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Blog: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o – ‘the Michael Hartnett of Africa’ – addresses LÍON conference

by History

The world famous writer and champion of African literature, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, was in Mary Immaculate College on Friday 9 November to speak at the LÍON, Limerick and Languages: Revival, resurgence and new beginnings conference and celebration.

Ngũgĩ, currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, was one of the guest speakers at this major one-day international interdisciplinary bilingual event that brought together leading thinkers to discuss the journey of Conradh na Gaeilge from the Revival period to today’s multicultural and globalised Ireland. 

A recipient of numerous literary prizes, Ngũgĩ’s name has been mentioned as a leading contender for the Nobel Literature Prize. A former Amnesty ‘Prisoner of Conscience’, Ngugi was imprisoned at the end of 1977 for staging a controversial play in his native Kenya. While in prison he wrote his next work on prison toilet paper and decided to renounce English in order to write in his native Gikuyu. Ngũgĩ's work has many parallels with that of Limerick’s own Michael Hartnett who also famously bade “farewell to English” to court “the language of my people”.

LÍON was part of the official programme of events for Bliain na Gaeilge.

The conference programme had something for everyone. Renowned historian Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, NUIG, returned to his native city to provide a personal perspective on Gaelic revivalism in Limerick c. 1930-1962. Cuan Ó Seireadáin, Curator of Conradh na Gaeilge, discussed Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland and a founder of Conradh na Gaeilge, in a talk that couldn’t have been more timely given that our own President’s inauguration took place on the same weekend. Professor Timothy G. Mc Mahon of Marquette University travelled from the USA to speak about ‘The Meanings of Revival: The Many Streams of Conradh na Gaeilge.’ Given current tensions and the political impasse in Northern Ireland, Linda Ervine’s talk ‘The Miracle that is Turas/Míorúilt Turas’, was also particularly topical. Now working with the East Belfast Mission, Ervine shared her story of being the first ever Irish language development officer in a loyalist working class area in Belfast.

There was also an exhibition on the Gaelic Revival and musical entertainment on the day.

Chief Executive of Conradh na Gaeilge, Julian de Spáinn, believes that 125 years after the foundation of the organisation, the time is right to broaden the Conradh’s membership. He said: “I am hopeful that major events like LÍON will provide fresh inspiration and impetus for discussing the role of language in forming identity.” 

According to Dr Úna Bromell, MIC lecturer in History and co-organiser of the conference “Conradh na Gaeilge has had a proud presence in the city and county since the 29 July 1898, when the Limerick branch of the Conradh was founded”.

Her conference co-organiser and MIC lecturer in the Department of Irish Dr Róisín Ni Ghairbhí added: “We were delighted to host this major gathering at Mary Immaculate College and hope that the event provided a welcoming forum for discussion of identity and culture in a new globalised multicultural Limerick.”

The conference was funded by Mary Immaculate College, Bliain na Gaeilge, Conradh na Gaeilge, Luimneach and Limerick City and County Council.

Dr Liam Chambers