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An illuminating Artwork

 Liam Ó Míodhacháin and Conradh na Gaelige in Dungarvan

By Kyle Beresford

In 2022 an illuminated address was donated to Waterford County Museum. It was created in 1914 and was presented to Liam Ó hÍceadha/William Cornelius Hickey (1885-1935), the secretary of Conradh na Gaelige in Dungarvan to mark his forthcoming marriage. Liam worked as a Customs and Excise officer. His wife was Katherine Power of Corballybeg Co Waterford. She worked as a baker and confectioner in Dungarvan.

The work is over one hundred years old and is a fine example of Celtic Revival artwork. The colours are remarkably well preserved. These illuminated addresses were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries to mark events such as retirement, coming of age, weddings, and so on. One of the finest creators of these addresses were John and Florence Gilbert of Cork. Michael Beary the Borough Surveyor in Dungarvan also painted addresses. A fine example of his work is on display at Waterford County Museum, presented to Captain John Veale.

This address is richly decorated with a border of elaborate Celtic Revival motifs, and vignettes featuring the Dungarvan coat of arms, the old gable wall at St Mary’s Church of Ireland, and the ruins of McGrath’s Castle, Abbeyside. The latter was probably included as that is where Hickey lived. It also features fantastic beasts similar to those seen in early Irish illuminated manuscripts. At the top of the address a real photograph of O’Hickey has been pasted on. The following is the inscription translated to English:

Testimonial to Liam Ó hÍceadha.

We, Cuallacht Chosnamha na Gaeilge (the Irish language defence committee) here in Dungarvan, wish to express our respect and appreciation to you for all you have done amongst us to promote the use of and respect for the Irish language and all that accompanies it; and we consider no more timely opportunity to do so than now on the occasion of your marriage. Our respect and esteem for you should not come as a surprise to anyone, as from the first day we came to know you to the present time, neither your enthusiasm or your dedication could be surpassed; and as well as that you were astute, intelligent and discerning, dispensing advice wisely on many occasions.

            It is not only ourselves who will  forever be obliged and blessed by your support, your efforts will also be appreciated by every other true Irish person whose wish it is to see the ancient and beautiful language of the Gael bloom and thrive again; and if every heart were as favourable towards it as yours is, it would not take long for it to be so.

            You have always scorned the bitter enemies of the Irish language and indeed, have often succeeded in thwarting the efforts of those who would see the language suppressed.

            We wish you and your wife a long and happy life together and may God spare you to assist us for a long time to come in the successful promotion of that work which we all enjoy so much.

We, the undersigned, on behalf of Cuallacht Cosnamha na Gaeilge, Dungarvan.

Domhnall Ó Fearchair (President); Seán Ó Loingsigh (Vice-President); Mícheál Ó Floinn (Treasurer). Date: 15/9/1914.

Dan Fraher was an athlete, Gaelic scholar, and had a drapery business on Grattan Square, known as ‘The Gaelic Outfitting Store’.  The ‘Fraher Field’ in Dungarvan is named after him. At present we don’t have further details about the Vice-President and Treasurer.

The address was created by Liam Ó Míodhacháin/William Meehan who lived at An Rinn in a house which he built. He incorporated a number of Celtic Revival motifs in its exterior and interior. There were wall paintings and furniture made with Celtic designs. He was born on 11 October 1874 to Edmund Meehan and Mary Coffey. He was an amateur artist/craftsman who tried his hand at a number of artistic ventures, such as gravestones, mortuary cards, illuminated addresses, and book illustration.  He designed the Stations of the Cross in St  Nicholas Church, An Rinn, and the obelisk at Helvick commemorating the Fenian ship, the Erin’s Hope. He died on 30 August 1960 aged 86.

Conradh na Gaelige/The Gaelic League was founded on 31 July 1893 by Eoin MacNeill and others to promote Irish language and literature. Its first President was Douglas Hyde. The League produced their own newspaper – An Claidheamh Soluis. According to an article by Séan Ó Cadhlaigh in the 1902 issue of An Sléibhteánach, Dan Fraher (1852-1929) started teaching Irish classes in 1888 in the premises owned by the Dungarvan Literary Society.  They were encouraged by the P.P. Rev. Peter Casey.

On 7 May 1895 a meeting was held in Dungarvan to start a branch of Conradh na Gaelige:

A meeting was held in Dungarvan on the 7th, at which, among others, the following were present: Rev. M.P. Hickey, chairman; Messers Patrick Carmody, Kilmacthomas; M.T. Foley, Ring; Thomas McCarthy, Town Clerk, Dungarvan; Daniel Fraher, Patrick Sweeney, and James Daly, all of them representative of local men, good Irish speakers and noted supporters of the movement.  A branch of the Gaelic League was formed, a number of members were enrolled, and subscriptions were handed in, the chairman subscribing one pound.  The central committee was represented by Mr. J. McNeill, Hon secretary.

Irish classes were held in the Town Hall.  There were separate nights for the men and women. 

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following in the preparation of this article: Liam’s granddaughters: Nóirín Westman, Muireann McGrath and Iosoilde Dromey; Áine Uí Fhoghlú; William Fraher, Curator Waterford Co Museum; Nioclás Ó Gríofáin; Eddie Cantwell; and the Trustees of Waterford County Museum for permission to reproduce images of the address.  

Further reading:




Dhonnachadha, P. Ó. (2003). AN LINN BHUÍ Iris Ghealtacht na nDéise . In p. Ó. Dhonnachadha, AN LINN BHUÍ Iris Ghealtacht na nDéise UIMHIR 7 (pp. 84-86). Ballycleat: leabhair la linne.

An Śleibhteánach. 1902 

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