Beicí Nic Riada/Mhic Crábhagáin- Gael Uasal ar shlí na fírinne


It’s with a heavy heart that the Coláiste Feirste school community and the wider Belfast language movement have spent this past few weeks trying to express and come to terms with the tragic loss of Beicí Nic Riada/Mhic Crábhagáin. A mother of two beautiful young boys; a daughter; a wife; a committed teacher; an Irish language and community activist.

It difficult to refer to Beicí without giving special credit to her proud parents, Tony and Nuala, who made the courageous decision to send Beicí to Naíscoil Ard Eoin when it was established back in the mid-eighties. They stood up during a very turbulent period when the community was under siege from British soldiers and daily attacks from state agents in the loyalist mobs. Beicí’s parents understood that Gaeloideachas was central to the fight back against the oppression suffered in republican communities at that time

They understood that the language reconquest was part and parcel of the community transformation that would empower working class communities. As happened, it was actually republican ex-prisoners, recently released from incarceration, who formed the school. They got their hands on an old mobile and spent the weekend painting it before opening the nursery very shortly afterwards. They subsequently appointed Breandán Ó Fiaich as the first teacher and he would go on to build a special bond with Beicí and her loyal cousin, Brónach Ní Ír.

Breandán was known as an Irish speaker, without equal, who brought a diligence and rich fluency to his teaching. Around this same period, he also gained widespread acclaim when he refused to give his name in English, or to speak a word of English, when stopped by the UDR. He was arrested and imprisoned in a furore of local publicity. The campaigning phrase ‘Free Breandán’ was heard throughout Belfast and further afield.
Therefore, it was this same Gaelic ethos and spirit of freedom that Breandán evoked in his nursery school children in Ardoyne. I met Beicí for the first time on the Ardoyne bus that collected the West Belfast crowd on its way across the city to Bunscoil Phobal Feirste. I was in the same class and mates with her cousin, Liam Rice, who would have to take hold of her hand as he boarded the bus.

There only was the one Bunscoil at the time in the north and the local nurseries acted as ‘feeders’ to the main school. There were other buses that went from Twinbrook and another from Short Strand. Parents likes Beicí’s mother and my own mother would work voluntarily running the buses. This required commitment and determination as these buses would often come under attack from loyalists or British Army harassment. These parents were innovators who stepped into the unknown to ensure a future for their children.

Years later, Beicí would continue on the same journey as myself when she came to Meánscoil Feirste in 1994 while the school was in throes of bitter political battle for recognition with the Department of Education in the north. The campaign on behalf of the school became an international controversy and a litmus test for the emerging peace process before eventually reaching achieving official status in 1997. A special bond developed amongst the pupils in this period that forged relationships to last a lifetime. These permanent friendships, as one friend noted, is very difficult to explain or understand unless you were part of it. The necessity of struggle to make change and the spirit of freedom were embedded in that first generation to go through the school.

I got to know Beicí better as an adult while working in Coláiste Feirste and being active in the community. When we established Glór na Móna in 2004-5, we immediately arranged a meeting in Ardoyne with Conor Stiobhaird, Beicí agus Brónagh. Glór an Tuaiscirt was established around this time to provide Irish language night classes, as well as community events and youth projects through the medium of Irish in the area. Just like ourselves in the Upper Springfield, the Gaels of Ardoyone were committed to the language reconquest and the vision of the republic.

When I think back to this time, I reflect on how totally inseparable that Beicí and Brónach were, as if they always belonged in the same sentence or phrase. They were together in the nursery school, through the Bunscoil, then the Meánscoil, through the summer Gaeltacht courses, the same university course before returning to Coláiste Feirste as teachers, working together as cousins and best friends. This bond transferred, of course, to their work in the community of behalf of the language, as ceannairí in Gaeltacht courses or as co-organisers of Fléadh Cheoil in Ardoyne

I remember once coaxing Beicí and Bronach on a weekend training course for community Irish teachers in Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal. There was virtually no funding for this and we thus had to stay in various houses across the Gaeltacht. Our lodgings were great but Beicí’s wasn’t up to her own high standard and there no chance the she was going to share a bathroom with a few oul hands from Tyrone!

