year.