50 years of Raidió Na Gaeltachta talking to you... in your language

On April 2, 1972, a new radio station launched in Ireland for Irish speakers. To mark its 50th anniversary, MICHEÁL Ó CRÓINÍN explores its origins in Gaeltacht Mhúscraí in Cork
50 years of Raidió Na Gaeltachta talking to you... in your language

The cover of the RTE Guide in 1972, heralding the launch of Raidio na Gaeltachta

RTÉ Raidió Na Gaeltachta has been talking to us for 50 years now.

The station was established for the Gaeltacht community and those who spoke the Irish language throughout the country.

It was officially launched at 3pm on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972. It is said the day itself was a nice dry day. During the first broadcast the main station at Casla in Connemara was still not completed and the launch had to take place in the RTÉ studios in Galway. The building of two other stations was still in progress in Doirí Beaga, Donegal, and Baile na nGall, Kerry.

There was six hours of broadcasting in total the first day, from 3pm until 9pm, and the first two and a half hours was also broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1.

The station’s director, Padraic Ó Raghailligh, spoke first, then President of Ireland Éamon de Valera officially launched it. Mass was broadcast from Teach Pobail Mhic Dara in Carroroe, Connemara — RnaG’s first outside broadcast. The first day’s schedule ended with News and Sport.

The RTE Guide in 1972 for launch of Raidio na Gaeltachta
The RTE Guide in 1972 for launch of Raidio na Gaeltachta

At the beginning, the station had only Ó Raghailligh and seven other men, six were former teachers and one a former businessman. People were employed part-time in different Gaeltacht areas who had an interest in Gaelic games to give a sport report and local news to the station.

In Gaeltacht Mhúscraí, Tomás Ó Ceallaigh was the first to get that part-time job. After a few years he got a full time job in RnaG in Galway but he never forgot his home place and came back from time to time to interview people from Gaeltacht Mhúscraí. He then got a job as deputy head of the station, and when TnaG (TG4) started, Tomás got a job in the newsroom there.

Others who filled the RnaG part-time job down the year’s were Seán Ó Liátháin, Seán Ó Cróinín, Peadar and Micheál Ó’ Ceallaigh, and the late Seán Ó Loinsigh. They had to attend GAA club games in Mhúscraí then that evening give their sports report and results live from Mullach an Ois. At times there was very little spare time after the game, therefore they had to drive like a rally driver to the studio in Mullach an Ois, the technicians waiting patiently, hearts in their mouths.

Musician and journalist Seán Ó Loingsigh
Musician and journalist Seán Ó Loingsigh

One memory I have is the winding up of those reports, which finished “Seán Ó Liátháin in Mullach an Ois”.

There’s a RnaG studio in the Mills in Baile Mhúirne now and live programmes are broadcast there from time to time. Liam Mac an Mhaoir is doing great work at present with live commentary and sport reports on our national Gaelic games, between club and county, male and female. All seven are from Baile Mhúirne.

At the start of the 1980s, singer and journalist Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin of Chúil Aodh headed west to Bóthar na Léinsí in Baile na nGall in Kerry to work in RnaG. He had a house in Baile Bhiocáire in the same yard as Peig Sayers. He was very friendly with the Kerry people, especially Páidí Ó Sé. When Páidí was captain of Kerry in 1985 he had no speech written out on the morning of the All-Ireland football final.

Diarmuid told him: “Don’t bother with those big shots, start with your own people in west Kerry.”

He wrote out the whole speech for Páidí. Kerry went on to beat Dublin, and that was the speech Páidí used. He started: “People of Kerry and all my friends, I’m delighted to bring Sam back to the Kingdom and Gaeltacht.”

Six years later, Diarmuid was meant to read the news on RnaG on December 2, 1991, but he was killed in a road accident that morning 30 years ago. His funeral mass was broadcast live from Chúil Aodh on RnaG two days later. (May the Lord have mercy on his soul).

Since 1992, Éigse Dhiarmuidín, a tribute weekend in his honour, takes place each year at the beginning of December in Baile Mhúirne and Chúil Aodh.

Another Corkonion, Finín Ó Tuama, also spent some years in the RnaG newsroom in Baile na nGall.

Peadar Ó Riada from Chúil Aodh presents Cuireadh Chun Ceoil live each Friday evening. It began in the late ’70s and Peadar had to travel to the RnaG studios in Baile na nGall in Kerry to broadcast this half-hour programme. Now it’s a two-hour programme broadcast from his home where he has his own studio. The 1,000th episode was broadcast in January, 2020.

Since 2010, Peadar has broadcast the annual Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal competition, which is open to everybody throughout the world through the internet, with different instruments being used each year. The judges pick a shortlist and they all get together on a given night and a winner is chosen for that year.

It’s broadcast live on RnaG at the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork, and the winner receives a Gold Medal and €2,500.

RnaG are broadcasting different programmes for 50 years through the medium of Irish, with different native dialect speakers throughout the country. In the earlier years, only two hours each evening was broadcast from 6pm. This was increased bit by bit and from October 1, 2001, RnaG are broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

English lyrics were permitted on the station for the first time on Anocht FM on May 2, 2005.

RTÉ RnaG can be heard throughout the country and the world on the satellite system and live on the internet, and is also available on podcast.

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To mark the 50th anniversary on April 2, Raidio na Gaeltachta is broadcasting a raft of programmes.

It starts off at 10.30am on Saturday with An Cúinne Dána, presented by Tristan Rosenstock. which examines the station’s role in championing sean-nós singing, newly-composed Irish-language songs, and its coverage of artistic and cultural life since 1972.

A panel also share their thoughts on the next 50 years for the station.

An tSeachtain le Máirín Ní Ghadhra after it at 11am includes a description from Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh of the time the station came on air. We also hear from Mártan Ó Ciardha, former Sports Editor with the station, about the first broadcast from the Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta tournament in 1972, and there will be an interview with the current Ceannaire, or Head of Service, Gearóid Mac Donncha.

In An Trumpa at 1.15pm, Séamus Ó Scanláin brings us a special programme about the station’s signature tune, An Trumpa, or Port Mháirtín Shéamuis. We learn about its composer and the unusual instrument it’s played on.

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta 50 at 7pm is a gala concert live from Conamara, featuring top traditional musicians together with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

On Sunday, April 3, in Cartlann Bhóthar na Léinsí at 9.30am, Dáithí de Mórdha brings us back to 1982, and how RnaG celebrated a decade on air. Aifreann an Domhnaigh at 11am is Sunday mass from An Cheathrú Rua, mirroring mass on the day the station opened in 1972.

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