Brighid Ní Chaslaigh (1860–1937) of Drumulagh, Omeath
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According to the information recorded on the Doegen speaker questionnaire in September 1931, Brighid Ní Chaslaigh was born in Belfast over 70 years earlier. Her father was a dealer from Omeath and her mother was from Keady (Co Armagh). In response to questions, she stated that the first six years of her life were spent in Omeath, and she attended primary school there. The period between the ages of seven and twenty was spent "at Omeath and in service in various places." In adult life, she lived at "Omeath and various places". No occupation was given. Irish and English were her mother languages. She could read "very little" and only in English.
Brighid's place of birth need not cause any surprise, as Belfast, like many towns in the north, was home to a colony of Omeath people, mostly engaged in the fruit and vegetable business, known as the "Phaidís" — compare the Johnnies, Breton onion-sellers who travelled the south of England. See Fionntán de Brún, "The Fadgies: an 'Irish-speaking colony' in nineteenth-century Belfast" in de Brún, Belfast and the Irish language (2006) pp 101–13. St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street saw the marriage on 17/05/1859 of Owen McCarthy and Alice Mone, and the baptism of their children Brighid on 22/06/1860, Patrick on 09/09/1861 and James on 09/04/1863. In these records, the father's surname is variously written McCarty, McCartney and McCartan; the Gaelic original in Omeath is Mac Eachmharcaigh. It is clear that Brighid did not spend long in Belfast, but unclear exactly when the family moved to Omeath, how many of them moved, or why.
On 07/04/1893, at Omeath, Bridget McCarthy from Drummullagh married Peter Cassely, a farmer, also from Drummullagh. They had two children: Mary, born 02/05/1900 at Knocknagoran (father Peter Cassley, boatman); and Owen Patrick, born 12/02/1902 at Knocknagoran (father Peter Cassley, labourer).
The family was present in Knocknagoran in the census of 1901, and consisted of Peter (35), a farm labourer; Bridget (33); and Mary (11 months). Only Bridget spoke Irish; she was bilingual. In 1911, the family had moved to Drummullagh; there was Peter (50), a general labourer; Bridget (50); Mary (10); and Owen Patrick (9). All four were bilingual. They had been married for 17 years in 1911, and there had only been the 2 children, both still living. Brighid's Belfast-born brother, Patrick McCarthy, is also living in Omeath in 1901 and 1911, and is an Irish-speaker.
Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh described Brighid in Oméith: its history – ancient and modern, p 4:
Seo bean mheadhon-aosta sa toigh bheag annseo ar chnoc Dhromlach.
Amhránaidhe agus sgéalaidhe maith seadh Brighid. Agus is í
bhíos i gcomhnuidhe go fonnmhar chun sguraidheachta. Tá sí 'na
suidhe anois amuigh san aér ar na clocha loma agus an scabhta
fear & ban, buachaill & cailín na suidhe thart timcheall ag
éisteacht léithe. Tá sí ag innse sean-sgéal ar an "chionn
ghamhna" agus na "dumplanaí". Féach an gáire a bhaineann sí
asta. Agus éist le n-a glór binn árd mar ghabhann sí "Caití
na gciabh" nó "Pátrún Oméith." Bean chroidheamhail
fhlaitheamhail í agus gheibheann sí oiread spóirt as innsighe na
sgéalta & as gabháil na gceolta sin 's gheibheann an duine is
méidhrighe de'n lucht éisteachta.
Elsewhere he describes Annie Larkin and Brighid as "the students' favourites… who have done more for the teaching of Irish than all the learned College professors together" (ibid, p 17).
Brighid was a prolific source of material for Ó Muireadhaigh, who published several songs from her: "Tá buachaill ins an bhaile seo", Ceoltaí Oméith p 3; "Nuair bhí mise óg", ibid p 16; "An Bum-Bhacach", An tUltach 1:8 p 1. The last also appears in Amhráin Chúige Uladh (1977) p 108. But Ó Muireadhaigh seems to have preferred other sources for his published versions of "Pátrún Oméith" and "Caithtí na gCiabh". However Brighid had fewer rivals in the matter of storytelling. From her Ó Muireadhaigh published "Aodaidh Mhac Eachmharcaigh agus an torramh" (also under the name "Scéal air oidhche Shamhna") in An tUltach 2:7 p 3, ibid 4:10 p 6, ibid 8:9 p 3; "An bhean tostach" (also under the name of "Scéal eile air oidhche Shamhna") in the same three places; "Rí-chat na mbróg" in ibid 3:3 pp 6–7, ibid 8:3 6–7; "An dá mháirt" in ibid 5:8 p 6, ibid 8:5 pp 7–8; "Cúiteamh!" in ibid 3:7 p 6; "Gadaidhe a' Shluaghanach" in ibid 5:2 p 7; and "Nighean an fhathaigh mhóir" in Béaloideas 1:3 (1928) pp 270–3. Ó Muireadhaigh also gave "Séumas an tAmadán" in An tUltach 1:3 p 6, and "An cionn gamhna" in ibid 1:5 p 6, both without attribution of source.
