As a writer, a genealogist, a keen student and advocate of the Irish language and someone who has played a major role in the preservation of Gaeilge in Leitrim, it is hard to imagine how anyone would have time for any other interests never mind being the Secretary of Coiste Cultúir agus Teanga (Culture and Language) committee and Leitrim County Head Librarian.
By David Goulden
Seán Ó’Súilleabháin has been doing just that and on Monday he retired as the latter, leaving behind the book business and 33 years as the county’s head librarian. Originally from Aughnacliffe in County Longford, Seán began his career in the business of books on January 23rd, 1968 at Dublin Library on Pearse Street. He spent time in Howth, Ringsend, Ballyfermot and also worked on the mobile libraries which visited schools throughout the city. In 1978, Seán moved to Ballinamore in County Leitrim and for the next three decades and three more years, he would vacate the Leitrim County Library until Monday, when his tenure came to an end, exactly 44 years to the day that he started working in libraries.
Although he is stepping down from this particular post, Sean says he will still remain active in his other posts and will still take an interest in all things Irish, Leitrim and Ballinamore. “Irish is still very much alive in this part of the country. Last Tuesday, we had 57 adults in our library for a comhrá session, where people conversed with each other through Irish. Here at the library, our staff will address callers in Irish if they so wish and we will even do business through Irish if possible.” On the subject of making our national language non-compulsory in schools, Seán speaks passionately and precisely on the matter, saying he will always put Irish first and never makes apologies for it: “I am totally against it. If we end up losing the Irish language, we will lose it and our national identity forever and I am not afraid to speak out about this matter. People need to be encouraged to learn the language and to embrace it. It also seems secondary-school students do just enough to get them through their orals and they leave it at that. We need to have a better grasp as to how important the language is to us.”
Seán enthuses the impact that Irish language television station TG4 and the traditional Gaelscoileanna have made in the country. “These schools have improved the learning of Irish and the consistency of Irish throughout the years. TG4 also plays a major part as people watch programmes, in Irish, that they usually wouldn’t.”
Scór, the organisation branched from the GAA which focuses on the cultural side of the association and the advocacy of all its related activities also plays a big part in Seán’s life. In turn, Seán has played a key role in its success in County Leitrim, lending a hand in the majority of Ballinamore club Seán O’Heslin’s 14 All-Ireland Scór titles and took part in four of the competitions himself. Only St Enda’s of Omagh in County Tyrone have won more titles and Seán says this is testament to the work in the county: “I took part in three novelty acts as part of the Scór competition down through the years and took part in one quiz. We had a fantastic friendly rivalry with St Enda’s and some years we would be ahead on titles, but right now they have 15 and we are one behind. Leitrim is one of the finest counties in terms of upholding Irish traditions and for that I am extremely proud to have taken part.”
To read the full story see this week’s Leitrim Observer.