Poet and playwright Liam Ó Muirthile, who was buried in Baile Bhuirne in the Cork Gaeltacht yesterday, was also an accomplished broadcaster and worked for many years in RTÉ.

While working on the Irish-language programme Súil Thart in 1980, he went to the Burren in northwest Clare to speak to two of the last remaining native Irish speakers in that area.

By that time, there were only a handful of speakers of that particular dialect left and by recording two of them Liam Ó Muirthile preserved for us a little piece of socio-linguistic history.

The film he made that day along with cameraman Donal Wylde is preserved in the RTÉ archives and a clip of it can be viewed below.

The speakers he recorded lived along the coast between Murroogh (Muiriúch) and Fanore (Fánóir), the terminus of the dialect continuum of the Gaelic language, which once covered all of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Liam spoke first to Tomás Irwin from Gleninagh (Gleann Eidhneach), who told him that there were three people in his immediate area with whom he still spoke Irish.

He then went to visit Maggie Howley (Mairéad Ní Uallaigh) who was living in Fanore, in a tin-roofed house with no electricity or running water -  a desolate place as Liam called it.

Liam was dismayed by Maggie's living conditions and he later dedicated one of his poems in his award-winning collection Tine Chnámh to her.

In the following video, Tomás talks about his native place and Maggie tells us about her family, her school and her heartburn. She even ticks him off for apparently not understanding her. A longer version of the video is available here.

Last Irish speakers of northwest Clare, Súil Thart, RTÉ, 8th January 1981

Dialectologist Prof Brian Ó Curnáin of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies says that the Irish of northwest Clare is a north Munster variety. He says it belongs to the dialect belt ranging from Tipperary at its centre,  eastwards into Kilkenny and Waterford and westwards into Clare.

Prof Ó Curnáin says that although northwest Clare is geographically very close to south and east Galway and the Aran Islands, due to historical socio-political circumstances the Irish dialect there resembled more the Irish of Waterford.

Liam Ó Muirthile had hoped to record more of the Clare Irish speakers but the batteries in television cameras in those days had a short lifespan. Nonetheless, he left us a very valuable snapshot of the linguistic variety and diversity that once existed in Ireland.