Lives Remembered

'The most important thing is to love and to be loved'

Irish language teacher and activist Pádraig Mac Thiarnáin

Interviewed by the school magazine on his retirement, Pádraig Mac Thiarnáin said he would like to be remembered as someone who was fair, did his job and didn't take himself too seriously.

Asked for any advice for pupils as he moved on, he said:

"The secret to life is love. It sounds corny but when you have your health, the most important thing in life is to love and to be loved.

"A strong faith helps. After that everything falls into place.”

Faith, a love of family, a passion for Irish culture and an unquenchable thirst for life defined Pádraig Mac Thiarnáin.

The Irish teacher and activist instilled a grá for the native tongue in generations of young people.

A gentleman with time for everyone, his drive to live each hour to the full - even during an eight-year battle with cancer - also left a lasting impression on all who encountered him.

Pádraig was born Pat Kernan in 1944 to Bridget and Joseph Kernan of Crossmaglen, with his mother tragically dying days after his birth.

His father later married Joan, who Pat knew as Mum, and he was very fond of his four siblings, Olivia, Annette, Joe and Raymond.

Pat would have a great love of GAA, closely following his nephews' success with Crossmaglen, and he was particularly proud of his brother Joe, the All-Ireland winning Armagh manager.

The family were touched when a minute's silence was held before the county's game with Galway last weekend.

Pat developed his love of Irish while studying Celtic language and literature at Queen's University.

He qualified as a teacher and spent two years at St Thomas' School on Belfast's Whiterock Road - following the footsteps of the great Seamus Heaney and Michael McLaverty - before beginning a long association with St Patrick's College, Knock.

As vice-principal from 1977 until his retirement in 2004 he was in charge of discipline and treated pupils fairly and equally, as well as providing a calming presence through the chaos of the early Troubles.

His Irish language activities increased, taking charge of Loch an Iúir Gaeltacht college, co-founding the Lecale Gaelic Society, sitting on exam committees and writing regular pieces for The Irish News.

He organised the cultural festival Gaeltionail in Downpatrick and was a co-founder of the town's naíscoil and bunscoil.

Pat also continued teaching Irish classes each Monday despite cancer treatment, right up until two weeks before his death.

He would arrive early so people would not see that he could barely walk, and enlarged the text to compensate for growing sight problems.

It was a job he loved, and he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.

Pat and wife Sheelagh, who he met at Queen's, had moved to Downpatrick to escape the violence of Belfast and they had a far-reaching influence on the community.

They brought up their family speaking Irish, and many others in the town would say they first attended beginner's classes because they heard the language spoken on the streets.

The couple were big cinema fans, going out every Tuesday without fail for a meal and movie, followed usually by a stop at Paddy's Barn for some traditional music.

They both also made full use of their teacher's holidays, spending six weeks every summer travelling around France with a caravan as well as trips as far afield as Russia.

In the last year Pat had been abroad seven times.

However, he always considered his greatest achievement to be his five children and 12 grandchildren.

He was a rock to them throughout their lives, and they were all with him when he passed away last Wednesday aged 71.

Pádraig Mac Thiarnáin is sadly missed by his wife of 47 years Sheelagh, children Siobhán, Colm, Cormac, Art and Rónán, and wider family circle.

Lives Remembered