Máire ⁊ Sorcha Ní Ghuairim and the Web

By Míċeál Ó Loċlainn.

Published: 25th March 2024.

Máire Ní Ghuairim’s husband

More than one Internet source, Wikipedia’s entry on Máire among them, states that she married one Seán Mac Brádaigh TD. Wikipedia also helpfully provides a link to its entry on this gentleman.

However, Seán Mac Brádaigh was not her husband, was not a TD and wouldn’t actually be born until three years after the wedding.

Her husband was, in fact, Seán Brady TD.

Máire’s Ceol na Mara short stories

Ní Mhunghaile (2009) states of Máire’s Ceol na Mara series of short stories for children that [t]he stories were of a morbid nature with regular references to death.

But this will bear clarification. Only some of the Ceol na Mara stories fit this picture. Others are positively heart warming. In any event, many of them are fairy- and mythological tales and the fact is that morbidity and death — and much worse — are staples of those genres. Look at Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Oidhe Chlainne Lir and so on.

And as for the unbowdlerised forms of The Goose Girl, Snow White, Pinocchio, The Frog PrinceGo bhfóire Dia orainn!

Máire brings Sorcha to Dublin in 1928

Updated: 7th April 2024.

More than one Internet source, Wikipedia’s entry on Sorcha among them, states that she joined Máire in Dublin in 1928 and obtained a teaching post with Conradh na Gaeilge. This one‑liner, as quoted here or slightly reworded, probably pops‑up in most, if not all of the English language Internet sources that discuss Máire and Sorcha.

But they’ve missed a bit. Let’s consult some originally-researched, scholarly sources.

Tháinig Sorcha go Baile Átha Cliath i 1928 agus hoileadh i gClochar na Toirbhirte, Cnoc Seoirse, í ar feadh tamaill. Fuair Máire áit di i mBaile Átha Cliath ag múineadh faoi Chonradh na Gaeilge.

uí Ógáin (2002a)

My direct translation: ‘Sorcha came to Dublin in 1928 and was educated for a time at the Presentation Convent, George’s Hill. Máire got her a place in Dublin teaching for Conradh na Gaeilge’.

[W]ith Máire’s help, Sorcha came to Dublin when she was sixteen where she attended George’s Hill Presentation College for a few years.

uí Ógáin (2002b)

This clearly suggests that she started as a pupil at George’s Hill in the spring term of 1928.

Faoin am a bhfuair sí scoláireacht go dtí Coláiste na hOllscoile i nGaillimh, bhí blaiseadh [ag Sorcha] cheana féin ar shaol na cathrach. Bhí Máire tar éis í a thabhairt go Baile Átha Cliath le dul ar meánscoil. I 1929, léirigh sí a talann nuair a bhain sí amach an chéad áit in Éirinn san Ard Teist.

Ar Lorg Shorcha (2007)

My direct translation: ‘By the time she got a scholarship to University College, Galway, [Sorcha] had already had a taste of city life. Máire had brought her to Dublin to attend secondary school. In 1929 she demonstrated her talent when she obtained first place in Ireland in the Leaving Certificate.’

With those Leaving Certificate results, Sorcha won a Gaeltacht scholarship to attend what was then University College, Galway — now University of Galway — to study Irish and Commerce (Ar Lorg Shorcha, 2007; Ó Ciosáin, 2007). Her enrolment is recorded in University College, Galway’s Register of Students Entering during Session 1930–1931 as taking place on 13th October 1930 (University College Galway, 1930–1931, cited in Ar Lorg Shorcha, 2007; uí Ógáin, 2002b:3); two days after her nineteenth birthday.

Not one of the English language Internet sources that I’ve found goes into any detail at all concerning ‘Sorcha went to Dublin to teach for an Conradh’. All that bear publication dates are dated later than 2007. Several cite their sources but these are often just other Internet sources that give the same terse statement. Not all even credit Máire with having got Sorcha the work.

