Saturday 25 January 2020

Many a knot tied at Irish festival

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

BETWEEN the jigs and the reels, there is a love affair. For 115 years, lovers of the Irish language have been meeting at the annual Oireachtas festival.

Lisdoonvarna gets its name as the country's matchmaking festival but the Oireachtas is the unofficial place to find a husband or wife.

Sean-nos dancers, singers and story-tellers have been celebrating the Irish culture in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, since last Thursday.

Culture aside, romance has been blossoming at the four-day event, which comes to a close today. It has earned a reputation for igniting sparks across the ceili floor.

TV and radio personality Hector O hEochagain first clapped eyes on his future wife, Dympna, at the 1989 Oireachtas in Gleann Colmcille in Donegal when he was just 20, and she was 18.

Dubliner Colm Mac Sealaigh met his wife Noirin at the 1974 Oireachtas in Cois Fharraige, Connemara, where he was trying to flog his band Ty Bach's latest record.

"I remember meeting Noirin at the first Oireachtas outside of Dublin, it was in Connemara," he revealed to the Sunday Independent.

"After the Oireachtas, I asked Noirin to go to the pictures with me. She told me afterwards she thought I was messing and I wouldn't turn up. I can't remember what film we went to see, I wasn't paying that much attention."

Five years and several dates after their first meeting, they tied the knot. Thirty years on, the marriage -- and the music -- is still going strong.

The couple confessed that another place where their love blossomed, and many relationships started among their friends, is Club Conradh na Gaeilge on Dublin's Harcourt Street. The venue is a favourite for Irish language enthusiasts. "We know lots of couples who met there," said Noirin, who has three adult children with Colm.

"An awful lot of people met through Conradh na Gaeilge. Grainne Ui Mhaitiu, who used to present with Bosco, met her husband, Seamus O Maitiu there."

Their brood of Colman, 30 -- who presents a show on TG4 -- Neasa, 28, and Cathal, 24, were raised "as Gaeilge" and have kept the tradition alive.

Director of Oireachtas na Gaeilge Liam O Maolaodha said the Oireachtas "remains the most popular Irish language gathering regardless of economic, political or financial strains". "It has survived for over a hundred years, through world wars, times of boom and bust," he said.

This weekend also saw a revival of sean-nos dancing. Almost 50 youngsters under 12 tapped the boards to a packed auditorium live on TG4.

Long before he exploded onto our TG4 screens, Hector O hEochagain met his wife-to-be at the 1989 Oireachtas.

They now have two sons, Shane, 7, and Rian, 8.

"I headed up there the year I met Dympna with 10 lads from Dublin. We were ... driving golf balls into the Atlantic to get rid of the hangover.

"I spotted Dympna playing traditional music. I asked her out to dance after that. I knew that any woman who could dance for 29 minutes to a Clare set was good."

Sunday Independent

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