Founding of Gael Linn

Dónall Ó Móráin: Founder

In the early 1950s, a dynamic group of graduates and undergraduates were searching for a way to raise and invest funds to pressurise the Irish government to take a more pro-active role in promoting the Irish language and associated culture.

Noting the success of Football pools in the UK, they speculated that a similar scheme, based on Gaelic games scores, might well catch on in Ireland. The laws governing the control of lotteries were complied with by the creation of a private members lottery, at first called 'Gael Linn', and which soon gave birth to an organisation of the same name. Thus, in 1953, began one of the most influential organisations in the project to restore and renew the Irish language.

Gael Linn and its gaelic games pools gained instant and widespread acceptance in a society devastated by poverty, emigration and a kind of generalised cultural hopelessness, in which the Irish language had lamentably fallen into general disuse and, moreover, become associated more with want than with wealth.

The idea of marketing an Irish Pools project, not for profit but for the benefit of the language and the communities of the Gaeltacht, appealed to the idealism of many young Irish men and women, who soon became enthusiastic promoters of the new idea.

In conjunction with the pools project, Gael Linn produced a sponsored weekly radio programme for broadcast on Radió Éireann, as the national radio station was then called.

It was an inspired move that brought Gael Linn into practically every household in the land. In the media-saturated context of nearly five decades later, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend the impact achieved by this weekly sponsored programme, which broadcast a mix of Irish traditional music, news of Irish language events and, of course, the eagerly awaited pools results.


To understand why Gael Linn was formed, it is necessary to comprehend first the state of the Irish language and public attitudes to it in the years following Irish Independence. The objective of restoring Irish as the major language of the people had become one of the primary objectives of the new State. This was a daunting project, and it was greatly hindered by the fact that many of the key members of the Gaelic League had either been killed in action during the Rising of 1916 or executed in its wake. The Civil War of 1921-22 created further difficulties, fatally dividing the movement for national realisation at a time when their energies most required to be focused on cultural goals.

There was, too, a deal of naivety concerning the prospects for immediately restoring Irish as a spoken language. For one thing, there was an assumption that simply reinstating Irish in the school curriculum would result in its rapid revivification in the homes and workplaces of Ireland. But the damage done had been too great. The people still speaking Irish were in the main the poorest in the land, and there remained a strong connection in the popular mind between poverty and the language. In a series of moves designed to reverse the effects of generations of discrimination against Irish speakers, preference was given to Irish speakers in filling public service positions, and steps were taken to improve the economic status of Irish-speaking districts. But progress was slow and the new measures created considerable resentment among non-Irish speakers. Frustration set in among the leadership of the language movement, which became more and more insular and narrow-minded, greatly to the detriment of the battle to save the language.

It was this frustration which led to the establishment in the mid-1930s of An Comhchaidreamh, a confederation of Irish Societies of The National University of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast. In the early 1940s, An Comhchaidreamh established Comhar, a monthly journal in Irish which, unlike many such publications of the time, did not limit its contents to narrow debates about the language, but provided a general-interest review of arts and current affairs and was not afraid to offend the censor.

In 1943, the government established a new national organisation, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, to spearhead the language revival, but the beginnings of this body were not auspicious as many of the younger supporters of the language believed it little better than the moribund Gaelic League. Within a few years, however, An Comhchaidreamh, together with another young organisation, Glún na Bua, had gained effective control of the national body. Under their influence, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge began to formulate a new approach to the restoration of Irish. A document was produced outlining how the language revival might be promoted on three fronts: publishing, cinema and the economic life of the Gaeltacht. This was submitted to the then Fianna Fáil government, and although it immediately resulted in a subsidy for Comhar and a small investment in tomato growing in the Gaeltacht, it did not immediately receive the kind of official support necessary to make any real impact. Successive governments failed to meet the challenge, turning down numerous proposals for State-funded films in Irish.


