|It was with great sadness that I learnt of the death of Dr. Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, Senior Lecturer of Early Irish (Sean-Ghaeilge), at the Centre for Irish Cultural Heritage at Maynooth University. Obituaries and remembrances are too formal a way to encapsulate the energies of the person who has passed away. What we may say about her on paper; on her authorship, her survivors, and her activities, pale in comparison to the ball of energy that she was. Muireann had a huge and warmly generous physical presence despite her tiny size. She was quite literally a ball of energy.
I first met Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin at the Four Courts, as one did during the campaigns that dominated the Celtic Tiger era. Protestors would be in and out of courts fighting on issues related to the complete destruction of any and all heritage laws by the Fianna Fáil Party who came up with new planning bills even as they tore down and scrapped institutions that were charged with the preservation of our natural and built heritage. News media would jostle to get near the government ministers who thought up new and ingenious ways to fast-track planning laws and ramming their tastelessness into property bubbles, bad housing, dublin satellites, and the ephemera of trash that can only be described as garbage politics. People like Muireann were almost criminalised for objecting to the fact that in the 13 years of political dominance by Fianna Fáil and it’s motley collection of political props, not one of them actually bothered to bring in a single heritage preservation bill. The media never asked why there were no heritage bills, they were busy selling houses for the government.
Muireann asked the awkward questions like why Dúchas was abolished by Martin Cullen TD, Why Bertie Ahern was so intent on a leadership that passed endless fast-track and Strategic Infrastructure Bills, and why successive Environment Ministers could not pass The Aarhus Convention into Irish law, they still haven’t. Why above all were we demolishing (‘Preservation by Record’) unique sites at Tara (39 sites were demolished) in the Gabhra Valley to allow for the M3 Toll Road. Decentralisation of protections like the OPW, and the defunding of existent preservation programmes were policies that ensured cheap housing and good profit to companies like the NRA (who also managed to take on the majority of archaeology programmes nationally) The media not alone did not trace these issues but they deliberately ignored or obfuscated them within a sugary silence that disallowed anything negative or challenging to emerge that might effect the status quo. There was no joining of dots, just a lot of quangoes and silence in the Tiger Era.
Despite this juggernaut of profiteering and short-termism, Muireann for the most part kept her temper and went into the courts, or she stood out on the Hill Of Tara in all weathers, or she waved orders into the faces of the Gardaí. She never cried in front of me but she witnessed a scarring and vicious tragedy that seems to encapsulate the appalling recklessness and greed of the Tiger Era. It was a devastation that was fuelled by greed and lack of education: bulldoze everything and make some cheap tract housing , extend the Dublin suburbs into Meath and while we are at it make a tidy little profit from unhooking all laws that preserve our unique heritage. Gombeenism is not the word for it.
Muireann’s gentler side emerged when she involved herself in cultural events like the Feis Teamhair where poets like Peter Fallon, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Susan McKeown and more came yearly to Tara to raise cultural voice and to sing their protest. It was probably at Feis Teamhair that I last saw her turn back toward someone who grabbed her arm and asked her a question or greeted her warmly.
We make public poets, great men and women who are imprisoned in the media glare. We want them to represent all that is good in Ireland, and we consign the irritating questioners to the margins. Muireann was an irritating questioner, a restless and enthusiastic spirit, a friend and colleague of great poets, she defended and embraced our literary and poetic heritage with all her health and drive.
She has not lived as long as those she opposed, but her name is inscribed in the history of Tara, a visual sign that people will battle great odds to illuminate truths that politicians and their wordless and grey supporters ignore. Dr. Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin has died a respected and feisty woman, unlike the liars she challenged daily and I will miss her big heart.
Rest in Peace Muireann x
Christine Murray (published at The Bogman’s Cannon )