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Life imitates art as Ó Cadhain's voice heard from beyond the grave


MODERN MASTERPIECE: Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s novel

MODERN MASTERPIECE: Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s novel

MODERN MASTERPIECE: Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s novel

It's one of the most renowned sentences in modern Irish literature and has been translated into many languages since it was written more than 70 years ago by Irish language author Máirtín Ó Cadhain.

Now the first and only known recording of Ó Cadhain reading in Irish from his classic novel Cré na Cille has been unearthed in Munich, Germany.

Described as "enormously significant" by Irish language scholars, the recording was made by a German student who was receiving Irish tuition from the writer back in 1964. It was recently discovered during research for a new book on Ó Cadhain's unconventional but highly successful methods of teaching the Irish language.

Cré na Cille, which is regarded as comparable to James Joyce's Ulysses or the work of Samuel Beckett, is set in a graveyard where the corpses gossip endlessly about each other and life above ground and has the famous opening line: "I wonder am I buried in the Pound Plot or the Fifteen Shilling Plot?"

The work, completed by Ó Cadhain in 1949, was published by Sairséal agus Dill, and serialised over seven months by The Irish Press.

Unesco recommended it be translated into other European languages, and one recent version is in Tamil.

It has also been translated into Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, Turkish, Hungarian, Czech and Italian, while the first of several English language versions was published in 2015 by Alan Titley.

The recording of Ó Cadhain reading from the book is part of a tape made by Egon Felder, a student at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD).

"Ó Cadhain had been appointed professor of modern Irish at TCD at the time, and was on a visit to Germany in the summer of 1964," Irish language scholar Dr Feargal Ó Béarra said.

"When he was there he met up with Felder, and agreed to be taped by him."

Writer and republican Ó Cadhain - who taught himself many languages, including Russian when he was interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II - had been very popular with the TCD students for his use of wit and humour.

He once asked his students to translate Mao Tse-tung for an exam, and on another occasion asked them to write a dialogue between the statue of British admiral Horatio Nelson in Dublin's O'Connell Street and the person who blew the monument up in 1966.

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Felder passed his tapes on to Professor Barbara Wehr, who kept a copy for many years and digitised them.

She offered them to Dr Arndt Wigger, a colleague of Dr Ó Béarra's at the SKSK, a Celtic language institute associated with the University of Bonn.

"When we played them, what we thought was a recording of Irish tuition took on another dimension when we heard Ó Cadhain's voice reading his own text," Ó Béarra said.

The writer's nephew, also Máirtín Ó Cadhain, of Iontaobhas Uí Chadhain, the Ó Cadhain Trust, said it was the only recording he knew of his uncle reading from his classic.

The recording has been included in a CD with a new book on the writer's methods of teaching Irish, compiled by Ó Béarra and Wigger.

Entitled Máirtín Ó Cadhain: Rogha Téacsanna Teagaisc don Ghaeilge, it has been produced by the German publishing house Curach Bhán Publications to mark the 50th anniversary of Ó Cadhain's death in October 1970.

The writer - who was a language advocate, but critical of some aspects of language revival - is due to be honoured with a statue in his native An Spidéal, Co Galway. Iontaobhas Uí Chadhain also plans to develop the house he was born in, in Cnocán Glas, into a centre dedicated to him and his writings.

Current publishers of Cré na Cille, Cló Iar-Chonnacht, plan to have the work translated and published in 20 languages in all.

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