The Most Irish Parish

Aodh O'Canainn

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"Clonmany is the most Irish parish I have yet visited; the men only, who go to markets and fairs, speak a little English, the women and children speak Irish only. This arises from their distances from towns and villages, and from being completely environed by mountains which from a gigantic barrier between them and the more civilised and less civil inhabitants of the lower country .I have never heard Irish better spoken, not experienced more natural civility and innocence than in that very secluded and wild parish."

That is how John O'Donovan spoke of Clonmany in the Ordinance Survey Letters in 1836. As he wrote those words the seeds of destruction of a great cultural inheritance were already sown. They sprouted within half a century.

However Urris preserved the gift of Irish language until our own times. It was a bridge between the Irish of West Donegal and East Ulster and a link between the Irish and Scots Gaelic. My great regret is that, when living in Derry , I did not realise that there were native Irish speakers close by in the tradition of St. Mura of Fahan, Maelíosa O Brolcháin of Culdaff and Donncha O Muirgheasáin of Clonmany. It was my friend Cosslett O Cuinn, a former Church Of Ireland curate in Moville who opened my eyes.

He began collecting maerial in Irish allover Ulster in the nineteen thirties. In that treasure chest of Cosslett's long love affair with the Irish language, the Inishowen collection was the jewel. I helped to turn it into a book. Scian a Caitheadh le Toinn. Cosslett collected stories which express the fears, myths and hopes of the ordinary people of Inishowen. The language shift impoverished people and ruptured emotional links. The lore that Cosslett collected from Peigí Ní Shearcaigh helps to span that discontinuity.

I will in the first place, describe the Irish language heritage of lnishowen in general and of Urris in particular. The second part concerns my research on language shift in Urris. I will show that the fatal injection was administered not by the Royal Artillery fort in An Lionán but by local opinion leaders.

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