Donegal's first female Oifigeach Gaeilge agus Cultúir Catriona Sweeney off to a flying start
International Women's Day is tomorrow, March 8. This week Donegal Live published a number of interviews with women who have been influential in their particular fields to tie in with the celebration.
Gael Catriona Sweeney's competence and grace under pressure is immediately apparent.
The CLG Beart Rúnaí is working remotely, while homeschooling her three children: Mia, Conor and Noah and sharing the role of Referee Administrator for the Donegal Ladies' Gaelic Football Association.
Elected as Donegal County Board's Oifigeach Gaeilge agus Cultúir in February past, one of Catriona's main objectives is to develop the much-loved cultural competitions, Scór na nÓg and Scór Sinsear.
The first woman to hold the prestigious position, Catriona said she also wants to nurture the Irish language within Donegal's 40 GAA clubs.
She said: “What I have started now is a monthly newsletter to highlight what has being going on in the clubs since lockdown. For example ourselves in CLG Beart achieved the Silver Medal in Fondúireacht Sheosaimh Mhic Dhonncha, a fantastic scheme which gives clubs all over Ireland the opportunity to use Irish in an enjoyable and practical way.
Catriona Sweeney and Frainc Mac Cionnaith when CLG Beart achieved the Silver Medal in Fondúireacht Sheosaimh Mhic Dhonncha
“There is a lot of work being done by the clubs but, because it is not on the field, it does not necessarily get showcased. The plan is to find out what all of the clubs have been doing since lockdown. Have they been doing virtual Scór? Have they been doing Irish quizzes through Zoom? I want to bring that promotional work to a wider audience, so that everyone knows what is going on and everyone is aware what each club is doing and can use their example.
“There is a lot happening in the off-field cultural sphere but people are just not aware of it. So, I am currently working on a newsletter that we can send to the clubs and put out on social media to update everybody on what has been happening. Each month, we will pick a club and highlight their successes.
“I am really excited and looking forward to my year as Oifigeach Gaeilge agus Cultúir. I was a bit nervous at the start because Fergus McGee (St Eunan's) and Con O'Donnell (Moville) before him had done such brilliant work and I wanted to make sure I could take it a step further, rather than go backwards. But, I would like very much to acknowledge the invaluable help and support which I have received from Fergus and Con. Obviously with the way things are at the moment, it has been a wee bit difficult to really get to see people and have conversations,” said Catriona.
Catriona hopes she will be able to bring something of herself to the role and to develop it further.
She said: “The whole County Board has been wonderful and I want to make sure it is a successful year. Scór itself is something that I grew up with. It is something that I really did enjoy and have great memories of as a child. I suppose, I am trying to impart that love to other children and, hopefully, developing it further within County Donegal.
“So far I am enjoying it. I absolutely love the GAA. It is part of my life. I enjoy every aspect of it. So, this is a great opportunity for me to get involved and get more involved. Oifigeach Gaeilge agus Cultúir is a great part to play.”
Now well embedded in Inch, Catriona grew up in Craigavon in County Armagh and was immersed in the Éire Ógs.
She fondly recalled: “My family was just steeped in the GAA. Everything in our lives revolved around it, from going to matches, no matter who was playing or where they where playing, we were at it. You would go into Granda's house and it was covered in jerseys and there were Neill's footballs lying everywhere. It was just what we did.
“We were a house full of girls, my mammy, Sadie, and the five of us: Noleen, Stacy, Caroline and Seanna and me, and every one of us is involved in the GAA. My daddy (Barney Henry) refereed for years and everyone of us played Ladies Football. It is just who we are and it is something that I hope I can pass on to my children, so they would have that love and passion for it.
“I love belonging to CLG Beart and being Rúnaí. If I could get paid to do this job, I would. This would be my full-time job, no bother. We are going to try and do the virtual Scór this year and hoping to run Irish classes on Zoom, which would be open to the members of all the GAA classes in Donegal. That is all I have done so far,” said Catriona, which bodes extremely well for her next 11 months in office.
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