You usually heard Beicí before you saw her and this was how it was on this occasion. She could be brutal and merciless if you annoyed her. I was her victim this time when she chewed the head of me about the lóistín. Either we put her in the Seaview hotel or she would be phoning her Daidí to come and collect her in Donegal! As often happened, Brónach was much calmer and more diplomatic and they arranged somewhere to stay with friends from the summer courses.

It was this strong character that gave her courage to speak the truth when honesty was lacking in others; or to stand up to bullying in the school yard, the workplace or in her own community. Despite this, it as this integrity and honesty that allowed her to build special personal relationships with such a wide range of people.

When a contentious campaign had to be fought to challenge a Sinn Féin minister for bus services for young children from North Belfast attending Coláiste Feirste, Beicí would be at the first meeting. She would later help inspire the setting up of the Tuistí an Tuaiscirt group and carry a banner with the parents at the Lá Dearg rally in 2014.

Beicí was never afraid to ask the tough questions if they needed asked or to propose an alternative way of doing things if those around her lost hope. This was the case, even during her sickness when she went to Germany to try alternative medicines that were beyond the imagination of the mainstream medical establishment. She showed this resolve by coming back to school in September for a short period and it was here that I had my last proper conversation with her.

We spoke about Breandán Ó Fiaich and his statement about the difference between Irish medium education and Gaeloideachas. With Irish medium education, we translate the ‘murder machine’ of the English language system into Irish but with Gaeloideachas we return to Pádraig Mac Piarais’s vision. Our emphasis is on education in its widest definition, where the development of the person, the transformation of marginalised communities, the growth of a sustainable language community and the reconquest of the country are clearly intertwined together. Beicí believed in Gaeloideachas and this is what we discussed that day.

She mentioned that the teaching profession and our educators where coming under increasing pressure with bureaucratic paper-work, constant assessments and inspections from the state’s education system. The living use of Irish and the cause of reconquest were under threat from this dominant tendency in Beicí’s view. There was a need to return to our roots and the core values of Gaeloideachas. That spark of courage that inspired Naíscoil Ard Eoin at the outset. The spirit of freedom and our vision for the republic.

This vision gave Beicí a constant source of courage and inspiration that stayed with her until her last days with us. We will miss her deeply of course, but she will inspire future generations and her spirit will stay in our hearts forever


Tá croíthe troma ar phobalscoil Choláiste Feirste agus ar Ghaelphobal Feirste i gcoitinne le cúpla seachtain anuas agus muid ag iarraidh bás tragóideach Bheicí Nic Riada/Mhic Crábhagáin a thuiscint agus a chur i bhfriotal. Máthair ar bheirt bhuachaillí óga álainn; iníon; deirfiúr; bean chéile; múinteoir tiomanta; gníomhaí teanga agus pobail.

Ní féidir trácht ar bheatha Bheicí gan creidiúint ar leith a thabhairt do Tony agus Nuala, a tuismitheoirí bródúla, a rinne an cinneadh cróga Beicí a chur chuig Naíscoil Ard Eoin nuair a bunaíodh é thiar sna lár-ochtóidí. Sheas siad an fód i dtréimhse chorraitheach ina raibh an ceantar thart orthu faoi léigear ag arm na Breataine agus ionsaithe laethúla óna gcuid gníomhairí stáit sna dronga dílseacha.

Thuig tuismitheoirí Bheicí go raibh an Gaeloideachas mar dhlúthchuid den troid ar ais in aghaidh an cos-ar-bolg fíochmhar a d’fhulaing an pobal poblachtach ag an am sin. Thuig siad go raibh athghabháil na teanga mar chuid den athréimniú pobal a dhéanfadh cumhachtú ar an chosmhuintir. Mar a tharla sé, is iarchimí poblachtacha an bhunaigh an naíscoil nuair nach raibh siad i bhfad saor ón ghéibheann. Fuair siad seanbhothán ar iasacht agus chaith siad an deireadh seachtaine á phéinteáil sular oscail siad an naíscoil go gairid ina dhiaidh. Cheap siad Breandán Ó Fiaich mar mhúinteoir agus thóg sé daimh speisialta 30 bliain le Beicí agus a col ceathrar dílis, Brónach Ní Ír.
Bhí clú ar Bhreandán mar chainteoir Gaeilge gan sárú a ghlac díograis agus saibhreas teanga ar leith sa teagasc leis. I dtrátha an ama chéanna, thoiligh sé clú níos leithne nuair a dhiúltaigh sé a ainm a thabhairt i mBéarla, nó focal Béarla a labhairt ach oiread, nuair a stop an UDR é. Gabhadh é agus cuireadh i bpríosún é le mórán poiblíochta ag eascairt as. Bhí an mana feachtasaíochta, ‘Saor Breandán’ le cloisteáil fud fad Bhéal Feirste agus níos faide i gcéin.

