Seosamh Mac Gabhann: 1929 – 2008
Seosamh Mac Gabhann was born in Straide, County Mayo in 1929. After attending his local national school in Straide, he moved to secondary school in Castlebar, cycling the 13 miles to and from school to St. Gerald’s College. A model student, he received a call to train as a National School teacher in St. Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra, Dublin. His first teaching appointment was in Glenhest National School, where he became active in community affairs and featured on the Newport hurling and football teams.
Seosamh was appointed Principal of Clooniron National School in Kilmovee in 1955. This was the start of over 50 years work, both as a teacher and in a voluntary capacity in the community, which left a deep and lasting impression on Kilmovee. Seosamh met his wife Bea Anna, a fellow teacher in Clooniron School and together they started to include music as a standard part of the curriculum for all pupils. Clooniron School closed in 1972 and was amalgamated with Kilmovee No.1 N.S., with Seosamh and Bea Anna continuing their work there along with Mrs Colette Doherty, including teaching music to the children.
Their efforts paid off in 1976 when Kilmovee (a small village) won the Céilí Band competitions at the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in Buncrana at U-11 and U-14 levels. This was a remarkable achievement, with all of the children coming from Kilmovee and this tiny village beating the champions of Ulster, Leinster, Munster as well as bands from England and the U.S.A. This success was repeated in 1984 when Kilmovee again won the All Ireland U-14 Céilí Band competition at the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in Listowel.
In 1975, Seosamh set up a Senior Céilí Band in Kilmovee, which he named Ceoltóirí Mobhí. The band went on to gain nationwide recognition with two of their jigs, now popularly known across the country as “The Kilmovee Jigs”. The band competed at the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil for many years and in 1984 won the All Ireland Senior Céilí Band competition at Ceol an Gheimhridh.
Seosamh was a founder member of the Dr. Douglas Hyde Summer School in Ballaghaderreen in 1996. He was actively involved in the running of this Summer School up to his sudden death in 2008. The Douglas Hyde Summer School continued for another 2 years, ending in 2010. The community in Kilmovee were delighted to get the opportunity to set up the Seosamh Mac Gabhann Summer School in his honour in Kilmovee in 2011.
The contributions and achievements of Seosamh Mac Gabhann outside of music in Kilmovee, Mayo, Connacht and at National level are too numerous to mention. He dedicated his life to the promotion and preservation of Irish heritage and culture as well as voluntary work, assisting in all aspects of the local community. His love of the Irish language was passed on to the children across Ireland from his role in “An Cumann Scoildrámaíochta”. Seosamh held the position of Uachtarán of An Cumann Scoildrámaíochta for many years, right up to his death in 2008. He believed if children were to learn Irish it needed to be fun to learn and he started this himself in Clooniron and Kilmovee teaching the children Gaeilge through drama, many of these plays he wrote himself. A number of his plays were published in two publications – “An Fáinne Óir agus Drámaí Eile” and “Cumhacht na Cuimhne agus Drámaí Eile”, which are now used in schools across the country. Seosamh ran drama festivals in Clooniron for many years and later in Kilmovee and was central to the development of An Cumann Scoildrámaíochta at a provincial and national level. Over 1,000 children take part now in the Féile Náisiúnta every year.
To fundraise for the multiple voluntary committees that he set up and chaired in Kilmovee, he wrote, produced and directed numerous plays with adults. One of his final plays was one he produced with the Senior Citizens in Kilmovee. While they were reluctant to get involved initially, the final performance was as always a flawless production that brought the house down. Seosamh made time for everyone and left a lasting impression on all that he worked with down through the years. One of the last things Seosamh did before he died, was to write a handbook on local history and folklore on Kilmovee. This book was launched in 2009 and is now used as the basis for the Heritage Tour on the first Sunday of the Summer School, which visits many of the sites described so well in the handbook.
The Seosamh Mac Gabhann Summer School is a fitting tribute to the lifetime contribution of Seosamh Mac Gabhann to Irish music, heritage and culture, areas which he passionately promoted throughout his life. This passion is captured in a poem written by Eoghan Ó Tuairisc about Seosamh and published in the Irish Press in 1975.