Ambrose Serridge (1882–1934)
(Pioctúir: Capuchin Annual 1943)
The General Strike of 1926 had brought everything in the city to a standstill, but this did not dampen the high spirits of a crowd of youngsters gathered at the Great Northern Railway on a sunny July morning.

Thirty of us, bubbling with excitement, were about to set out on the long journey to Ranafast, the first group of children to travel from Belfast to the Donegal Gaeltacht. Small groups of adults had been to Ranafast prior to this, but now for the first time children were going under the auspices of Coiste na bPáistí. Some were from St. Vincent's School, Dunlewey Street, some from St. Matthew's Convent School, with a few from Holy Family, Newington, and a solitary soul from St. Louis Convent, Ballymena — the foundation students of Coláiste Bhrighde. As our names were checked by the late Ambrose Serridge we boarded the train. I still remember how calm and placid he was amid all the excitement. Ambrose travelled with us as far as Lisburn, and here we were joined by Fr. Bradley, a curate from Lisburn. Fr. John Taggart from St. Matthew's and Fr. Byrne from St. Patrick's were already on the train with us and, after Ambrose left us at Lisburn, we were in the care of these three great priests. (Some years later these same priests were together in St. Patrick's Parish where they did tremendous work during the Air Raids of 1941. They and Ambrose have long since gone to their Eternal Reward. Suaimhneas síorraidhe ortha.)

Stáisiún Chroithlí

The sun was setting in the flame-red sky when we arrived at Crolly where our transport for the last stage of our journey (a Model T. Ford and a lorry) awaited us. These were the only vehicles in the whole area. The lorry and car moved off with the first load of passengers and the rest of us sat on our cases till they came back. Before we left Belfast each child had made a promise that she would speak only Irish once we arrived in Ranafast. As I sat there on my case, I laboriously composed a sentence in Irish in my head. When I had it all correct and desiring to show off, I suppose, I turned to my friend and said: “Tá muid sa Ghaeltacht anois. Caithfimid Gaeilg a labhairt.” (We are in the Gaeltacht now. We have to speak Irish.) She glared at me and blurted out: “Aw, shut up, I want my mammy!” Many times since we have had a good laugh about that. The lorry returned and we piled in, bag and baggage, and we bumped (and I mean bumped!) along the road which at that time was little better than a cart track, and very soon we were warmly greeted by our bean-a-toighe.

An bealach mór go Rann na Feirste
(Pioctúir: Conall Ó Grianna, Rann na Feirste, Seanchas ár Sinnsear)

The Rosses, on the west coast of Donegal, stretching from beyond Dungloe to Gweedore, is the wildest and most rugged part of the county. In 1926, most of the houses were thatched and lime-washed inside and out, and all built to the same plan — a large stone-floored kitchen with a room at either end. There was always a turf fire burning on the hearth, no matter how warm the weather, with a huge three legged pot, or pot oven, hanging from a hook. The furniture, table, chairs and even bedsteads, was home made and scrubbed to a sparkling whiteness. An important item in nearly every house was the smoke-blackened fiddle hanging on the wall, or a melodeon on the window sill. In the evening, when the day's chores were finished and neighbours gathered in to céilidhe, there were always a few people capable of playing either instrument. I can remember only two houses in the district with an upper storey, and these were the only houses with slated roofs. It was indeed a very poor area with very little land that could be cultivated. Even today it is quite common to see a minute patch of corn, potatoes or cabbage growing between two huge boulders. Most families were dependent on the “letter from America” or on the few pounds earned “tatie hoking” in Scotland.

An tAth Ó Beirn agus an tAth Ó Brolchain ar cuairt ag Clann Mhic Grianna
(Pioctúir: Pádraig Ó Baoighill, Amhráin Hiúdaí Fheilimí)

Now the arrival of the first batch of students and the founding of Coláiste Bhrighde brought a ray of hope and we were warmly welcomed wherever we went. Doors were always wide open so one had only to step across the threshold with the words “Dia sa teach” to be made feel thoroughly at home. The College, a wooden structure, situated near Johnny Sheamuisín's house, was not quite finished when we arrived at the beginning of July, so for the first two weeks we had our classes in the National School. This meant that we did not go to school till half past three after the local children had gone home. There were two classes only, a Bun Rang for the children, and an Árd Rang for the few adults who had been to the Gaeltacht before. Sometimes a powerfully-built priest walked softly into the Bun Rang and sat down behind us. He seldom spoke but watched us keenly as he puffed away at his pipe. One of the girls discovered that he was Fr. Lorcán Murray, the brain behind the founding of the College. In fact, he was the “head man.” This some of us hotly disputed. How could he be the “head man?” Wasn't he only in the Bun Rang like the rest of us? Before long we realized our mistake!

An tAth Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh

Fr John Taggart (1888–1961), in 1950
Since our classes did not start until half past three and rules were not too rigid, we were free to enjoy ourselves until then. The mornings were spent on the beach or in wandering about the countryside. We helped (?) in the hayfield, and sometimes one or two of the pluckier ones helped with the “herding” or buachailleacht. Wire-fencing was unknown so someone had to be on hand all the time to keep the cow out of the corn or cabbage patch. During the day the job was done by the sean-bhean, and the children took over after school. While the “herd” kept a watchful eye on the meandering cow, her fingers were busy with her knitting needles. Even very young children were expert knitters, mostly socks and gloves for export.

