The late Micheál Mac Giolla Easbuic
Tá muid báilithe anseo inniú in Eaglais Naomh Chartha chun slán a fhagáil lenar dtaoiseach, “The Chief,” Mícheál Mac Giolla Easbuic, atá imithe uainn ar shlí na bhfírinne. Bhí ríocht s’aige fhéin amuigh i Rualach, An Mhocrais ag féachaint amach ar chósta an Atlantaigh fhiain.
Bhí suim faoi léith ag Micheal ins an teanga, an oidhreacht agus an chultúr. D’imir sé don chlub áitiúil anseo ó 1958 go 1971. Bhí sé fósta mar thraenalaí agus mar bhanaisteoir ar an fhoireann sinsearach agus i gceannas nuair a bhuaigh said an sraith i 1975. Agus é ach fiche bliain dáois, do toghadh é mar rúnaí ag an chlub agus ba sin tús a shaothair mar riarthóir agus mar chomhairleoir i ngóthaí an chlub agus an chondae.
Bhí baint aige le tús a chur le Comórtas Peil na Gaeltachta agus bhí sé mar chathaoirleach ar an chomórtas ó 1977 – 79. Thaisteal sé fhéin agus a shean chara Paddy Beag Mac Giolla Easbuig ó cheann ceann na tíre chun freastal ar na deiridh seachtáine bilaintiúil seo.
Bhí Gaeilge nádurtha ag Michéal a bhí cruinn agus líofa. Beidh sé seo againn go deo de bharr an léir mór leabhar atá foilsithe aige ar nós na leabhair béaloideas agus staire an cheantair atá cumtha aige, an bailiúcháin amhráin agus an cnuasach leabhair atá áistrithe aige. Bhí sé díreach tar éis dhá leabhair de chuid Patrick McGill as na Gleanntaí a áistriú go Gaeilge, sé sin The Rat Pit agus The Children of the Dead End, ceann acu sin agus é ina leaba ins an óispideal i Leitir Ceannai i rith an tsamhraidh seo thart. Díreach roimh an tinneas deireanach seo, bhí sé ag obair go díograsach ar leabhar nua i dhá leath, and chéad páirt faoi scéal Turlough Mór an Phíobaire atá curtha i reilig Mhacaire Gáthlain i nGaoth Dobhair agus an dara píosa ag deanamh cur síos ar chlan áitiúil na háite seo, Mac Suibhne Boghaine. Léiríonn an leabhar sin go beacht an suim a bhí ag Micheal, ar thaobh amháin sa cheol de agus ar an taobh eile stair agus béaloideas na h-áite. Fósta rinne sé cuid mhaith oibre do Raidio na Gaeltachta cosúil mar shampla, “Ón tSean Ám Anall” - an sraith de chláir ar cheol traidisiúnta Thír Chonaill.
Almost exactly twenty years ago, we stood in Ard na Rathnaigh Graveyard in Towney on a cold wet February morning, as we listened to Micheal giving a heartfelt graveside oration for his uncle, and my father Dan Gillespie. He began in his wonderful Irish before switching seamlessly to English, and as he finished, the gathered crowd broke out into warm and sustained applause. But then that was Micheal – he had that ability to be able to eloquently summarise a person’s life and work in a few short minutes and to do them justice. How I could do with his guidance today, for how do you summarise somebody that packed so much into his four score years? Anyway, we’ll give it a try.
Micheal was born in 1942 the eldest of a family of six. He followed his uncle by going firstly to Coláiste Éinde in Galway and then on to St. Patrick’s College in Dublin before coming home to teach and getting himself involved in many different organisations tasked with improving the lot of the parish.
The Gaelic History, Heritage and Culture of the area were of primary importance to him and this was to be a constant thread running right throughout his life.
He was a playing member of the Kilcar club from 1958 to 71 and was manager of the team that made the big breakthrough by winning the senior league in 1975. At just twenty years of age, he became secretary of the club and in that capacity, through his attendance at divisional and county board meetings, began to take a deeper interest in the affairs of the county. He was elected chairman of the County Board in 1980 at the tender age of 38, a role he was to hold until he stepped down in 1987. Along with his fellow south – west colleagues, Bart Whelan and Francie Cunningham at the top table, they were to initiate a number of wide-ranging changes which included allowing for new county managers to pick their own selectors rather than having divisional selectors foisted on them; and also giving those young players heading for the United States, a ninety day window to play out there before coming home to resume with their own clubs. At a time of great unemployment and emigration, this ensured that the door was being left open for these young players to come home again and it in no small way helped to arrest the drain from these parishes.
One of his first tasks as chairman was to present the Dr. Maguire trophy to Kilcar captain, Séan McGinley, in 1980 following their defeat of Ardara in the final, a first championship win for the club since 1925. Playing at midfield that day was his brother Danny, which would have made Micheal feel doubly proud.
