Gné-alt: Mionteanga, Mórscéalta: An Tríú Comhdháil ar Litríocht agus ar Chultúr na nÓg

What is Irish-language children’s literature like today? Who is interested in it? And what are the hot topics? Róisín Adams gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the organising of the third conference on Irish-language children’s literature and culture that will take place from 20–21 September.

On 20 and 21 September this year, ‘Mionteanga, Mórscéalta: The Third Irish-Language Conference on Children’s Literature and Culture’ will take place in Marino Institute of Education. The Irish-language children’s literature community has come a long way since Ríona Nic Congáil organised the very first conference on the subject in April 2011.

Back then, children’s books in Irish had received very little exposure to in-depth discussion, and articles that analysed them as literature were hard to come by – let alone whole books on the subject. In spite of the volume and standard of the books that were available in Irish for children at the time, they were getting very little critical recognition – recognition that they definitely deserved. Now look at us. Almost two and a half years later and we have two collections of essays – Codladh Céad Bliain (2012) and Laethanta Gréine & Oícheanta Sí (2013), the former edited by Nic Congáil and the latter by Nic Congáil and Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn. The Irish editor of Inis, Claire Dunne, has been working diligently to provide reviews of Irish-language children’s books, as well as fascinating articles by different people involved in the creation and promotion of Irish-language children’s literature. There are at least five people currently engaged in academic research in the field. On top of all of these developments, the Irish-language conference on children’s literature and culture is becoming an annual event. We are going from strength to strength.

When you think about it now, the century-long neglect of Irish-language children’s literature does not make very much sense. The child has always played a central role in modern Irish-language literature. During the Revival years, great emphasis was placed on the importance of young people in the rejuvenation of the language, and little has changed in that regard in the last hundred odd years. It was through the schools that the greatest effort was made to revive the Irish language after the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, and the state publication company, An Gúm, has been producing books for children in Irish to support this goal ever since. Children’s books have consistently been the bestselling books in Irish. In spite of this, until recently they were not seen as worthy of serious discussion. In consequence, an extremely important part of Irish-language literature has been grossly neglected for years, and that neglect is only beginning to be rectified now. The worst example of this is the injustice done to Cathal Ó Sándair, the most prolific and bestselling Irish-language author ever, who has been widely forgotten because he primarily wrote light fiction for teenagers.

It was at the first conference on Irish-language children’s literature and culture, back in 2011, that I first heard of Cathal Ó Sándair, when Philip O’Leary gave a memorable lecture on Ó Sándair’s early work. The same year, Alan Titley brought us on a vivid journey through the many children’s classics that have been translated into Irish since the Revival. The same energy was in the air last year at the second conference, when we heard from Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin on the challenges facing the Irish-language publisher, from Éilís Ní Dhuibhne on the different versions of Grimm’s fairy tales available in Irish and from Andrew Whitson on the amazing and pioneering work of the publishing house An tSnáthaid Mhór. These two conferences provided the opportunity for many different groups, each with a common interest in Irish-language children’s literature, to come together in the one place. University lecturers, students, educators, student teachers, publishers, linguists, parents and readers all took part in the discussion on different aspects of the role of Irish in the lives of our country’s young people. The involvement of such a range of perspectives greatly enriches the discourse on Irish-language children’s literature, and we hope that this year will be no different.

A telling sign that interest has grown hugely in Irish-language children’s literature is that this year there are five people on the conference’s organising committee, instead of just one. They are: Ríona Nic Congáil, a lecturer in St Patrick’s College and the woman who organised the first two conferences; Órla Ní Chuilleanáin, a lecturer in UCD; Claire Dunne, a lecturer in Marino Institute of Education and the Irish-langauge editor of Inis; Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn, a PhD student in Queen’s University Belfast, and myself. Being on this committee has been a brilliant experience. We first came together soon after Christmas to exchange ideas and to divide out the different jobs. Since then each member of the committee has been working tirelessly to fulfil their particular responsibilities: getting funding, finding a venue, recruiting keynote speakers, putting together panels and much more. In June prospective speakers sent in their abstracts and we have now put together an exciting and varied programme for the two days of the conference.