Coláiste Bhrighde 1926
(Pioctúir: An tUltach)

Seán Néill (1864–1936)
(Pioctúir: Uinseann Ó Domhnaill, Muintir an Bhaile s'Againne)

When classes were over for the day we occasionally visited Seán Néill, father of the well-known storyteller Micí Ua Baoill. Every time I listen to Micí's record “Sgéalta Aduaidh,” it is Seán Néill's voice I hear, and I see him as he so often sat on his chair, enjoying the evening sun with a group of children on the grass at his feet, listening entranced to his wonderful stories. At other times Séamus Ó Grianna (“Máire”) and his brother Seosamh, soon to become very famous writers, entertained us with song and story.

The College was now finished so we had our classes there, but as yet permission had not been given for the celebration of Mass. During the week we had Mass in Master O'Boyle's house but on Sundays we took the shortcut over the bog to Annagry, joining groups of men, stiff in navy serge suits, and women in sombre black shawls and black skirts; the women carried their shoes under their shawls and, as we drew near the church, they sat down by the side of the road and pulled them on. Shoes were an expensive item so the women and children went barefoot during the week. Funny I can't remember ever seeing a barefooted man in Ranafast.

Coláiste Bhrighde 1926 — teach an adhmaid ar Chnoc Árd na bhFaoileog
(Pioctúir: Uinseann Ó Domhnaill, Muintir an Bhaile s'Againne)

We were very sorry to leave our kind and generous friends at the end of July. During a heavy storm the following winter Coláiste Bhrighde was blown down. When the people came out next morning the wooden structure was floating in the sea. Nothing daunted Fr. Murray set to work once again and, when we returned in the summer of 1927, it was to the new St. Brigid's College, a fine stone building. This building still stands and, with the extensions added over the years, must now be one of the finest Irish Colleges in the country.

Coláiste Bhrighde 1929 — teach na cloiche ar Árd na bhFeannóg
(Pioctúir: Conall Ó Grianna, Rann na Feirste, Seanchas ár Sinnsear)

I continued to spend my summer holidays in Ranafast for a good number of years.

After an absence of twelve years* I returned with my family and was amazed at the new air of prosperity. Modern bungalows have taken the place of the lime-washed cottages and farm houses; the blazing turf on the hearthstone has been superceded by electric fires and Calor gas, and almost every chimney stack is adorned with a T.V. aerial.

Yes, there is an atmosphere of comfort and prosperity about the Gaeltacht and the people have every right to be proud of their achievements, but for me there was something lacking on my last visit. As my family and I walked along the road the people we met passed by without so much as a glance in our direction. We might have been walking along Royal Avenue. At each house we visited we had to ring a very sophisticated doorbell for admission and I felt a little nostalgic for the ever-open doors and the heart-warming welcome inside.

— T.R.

Foillsigheadh an píosa sin thuas ar an St. John's Parish Bulletin (Béal Feirste), No. 20, April 1972, lch. 4. Tá cóipeanna den pháipéar seo ins an Leabharlann Náisiúnta, Baile Átha Cliath, agus in Springhill Community House, Béal Feirste.

Badh í an t-ughdar Teresa Rodgers (née McGurk) 1914–1993, a rugadh i Sráid Thompson ar an Tráigh Ghirr in oirthear Bhéal Feirste. Táthar chomhair a bheith cinnte gur ó St Matthew's Convent School ins an cheanntar chéanna sin a chuaidh sí go Rann na Feirste in 1926. Chuaidh sí ar aghaidh go Meánscoil Cross and Passion, Baile 'n Chastil, agus le linn an ama a chaith sí annsin, bhain sí duais as scéalaidheacht ag Feis na nGleann in 1931. Bhain sí amach cáilidheacht múinteora i gColáiste Oileamhna St Marys, Bóthar na bhFál, in 1934.

Ar a pósadh daoithe ar Eoghan 'ac Ruaidhrí in 1940, d'éirigh sí as an teagasc, agus shocruigh síos ag 89 Bóthar St James i gceanntar na bhFál, agus is annsin a thóg siad a gclann — triúr nighean agus mac amháin. Phill sí ar an teagasc fá 1965, agus fán am a scríobh sí an t-alt, bhí sí ag obair i mbunscoil St Catherines ar Bhóthar na bhFál.

Buidheachas do Chiarán Cahill, Fr Des Wilson, Fr Laurence McElhill, Brighid agus Séamus Mac Seáin, Labhras Mag Oirc, agus ar deireadh buidheachas ar leith do Éamonn agus do Mháire Rodgers (clann an scríbhneora), as a gcuidiú leis an fhaisnéis seo agus as an phioctúir thall.

* Síleann Máire Rodgers gur in 1961 a phill Teresa agus a fear céile Eoghan ar Rann na Feirste, agus nach rabh siad ann le tamall fada roimhe sin.

Teresa Rodgers in 1973

Coláiste Bhrighde 1926. Click picture once to enlarge
(Pioctúir: An tUltach)

Ina suidhe ó chlé: Fr Hugh Bradley (1889–1972), Aoidhmín Mac Gréagóir (1884–1950), Seosamh 'ac Grianna (1900–1990), Johnny Sheimisín Ó Domhnaill (1863–1948), Fr Joseph Byrne (1884–1961).
Ba í Teresa McGurk an cailín beag ins an blazer atá taobh thiar de ghualainn chlé Johnny Sheimisín agus de ghualainn dheis an Athar Uí Bheirn.
An gasúr beag atá ar chúl an Athar Uí Bheirn ar an taobh eile, sin Pádraig Ó hUallacháin (1912–1974), a bhí ina rúnaí ar Choláiste Bhrighde ina dhiaidh sin.

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Úraithe 2020/04/27
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