Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Michael Delaney

The disappointment of yet another forgettable footballing Sunday in May, this time with Kildare going down to a fourteen man Offaly team was thrown into perspective by a late night phone call to tell me of the death of Michael Delaney of Kilkea and Dún Chaoin, Co. Kerry.  I knew Michael since the days we both shared the same digs in Newbridge in the early 1960’s.  Michael was a newly qualified National schoolteacher, I was a lowly County Council official with a job in St. Mary’s Naas who had chosen to live in Newbridge to be near a then girlfriend.  In those days young fellows living away from home did so in the supposedly relative comfort of digs rather than flats so as to enjoy, if such be the word to describe the experience, the comforts of home cooking.  The expectations never quite matched the actuality however and so my generation has a veritable store of horror stories of landladies who might be better described as the owners of unlicensed refugee centres.

However, Michael Delaney and myself fared somewhat better than most in our Newbridge digs, which although not quite a home from home, was still in comparison with other digs quite acceptable.  Michael originated from the village of Kilkea, the economic life of whose people were interlinked with agriculture and the landowners of the area.  Trained in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Michael’s proficiency in the Irish language was undoubtedly encouraged in the college where Gaelic was used in the teaching of all subjects.  It was in Dún Chaoin, Co. Kerry that Michael would sharpen and hone his Irish and it was there that he died, as I write, two days ago. 

Education in Dún Chaoin and Micheál Ó’Dubhshláine, for that was his name in Irish, will always be linked, for it was to there that Michael went over thirty-five years ago when he took up the invitation of the parents of the area to teach in the one teacher school which the Department of Education had decided to close.  Transferring from a permanent pensionable teaching post in the english speaking midlands to the Gaeltacht of the Kingdom without any guarantee of permanency of position or indeed payment of his monthly salary was a brave decision for a young man to take.  But Micheál Ó’Dubhshláine made that decision and spent the rest of his teaching career in the Dún Chaoin school which the Department of Education eventually agreed should be retained as an essential part of the infrastructure in that part of the threatened Gaeltacht.

Michael’s enthusiasm for local history saw him register to take a course on the subject in Maynooth College, to where he travelled once a week from Dún Chaoin for two if not three years.  I remember Michael calling to me one day on his journey home and how surprised I was to find that he travelled so far each week from the most westerly tip of the Dingle Peninsula in pursuit of his passion for learning.  But Michael was not a man to whom Listowel writer Bryan MacMahon’s claim could be applied:-  “As Irish, we are blind, dumb and deaf to the small but precious wonders of our heritage”.  No, Michael was truly conscious of the heritage of the Dún Chaoin area and of the South Kildare area of Kilkea where he had been born and reared.

The Great Blaskets overlooked by Dún Chaoin has produced a wealth of literature, the most notable which included “An t’Oileánach” by Tomás Ó Criomhthain, “Fiche Bliain ag Fás” by Muiris O’Sulleabhán and “Peig: A Sceal Fein” by Peig Sayers.  Michael Delaney immersed himself in the literature and culture of the Peninsula and the Blaskets and proved a knowledgeable and accommodating guide when a number of us from Athy paid a visit to Annascaul, the home village of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean some years ago.  Michael invited us to Dún Chaoin and arranged a wonderful trip for us all to the Great Blasket island where he brought us around and gave us a delightful talk of the history and folklore of the people of this most famous island.

Following that trip I wrote an Eye on the Past in which I described the Great Blasket trip as the highlight of the weekend trip to County Kerry and thanked Michael, who by 2002 had already spent thirty years or so in Dún Chaoin, for generously sharing his time and his local knowledge with his former County Kildare neighbours.

Michael was ever willing to share his extensive knowledge of matters of local history, whether it be of County Kerry or his home County of Kildare.  It was perhaps twelve years or so ago that Michael invited me to give a talk as part of a local history summer school he and the late Billy Kelly had arranged for Crookstown Heritage Centre.  Most of the participants in that course were primary school teachers from the South Kildare area and it is sad to think that those associated with that seminar, Jim Maher of Crookstown Mill, Ballytore historian Billy Kelly and now Michael Delaney are now gone to their Maker.  The summer school was another concrete example of Michael’s love of local history and his desire to ensure that local people came to understand and appreciate the significance of their own place in Irish history.

Michael first brought back to public attention the Kilkea Farm Workers Strike of 1945 which he researched and wrote up for his thesis on the Maynooth local history course.  He later went on to publish a number of books, both in Irish and more recently in English.  His sad death is a tragic loss for local history, but no doubt there will be others who will continue his good work, motivated and encouraged by the schoolteacher Micheál Ó’Dubhshláine who as a historian was a driving force in keeping alive the Gaelic culture of the Dún Chaoin area.  Michael Delaney was a Kildare man who for the past thirty-five years or so enjoyed dual citizenship of both the Kingdom and the shortgrass county.  His death is a sad loss to both counties.  To his wife and family are extended our sympathies on his passing.

Last week we suffered a tragedy on the main street of Athy when Mary Foley was knocked down and killed by a cattle truck.  I was out of the office for a few days but on my return received a few phone calls, all from locals, who expressed much the same view that large vehicles in this day and age should not still be passing through the narrow main street of Athy.  Where they asked is the bypass or outer relief road planned over thirty years ago and which when first mooted was to be provided in the short or medium term.  What, I was asked, have the two Councils, Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council done to move ahead with the building of a relief road since the decision handed down by An Bord Pleanala and the High Court in Dublin in relation to the inept Inner Relief Road plan?

I don’t know what has happened.  I gather that Kildare County Council has decided not to appeal the High Court decision but again the Council only made known this fact long after the time for lodging an appeal had expired.  Local government in Kildare seems to be unable to build anything, except of course a fine office building in Naas where 58 million or thereabouts of your money and mine has been spent to provide accommodation for those whose decisions in relation to roads and other infrastructure for the county comes all too slowly.  However, now that the officials have been properly provided for in terms of accommodation, can we hope that a certain degree of urgency will mark their efforts to provide a relief road for the long suffering people of Athy.

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