Gael Linn
Eventually, a number of the young membership of An Comhchaidreamh decided that, in an effort to shame the government into supporting the project, they would try to raise funds to make the films themselves. In March 1953, one of these individuals, Dónall Ó Móráin, recommended at a meeting in the Imperial Hotel in Cork that an organisation to be known as Gael Linn be formed under the patronage of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge.

A Deed of Trust was signed between An Comhchaidreamh and a group of six people acting as Trustees; this in effect, became the first Board of Gael Linn. The headquarters of the new organisation was a tiny room on the top floor of 38 Westmoreland Street, Dublin, from where Comhar, the literary and current affairs magazine, was produced. The football pools were launched and began to bring in a little money.


The Early Years
The first decade of Gael Linn was immensely successful and varied, the early enthusiasm of the organisation enabling the revival project to strike out in various directions. In its first phase, Gael Linn concentrated on fundraising and measures to promote the language among native speakers. These included film-making, musical recordings, general cultural activities and projects of a socio-economic nature designed to develop Gaeltacht areas where the language was at its strongest.


A former government minister, Ernest Blythe, then chairman of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, was persuaded to lend £100 to fund a short film for the cinema. He was sceptical about the proposal, but, as Dónall Ó Móráin recalled afterwards, "felt that the worst that could happen was that the £100 would be wasted". Thus, Gael Linn began producing short documentary films in Irish, which were distributed through the chain of cinemas run by the Rank Organisation, initially at the rate of a film per month, increasing to two per month in 1958. Later still, the fortnightly short documentaries would be replaced by weekly newsreels of events in Ireland, with an Irish language commentary, under the title Amharc Éireann. These continued for five years, amounting to more than 260 editions.


Cultural Activities
Gradually, Gael Linn began to expand its remit. In 1955, the organisation established a three-month Gaeltacht scholarship scheme for primary school children. That same year, a semi-professional/amateur Irish language theatre was established in The Damer Hall, on Dublin's St. Stephen's Green. In 1957, a series of Irish language drama festivals was instigated, leading to the establishment of An Comhlachas Náisiúnta Drámaíochta, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of Irish language drama.

One of the most enduring elements of Gael Linn's operation, the Gael Linn record label, was established in 1956 to provide an outlet for recordings of sean-nós singing and traditional music. That same year, Oícheanta Seanchais, entertainment sessions of traditional storytelling and sean-nós singing, were established in Dublin as part of An Tóstal festival.

In 1958, an Irish language-teaching institute, Foras na Gaeilge, was established to organise Irish courses for adults and young people. The following year, Cabaret Gael Linn, a well-presented entertainment programme of traditional music, song and dance was set up to perform in hotels and tourist venues throughout the country.

In 1959 also, Gael Linn started an Irish language debating competition for post-primary schools.

In 1965, a summer college for recipients of Gael Linn three-month Gaeltacht scholarships, Coláiste Mac Dara, was established in An Cheathrú Rua in the Galway Gaeltacht, later transferring to Machaire Rabhartaigh in the Donegal Gaeltacht.


Gaeltacht Projects
Gael Linn was founded on a strict principle of non-profit making, and for the most part this did not present any major ethical difficulties. Many of the early projects survived for a time before either tranmuting into something else or outliving their usefulness. Those enterprises which made money were used to subsidise less profitable ventures. Later on, many of these Gael Linn initiated enterprises were taken on by State-sponsored bodies such as Gaeltarra Éireann and Údarás na Gaeltachta which were set up to develop the Gaeltacht and some were sold on to local co-operatives or private enterprises.

In 1957, for example, it was decided to establish a fish and vegetable processing plant in Carna, in the Galway Gaeltacht. Five boats suitable for in-shore fishing were procured and given to local Carna fishermen on a purchase-lease basis. Oyster beds in nearby Bá Chill Chiaráin, were later purchased to support the fish processing.

