Máire Ní Arbhasaigh (1856–1947) of Clonalig, Crossmaglen
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According to the information recorded on the Doegen speaker questionnaire in September 1931, Máire Ní Arbhasaigh was born in Clonalig about 75 years earlier. Both her father and mother were from Clonalig, and her father was a farmer. Her own occupation was given as a lace-maker. The anglicised form of her surname is given as Harvey, though it appears that Harvassy was also used, perhaps less formally. The form Harvey is sometimes wrongly back-rendered into Irish as Ní Airmheadhaigh. In response to questions, she stated that the first twenty years of her life were spent in Clonalig, and she attended Clonalig National School. Subsequently she spent seven years in America, before presumably returning to Clonalig. Irish and English were her mother languages. She could read and write English but not Irish. The organising secretary commented that she had a very weak voice; also that she had "long lost the habit of speaking Irish" and her intelligibility was affected by having few teeth left.
Séamus Ó Néill writes, with reference to Máire Ní Arbhasaigh's Doegen recordings: "That is how my mother said it, but you know I am sure she didn't pronounce the words correctly, for my mother knew no English" ('Connradh na Gaedhilge', Irish News 30/09/1931 p 3).
In both the censuses of 1901 and 1911, the speaker was living with her mother, also Mary Harvassy, a widow, in Clonalig. In 1901, the speaker's age was given as 30 and her mother's as 60; only the mother was stated to speak Irish. In 1911, the speaker was aged 50 and her mother 74; neither was stated to be able to speak Irish. It is said that the speaker and her mother were a familiar sight during the 1920s as they made their way in single file on foot each week to collect their old-age pensions from a local post office (Ón Chreagán go Ceann Dubhrann p 8). Mrs Harvassy's death appears not be have been officially registered, and went unreported in the local press; however the Upper Creggan parish records indicate that she was buried in Crossmaglen on 28/01/1930 aged 99 years (information courtesy of Rev Peter Clarke).
The speaker's mother was reputed to be an even greater repository of local lore than her daughter, particularly of the verse compositions of
Art Mac Cubhthaigh.
Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh published the following songs with acknowledgement to her:
Caithtí na gCiabh, tune; An tUltach 1:10 p 8; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 37–8, 104–6, 167;
Aige bruach Dhún-Réimhe, words (3 verses) and tune; An tUltach 2:4 p 4; ibid 14:3 p 4, with altered words; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 46–7, 113, 169;
Cuan Bhinn' Éadair, some words, tune; An tUltach 2:5 p 3; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 43–5, 111, 169;
Dúlamán, words and tune; An tUltach 3:8 p 5; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 53, 119–20, 172;
Séamas 'á Mhurfaidh, two verses; An tUltach 4:1 p 8; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 61–4, 132, 175–6;
Seán Ó Daoighre, tune and words; An tUltach 4:5 p 1; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 34–5, 103, 166;
Casadh Cam na Feadarnaighe, tune; An tUltach 5:2 p 6; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 87, 160–1, 185–6;
Air mhullaigh Dhrom-Bhídh, words, tune; An tUltach 5:5 p 8; Amhráin Chúige Uladh, 1977, pp 78–80, 152–3, 182–3;
History of the Parish of Creggan in the 17th and 18th Centuries, 1940, pp 70–3 at p 71.
In the above references, her address is occasionally given as Síolach (anglicé Sheiland).
Other references to the speaker's mother include Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, A Hidden Ulster, 2005, pp 18, 28, 64, 94, 124, 244n, 257, 264, 271, 272, 279, 296, 351, 368, 433.
There is sometimes uncertainty whether a reference is to the mother or to the daughter. In principle they should be distinguishable in English as "Mrs Harvassy" and "Miss Harvassy", but the daughter was often wrongly called "Mrs Harvassy" too. Perhaps the best policy is to assume that "Mrs Harvassy" refers to the mother for as long as she was alive.