In an article entitled "Brionglóid iongantach i n-Óméith", Fáinne an Lae (05/10/1918) p 4, Seán Mac Maoláin mentions Brighid telling a story "fá'n' chat a rabh ain-spiorad ann nach mbogfadh do'n mhinistéir agus a d'imthigh ins na featha fásaigh nuair a chuaidh an sagart i n-a chionn".
Her stories give us some more details of Brighid's family, though not without an admixture of confusion. She described Aodaidh Mhac Eachmharcaigh as "mo ghaid mór … as an Tulaigh", and referred to his wife Brighid as "mo mhóiridhe". But in his notes to "Rí-chat na mbróg", Ó Muireadhaigh says that Brighid heard the latter story from "a gaid mhór, sean-Phroinnsias Mhac Eachmharcaigh, a bhíodh 'n-a chomhnuidhe thuas air an Tulaigh, tá céad bliadhain ó shoin". Griffith's Valuation has both Hugh McCarthy and Francis McCarthy in Tullaghomeath. The story "An bhean tostach" features "athair mo ghaid mhóir", Brian Mhac Eachmharcaigh.
Cosslett Ó Cuinn visited Brighid in 1932. "Bhain mé amach Brighid Ní Chassalaigh. Chuir sí … fáilte romham. Bhí fhios aici mo ghnoithe mar dubhairt sí liom i nGaedhealaic 'Tar isteach' nuair a mhóthuigh sí ag an doras mé. D'innis sí scéal nó beirt damh." (Risteárd Ó Glaisne, Cosslett Ó Cuinn, 1996, p 50.)
Brighid Ní Chaslaigh died on 01/02/1937. Her husband, described here as a boatman, survived her. Peadar Ó Dubhda wrote, in the Irish Independent
02/03/1937, p 12:
Duine den tsean-bhunadh i nUibh Mhéith Mara b'eadh Brighid Cheasarlaigh agus bean ar chuir
mic léighinn na Gaedhilge aithne uirthí le linn na fiche blian a rabh an Coláiste ar siubhal
Seanchaidhe breagh agus ceoltóir binn croidheamhail í a mbíodh fonn agus an deagh-
aoibh uirthí i gcómhnaidhe agus a bhíodh toilteannach cuidiú leis na scoláirí cuma cé'n
uair den ló bhuailead siad isteach chuicí.
Iomdha tráthnóna breagh samhraidh chaithimís in a cuideachta — scaifte mhór againn — in ár
suidhe taobh amuigh den toigh beag thuas imeasc na gcreagach ar Chnoc Dhromlaigh os cionn Loch
Cháirlinne ag éisteacht léithe. Iomdha sin leabhar a breacadh le n-a cuid seanchuis — agus
nach iomdha sin gáire croidheamhail bhain sí asainn.
Tá Brighid ar shluagh na marbh. Go dtugaidh Dia suaimhneas síorraidhe d'a h-anam.
Connsú mór imtheacht na sean-Ghaedhil Óirghiall, go dearbhtha.
Recent references to Brighid Ní Chaslaigh include:
Colm J O'Boyle, Phonetic texts of East Ulster Irish, MA thesis QUB, 1962, pp 11–15, 47, 48, 83–99, 214.
Heinrich Wagner and Colm Ó Baoill, Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects, Vol IV, 1969, pp 295–300.
Ciarán Ó Duibhín, "Cainnteoirí Dúthchais Oirghialla", Cuisle na nGael 8, 1992, pp 8–16 at p 12.
Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, A Hidden Ulster, 2003, pp 271, 292, 293, 309, 404, 405, 408.
Nollaig Mac Congáil and Ciarán Ó Duibhín, Glórtha ón tseanaimsir, 2009, at pp 36–40, 75.
Gearóid Trimble, Glór Gaeilge Oirdheisceart Uladh, 2009, pp 10, 14.
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 246–7, 258–69
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