Scholar and activist Lil Nic Dhonnchadha talks about some of the places a lifelong love of the Irish language brought her.

Chaith Lil Nic Dhonnchadha a ndúthracht leis an Ghaeilge a chur chunn cinn. Lil (Lilian) Nic Dhonnchadha was born in Belfast in 1891. Her mother had trained as a teacher, and her father who worked as a customs and excise officer had a strong interest in the Irish language. When they later moved to Coleraine Séamus Mac Donnchadha taught Irish to children and adults in the local national school. It was from him that Lil learned Irish.

The family moved to Dublin when she was in her teens, and she and her father joined the Craobh na gCúig gCúigí branch of Conradh na Gaeilge and actively promoted the Irish language.

Lil Nic Dhonnchadha went to university at Trinity College Dublin in 1910. She was one of the first women to study at TCD, and one of two female students in the Department of Celtic Studies. The diversity of backgrounds present was inconsequential, as Lil describes the atmosphere as one of

Gnáth atmasféar daonna, ní raibh polaitíocht i gceist ar chur ar bith, bhíomar uilig an-cairdiúil lena chéile…

College life for women was governed by rules and regulations. Women were not permitted to speak to male students, become members of university societies (the only exception being the Elizabethan Society), and were required to have departed the campus by six o'clock in the evening.

Graduating with a first class honours degree in 1914 Lil Nic Dhonnchadha subsequently taught in Alexandra College and remained active in Conradh na Gaeilge. Friends with Douglas Hyde, she joined him in a contentious vote during a meeting of the Conradh in Dundalk in 1915 when members of the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) were present, and politics was thrown into the mix. This did not sit well with Douglas Hyde whose vision for the organisation was more inclusive,

Gach aon saghas duine sa tír a thabhairt isteach ar obair na Gaeilge, agus iad a aontú tríd an Ghaeilge…

Lil Nic Dhonnchadha remained active in Conradh na Gaeilge nonetheless, even though the 1916 Rising presented challenges, but it was the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 that created lasting divisions within its members,

Do bhí an scoilt sin i dtaobh an Treaty, do bhí searbhas uafásach idir an dá thaobh.

Always apolitical, she later became principal of Coláiste Moibhí, returned to TCD to teach Irish and was widely published as an academic. Her contribution to Irish language ecclesiastical material for the Church of Ireland was significant, and she also served on various committees such as the Arts Council of Ireland and the Radio Éireann Advisory Council. In 1979 Conradh na Gaeilge recognised her lifelong service to the Irish language with the Gradam Seachtain na Gaeilge award. Lil Nic Dhonnchadha died in 1984.

This episode of 'Proinsias Mac Aonghusa Ag Caint Le...' was broadcast on 21 September 1981. The presenter is Proinsias Mac Aonghusa.