Mar sin, is an Gaelachas seo agus meon na saoirse a chothaigh Breandán i bpáistí na naíscoile s’aige in Ard Eoin. Bhuail mise le Beicí den chéad uair ar Bhus Ard Eoin a bhailigh muintir iarthar Bhéal Feirste ar an bhealach trasna na cathrach chuig Bunscoil Phobal Feirste. Bhí mé san aon rang lena col ceathair Liam Rice agus bheadh air Liam greim láimhe a fháil uirthi ag dul ar an bhus dó.

Ní raibh ach an t-aon bhunscoil Ghaeilge amháin ann ó thuaidh ag an am is d’fheidhmigh na naíscoileanna áitiúla mar ‘feeders’ chuig an phríomhscoil. Bhí busanna eile a chuaigh ó Chill Uaidh agus ceann eile a tháinig ón Trá Ghearr. Bheadh tuismitheoirí cosúil le máthair Bheicí agus mo mháthair féin ag obair go deonach ag reáchtáil na mbusanna. Bhí tiomantas agus diongbháilteacht ar leith ag baint leis an ról seo is ba mhinic a tháinig na busanna faoi ionsaí ó dhílseoirí nó ó chiapadh arm na Breataine. Ceannródaithe a bhí sna tuistí seo a sheas sa bhearna bhaoil ar son daoine óga na todhchaí.

Níos faide anonn, lean Beicí ar aghaidh ar an aistear chéanna liomsa nuair a tháinig sí go Meánscoil Feirste in 1994 agus an scoil i gcroílár streachailt pholaitiúil chorraitheach le haghaidh aitheantais ón Roinn Oideachais ó thuaidh. Chríochnaigh ceist na scoile ina conspóid idirnáisiúnta agus é mar scrúdú litmus don phróiseas síochána úr go dtí gur éirigh leis an fheachtas sa bhliain 1997. Tógadh cairdeas agus caidrimh speisialta i measc na ndaltaí a d’fhreastail ar an mheánscoil sa tréimshe stairiúil seo, agus mar a luaigh cara amháin le déanaí, is deacair seo a thuigbheáil muna raibh tú páirteach ann. Spreagadh meon streachailte agus meon na saoirse de dhlúth is inneach sa chéad ghlúin sin le dul fríd an scoil.

Chuirfinn aithne níos fearr ar Bheicí mar dhuine fásta agus mé ag obair i gColáiste Feirste agus ag gníomhú sa phobal. Nuair a bhunaigh muid Glór na Móna thiar in 2004-5, socraíodh cruinniú láithreach in Ard Eoin le Conor Stiobhaird, Beicí agus Brónach. Cosúil linn féin san Uachtar Chluanaí, bhí muintir Ard Eoin tiomanta don athghabháil teanga agus fís na poblachta. Bunaíodh Glór an Tuaiscirt timpeall an ama seo chun ranganna oíche Gaeilge a sholáthar, chomh maith le himeachtaí óige agus pobail a reáchtáil do mhuintir an cheantair.

Ag smaoineamh siar dom ar an tréimhse seo, ritheann sé liom cé chomh doscartha a bhí Beicí agus Brónach, amhail is go raibh siad mar chuid den abairt nó den fhrása chéanna iad i gcónaí. Bhí siad le chéile ón naíscoil, fríd an bhunscolaíocht, agus an mheánscolaíocht, na cúrsaí samhraidh Gaeltachta céanna, an cúrsa ollscoile céanna i gCúil Rathain sular fhill siad ar Choláiste Feirste mar mhúinteoirí le bheith ag obair in éineacht le chéile ní amháin mar chol ceathracha ach mar chairde is fearr. B’amhlaidh an scéal leis an obair sa phobal ar chúis na teanga, nó mar cheannaire Gaeltachta nó mar chomh-eagraithe sa Fhleadh Cheoil in Ard Eoin.