The breadth of subject matter that will be covered during ‘Mionteanga, Mórscéalta’ can be seen in the variety within the three keynote speeches. It is a great honour to have Biddy Jenkinson and her son Roibeard Mac Unfraidh as part of the programme. Jenkinson is primarily known as a skilled poet, but she also has written two enchanting children’s books in the past ten years: Púca Púca (2005) and An Bhanríon Bess agus Gusaí Gaimbín (2007). Jenkinson very rarely speaks at conferences and for that reason I must admit that I am particularly excited about her contribution to the weekend. Another of our keynote speakers is coming to us from across the North Channel – Agnes Rennie, manager of the Scottish publication company Acair. Acair produces books in Gàidhlig, in English and also bilingual books, and Rennie will discuss their strategies for the production of children’s books. For our third keynote speech we will be leaving the world of literature and turning to television, as Siobhán Ní Bhrádaigh and Lís Ní Dhálaigh speak to us about programmes for children on TG4.

This same variety is mirrored in the panels organised for both days of the conference. Aspects of the history of Irish-language children’s literature from the Revival up to the mid-twentieth century will be investigated. The treatment of different identities in contemporary Irish books for children will be discussed. Aspects of the translation of children’s literature will be analysed, as well as the way in which well-known texts are sometimes changed in order to make them ‘suitable’ for a young audience. We will have a couple of lively sessions on the different methods – both old and new – that are used to nurture interest in Irish and in reading in young people. We will hear about the annual literary festival for teenagers, ‘Fuint Focal’, about the growth of the Irish comic book, about cartoons and ‘Agallamh Beirte’ and digitising children’s books. The vital role of the school and the curriculum in the promotion of children’s literature will not be ignored either – one panel will discuss the different aspects of that important role.

As is evident from that short synopsis, we have a busy and exciting weekend ahead of us from 20–21 of September. Bígí linn!

Cén chuma atá ar litríocht Ghaeilge na n-óg sa lá atá inniu ann? Cé na daoine a chuireann spéis inti? Agus cad iad na topaicí is mó atá i mbéal an phobail seo? Tugann Róisín Adams spléachadh dúinn ar an méid atá ar siúl faoi choim agus an tríú comhdháil ar litríocht agus chultúr na n-óg a thionólfar ar 20 – 21 Meán Fómhair.

Ar an 20ú agus an 21ú lá de mhí Mheán Fómhair tionólfar ‘Mionteanga, Mórscéalta: An Tríú Comhdháil ar Litríocht agus ar Chultúr na nÓg’ in Institiúid Oideachais Marino. Is mór an t-athrú atá tagtha ar phobal litríocht Ghaeilge na n-óg ó d’eagraigh Ríona Nic Congáil an chéad chomhdháil ar an ábhar sin in Aibreán na bliana 2011. An uair sin, ba bheag plé domhain a bhí déanta ar leabhair do pháistí i nGaeilge, agus ba thearc iad na hailt a thug faoi na leabhair sin a scagadh mar litríocht – gan trácht ar leabhar iomlán a bheith scríofa ar an ábhar. In ainneoin líonmhaireacht agus chaighdeán na leabhar a bhí ar fáil don aos óg i nGaeilge, ní raibh mórán airde á tabhairt orthu ó pheirspictíocht chritice – aird a bhí tuillte go maith acu. Anois, breathnaigh orainn. Beagnach dhá bhliain go leith níos déanaí agus tá dhá chnuasach aiste againn – Codladh Céad Bliain (2012) agus Laethanta Gréine agus Oícheanta Sí (2013) – an chéad cheann curtha in eagar ag Nic Congáil, agus an dara ceann ag Nic Congáil agus Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn. Tá eagarthóir Gaeilge Inis, Claire Dunne, ag obair go dúthrachtach ag soláthar léirmheasanna ar leabhair Ghaeilge agus ailt spéisiúla le daoine éagsúla a bhfuil baint acu le cruthú agus cur chun cinn litríocht Ghaeilge na n-óg.Tá ar a laghad cúigear taighdeoirí ag treabhadh leo go díograiseach sa ghort. Anuas ar na forbairtí iontacha sin, is geall le hócáid bhliantúil anois í an chomhdháil ar litríocht agus ar chultúr na n-óg. Is ag bailiú nirt ó bhliain go chéile atáimid.

