President formally launches Fintona CCE

Sat 26th May, 2018 | 11:30
location: Garvaghey, Tyrone

Speech at the launch of the Fintona branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

Garvaghey GAA Centre, Co. Tyrone, 26 May 2018

A Ard-Leifteanaint,
A Chathaoirligh,
A Chairde Gael,

Ar an gcéad dul síos is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh as an fíorchaoin fáilte a d'fhear sibh romham inniu, agus is mian liom moladh a thabhairt do na ceoltóirí atá cloiste againn. Léiríonn an scil agus an phaisean atá acu don cheol gurb fhiú Craobh Fhionntamhnaí Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann a athbhunú. Is léiriú í freisin gurb í an Ghaeilge agus ár gcultúr Ghaelach oidhreacht na ndaoine I gcoitinn atá ina gcónaí ar an oileán seo, agus go bhfuil ár dteanga agus ár gcultúr beo bríomhar anseo i dTír Eoghain.


Lord Lieutenant,
Dear Friends,

[As I have just said in Irish may I begin by thanking you all for your warm welcome today and by paying tribute to the musicians we have heard today. Their skill and passion is a testament to the wisdom of the decision of re-establishing the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Branch here in Fintona. It is also a demonstration that our Irish language and culture is flourishing as the inheritance of all the people who inhabit this island, that our ancient language and culture are alive here in Tyrone.]

As President of Ireland, it is such a pleasure to join you all today in this magnificent complex, itself a representation of the strength of Gaelic games in Tyrone, a strength, particularly in football, that many other counties will have experienced. It is a most fitting venue for this launch today, one that I am sure will continue to play host to successful young players from the Fintona Pearses.

This county of Tyrone has a long and storied tradition of music, song, dance and poetry. It was, after all, the heart of some of the great aristocratic families of Gaelic Ireland during the sixteenth-century. In the words of that great poet, John Montague, whose family hailed from Fintona, it was ‘Tír Eoghain: Land of Owen, Province of the O’Niall’, upon which one could feel the ‘ghostly tread’ of the Gaelic lords who came before.

Let us also recall that it was here, and in the other counties of Ulster, that Presbyterians would come to play a very important role in sustaining the Irish language, making of it the language of everyday religious practice for so many. As Roger Blaney and Padraig Ó Snodaigh have reminded us, at one point in our history at least one-half of all Presbyterians in Ireland spoke Gaelic, whether of the Irish or Scottish variety.


All of these diverse traditions contributed to a distinctive language and dialect in the Northern counties of our island. That lyric tradition was given one of its highest expressions in the work of the ‘Bard of Tyrone’, William Forbes Marshall, a renowned linguist, poet, scholar and the Presbyterian Minister to Sixmilecross, Aughnacloy, and Castlerock. His poetry inspired another great Tyrone man, Arthur Kearney, whose family did so much to maintain the practice and teaching of Irish music in Omagh and in this county. Our culture is, after all, one that all of us on this island shared in the past and it is one, I believe, that we will share in the future.


The strength of that culture and that tradition is so evident today and so I may commend all those who have contributed to the Fintona branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. It would not be possible without all of you: the committed teachers who devote so much of their time and their energy in transmitting their craft to a new generation; the parents who support and nurture their children on their musical journey; and the committee who have dedicated their efforts to re-establishing the branch.


As many of you know I have a very personal interest in this branch. My niece Denise Maguire was instrumental in organising my visit here today, and her daughter, Sarah, plays the accordion in the Céilí Band and with a grúpa ceoil.


So I have an extra incentive to pay tribute to the young musicians who I have been most privileged to see and hear perform today. I have no doubt that I will see many of you in Drogheda in August at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, when we come together to celebrate our Irish music, song, dance and language.


I would also like to congratulate Patricia Conlin for her work on the branch logo. In incorporating the iconic Fintona Tram and the Lendrum Wind Farm it is a representation of both the heritage and the future of both the town and the branch.


When I quoted John Montague earlier I was referring to his poem ‘The Lost Tradition’, published in 1972. It is a poem tinged with sadness, regret and nostalgia at the slow fading of a heritage and culture. If I may read from it once again:


‘The whole landscape a manuscript
We had lost the skill to read,
A part of our past disinherited
But fumbled, like a blind man,
Along the fingertips of instinct.


The last Gaelic speaker in the parish
When I stammered my school Irish
One Sunday after mass, crinkled
A rusty litany of praise:
Tá an Ghaeilge again arís…’


As a result of your labours we will have our language again, and our heritage and culture is being revived and rediscovered once again in the town of Fintona, in a spirit of generosity, hope and friendship and for that I congratulate you all.  


Tréaslaím libh arís. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir agus beir beannacht.