Teacher, writer, publisher…
The work of Colmán Ó Raghallaigh
In 1995, primary teacher and author Colmán Ó Raghallaigh founded Cló Mhaigh Eo with his wife Mairéad, also a primary school teacher, in order to publish books in the Irish language for children and young people. Now, just over a decade later, this small company, based in Claremorris in County Mayo, has a number of prestigious awards to its credit, including two Bisto Merit Awards, a Reading Association of Ireland Special Merit award and an Oireachtas award for ‘outstanding contribution to the development and promotion of reading in Irish for young people.’ No mean achievement in a decade that has seen the number of UK-published books take up ever more prominent shelf-space in Irish bookshops, and a gradual decrease in the number of Irish-published books for children.
His picture book Drochlá Ruairí was an instant success and went on to sell 14,000 copies. It also won Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin, awarded annually to promote good quality publishing in the Irish language. ‘It was an extremely unorthodox production, it was a children’s book, and it was clearly breaking new ground in terms of Irish language publishing, I think that’s why it was recognised,’ said Colmán, adding that ‘public acknowledgements like this give you the courage to keep going.’
The success of Ruairí alone would be enough to satisfy many authors, but it was with the publication, by his own company, of his three graphic novels that Ó Raghallaigh achieved wider recognition. Not only have hundreds of copies been sold in comic shops like Forbidden Planet and Sub-City in Dublin, but American comic company NBM is interested in publishing An Sclábhaí and its sequel An Teachtaire as one eighty-four page volume. An Sclábhaí, an imaginative account of the capture and escape of a young St Patrick, was the first full-colour graphic novel to be published in Ireland. Having originally done a much simpler version on a few A4 sheets for use when teaching Irish in the 1980s, teaming up with Tomm Moore of the Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny allowed the author to realise a long-cherished ambition to turn the story into a full-scale comic for people of all ages. ‘The idea behind these books is both commercial and ideological’, he says. ‘We wanted to produce a series of graphic novels based on the history and mythology of Ireland, making available in an exciting new format many stories that were not widely or popularly available in their original form, that is, in the Irish language.’
Over the years, Colman has remained true to his original vision of writing and publishing books in the Irish language that would be ‘different in both style and content matter’. He has also held true to the idea of making available to today’s readers, quality Irish language books to be enjoyed by children of all ages.