Cosslett Ó Cuinn visited the area in July 1933 and met Máire Ní Arbhasaigh, whom he mentions in his manuscripts numbered 8 and 29 — search here for keyword "Cosslett". In Cuisle na nGael 10, 1994, p 109, he wrote: "Ní rabh sí líofa ó thaobh na Gaeilge de ach bhí sé spéisiúil i gcónaí bualadh léi agus tamall cómhra a bheith agam ina comhluadar." And in Pilib Mistéil, The Irish Language and the Unionist Tradition, 1994, pp 27, 28: "[she] had an astonishing assortment of prayers and old songs. From her I got the pronunciation fairly well." See also Risteárd Ó Glaisne, Cosslett Ó Cuinn, 1996, pp 58, 377, 391. In a conversation on 07/03/1994, he told me: "Miss Harvey, Clonalig — d'fhoghluim mé cuid mhór uaithe — ní rabh sí líomhtha sa chaint ach mar sin féin bhí cuid mhór giotaí aicí as sean-amhráin agus rud — Creid mo mhic i nDia go glan, Ná tabhair ainm Dé gan fáth, Coimhead an tsaoire mar is cóir, Tabhair do do athair 's do do mháthair ónóir, … Séamus Ó Murchú, an t-amhrán — is agam bhí an cúigear ban roithleán a b'fhearr a bhí in Éirinn, agus chluinfí a gcuid ruaimí (?) as sin go Binn Éadain."
In his list of surviving native speakers of East Ulster Irish compiled in 1943, Pádraig Mac Con Mí included "Máire (Brigid?) Ní Arbhasaigh, Clonlig" — though elsewhere he mistakenly assigned the mother's death to 1947 and the daughter's to 1960. It is unclear whether the mother or the daughter is referred to in a footnote in Seán de Rís, Peadar Ó Doirnín, 1969, p 113.
The speaker passed her final years in a Newry nursing home, where two valuable interviews with her took place. The first of these provided the content for an article by Tomás Mac Árdghail in Árd Mhacha, June 1943, p 11. Amongst the biographical details are these: "Uaithi-se agus óna máthair a fuair an Sagart Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh nach maireann cuid mhór d'amhráin Áirt Mhic Cubhthaigh … Bhí sí san Oileán Úr tamall nuair a bhí sí 'na cailín óg … ag baint fúithi i Home na mBan Riaghalta i Iubhair Chinn Trágha fe lathair … tá sí seacht mbliadhna agus ceithre sgór, lá Bealtaine." From this it may be deduced that she was born on 01/05/1856. The second interview took place in 1944 with an Bráthair de Nógla, and is available in Cnuasacht Bhéaoidis Éireann (CBÉ MS 1126 388–411). It includes memories of her mother and grandfather, and the information that her brother Frank was born 2 months to the day after his father's funeral (p 401).
On the basis of these interviews, we can confidently identify the family with a number of events recorded in the Upper Creggan parish records (PRONI MIC/1D/43), which extend back to 1796 though with substantial gaps. On 01/05/1856 occurred the baptism of Mary, daughter of Francis Harvey and Mary Waters; the sponsors were Thomas Gartlan and Mary Waters; and on 24/09/1857, the baptism of Francis, son of Francis Harvey and Mary Waters. The marriage of Francis Harvey and Mary Waters had taken place on 14/03/1854, and the witnesses were Patrick Harvey and Peter McMahon. We can also assume that Francis Harvey senior must have died in July 1857. All these were common names in the parish, however.
Valuation records for Clonalig (PRONI VAL/12B/7ABCD, VAL/2A/2/30A) are not as helpful as we might hope. Lot 21A (house and offices and 4 acres) came into the name of Mary Harvey in 1901 (previously Bryan Waters from around 1860), and remained so. This looks like the family home for most of the period of interest. Earlier, lot 12 (house and offices and 4 1/4 acres) was in the name of Mary Harvey between 1890 and 1901; before and after that it was Bryan Waters. A Francis Harvey had lot 22AB (house and offices and 7 3/4 acres) between 1883 and 1914, but he was stated to be 85 when he died on 29/10/1904, and cannot be either the speaker's father or her brother.