Is beag an chiall a bhaineann leis an neamart a bhíodh á dhéanamh ar feadh na mblianta i litríocht Ghaeilge na n-óg, nuair a dhéantar machnamh anois air. Bhí ról lárnach ag an bpáiste i nualitríocht na Gaeilge ariamh. Cuireadh béim láidir ar ról an duine óig in Athbheochan na Gaeilge, agus is beag athrú atá tagtha air sin le breis agus céad bliain anuas. Is trí na scoileanna a rinneadh an iarracht ba mhó an Ghaeilge a chur ar a bonnaibh arís tar éis bhunú an tSaorstáit i 1922, agus thosaigh An Gúm – comhlacht foilseacháin an Stáit – ag foilsiú leabhar do pháistí cúpla bliain níos déanaí chun tacú leis an aidhm sin. Ba iad na leabhair do pháistí na leabhair Ghaeilge ba mhó ráchairt san fhichiú céad agus is amhlaidh atá sé fós. In a ainneoin sin, go dtí le déanaí ní bhactaí leo mar litríocht gur fiú staidéar a dhéanamh uirthi. De dheasca sin, rinneadh neamhaird ar feadh na mblianta ar chuid fhíorthábhachtach de chorpas litríocht na Gaeilge, neamhaird nach bhfuiltear ach anois ag cur deiridh léi. An sampla is áiféisí den neamart seo ná an éagóir a rinneadh ar Chathal Ó Sándair, an scríbhneoir Gaeilge ba bhisiúla agus ba mhó ráchairt riamh, a bhfuil dearmad déanta air go forleathan toisc gur scéalta éadroma do dhéagóirí a bhíodh á scríobh aige.

Is ag an gcéad chomhdháil ar litríocht agus chultúr na n-óg, siar i 2011, a chuala mé féin trácht ar Chathal Ó Sándair den chéad uair, nuair a thug Philip O’Leary aoiléacht spreagúil uaidh ar luathshaothar an údair sin. An bhliain chéanna thug Alan Titley ar thuras bríomhar muid trí na clasaicigh éagsúla do dhaoine óga a aistríodh go Gaeilge ón Athbheochan ar aghaidh. Bhí an fuinneamh céanna san aer ag an dara comhdháil anuraidh nuair a chualathas ó Thadhg Mac Dhonnagáin ar obair dhúshlánach an fhoilsitheora Ghaeilge, ó Eilís Ní Dhuibhne ar na leaganacha de scéalta iontais na nDeartháireacha Grimm atá ar fáil i nGaeilge agus ó Andrew Whitson faoin sár-obair cheannródaíoch atá ar siúl ag muintir na Snáthaide Móire. Deiseanna a bhí sa dá chomhdháil sin chun na dreamanna difriúla a bhfuil spéis mhór acu i litríocht agus i gcultúr na n-óg a thabhairt le chéile in aon láthair amháin. Ghlac léachtóirí ollscoile, mic léinn, oideachasóirí, ábhair oidí, foilsitheoirí, teangeolaithe, tuismitheoirí agus léitheoirí páirt sa phlé ar ghnéithe éagsúla de ról na Gaeilge i saol mhuintir óg na hÉireann. Saibhríonn peirspictíochtaí ó ghrúpaí éagsúla an dioscúrsa ar litríocht agus ar chultúr na n-óg agus tá dóchas orainn go leanfar ar aghaidh leis an múnla sin i mbliana.

