Document of the Day: Domhnall Ua Buachalla’s Autograph Book

by Ranju Upadhyay, Library Programmer, Maynooth University Library


In a book that I have been reading recently the author describes the discovery of a diary in the archives, “When he pried open the volume, the spine made the sound of small bone breaking. Handwriting burst out with startling freshness the black ink standing in high contrast to the ivory paper. The italic, quill-penned script was from another age….”

And that is exactly how I felt when I pried open the autograph book kept by Ua Buachalla in Frongoch in 1916, the place, unsurprisingly considered by many as the “university of revolution”.

Although I was not able to decipher everything, some of the lines simply stood out, this one in particular:

“Sweet is the tongue of the Gael.”

Domhnall Ua Buachalla’s autograph book

History is interesting. It is like the phenomena of evolution, constantly happening yet showing only after a substantial amount is gained or lost. Our archives, by preserving the artefacts, preserve the phenomena.

Having seen the autograph book, he kept, I decided to know more about the man himself.

Domhnall Ua Buachalla (1866-1963) was born on the 3rd of February 1866 in Maynooth, county Kildare. His father, Cornelius Buckley, a shopkeeper, was a native Irish speaker from county Cork. His mother, Sarah Jacob, was the daughter of Joshua Jacob, the founder of the ‘White Quakers’. Ua Buachalla was one of five children and followed his father by joining the family business.

Ua Buachalla, himself a fluent speaker, became a well-known supporter of the Irish language and a member of the Gaelic League. He organised the Maynooth branch of the League and ran Irish language classes in the town.

While reading through the life and times of Ua Buachalla, I could not stop smiling at this particular episode:

In 1905, Ua Buachalla was prosecuted for the crime of having his name on the side of his delivery cart in Irish. He lost his case, and as he refused to pay the fine, the local sheriff had goods confiscated from Ua Buachalla’s shop. The goods were sold at public auction, after which the sole bidder returned the items to Ua Buachalla.

Although the justice here appears slightly “Robin-hoodish”, the gesture of returning the confiscated goods back to Ua Buachalla feels right.

Language, to me, is more than a mode of communication. The vocabulary of any language tells a lot about the society.  It is a reflection of our culture. And when someone tries to supress these reflections, I wonder is it because they find them so strong that they are terrified of them.

One hundred years is indeed a long period of time and societies have changed a lot in that time.

Perhaps not quill-penned, the script nevertheless is from another age but the spirit lives on.

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