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Scholarcast 52: Gaelic Culture from the Child's Perspective - The Diaries of Kerry Schoolgirls (1916-1918)

Riona NicCongail


One of the most complicated and persistent questions in the study of childhood in the past relates to the experiences of individual children. How can we know how children perceived the world around them when they have left little written evidence of their own experience and interpretations of their world? In this lecture, Riona NicCongáil attempts to address the above question by looking at the everyday lives of Irish-speaking children during the revivalist period. She focusses most specifically on the diaries of three Kerry schoolgirls published in the Irish-language newspaper An Lóchrann from 1916 to 1918. These are the earliest known substantial examples of children’s writing in the Irish language and they provide a valuable insight into the experiences of children during a period of transition, and the impact of international events, such as the Great War, on their daily lives.

An Lóchrann was edited by Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha, also known as ‘An Seabhac’. In terms of children’s literature, Ó Siochfhradha was to become best known as the author of Jimín Mháire Thaidhg (1919), the single most successful Irish-language children’s book in the twentieth century. This pseudo-autobiography about a boy growing up in the Kerry Gaeltacht book draws heavily on the three schoolgirls’ diaries, yet this link has never before been explored.

Ó Siochfhradha was known best of all as the person who fostered the Blasket biography genre - along with Brian Ó Ceallaigh - and he is the only person to be able to claim involvement in the publication of all three of the major Blasket autobiographies. The three schoolgirls’ diaries that he published in An Lóchrann were all direct predecessors to the adult autobiography genre. To date, they have been overlooked by scholars because they were written by children. However, their writings are of great linguistic, cultural, sociological and historical value, and it is time that we acknowledge them.

Ríona Nic Congáil

Ríona Nic Congáil is a research fellow based between the Irish Department in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and the Department of English and Related Literature, University of York, UK. Her research is funded by the Irish Research Council ELEVATE / Marie Curie scheme. Her first monograph, Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh agus an Fhís Útóipeach Ghaelach (2010), won the Foras na Gaeilge / ACIS Irish-language research book of the year in 2011. Since then, she has edited two collections of essays on Irish-language children’s literature and culture, Codladh Céad Bliain (2012), and, with Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn, Laethanta Gréine agus Oícheanta Sí (2013).


Series edited by: Giulia Bruna and Catherine Wilsdon
General Editor: P.J. Mathews
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography, video and development by: John Matthews, Vincent Hoban, Brian Kelly & Ken Doyle at UCD Media Services.

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