Taking a Stand for Belfast
Gearóid Ó Cairealláin is one of those inexplicable forces of nature whose bullish approach and live-life-to-the-full attitude is an inspiration.
Singlehandedly, he turbo-charged the Irish language revival in Belfast, taking it from a steady-as-she-goes pace in the seventies into a heady explosion of exuberance and endless possibilities throughout the eighties and nineties.
It’s no surprise then that the news of his ‘death’ in 2006 from a massive stroke shook those of us who laboured happily in the wake of his Titanic efforts. Not that his send-off was to be any less Omar Khayam-esque than his life: a new Antrim top was bought in which to lie him out in as preparations were made to gather Gaels from across the island for his wake.
But then doctors at the Royal who had declared him brain-dead and were preparing to turn off his life support systems detected a stubborn refusal by the Gaeilge pioneer to check out.
What follows is told by Gearóid in his sold-out Wheelchair Monologues which played at his beloved Cultúrlann cultural hub (which he founded) in the heart of the Gaeltacht Quarter this week.
It is a story of resurrection and redemption but also of hardship and heartbreak for Gearóid remains wedded to his wheelchair, the stroke having debilitated the left side of his body.
At the start of his one-man-show, he talks of how the drive to walk again drove him through seven years of painful therapy for he was determined to ‘stand, stand, stand’.
It was an aspiration which, finally, he had to abandon. But in a moment of theatrical triumph, the monologues closes with Gearóid taking to his feet once more — the first time most of us had seem him at full height in eight years — reminding us that his inner greatness is undiminished no matter how changed his outer body.
You’ll find it harder to find a more striking symbol of the spirit of Belfast than in Gearóid’s Ó Cairealláin’s life of selfless commitment to the revival of the Irish language. And if metaphor is your thing, his determination to take a stand, no matter how bitter the blows, speaks to our unquenchable thirst as a people to rise ever higher.
Sin an fáth a bfhuil meas agus grá as cuimse againn ar Ghearóid Ó Cairealláin. Gabhaimís buíochas leis as a bhfuil déanta aige dár dteanga, dár bpobal is dár gcathair.
(I am writing this over Newfoundland as I head to the New State capital Albany for 48 hours to join State Legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo for their St Patrick’s Day Celebrations and to discuss ways of enhancing co-operation between New York and Belfast.)