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Proud voice of the Gaeltacht 40 years a growing

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Sean Ban Breathnach (right) at the Radio na Gaeltachta in Casla, Connemara, yesterday, with five of the station's original broadcasters.

Sean Ban Breathnach (right) at the Radio na Gaeltachta in Casla, Connemara, yesterday, with five of the station's original broadcasters.

Sean O'Tuairsig

Sean O'Tuairsig

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Sean Ban Breathnach (right) at the Radio na Gaeltachta in Casla, Connemara, yesterday, with five of the station's original broadcasters.

THE technology was creaky, the schedule limited to just two hours a day, and the prospect of sabotage lurked in the background.

But 40 years on from its "venture into the unknown", Raidio na Gaeltachta has overcome its inauspicious and chaotic beginnings to become an Irish institution.

And it almost didn't happen. Engineers worked feverishly through the night to get the studio at Casla in Connemara ready so the national Irish-language station could go to air for its maiden broadcast on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972.

Construction work was only beginning on its two other studios, in Kerry and Donegal, and it would be another year before they were ready.

Meanwhile, extra gardai were drafted in from Clifden over fears that a dispute about the moving of a post office -- which housed the local telephone exchange -- could lead to the new station being targeted by saboteurs. Fortunately, the telephone lines were not cut by disgruntled natives, and the broadcast went ahead as planned.

The new station was officially blessed by a local parish priest, an tAthair Tomas O Concheanain, and then went live with the broadcast of a recorded welcome from President Eamon de Valera.

It was followed by Sean O Riada's Mass as Gaeilge and a mixture of music and interviews. The first day was a seven-hour marathon compared to its usual schedule over the following months of just two hours each evening.

Yesterday, five of the original seven broadcasters -- Breandan Feiritear, Sean O Tuairsig, Maidhc P O Conaola, Meaiti Jo Sheamuis and Timlin O Cearnaigh -- returned to the remote studio in the heart of Connemara for a special programme.

"It was a venture into the unknown. For the first time there was a daily medium in the Irish language," said Mr Feiritear, who was ceannaire of the station from 1985 to 1994.

"We had some training and were told what was expected of us -- to reflect the society of the Irish Gaeltacht."

Initially the new station was only available along the western seaboard and many of its listeners had never tuned into radio before.

"The reaction from the beginning was pretty good. They liked it, especially the older members of the population who were not bilingual," said Mr Feiritear.

"The biggest change over the last 40 years is that the listenership of the station has become totally bilingual," he added.

Now broadcasting on 92-94fm and with a budget of over €10m a year from RTE, the station has an estimated weekly listenership of 150,000.

As part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, this Easter Sunday, it will return to Carraroe -- the location of O Riada's Mass which featured in the first day of broadcasting -- for live music and programming. There will also be several live concerts over the coming months.

Irish Independent