Alf O’Muiri 1914 – 1999

Sportsman, teacher and lover of the Irish language commemorated in new book. Click Play Audio for a podcast with the author Eithne McAlinden

When the Cardinal Tomas O’Fiach Library in Armagh hosted the launch of a biography of Alf Murray many of those in attendence were there to remember a man who did much for the promotion of the Irish language in Ulster.

'The book was written 20 years ago as a dissertation in Irish which I was completing at St Mary’s College Belfast,' explains Eithne McAlinden, author of Alf O’Muiri 1914 – 1999. 'We wanted to mark Alf's tenth anniversary by publishing this biography in both Irish and English.'

'He had three great loves in his life,' recounts Murray's daughter, Naomh McCally. 'The Irish language, the GAA and his family. We like to think we know which one came first.'

Alf O’MuiriIn his 85 years, Alf Murray had time for them all. He learnt much of his Irish as a past time while studying at teacher training college in London during the 1930s. The language classes were set around an active sporting schedule where he won his colours in soccer, badminton and even tug-o-war.

At Tannaghmore Primary School, Lurgan, where he would later become principal, Murray fostered the teaching of Irish and was involved in a scheme called ‘Sabhail na bPaisti’ or Save the Children which encouraged its use and gave children the opportunity to spend the summer in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

And if that was not enough to keep him busy, Murray also played Gaelic football for Armagh and was part of the first Ulster team to win the interprovincial Railway Cup in 1943.

'In one season he even managed to combine being secretary to the county board along with playing for his club team, Clann Eireann, and Armagh,' recalls his long time friend Joe Canning, who also served as county secretary. 'And he even managed to referee the county final that same season.'

Add to that a term of office as the president of the Gaelic Athletic Association, during which time he had to deal with many contentious issues in the sport and you get the complete picture of a man who never wasted a moment.

'We often wonder how he managed it all,' says Naomh McCally. 'But for us the abiding memory is of a loving father and grandfather who even coached his grand children in the language in his latter years.'

Alf O’Muiri 1914 -1999
, written by Eithne McAlinden is on sale from the O’Fiach Library, An Culturlann on the Falls Road Belfast and shops in north Lurgan. All proceeds are in aid of the Irish Language.

An extract in English and Irish from the chapter entitled 'The Irish Language and Culture in Lurgan' from the biography Alf O’Muiri 1914 -1999.

Ar an Lorgain fein, ta ceithre chumann peile ann: Clann Eireann, Clann na nGael, Cumann Naormh Peadar agus Cumann Naomh Pol. Idir an ceathrar acu, cuirtear an-reimse aiseanna ar fail do dhaoine idir og agus aosta:

pairceanna, hallai, seomrai cumainn, aiseanna imeartha agus cumainn shoisialta. Ach, ba e Clann Eireann a chloigh Alf agus ba ann a chuir se a dhiogras agus e ag las anios.

Bunaiodh an cumann seo sna triochaidi fan teideal 'Cumann Chaoimhin de Barra' ach athraiodh e i 1937 go 'Clann Eireann'. Ni raibh ait riamh acu do chruinnithe na seomra feistis na a dhath eile agus ba mhian leo rud eigin a bheith acu. Sna Caogaidi ceannaiodh bothan 'airfield' ach nior ardaiodh riamh e as siocair foirgneamh ni ba bhuaine na sin a bheith ag teastail o fhir na Lorgan ag an am sin. An rud a bhi ar intinn acu na foirgneamh a thogail ar shuiomh dha acra go leith i Sraid an Locha - chosnodh se £625 ag an am sin. Togadh agus fosclaiodh an halla i 1953 le dea-mhein na ndaoine a thug iasacht cead punt don chumann gan a bheith ag duil le hus a fhail ar ais. Gan mhoill, smaoinigh siad ar dhoigheanna le hairgead a shaothru:

ligeadh an halla ar cios fa choinne cartai, ceolchoirmeacha, dramai sri. agus glanadh na fiacha go luath i 1958:

'Some 20 clubs from Ulster and outside have come along to see our club and have praised Clann Eireann. They do not attribute our success to one or two individuals but to a spirit found here that could not be found anywhere else.'

Ar ndoigh, nior stad an cuman anseo agus cuiread leis bliain i ndiaidh bliana agus i 1965, bhi ocht n-imeacht deag ar siul sa chumann. Ag an chruinniu bliantuil i 1965, mhinigh Alf, a bhi ina chathaoirleach ag an am, gur cumann de chuid C.L.G. a bhi ann agus nar choir go ndeanfai dearmad air seo. Bhi ocht n-imeacht de chuid C.L.G. ar siul ag an am: peil, iomanaiocht, camogaiocht, rothaiocht, liathroid laimhe, damhsa, aclaiocht agus ranganna teanga. Bhi chuichi eile ann a mheall na daoine oga isteach chun na haite, .i. cispheil, badmantan, cartai, dairteanna, billeardai, snucar, scatail, sri. Ar ndoigh, nior chomhlion na cluichi seo aidhmeanna an chumainn agus mar sin de, chaithfea ceann de na 'cluichi gaelacha' a imirt chomh maith le bheith mar bhall iomlan den chumann.

Ce go raibh pairc peile taobh leis an halla, ni pairc peile iomlan a bhi ann, ce go raibh se ceart go leor fa choinne cleachtadh a dheanamh. In 1965, bhi faill ag an chumann suiomh ceithre acra go leith a cheannach tri chead slat on halla - rud a rinneadh. Laistigh d'am iontach gairid bhi an phairc peile reidh.

There are four Gaelic football clubs in the Lurgan area: Clann Eireann, Clann na Gael, St Peter's and St Paul's. Between them they offer a wide range of facilities for all age groups: playing fields, halls, club rooms, changing rooms and social clubs. Alf's allegiance was with Clann Eireann where he worked tirelessly and was to the fore in all its developments.

The club was first founded in the early 1930s and was known as the 'Kevin Barry Club' but in 1937 the name was changed to Clann Eireann. There was no meeting place or changing facilities for players so in the early 1950s they set out to do something about this. The committee decided to build an 'airfield' hut for use as clubrooms. This hut was bought but it was never erected. In the meantime the club decided on a more ambitious venture and only the windows and doors of that hut were eventually used. They decided to build a hall on a two and a half acre site at Lake Street, costing £625. Through the voluntary efforts of the members and with the help of £100 interest-free loans from people in the town, the hall was built and opened in 1953. The club then embarked on a fund-raising campaign. Almost every night the hall was engaged for whist drives, concerts, plays etc and the debt was finally cleared in 1958:

'Some 20 clubs from Ulster and outside have come along to see our club and have praised Clann Eireann. They do not attribute our success to one or two individuals but to a spirit found here that could not be found anywhere else.'

Of course, they didn't stop there but continued this development force and by 1965 the club had eighteen activities on offer. Speaking at the annual general meeting in 1965, Alf, chairman at the time, stated that Clann Eireann was first and foremost a G.A.A. club and he asked members not to lose sight of that fact. There were eight main G.A.A. activities in the club - football, hurling, camogie, cycling, handball, dancing, athletics and language. Other activities were also offered to attract the young people -basketball, badminton, cards, darts, billiards, snooker, skating etc. However these activities did not fulfil the aims of the club so members were expected to participate in at least one of the Irish games for them to be considered as a true member.

Although the field adjacent to the hall was fine for practicing on, it was not a full sized football pitch. In 1965 the chance arose to purchase a field of four and a half acres in the middle of the nearby housing estate and within a very short time the football field was ready.

Padraig Coyle