Is cuimhin liom uair a amháin gur mheall mise Beicí agus Brónach chuig deireadh seachtaine traenála i nGaoth Dobhair do mhúinteoirí sa phobal. Ní raibh mórán maoinithe ann don deireadh seachtaine agus cuireadh muid ag stopadh i dtithe éagsúla ar fud na Gaeltachta. Bhí teach breá againne ach ní raibh an teach lóistín inchurtha leis hardchaighdeán Bhéicí agus caolseans go mbeadh sí ag roinnt cithfholcadáin le baicle seanfhondúirí ó Thír Eoghain!

Ba mhinic a chuala tú Beicí i bhfad sula bhfaca tú í agus seo mar a tharla an uair seo! Bheadh sí géarchúiseach agus neamhthrócaireach más rud é gur chuir tú isteach uirthi. Mise a bhí mar íobartach an iarraidh seo nuair a d’ith sí mé maidir leis an lóistín. Ach oiread, chuir muid í isteach in Óstán an Seaview nó bheadh uirthi scairteadh ar a Daidí chun í a bhailiú i dTír Chonaill! Mar a tharla go hiondúil, bhí Brónach níos dioplómaitiúla agus socraíodh seomra leapa le cara éigin ó na cúrsaí Gaeltachta.
Is an carachtar láidir sin aici a thug misneach di siúl ar an fhírinne nuair a bhí ionracas in easnamh; nó an fód a sheasamh in aghaidh tromaíochta nó éagóra sa scoil, áit oibre nó sa phobal féin. Mar sin féin, is an mhacántacht chéanna a thug uirthi caidrimh pearsanta, speisialta a thógáil leis an iliomad duine difriúil.
Nuair a bhí feachtas dúshlánach, le reáchtáil chun brú a chur ar Aire Shinn Féin maidir le seirbhísí bus chuig Coláiste Feirste do Ghaeil óga an tuaiscirt, is Beicí a bhí ag an cheád chruinniú, ag spreagadh Thuistí an Tuaiscirt agus an iompar meirge leis na tuismitheoirí ag an Lá Dearg in 2014.
Ní raibh eagla ar Bheicí an cheist dheacair a chur dá mbeadh gá ann leis nó cur chuige ailtéarnach a mholadh agus dóchas ag imeacht ó dhaoine eile. Sin mar a bhíodh leis an tréimhse tinnis féin go fiú agus í ag dul chun na Gearmáine nó ag baint trialach as modhanna leighis éagsúla nach raibh sa tsamhlaíocht ag an bhunaíocht leighis príomhshrutha. Léirigh sé seo nuair a tháinig sí ar ais ar scoil ar feadh tréimhse ghairid thiar in Mí Mheán an Fhómhair agus is anseo a bhí an comhrá ceart deireanach agam léi.
Labhair muid fá Bhreandán Ó Fiaich agus a ráiteas fán difear idir Gaelscolaíocht agus Gaeloideachas. Le Gaelscolaíocht, cuirtear Gaeilge ar ‘murder machine’ an córais Bhéarla ach le Gaeloideachas, filleann muid ar Fhís an Phiarsaigh. Cuireann muid béim ar oideachas leis an tsainmhíniú is leithne ina mbíonn forbairt an duine, forbairt na cosmhuintire, buanú phobal na teanga agus athghabháil na tíre, fite fuaite lena chéile. Is sa Ghael-oideachas agus sa Ghaelsaolaíocht a chreid Beicí ann agus a phlé muid an lá sin.
Luaigh sí raibh ceird na múinteoireachta agus oideachasóirí s’againne ag teacht faoi bhrú le páipéarachas, measúnaithe agus cigireachtaí an státchóráis.  Bhí labhairt na Gaeilge agus cúis na hathghabhála inár scoileanna faoi bhagairt ag an chlaonadh seo dar léi. Bhí gá le pilleadh ar an dúchas agus ar bhunluachanna an Ghaeloideachais. An splanc tintreach sin a spreag Naíscoil Ard Eoin an chéad lá ariamh. Meon sin na Saoirse agus fís na poblachta.

Is an meon seo a thug misneach agus crógacht do Bheicí i dtólamh agus a mhair léi go deireadh a tréimhse anseo linn. Cronóidh muid uainn í ar ndóigh. Ach spreagfaidh sí glúnta le teacht agus fanfaidh a spiorad inár gcroíthe go deo na ndeor.

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Cathy O Reilly
    March 10, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Ar fheabhas.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.