Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín (c1846–1943) of Ardaghy, Omeath
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According to the information recorded on the Doegen speaker questionnaire in September 1931, Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín was born in Bavan about 85 years earlier. Her father was a farmer from Omeath and her mother was also from Omeath. In response to questions, she stated that the first six years of her life were spent in Bavan, and she attended primary school in Knocknagowran. The period between the ages of seven and twenty was also spent in Bavan. In adult life, she continued to live in the Omeath district, for much of the time in Ballinteskin, and currently at Ardaghy. Her occupation was given as farmer's wife. Her mother tongue was stated to be English; she had acquired Irish as a second language while a child. She could read only English. It was commented by the organising secretary that her intelligibility was affected as she lacked teeth.
Née Catherine O'Rourke, she married Thomas McGivern at Omeath on 10/02/1885, and they lived in Ballinteskin. In 1901, Thomas was described as a farmer/fish dealer, aged 44, and Catherine was also 44. They had three sons: Bernard (13), Owen (11) and James (9). The household was completed by Thomas' unmarried brother Edward McGivern (50), a farmer. None of the household claimed to speak Irish. Thomas McGivern died in 1906, so that by 1911, Ciotaí was a widow, aged 60, and a farmer. Her son James (19) and her brother-in-law Edward (65) were by then the only other members of the household. Again none of them claimed to speak Irish.
By 1911, the eldest son Bernard had moved to Belfast where he was working as a carter and boarding in Marquis Street in the home of his uncle, Stephen O'Rourke, who was 50 years old, and a fish dealer. (Incidentally, Stephen and his wife were both declared to be bilingual. Seán Mac Maoláin, "Uaigneach sin!", An tUltach 17:11 pp 3&7, refers to the Irish-speaking Omeath people in Marquis Street, and in particular to one Brian Ua Ruairc who was probably another relative of Ciotaí.) Bernard McGivern must have married and returned to Omeath, for his death was recorded in the local graveyard in 1938, and his address was given as Ardaghy, where Ciotaí had already been resident at the time of recording in 1931. Bernard's widow Elizabeth died in 1942, and the death of his mother followed on 18/06/1943. Her age was officially given as 98, and the death was registered by her grand-daughter, Bridget O'Hagan.
Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín certainly possessed a large store of Gaelic oral literature, from which she selected the items to record. However, certain of the above facts combine to give the impression that she may not have been able to converse fluently in Gaelic, and it is not clear that she understood everything she was saying on a word-by-word basis. Some or much of it may have been recitation from rote memory and this possibility should be borne in mind when trying to interpret the material. Evidence to the contrary is that most of her generation of the (O')Rourkes of Ardaghy, as well as their Belfast relatives, seem to have been Irish speakers. And even if Ciotaí's material was rote memorised, this does not by any means negate its linguistic value.
"Mrs MacGivern … in Ballinteskin" was among the "seanachies" noticed by Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh in Oméith: its history – ancient and modern at p 17, and he published songs from her in An tUltach 1:9 p 8 (A Neillidh bhán a théagar, to Ciotaí were due the tune and part of the words; repeated ibid 14:3 p 4); ibid 2:1 p 4 (An cailín ruadh, tune and part of the words); ibid 2:8 p 10 (An bhean chaointe = A Neillidh bhán deas, part of the words). These three songs were reproduced in Amhráin Chúige Uladh (1977), see pp 107, 102, 110 resp. "Mrs McGivern" gets a passing reference in Donn Piatt, Gaelic Dialects of Leinster, 1933, p 13. Pádraig Mac Con Mí published in 1943 the results of an attempt to list the surviving native speakers of East Ulster Irish (An tUltach 20:4 pp 3–4). For Omeath, fifteen names were listed, gathered by Brian Mac Craith and Tomás Mac Ardghail. They included "Mrs Caiti McGivern (née O'Rourke), Ardaghy, aged 90".
Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín is likely to be included in a group photograph which has been published in various places: Oméith: its history – ancient and modern, p 21 (the date in the caption should read 1912); Amhráin Chúige Uladh, cuid 1 (1927) p vi (not reproduced in the 1977 edition); Cuisle na nGael 4 (1988) p 47. No names are given in any of these places, but a local exhibition held in Omeath during the 1990s(?) included this photograph and indicated that Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín was the person at the right end of the front row. However, another photograph from the same occasion is to be found in Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, Songs from a Hidden Ulster (2003) p 406, cropped to part of the front row only, and laterally reversed. The caption labels the same person, here at the left end of the front row, as Nancy Caulfield. The same person is also labelled Nancy Caulfield in another photograph ibid p 407. I cannot say whether this person is in fact Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín or Nancy Caulfield, or in the latter case which of the others in these photographs might be Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín.
The gravestone in Omeath reads:
Recent references to Ciotaí Nig Uibhrín include:
Reilig Chillidh Chuim.
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