Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha was born in the Gaeltacht near Dingle in Co Kerry in 1883. Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha went on to become an organiser for Conradh na Gaeilge, cycling all over the countryside to set up branches and promote the Irish language. As a writer, he took the pen-name ‘An Seabhac’, the Hawk, writing books including ’An Baile Seo ‘Gainne’ (1913) and ‘Jimín Mháire Thaidhg’ (1921), both of which drew on his Dingle youth and were later published in one volume as ‘Seoda an tSeabhaic’(1974).
An Seabhac was a prominent and influential figure of early 20th century Irish culture, a key populariser of the Irish Revival. He was an author, storyteller, folklorist, activist and politician.
The nickname is thought to be a consequence of his years as a travelling teacher, when he adopted it as a pseudonym for the writing of his most famous book Jimín Mháire Thaidhg. This book, known in its English translation as Jimeen is a fictionalised account of life growing up in the country, which follows the tribulations and misadventures of a young boy who can’t stay out of trouble.
An Seabhac worked as a teacher from 1910 until 1922 in Kildare and in the Fermoy region of Kerry. He also worked as an editor of The Light, a bilingual magazine which lasted six years, from 1907 to 1913. He was a member of the Gaelic League from early in his life and a frequent member of the League of Employment, which was an outgrowth of the Gaelic League. In 1911, a resolution, proposed by him and a colleague, was adopted that helped set the agenda for the ongoing revival of the Irish language: the proposal was to teach Irish, to children of secondary school age, as a living language, rather than an antique one. This strategy persists to the present day.
He became an active organiser for the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and was imprisoned three times for his activities, he spent time in Durham prison in England and on Bere Island, Co Cork.
In 1922 he moved to Dublin under the auspices of the Department of Education. It is around this time that he is thought to have taken up residence in 119 Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, where he remained for the rest of his life. He continued to stay active in a large number of writing and political projects. He was secretary to the Irish Manuscripts Commission from October 1928 to October 1932.
During the Civil War it is said he did his best to reconcile the opposing sides of the conflict. His political sympathies were primarily republican and he spent a great deal of energy in the 1920s establishing Irish-speaking schools in Dublin. He was a member of Seanad Éireann from 1946–48, 1951–54 and 1957–64, being personally nominated by his friend Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, on each occasion.
An Seabhac died in 1964. His personal papers are on loan to Tralee Library and his archive has been digitised and stored by the University of Limerick.
Photo: Volunteer and senator Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha or ‘An Seabhac’ (second left) with prisoners in Durham prison, England, photo credit: Kerry 1916 Book