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The monster who refused to teach me Irish

I first met Domhnall O Lubhlai in the autumn of 1972. My family had just returned from London where they emigrated during the Fifties. I had been enrolled in Colaiste Chronain in Clondalkin to study for my Leaving Certificate. The first day I went into O Lubhlai for Irish, I took my seat in the classroom with my fellow students and turned to the boy next to me and asked him in English: "What page are we on?" O Lubhlai heard the question and immediately expelled me from the classroom. Despite pleas from me and requests from the headmaster, he refused to allow me back into the class. That ended any hope I had of studying Irish for the Leaving.

Some months later at a parent-teacher meeting, O Lubhlai began to shout and harass the parents in Irish. When he started to roar into my mother's face, she asked him, in fluent Irish, why he was shouting so rudely at everybody. Astonished, he asked her did she have the Irish. "Why wouldn't I?" she replied, once more in Irish. She was, after all, from Teelin in the Donegal Gaeltacht. He asked who her son was. "The one you expelled from Irish classes," she replied.

O Lubhlai started up Colaiste na bhFiann in Rosmuc, Co Galway, where many students went to study Irish. He was occasionally on the TV for not paying his parking fines as they were not in Irish. During that time, there were some complaints from the girls in the secretarial class in Colaiste Chronain about his unwanted hands-on approach. I witnessed such groping of girl students by O Lubhlai myself. But he remained teaching there.

He maintained his hardline, unforgiving attitude to teaching Irish. Some Gaelic enthusiasts felt his over-zealous approach did much to harm the development of the language.

Many years later, when I was working for the Sunday Independent covering the Republican Sinn Fein commemorations at Bodenstown, I noticed him standing among a group of men in paramilitary uniform. I went over to him and told him I knew him from many years ago in Colaiste Chronain. He said he did not recollect me. I said I was someone he put out of Irish classes for asking "what page?" in English. He said: "I suppose you still hold that against me."

"I f***ing well do," I replied.

Irish Independent