University exhibition celebrates legacy of Tomás Ó Máille

Galway daily news university exhibition on tomas o maille
Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht Jack Chambers, Curator of the exhibition Dr Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, and Exhibition director Professor Lillis Ó Laoire. Credit: Aengus McMahon.

A major exhibition has been launched at University of Galway celebrating the legacy of the university’s first professor of Irish, Tomás Ó Máille.

Launched by Minister of State Jack Chambers, Culture & Citizenship: Tomás Ó Máille sheds a new light on the history of the Irish language and its status nationally as well as in the university.

Originally from Joyce Country, Tomás Ó Máille was appointed professor in 1909 and held that position until his untimely death in 1938.

A pioneer in many ways, Tomás’ greatest foresight was his commitment to the newest technology of his day — audio recording.

Focusing on folklore, song, and various dialects, he created hundreds of recordings of Irish speakers from every county in Connacht and County Clare.

He also assisted the recording work of other collectors and scholars including Wilhelm Doegen, head of the Sound Department at the Prussian State Library in Berlin.

Nearly 100 years after they were first captured, wax cylinder recordings held in the University of Galway Library were digitised last year with support from Roinn na Gaeltachta.

“I am delighted to launch this exhibition on the work of Professor Tomás Ó Máille and that my Department could fund the project for digitising the wax cylinders,” said Minister Chambers at the launch.

“This content will be valuable to both researchers and the general public and Tomás Ó Máille’s work can now be enjoyed by all to once again hear the voices and songs of the West of Ireland recorded 100 years ago.

“These wax cylinders were a pioneering technology in Ó Máille’s day and today’s technological advances, which are heavily referenced in the Digital Plan for the Irish Language to be published by my Department soon, can leverage this digitised content as a basis for developing speech recognition and other cutting-edge technologies for the Irish language in coming years.”

Through images and audiovisual recordings, the exhibition Culture & Citizenship: Tomás Ó Máille reveals the pioneering Professor’s remarkable achievements as a scholar, writer, linguist, lecturer, newspaper editor, collector, and activist.

The exhibition includes filmed performances by sean-nós singers – Sarah Ghriallais, Saileog Ní Cheannabháin, Mary Staunton, and Fiachna Ó Mongáin – giving new life to the old songs Ó Máille recorded, along with material from the archives of the national theatre of the Irish language, An Taibhdhearc, and the newspaper An Stoc.

Curator of the exhibition Dr Deirdre Ní Chonghaile said that this exhibition sees Ó Máille’s priceless archive come to life for the first time and bilingually.

“This is a celebration of the extraordinary efforts of Ó Máille as a lifelong changemaker working for the Irish language, and of his outstanding legacy in capturing artistic treasures of the Irish language from every county west of the Shannon.”

Exhibition director Professor Lillis Ó Laoire said that in time, Ó Máille’s recordings will be freely available at, and west of Ireland communities will hear their own ancestors singing, speaking, and keening nearly 100 years ago.”

The exhibition has been produced in partnership with the Royal Irish Academy and the National Library, with funding from Foras na Gaeilge and University of Galway.