Diarmuid Ó Tuama: Pioneering teacher and historian and passionate Gaeilgeoir
DIARMUID Ó Tuama was part of a small group who spearheaded, grew and developed the north’s first gaelscoil, Bunscoil Phobal Feirste.
When we reflect on the current vibrancy of Irish-medium education, with two post-primary schools and 7,232 children enrolled at 87 gaelscoileanna at primary level (over a dozen in Belfast alone), it is remarkable but fitting that Diarmuid was a central part of the foundational catalyst, the driving force which has provided the rebirth of our language, i gcroílár an phobail, in the soul of our community.
He joined a dedicated team at Bunscoil Phobal Feirste during challenging times in 1976/77, when the school was operating without official state support or recognition and indeed against threats of closure and imprisonment for its founders and staff.
Teaching voluntarily and surviving on donations and fundraising efforts was more of a motivating factor than a deterrent for Diarmuid and during these years he developed no fewer than 47 educational texts for the children from his ‘swot spot’ study space at home.
Some of his proudest productions were his book of stories on local highwayman of the Black Mountain and Antrim, Naoise Ó hEocháin, as well as being given permission to officially translate Walter Macken’s Flight of the Doves, when he wrote the beautiful Éalú Beirte.
His love of local and national culture, nature, history and geography shone through his many texts, motivating generations of pupils and their families in a love of their surrounding areas, native tongue, land and culture and existing still through the thousands of pupils who went through his hands at Bunscoil Phobal Feirste and are now taking up key roles in our society.
Diarmuid was born in 1952 in Sevastopol Street on the Falls Road to Rosealeen and Séamus Twomey.
The family moved to Andersonstown and Trostan Way shortly afterwards and Diarmuid attended Holy Child Primary School when it was situated in Casement Park GAA grounds.
He always commented that whilst the rooms in Casement were cold, they had the greatest playground in Ireland and this is where his love of Gaelic Games was sown.
Diarmuid attended St Malachy’s College in the 1960s before embarking a couple of years at Maynooth College with a view to joining the priesthood.
The political situation, however, resulted in him returning to Belfast and turning to teaching, a career which would also see him spend many years teaching and directing at Irish language summer courses at Loch an Iúir and especially Machaire Rabhartaigh in his beloved Donegal Gaeltacht.
Diarmuid was an avid historian and published author, immersing himself in his own rich family history of language and republicanism in Co Cork.
He penned several books on the Irish Civil War, the Irish language and the Tan War in Ireland.
He worked right up until recently on his latest book, The History of Belfast, which he sent for proofing and printing only a few weeks ago.
Diarmuid was also a contributor to local and national radio and TV – from his weekly sports shows on Féile FM and then for many years with Raidió Fáilte, to his six-part historical series on RTÉ Radio about the life and death of Michael Collins.
The Collins story held a particular fascination for him, perhaps an obsession, and only a few weeks ago he delivered his final historical lecture on Collins’ life and legacy at a packed St Gall’s clubhouse on the Falls Road.
He was seen regularly on TV on shows around sport, history, politics and his passion for gardening, most recently with TG4 in the series Scéalta na gCorn, on the names behind the GAA trophies of the various counties in Ireland.
Antrim and Cork GAA were also passions and last year’s All-Ireland hurling championship game between the two counties at his Corrigan Park Mecca saw the stars align for him.
When the Saffrons went in ahead at half-time, he looked to the heavens and then whispered to his son Séamus ‘Dear God please take me now’ as his ultimate GAA dream seemed to be coming true.
His final GAA trip was with Séamus in October, as they undertook another of his many Cork pilgrimages to Páirc Uí Chaoimh to continue his recent 70th birthday celebrations with friends and family at the county hurling final.
But of all his visits to the county, one stood out: in 2015 he was asked by the Kilmichael and Crossbarry commemoration committee to be guest speaker at the 95th anniversary commemoration of the Kilmichael Ambush. A day he described on the journey down, with Séamus and young Diarmuid, as his own “All-Ireland”.
Diarmuid sadly passed away on January 3, having only been recently diagnosed with cancer. He leaves behind his heartbroken family of wife Elaine, children Séamus, Brónach and Diarmuid, their spouses Jill and Teresa and Brónach’s fiancé Liam, his grandchildren Eve, Ellen, Conall, Cillian, Cormac and Róise, his brother Séamus and sisters Veronica, Patricia and Rosemary.
Ní bheith a leithéid arís ann.
Diarmuid’s month’s mind Mass will take place on Thursday February 2 at 7.30pm at St Oliver Plunkett Church.