Following this, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s been a copy‑and‑paste cascade; one that ultimately owes a debt to uí Ógáin (2002a), that in its early stages either ignored or failed to notice the first half of the above-quoted paragraph from that source and that neglected to consult uí Ógáin (2002b) or Ar Lorg Shorcha (2007).

Fair enough, uí Ógáin might have been more specific about exactly when Máire got Sorcha the teaching work (and yes, the word oileadh in uí Ógáin (2002a) can be translated as ‘trained’ as well as ‘educated’, which muddies the anglophonic waters a little — although the use of the word attended in uí Ógáin (2002b) soon clears them up again) but it should be obvious to the attentive reader that the reason Sorcha was brought to Dublin in 1928 was to complete her secondary education. And once you have in your possession the information provided in Ar Lorg Shorcha (2007), the question of how she could have been working as a teacher in 1928 when she was still at secondary school as a pupil in 1929 becomes glaringly so.

For the time being, we have no definitive answer to that question. We can, however, indulge in reasoned speculation.

It’s not inconceivable that Sorcha taught evening classes or gave some form of grinds for an Conradh whilst still a schoolgirl but outside of school hours. At sixteen years old and new to the Big City though, this might be stretching it a little; no matter how capable she was or how good her Irish.

It’s perhaps more likely that Máire got her this teaching work not in 1928 but in the second half of 1929 and/or in 1930; during the year or so after she’d completed the Leaving Certificate but before she went to UCG. This possibility is certainly compatible with uí Ógáin (2002a, 2002b) as worded.

I know, I know. Why should any of this matter a jot?

Because of Sorcha’s outstanding exam results at George’s Hill and Máire’s role in helping her achieve them. These led directly to the subsequent scholarship and time at UCG, which had a profound effect on the course of Sorcha’s life. And that, in turn, inevitably had knock-on effects on the course of Máire’s.

This small but significant piece of biographical information is being obscured from the historical record by the Internet mumble of a facile but incomplete one-liner.

Máire’s writing in papers ⁊ newspapers

This one’s actually in Irish but it’s after propagating into English language sources that lack essential context.

In Breathnach agus Ní Mhurchú (gd‑b), there’s a statement implying that several of the Irish language papers for which Máire wrote weren’t newspapers: …bhíodh scéalta agus aistí i gcló aici in An Stoc, Fáinne an Lae, An Lóchrann, An t‑Éireannach, An Scuab, An Chearnóg… Bhíodh sí ag scríobh sna nuachtáin freisin….

Fair enough, this assessment’s justified with regard to some of these titles, which were more concerned with literature or folklore or the state of the Irish language than with current affairs. Ó Cíosáin (1993:34) puts it bluntly, nuair a thugtar faoi scéal na bpáipéar Gaeilge a ríomh, ní ceart i gcónaí iad a mheas mar nuachtáin.

But the inclusion in this inventory of An t‑Éireannach — on which Sorcha served as editor from 1935 to 1937 — is rather less than fair. An t‑Éireannach was a newspaper.

The first woman newspaper editor in Ireland

As an addendum to the previous point, it’s all but certain that when Seán Beaumont appointed Sorcha as editor on An t‑Éireannach she became the first ever woman editor of a newspaper in Ireland. Déarfainn gurbh í an chéad bhaneagarthóir ar pháipéar Gaeilge nó ar pháipéar ar bith, chomh fada lem eolas, in Éirinn. (Ó Ciosáin, 2007).

She achieved this some ninety years ago, when she was only in her mid-twenties. Yet, remarkably — and not for want of searching — it’s failed me find a single English language Internet source that acknowledges that achievement.

(On the subject of firsts, she was definitely the first woman to have a building named in her honour by what is now University of Galway (Ó Concheanainn, 2020).)

Editing Scéala ÉireannAn t‑Éireannach

More than one Internet source, not including Wikipedia, mistakenly states that Sorcha served at some (always unspecified) point as editor of Scéala Éireann / the Irish Press. (Although these sources again fail to pick up on what would still have been an historical first as regards a woman in this role.)

