Friday, 16 February 2007

Guardian obituary, 16 February

Sean Mac Réamoinn, who has died aged 85, was a broadcaster and writer with a deep interest in Gaelic culture and religious affairs. He once remarked that everything in the Catholic church was either forbidden or compulsory, and remembered with much amusement an American bishop's commendation of "the passionate chastity of the men of Ireland".

From 1962 to 1965, he reported on the second Vatican council, which raised both hopes and fears among Irish Catholics. For his part, he enthusiastically welcomed it for bringing the church, "kicking and screaming", into the 20th century. He was happy to bid farewell to some of the minor stupidities of Irish life: "We have got rid of the prudishness and petty puritanisms that made us think sexuality was a tremendously important thing."

A "card-carrying Catholic", he sided with "the loyal opposition", a concept disapproved of by the institutional church. He delighted in "the whole of God's creation", from good food, to fresh ideas, to good jokes. He supported the ordination of women and married men and believed that there should be a strong distinction between the clergy and the ministry. He strongly believed that the Roman collar should cease to be a symbol of class or power.

Mac Réamoinn was born in Birmingham, the third child of James and Wilhelmina Redmond. His father was from Boolavogue, county Wexford, and the family returned to Ireland two years later. He was educated by the Christian brothers in Clonmel, the Jesuits in Galway, took a double arts degree at University College, Galway, and did postgraduate work in Old and Middle English.

He entered the Irish diplomatic service in 1944, transferring to Radio Éireann, then a part of the civil service, when the station was substantially expanded in 1947. He was attached to the outside broadcast unit and worked with the distinguished uileann piper, Seamus Ennis, travelling the country to record the music and folklore of rural Ireland. On one occasion, a farmer took a break from haymaking to explain what made one poem better than another: "Better words, better placed."

Mac Réamoinn was proud of Radio Éireann's role in the revival of Irish traditional music through introducing regional styles to a national audience and providing a platform for young musicians. He later held a number of senior administrative posts in Radio Telifis Éireann, as it became in 1960, and was a member of the station's governing body, the RTÉ Authority.

Mac Réamoinn spoke Gaelic fluently. His wish was that it should be preserved as a living language and cultivated to a point where it came into flower again. But he warned that negative and sectional attitudes to the Irish tradition would have to be abandoned if Gaelic was to become again a dynamic force for cultural growth and a focus for national unity. He maintained a lifelong interest in things Welsh and, in August 1979, was robed as a bard at the national eisteddfod in Caernarfon. The citation described him as a regular interpreter of Wales in Ireland and a scholar in Celtic studies.

Mac Réamoinn was fully committed to public service broadcasting. A radio station that was entirely highbrow held no appeal for him; it should first educate, then inform and entertain, but he saw little merit in radio based purely on commercial criteria. He was opposed to section 31 of the Irish broadcasting act, under which representatives of Sinn Féin and loyalist paramilitary groups were denied access to the airwaves (the restrictions have since been rescinded). While he had no time for the IRA, he described the measure as anti-democratic and potentially destructive. "People in broadcasting should be trusted," he insisted.

Mac Réamoinn was a stalwart of Cumann Merriman, founded in 1967 in honour of the poet Brian Merriman, which in 1967 began organising lively summer (and later winter) schools to discuss political and cultural issues. He was a member of many other groups and organisations ranging from the anti-apartheid movement to the Irish theological association.

He nailed his political colours to "the mast of the battered Irish left" and thought there had to be a social stand against giving market forces free rein. He regretted that Fine Gael leader, Garret FitzGerald had not aligned himself with the left earlier in his political career.

Mac Réamoinn regularly wrote for newspapers and magazines. His Vaticáin II agusan Réabhlóid Cultúrtha (Vatican II and the Cultural Revolution, 1987) assessed the cultural and spiritual revolution in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Other publications include The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (ed) (1982), The Synod on the Laity: An Outsider's Diary (1987) and Laylines (1993).

He had catholic musical tastes and, when called on to sing, could draw on a repertoire that included the songbooks of Cole Porter and Jerome Kern, Irish ballads and vaudeville favourites.

He is survived by his wife Patricia (née Hall), daughters Seona and Laoise, and son Brian.

- PJ Gillan

Sean Séamas Criostóir Mac Réamoinn, broadcaster and writer, born November 21 1921; died January 17 2007

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