2024 Breandán Ó Buachalla Memorial Lecture with Pádraig Ó Siadhail


Location: 215 McKenna Hall (View on map )

Image credit: External Affairs, Saint Mary's University, Halifax.

Pádraig Ó Siadhail, professor emeritus at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, will deliver the 10th annual Breandán Ó Buachalla Memorial Lecture titled "Seán Breanach and Irish-language discourse on Afrikaans and Apartheid" on Thursday, April 25, 2024. Professor Ó Siadhail will be introduced by Clíona Ní Ríordán, the Thomas J. and Kathleen M. O’Donnell Chair in Irish Language and Literature at the University of Notre Dame. 

Using the story of Seán Breanach (1891-1967) and his writings in Irish from South Africa as our guide on the journey, this lecture will trace Irish-language commentary from the 1920s to the early 1960s on the Afrikaans language and on Apartheid from 1948 to 1970.

The Limerick-born Breanach was active in the Irish-language movement in Ireland. The course of his life changed dramatically when Breanach, raised a Catholic, converted to Judaism in order to marry Esther Abrahamson from Newry in 1921. The couple left Ireland and settled in South Africa. Although the Breanach family remained there, Breanach’s commitment to Irish never waned. In the 1940s and 1950s he published articles in Irish discussing Afrikaans and contemporary political developments in South Africa.

Irish interest in Afrikaans was one manifestation of strong Irish nationalist sympathy for the Boers during the Boer War (1899-1902). But in the 1920s, the new constitutional position of Irish in the Irish Free State and official recognition for Afrikaans as an official language of the Union of South Africa provided a direct point of comparison between the fortunes of the two languages in their respective states. Central to the commentary in Ireland, both in Irish and English, was a sense that Afrikaans was faring better in its battle with English in South Africa than was Irish, competing with English in Ireland.

Afrikaans speakers, in the form of the white regime, introduced Apartheid in 1948. The perspectives of Irish speakers in South Africa, including Seán Breanach, represent one intriguing strand of Irish-language commentary about Apartheid in its first decade. In Ireland, Irish-language commentators condemned Apartheid from the early 1950s even as they continued to view Afrikaans favourably. However, as international denunciation of Apartheid intensified in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, Irish-language commentators in Ireland quickly jettisoned comparisons between Irish and Afrikaans and sharpened their criticism of South Africa. Irish speakers were prominent in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, established in 1964, and were actively involved in protests against the visit of the Springbok rugby team to Ireland in January 1970. Indeed lively and extensive commentary in Irish-language print media contributed to the public discourse about not just the Springbok visit but about how the Government of Ireland and Irish people should respond to Apartheid.

Speaker Biography

Pádraig Ó Siadhail is professor emeritus at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia where he was the Thomas D'Arcy Magee Chair in Irish Studies from 1987 to 2022. He has a Ph. D. in Irish-language theatre from Trinity College Dublin. Ó Siadhail's publications include Stair Dhrámaíocht na Gaeilge 1900–1970 (1993), a history of Irish-language theatre; An Béaslaíoch. Beatha agus Saothar Phiarais Béaslaí, 1881–1965 (2007), a biography of Piaras Béaslaí; Idir Dhá Thír: Sceitsí ó Cheanada (2005), a collection of non-fictional essays, four novels and a collection of short stories.

Ó Siadhail is particularly interested in what he terms “the call of home” — how members of the Irish Diaspora have contributed to the Irish language and its culture: for example, the Liverpool-born Irish-speaking political and cultural activist, Piaras Béaslaí; the Canadian-born Katherine Hughes, an Irish political activist in North America 1916–1921 who sought to establish a position as writer-in-residence for her friend, Pádraic Ó Conaire, at University College Galway; and the renowned Native American scholar, James Mooney, who published three major essays on Irish folk culture.

The Breandán Ó Buachalla Memorial Lecture

Breandan O Buachalla

This annual lecture honors the memory of Breandán Ó Buachalla (1936-2010), who was the inaugural Thomas J. and Kathleen M. O'Donnell Chair of Irish Language and Literature at the University of Notre Dame. Ó Buachalla was instrumental to the success of both the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies and the Department of Irish Language and Literature.

Read more about the Ó Buachalla lectures

Ó Siadhail photo credit: External Affairs, Saint Mary's University, Halifax.