It was certainly no coincidence that the county won its first two U21 All – Irelands in 1982 and 1987 which bookended his tenure as chairman, and these panels were to provide the playing backbone of the historic senior breakthrough team of 1992. He would later hold several administrative positions at Central Council level and was made a trustee of the Association in 1996.
He was also instrumental in setting up Comortas Peil na Gaeltachta and was its national chairman from 1977 – 99. This Comortas strove to bring the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland together for a weekend at the start of each summer to celebrate their games and culture. Over the years it has gone from strength to strength and Micheal attended nearly every one of these annual gatherings throughout the length and breadth of Ireland with his great friend Paddy Beag Gillespie from Glen.
Closer to home and he would have been instrumental with others in the construction of the new pitch in Towney, a setting which features in the backdrop of the Sunday Game programme this season.
He somehow also found time to help organise the Kilcar Festival each summer, to act in comedy dramas and to be one of three instructors of the First Aid Branch of the Civil Defence or Cosaint Siabhalta which brought an All – Ireland crown back to our wee parish in 1980. On top of this there was his involvement with the Parish Council, Áislann Cill Chartha and Tír Boghaine. The list goes on and on.
The motive behind all this voluntary work can be neatly summed up by what he called his ten, two- letter word mantra which he outlined as Fear a Tí one night at a function here in Kilcar. “If it is to be it is up to me.”
For a while he was to be slowed up by serious heart and cancer diagnoses which would have seriously curtailed or finished most of us. But not Micheal. Being the positive and strong character that he was, he confounded the odds. He took these setbacks squarely on the chin and grabbed a new lease of life, being ably assisted, encouraged and supported back to health by wife Bernadette, son Gregory and his wider family. Indeed, so serious were some of the medical concerns he faced at this time that he once joked about how, when he was presented by the county with a Hall of Fame Award in the early 1990s, he remarked, “That usually only happens when you are on the way out but thankfully, I am still about.”
He totally immersed himself now in a new role as author and translator, and published quite a number of books on the history and folklore of the parish as well as skilfully and accurately translating many volumes of work from English, into Irish. At one stage during the past summer, I rang him down to the hospital one day and inquired if he wanted some books in to read but he said he was too busy translating the Rat Pit by Patrick Magill which he completed in less that a fortnight.
In the interim, he had also become the proud grandfather of twins Áine and Conor in Cork. Just last night my father – in – law Billy Vaughan told me this amusing yarn of how Micheal outlined to him about how much he was enjoying the twins and the joy they were taking out of mimicking their grandfather’s laugh. Billy replied, “Micheal, they’re not the only ones.”
Shortly before his final illness, he had been working on his latest project, a new book, on the McSweeneys. This he planned as a work of two parts, the first section covering the life of the great uileann piper, Turlough Mór an Phíobaire, (who is buried in Machaire Gathlann in Gaoth Dobhair), while the second section was to cover the history of the local McSweeney clan, clan Mac Suibhne Boghaine, who were one of the formidable fighting families fiercely loyal to the O’ Donnells. This proposed book neatly drew together Micheal’s great passion for both local history and for Irish music.
Indeed, he had also worked for many years on recording and collecting Irish traditional music for posterity, particularly fiddle music, long before it was to become fashionable to do so. Plans are now well underway to have his collection digitised and it will stand as a wonderful testament to him.
Regularly on a person’s passing, you will hear the lament and regret that he or she wasn’t recorded at some stage and as a result that all their store of knowledge had gone with them. This is thankfully not the case with Micheal, as through his unstinting work and output, there are few if any other Donegal persons who have ever recorded as much material. The rich legacy he leaves us all in this is – without exaggeration – monumental.
Often nowadays you hear of people being described as “unique.” In the case of Micheal Mac Giolla Easbuic or ‘The Chief’, this was certainly so. We will certainly miss his “warm greetings, wily conversations and low hearty chuckle” as one man put it to me yesterday.
It is just remarkable that he fitted so much into his life, given that he had to face so many trials and tribulations over the past twenty years and more. But he was ‘The Chief’, a Taoiseach and he always led by example. So, if you are a Kilcar player young or seasoned heading to train or play on the new pitch in Towney, or maybe a young lad heading to work in the States for a summer knowing you are cleared to come back to play on your return, or maybe you have an interest in Donegal traditional music and would like to listen to some recording of the ancient masters as they played their tunes, then you have Mícheal to very much thank for that legacy. For nothing defined Micheal more than this – the completion of whatever project he had taken on, the task well and truly accomplished.
And so to his loving wife Bernadette, to his son Gregory and Mary and family, to his sister Maureen and brothers Seamus, Kevin, Martin and Danny and for all those that were fortunate enough to have known him, Slán a Mhíchil agus go raibh míle maith agat. Suaimhneach síorraí dhuit. For we can say with absolute certainty - Ní bheidh a léithid arís ann.
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