In 1958, a 135 acre estate at Teelin in south Donegal, which included a sheep/pig farm and fishing rights to local rivers, lakes and Teelin Bay, was purchased in an effort to protect the livelihood of the local salmon fishermen. The fishermen were allowed to net salmon under licence from Gael Linn and a local family ran the farm on behalf of the organisation.


Film making
In 1960, Gael Linn's foray into film-making resulted in what was perhaps the crowning achievement of those early years when it produced Mise Éire, the first ever full-length feature film in Irish and the first ever feature film based on actual newsreel footage, with the now famous music score by Seán Ó Riada. The film covered the struggle for Irish independence from the early 1890s to 1917.

One of the specialities of the Gael Linn film production operation were occasional short instructional films on aspects of Irish life, most notably hurling and footballing skills, memorably represented by the 1963 film on the hurling tecnique of Christy Ring. In 1972, another Gael Linn production, Páistí ag Obair was invited to participate in the London Film Festival, and subsequently received an Oscar nomination.

Christy Ring
Films represented an early and important success for Gael Linn. After some initial suspicion, the public rapidly warmed to the new idea. "It would be true to say that the first films shown in Irish cinemas produced a bit of a giggle," Dónall Ó Móráin remembered some years later. "People were so surprised at hearing Irish in the cinema. But the giggles soon subsided." Although, with a couple of exceptions, the films failed to make money, they were remarkably successful in their primary objective of promoting the language in the day-to-day life of the country.

In 1965, a short film on social development in Ireland, Rhapsody of a River, commissioned by the then Department for External Affairs, was screened at the Cork Film Festival to considerable public acclaim. In 1966, a special commemorative film on 1916, An Tine Bheo, commissioned by the 1916 Jubilee Committee, was released and shown in cinemas throughout Ireland. In 1967, a Gael Linn-produced short film on a traditional music festival, Fleá Ceoil, won a n award at the Berlin Film Festival. Another short film, an amusing commentary on equine sports in Ireland, Capallology, was released and won the 'Monaco' award at the Brussels Film Festival in 1968.


Commercial Activities
In 1964, Gael Linn took out a majority shareholding in a furniture manufacturing enterprise, John Hogg & Co. Ltd., trading as Crannac, in Navan, Co. Meath.

A couple of years later, the organisation established a special marketing company, Irlandia, to market Crannac furniture and other Irish manufactured products in the U.K.


An Ghaeltacht
In 1960, Gael Linn invested in a seaweed processing factory, Tora Toinne Teoranta, in An Cheathrú Rua, in the Galway Gaeltacht. In 1961, a bee-keeping scheme was established in the West Cork Gaeltacht of Cúl Aodha and Corca Dhuibhne in West Kerry.

The following year, properties in Baile an Fheirtéirigh and Dún Chaoin, in Corca Dhuibhne, were purchased for the development of Gaeltacht holidays, and Gael Linn undertook the running of a co-op shop in An Rinn, in the Waterford Gaeltacht, which survived until 1969.


In 1962, the by then flourishing organisation had been incorporated as Gael Linn Teoranta, a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
This heralded the direct involvement by Gael Linn in a new operations of a socio-economic nature, including in 1963 a foray into the production of traditional hand knitted garments, with the founding of Inisfree Handknits Ltd., in conjunction with The Donegal Shop, a retail premises in Dublin's Creation Arcade.

Some years later, this business was expanded to include a new music section, Fónodisc, specialising in traditional and classical music.

Meanwhile, 1962 also saw the establishment of a youth club for former recipients of Gael Linn Gaeltacht scholarships, and that year also, Gael Linn began its hugely lucrative Bingo operation which was to help fund its many activities for several decades.