Comhartha suntasach go bhfuil méadú mór i ndiaidh teacht ar an spéis i litríocht Ghaeilge na n-óg ná go bhfuil cúigear ar choiste eagraithe na comhdhála i mbliana, seachas duine aonair. Is iad na daoine sin ná: Ríona Nic Congáil, léachtóir i gColáiste Phádraig agus an bhean a d’eagraigh an chéad dá chomhdháil; Órla Ní Chuilleanáin, léachtóir i gColáiste na hOllscoile; Claire Dunne, léachtóir in Institiúid Oideachais Marino agus eagarthóir Gaeilge Inis; Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn, iníon léinn dochtúireachta in Ollscoil na Ríona, agus mé féin. Is iontach an t-eispéireas é a bheith mar chuid den choiste seo. Thángamar le chéile ar dtús go luath i ndiaidh na Nollag chun smaointe a mhalartú agus dualgais éagsúla a roinnt eadrainn. Ó shin i leith tá chuile bhall den choiste ag obair go dícheallach chun a chuid oibre féin a chur i gcrích – maoiniú a fháil, an láthair a shocrú, aoichainteoirí a earcú, painéil a chur le chéile agus tuilleadh. I mí an Mheithimh tháinig slám maith coimrithe isteach chugainn agus anois tá clár bríomhar ilchineálach curtha le chéile againn do dhá lá na comhdhála.
Tá an raidhse ábhar a chlúdófar le linn ‘Mionteanga, Mórscéalta’ le sonrú in éagsúlacht na dtrí aoichaint a bheidh againn. Is mór an onóir é Biddy Jenkinson agus a mac Roibeard Mac Unfraidh a bheith mar chuid den chlár againn. Is mar fhile den chéad scoth a bhfuil aithne ag an saol ar Bhiddy Jenkinson go príomha, ach tá dhá shaothar spleodracha don aos óg tagtha óna peann le deich mbliana anuas – Púca Púca (2005) agus An Bhanríon Bess agus Gusaí Gaimbín (2007). Is fíorannamh a thugann Jenkinson cainteanna uaithi go poiblí agus mar sin caithfidh mé a admháil go bhfuil mé ag dúil go mór lena caint siúd. Is ón taobh eile de Shruth na Maoile atá duine de na haoichainteoirí eile ag teacht chugainn. Is bainisteoir í Agnes Rennie ar an gcomhlacht foilseacháin Albanach Acair. Cuireann Acair leabhair Ghàidhlig, leabhair Bhéarla agus leabhair dhátheangacha i gcló, agus beidh Rennie ag caint ar na stráitéisí atá ag Acair chun soláthar a dhéanamh ar dhaoine óga. Ag fágáil dhomhan na litríochta a bheimid leis an tríú haoichaint, agus ag tabhairt aghaidh ar chúrsaí teilifíse. Labhróidh Siobhán Ní Bhrádaigh agus Lís Ní Dhálaigh linn faoi na cláir theilifíse éagsúla a chuireann TG4 ar fáil do dhaoine óga.

Tá an éagsúlacht chéanna le feiceáil sna painéil cainteoirí atá curtha le chéile againn don dá lá. Beidh cainteanna ar ghnéithe de stair litríocht na n-óg ón Athbheochan go lár an fhichiú haois. Pléifear freisin an chaoi ina gcaitear le féiniúlachtaí difriúla i leabhair chomhaimseartha Ghaeilge don aos óg. Iniúchfar gnéithe d’aistriú litríocht na n-óg, chomh maith leis an gcaoi ina n-athraítear téacsanna aitheanta agus iad á gcur ‘in oiriúint’ do lucht léitheoireachta óg. Beidh cúpla seisiún spraíúil againn ar na bealaí éagsúla – idir shean agus nua – a úsáidtear chun spéis sa léitheoireacht agus sa Ghaeilge a mhúscailt i ndaoine óga. Cloisfimid faoin bhféile litríochta bhliantúil do dhéagóirí ‘Fuint Focal’, faoin bhfás atá tagtha ar líon na gcoimicí Gaeilge, faoi chartúin agus faoin Agallamh Beirte agus faoi dhigitiú leabhar do pháistí. Ní dhéanfar dearmad ach an oiread ar an ról lárnach atá ag an scoil agus ag an gcuraclam i gcur chun cinn na litríochta – pléifidh painéal amháin gnéithe éagsúla den ról tábhachtach sin.

Mar is léir ón achoimre gairid sin, tá deireadh seachtaine bríomhar spleodrach romhainn ar an 20-21 Meán Fómhair. Bígí linn!