It is sometimes stated that the speaker learned her folklore from her grandmother as well as from her mother. If this were true — and assuming that the maternal grandmother is meant — we might look for a Mrs Waters still alive for a reasonable time after 1856. And in fact, there was a Mary Waters of Clonalig, a blacksmith's widow, who died on 20/03/1870, aged 85, whose death was registered by Michael Waters, and this is just at the limit of chronological possibility. Also, Thomas Waters had a forge in Clonalig in Griffith's Valuation of 1864, passing to Owen Waters in 1891, to his reps in 1902, to Owen Waters in 1905, and to Peter Watters in 1905. There is, moreover, a mention in "Casadh Cam na Feadarnaighe" of a Neansaí Gabha Nic Conuisce. However, the likelihood of a connection hinges on the original statement by Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh that "Bean Uí Arbhasaigh" got "Air mhullaigh Dhrom-Bhídh" from her grandmother (An tUltach 5:5 p 8), and there is no certainty that he was thinking there of the daughter. Accordingly it would be unsafe to draw any conclusions. There is still a possibility to look for the speaker's (maternal?) grandfather, on the evidence of the de Nógla interview.
Mary Harvassy claimed kinship with Art Mac Cubhthaigh — Séamus 'ac Grianna, for example, speaks of "Mrs Harrassey … an bhean a bhí a' maoidheamh gaoil ar Art Mhac Cubhthaigh agus a rabh 'Úr-Chill a' Chreagáin' aicí comh luath leis a' phaidir" (An tUltach 18:7, 1941, p 5). It seems to be assumed that the connection is through the Harvassys rather than the Waters. Mac Cubhthaigh is said to have married his second cousin, and Énrí Ó Muirgheasa gives her name as "Ní Arbhasaigh" in Amhráin Airt Mhic Chubhthaigh, I, 1926, p xx, while Tomás Ó Fiaich names her as "Mary Lamb" in Art Mac Cumhaigh: Dánta, 1973, p 37. Both theories have been repeated since. Ó Fiaich has on p 74 a chart of Mac Cubhthaigh's relations; it shows that a grand-nephew of Art, Terrence McChoey, married an Ann Harvesy, probably in the early 1830s — and parish records confirm the birth of at least one child in 1846 – but it throws no light on the present question.
The death occurred of Mary Harvey, late of Crossmaglen, on 07/02/1947 at Nursing Home Newry. She was a housekeeper, unmarried, and stated to be 71 (which is however a considerable underestimate). As with her mother, the event went unreported in the local press.
Recent references to Máire Ní Arbhasaigh include:
Colm J O'Boyle, Phonetic texts of East Ulster Irish, MA thesis QUB, 1962, pp 32, 161–3.
Heinrich Wagner and Colm Ó Baoill, Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects, Vol IV, 1969, pp 300.
Candida, An Irishwoman's Diary, Irish Times 7/7/1975, p 9; id, 5/9/1977, p 9.
Ciarán Ó Duibhín, "Cainnteoirí Dúthchais Oirghialla", Cuisle na nGael 8, 1992, pp 8–16 at p 11.
Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, A Hidden Ulster, 2003, at pp 17, 18, 28, 30, 38, 122n, 128n, 256, 258, 387, 391–2.
Gearóid Trimble, Glór Gaeilge Oirdheisceart Uladh, 2009, p. 251
Conor McGahan, Language obsolescence and language death in south-east Ulster, PhD thesis QUB, 2009, pp 103–6.
Róise Ní Bhaoill, Ulster Gaelic Voices, 2010, at pp 318–33.
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