But inevitably, the scholarly research yields more accurate information. Ar Lorg Shorcha (2007) informs us that she in fact became editor of its Irish language pages: Faoi [dheireadh na 1940idí], bhí Beaumont ag obair do Scéala Éireann agus thug sé Sorcha isteach ina heagarthóir ar leathanaigh na Gaeilge.

According to Breathnach agus Ní Mhurchú (gd‑a), [a]nuas go 1957 bhí [Beaumont] ina eagarthóir Gaeilge go páirtaimseartha in Scéala Éireann, so given that Sorcha had been lecturing at Trinity College Dublin since the early 1940s, and Beaumont since 1929 (Ó Cíosáin, 1993:70), perhaps there was an element of job sharing involved?

The first sean-nós album

More than one Internet source states that Sorcha recorded her first album in New York in 1945, while visiting her brother in America.

But whilst some of these sources acknowledge that this album, Sorcha Ní Ghuairim Sings Traditional Irish Songs, would have been among the first commercial recordings of sean-nós singing, none mentions that it was quite possibly the first such recording: an chéad taifeadadh tráchtála, is dóigh, a rinneadh riamh ar an sean-nós (Ar Lorg Shorcha, 2007).

Admittedly, there is scope for a grey area as although the tracks were recorded in 1945 the album wasn’t released until 1957 (Ó Loċlainn agus Nic Dhonncha, 2020b).

It’s worth clarifying that this was really the only album she recorded. Other recordings made by her, starting with one for Coimisiún Béaloideasa Éireann in 1940, were made for folklore collection or similar purposes. Yes; much, if not all of this other material has since been released commercially on cassette, CD, Spotify or whatever but that wouldn’t have been the original intention. See Ó Loċlainn agus Nic Dhonncha (2020b) for a more detailed inventory.

And to be strictly accurate, Sorcha was actually visiting several of her emigrated siblings in America in 1945 (Ar Lorg Shorcha, 2007).

Coisín Shiúlach

A minor point, possibly, but with the sole exception of uí Ógáin (2002a), it seems no one anywhere on Internet is able to spell Sorcha’s ‘Coisín Shiúlach’ pen name properly despite the correct spelling of this proper noun being there for all to see, albeit rendered in the cló Gaelach, in extant copies of Scéala Éireann.

Sorcha Ní Ghuairim, 1911–1976

Not so much a matter of inaccuracy as obsolescence. My own, as it happens!

One or two Internet sources concerning Máire and Sorcha cite Sorcha Ní Ghuairim, 1911–1976 among their references. This was a short article prepared by me for Cumann Merriman in 2006.

At the time, there was — in Irish or English — almost no worthwhile biographical information on the Web about either Sorcha or Máire; the various scholarly sources cited in Ceol na Mara still only being available in printed book form. In the run up to the official launch of Ar Lorg Shorcha (2007) at the 2007 Merriman Winter School, it seemed to me that there was an imperative to correct this situation — hence the article, which was published on line on Cumann Merriman’s Web site.

Sorcha Ní Ghuairim, 1911–1976 owed a not inconsiderable debt to Na Beathaisnéisí and the authors of that series, Diarmuid Breathnach and Máire Ní Mhurchú, were of course duly credited.

Anyway, some seven years later I gave the Merriman site a major overhaul and as part of this, excised out of date material that had no meaningful archival value. Máire and Sorcha were a little better documented on the Web by then, in Irish especially. Sorcha Ní Ghuairim, 1911–1976 had therefore become somewhat redundant and so I deleted it.

And that would have been that — except that it had been cloned in the interim by the Wayback Machine and some Internet sources that used to link to the article just linked to the clone instead.

Flattering as it is to see Sorcha Ní Ghuairim, 1911–1976 so persistently cited, the truth is that it’s not only redundant, it’s well and truly obsolete. It’s been superseded, in spades, by Coisín Shiúlach, which has itself now been supplemented by Ceol na Mara. And Na Beathaisnéisí — with expanded entries on Máire and Sorcha — are now available on line.


The references cited here may be found on the Tagairtí page.