In 1965, a summer college for recipients of Gael Linn three-month Gaeltacht scholarships, Coláiste Mac Dara, was established in An Cheathrú Rua in the Galway Gaeltacht, later transferring to Machaire Rabhartaigh in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

In 1969, Irlandia was merged with another marketing company, Furniture Marketing Group Ltd., which took on responsibility for the marketing of Crannac furniture in the home market and this arrangement continued for a number of years until Gael Linn withdrew from the operation, selling its shares. In 1966, a metalworking enterprise, Miotalra, was established in Carna, in partnership with a Dublin-based company.

In 1967, a Friendly Society, Cara-Chumann Gael Linn, was established, under the auspices of Gael Linn, and the same year a majority shareholding was purchased in Glens of Antrim Tweed Co. Ltd. in Cushendall, Co. Antrim. This company traded successfully until 1979.

In 1968, Gael Linn purchased and refurbished a licensed bar and restaurant, Óstán John Devoy, in Johnstown, Co. Kildare, and retained an involvement for a number of years. In 1968 also, at the request of Clann na hÉireann, Gael Linn took over the running of a Hostel, Brú na Mí, in the Co. Meath Gaeltacht of Baile Ghib.

That same year, Gael Linn was instrumental in setting up a joint venture with Gaeltarra Éireann and three other parties in the hotel industry, Gaeltearmann Teoranta, to establish a chain of quality hotels in Gaeltacht areas, starting with Cathair Uí Dhónaill, in Kerry.

With such an impressive range of successes in the cultural life of the nation, it had by the early 1960s seemed logical to seek to expand further, and extend the organisation's reach from the Irish-speaking heartlands to the broader life of the nation. Gael Linn applied for the licence to run the first national television channel, but the decision of the Government to establish Teilifís Éireann, a semi-state body, to run the new service, prompted the organisation to think again about how it might achieve its broader purpose.


New Horizons
During this phase of development Gael Linn expanded its remit to place more emphasis on promoting the language beyond the Gaeltacht areas and among the general population. This was done through the promotion of summer courses in Irish, debates and drama. In 1975, an Irish language home-learning course was produced in a joint venture with Linguaphone and proved to be extremely successful.


In 1969, Gael Linn established a competition based youth arts festival, Slógadh, involving several local events and culminating in a national final. This event was to prove one of the great successes of the Gael Linn calendar for many years. Activities included singing, storytelling and the visual arts.

The Slógadh music competitions catered for all kinds of music - traditional, pop, country 'n' western, classical, solo singing, choirs, musicals and solo instrumental. There were competitions for one act plays, miming and the traditional art form - the agallamh beirte. The festival was not limited to stage competitions. There were important art and literary sections also. The side events were often as important as the competitions themselves. Impromptu music sessions, discos, céilithe and poetry readings formed an integral and important part of the festival.

Above all else, Slógadh gave Irish a new relevance for the young generation. It became a living medium of modern artistic expression. At its zenith in the early eighties, over 50,000 young people were involved annually one way or another. It was through Slógadh that artists such as Clannad, the Hothouse Flowers, Altan and Dolores O'Riordan first gained recognition. It was in Slógadh that Cathal Ó Searcaigh, one of the most promising and prolific of our contemporary poets, came to the attention of the literary public. No other youth festival of its kind in Europe, with the exception of the Urdd Eistedfodd in Wales, could compare to it in scale or in the scope of its activities. Young people from the four corners of Europe - from Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders, Occitania and Slovenia, to mention but some-traveled to Ireland to experience it.


In 1971, Gael Linn established Eachtra, a summer adventure course for Irish speaking teenagers, in An Cheathrú Rua, Conamara. Activities included swimming, life-saving, orienteering, kayaking and boating. Two years later, Eachtra was transferred to Gort a' Choirce in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Later still, a second course was organised in Corca Dhuibhne, in the Kerry Gaeltacht.


European Context
In general, this period was one of a retrenchment following the earlier ambitious attempts to promote the language on a truly national basis, and the focus narrowed to focus on existing speakers and those with a strong interest in acquiring or improving Irish language skills.

The Irish economy in this period was in deep recession and emigration, which had abated during the 1970s, was again a feature of Irish life. Many organisations found themselves having to adapt to the new climate of austerity, and Gael Linn was no exception. The scene was set by the decision by the RTÉ Authority to end sponsored programmes on Raidio Éireann, which meant that the weekly sponsored radio programme was broadcast for the last time on the 29th of December 1980. Gael Linn began to develop links with bodies engaged in similar struggles in other countries.

In 1981, it organised a seminar in Dublin on the position of the lesser-used languages of Europe, and over a number of years it became active in promoting the cause of the lesser-used languages of Europe, assisting in the establishment of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. In 1982, a policy document on education, The Future of the Irish Language in The Irish Education System, was published, followed shortly afterwards by a policy document on local radio, The Future of Irish Local Radio.


A new weekly newspaper, Anois, was founded in 1984. This was the first Irish language newspaper in tabloid format and the first to use full-colour. Newspread Ltd, a major wholesale distributor of magazines and newspapers distributed the new title, which developed a healthy circulation and continued publication until 1996. Gael Linn did. however, continue to publish educational materials for schools and this grew to comprise the titles Staighre, Céim and Dréimire.

In 1988, Coirm, an initiative was launched to provide Irish language and cultural entertainment in various venues on a regular basis, initially in venues around the Dublin area. In 1989, the government, after much procrastination, finally announced proposals for a legal network of local radio stations, and Gael Linn purchased shareholdings in Clare FM and Radio Kerry.


New Ventures
In 1992 Gael Linn started organizing table-quizzes for secondary school students in Northern Ireland - Tráth na gCeist - Gael Linn.

Gael Linn organized the same quizzes, this time aimed at adults, in conjunction with BBC Radio Ulster. The name of the series broadcast was Freag air and with RTÉ Radio 1 called Ceist Agam Ort.

Gael Linn organized a very successful tablequiz called Spraoicheist for children in fifth and sixth class in national schools. Spraoicheist is still organized today in schools around the country. For more details, please refer to the Cultural Activities page.

The organisation was also employing new technologies to bring Irish into line with modern language in the world.

A joint venture with Granada Learning resulted in the launch of an interactive writing programme on CD-Rom entitled An Scríbhneoir Óg / Young Writer's Workshop. Four different language versions are included on one disc - Irish, English, French and German.


In March 2000 Gael Linn opened a new café in Dawson Street, Dublin. It is was one of two Irish language cafés in Dublin where you could place your order through Irish.

The new millennium found Gael Linn once again in vibrant mode, shifting as always to meet the changing demands of the language. In 2000 also, a new Gael Linn education policy document was published, with some radical proposals for improving the teaching of the Irish language, especially at primary level.

Gael Linn withdrew from directly organising third level student debates, in favour of aiding and supporting student associations in various colleges to organise their own Irish language debates and other activities.

In 2000 also, Gael Linn brought the Irish language translation of Martin McDonagh's hit play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, to the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Trinity College, Dublin, where it played to a packed house for five performances.

In September 2001 Gael Linn launched a new programme of cultural activities for schools.

There was a new and improved layout for the debating and radio programme competitions. There were two brand new activities, Coirm for national schools and Siansa for students under 19yrs old. This programme has proven to be a huge success and all the details are under Youth Activities.

In 2002 Gael Linn and Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann launched a new course called Gaeilge agus Fáilte. It consists of a book and two tapes and aims to help adult learners of Irish.

Support Materials for teaching Irish
In the late 1980’s and 1990’s Gael Linn started publishing support materials for post-primary schools. These three titles, Dreimire, Staighre and Céim, have gone from strength to strength. As part of our progamme for the new millennium and arising from our Education Policy, published in May 2000, we decided to develop a broader range of support materials for teachers and learners at various levels. Our range now includes posters, primary school teaching kits and CD-Roms, with even more to follow.