Seán Mac Réamoinn, 1921–2007
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A Tribute by Diarmuid Breathnach
Background & Youth
In any appraisal of Seán Mac Réamoinn a certin number of adjectives are unavoidable: pioneering, eager to learn, adventurous, inquisitive, progressive, informative, travelled... He was born in Birmingham, England on 27 November 1921. One might say he lived at one age with the new state. His parents were James Redmond from Booleavogue and Wilhelmina Bruen from Sligo. He was not long born when the insurance business brought James Redmond to Dublin and it was there, in Scoil Choinneach, that Seán received his initial education. Promotion subsequently found his father uprooted again, this time to Clonmel and it was with the Christian Brothers that Seán continued his schooling there; he also developed a particular fondness for the area, whic was to last his whole life. He was of secondary school age when his family moved again, this time to Galway City. That city was at least partly Irish-speaking in the early thirties and he was sent to an all‑Irish school, Coláiste Iognáid. He was struck by illness a number of times during his youth, much to the concern of his parents; two babies born before him died from the great flu of 1918–19.
An Taibhdhearc and University College, Galway were at their height and Seán took full advantage of this in the arenas of academia, writing, and acting. Professor Liam Ó Briain had a particular influence on him, and he also wrote several Christmas pantomimes for An Taibhdhearc. His academic subjects were Irish (and Old‑Irish) and French and his master’s degree was not insignificant when he was appointed ao a position in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.
Dublin was an interesting city during the war of 1939–45; writers were everywhere, the newly‑established Oireachtas, Comhar, Inniu, Glúin na Bua and Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge were all ploughing ahead; an Comhchaidreamh fuinniúil, an organisation founded in 1936 to promote links between Irish language bodies in the various universities. You might say that Seán was at the centre of a hive of activity, editing Comhar during a most historical period. However, he had an overriding wish to constantly leatn more about Ireland and with the annus mirabilis of Radio Éireann in 1947 he applied for a position as an officer with the Mobile Unit, travelling the country in order to gather material for radio programmes. Séamus Ennis and Seán were both appointed; Eamonn Andrews, the star, finishing third!
One of the first trips they undertook, to make recordings of Peig Sayers, is particularly memorable. These possibly provide a better insight into that woman’s abilities than any published book has yet done. Another memorable journey was made in the company of Ben Kiely during the making of the The Nine Counties of Ulster series. It was during that time that Seán became familiar with Scottish Gaelic and with Wales and the Welsh language. It was little wonder that the Eisteddfod conferred high honours on him subsequently.
It was thanks to Seán that broadcasting from Cork blossomed again in 1957–58, after his appointment as Regional Officer. Another significant point in his life was his attendance, in a professional capacity, at Vatican Two in the early sixties. He wrote Vatacáin a Dó agus an Réabhlóid Chultúrtha shortly after. Only for his daily journalistic and broadcasting duties, he may well have written more books. He certainly had the ability. From 1974 on he became involved in management as the Head of Radio Programmes and afterwards as director of Foreign Affairs for Raidió Teilifís Éireann.
To give a complete account of his life one would have to mention a number of things with which he was closely associated: ’Tuarascáil’ in the Irish Times in the sixties and seventies; the portraits of young people in Scéala Éireann (An Mhuintir s'againne); his ability as a reviewer; his editing of The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry; the time he spent as a member of the RTÉ Authority and of Bord na Gaeilge; the doctorate conferred on him by the National University of Ireland…
There was a three year period when I would travel with him to Cork once a month by train to attend the Advisory Committee of Radio Cork. I can confirm that he was a great speaker and a great listener. The only fault his fellow travellers could find with him was that he would never criticise others. One had to study the particular twisting of his moustache to guage his dislike for someone!
No account of Seán Mac Réamoinn is complete without mentioning his role as a co‑founder of Cumann Merriman é. He was made an honourary life‑member subsequently, and was a member of the Academic Committee until his death.
The Final Years
Neither his own health nor that of his wife Pat (nee Hall) was very good for a long time before his death on 17th January in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. His daughters Seona and Laoise and his son Brian supported them unceasingly. He had a great many friends, who will not mind if I mention two who gave him particular help during his illness: Seán óg Ó Baoill and Louis Marcus.
Amongst the friends who spoke about him after the funeral mass in Dundrum were Séamus Heaney, Garret Fitz Gerald, Ciarán Mac Mathúna, Nuala O’Faolain, John Horgan, Louis Marcus, Bob Collins, Richard Ryan, Dr. Harri Pritchard‑Jones and the journalist Mary Maher.
Her Excellency Mary Mc Aleese, President of Ireland, was present and near the altar was Dr. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, and the Reverend Terence Mc Caughey, a Presbyterian minister. The celebrant was Father Tom Stack, one of Mac Réamoinn’s close friends.
Seán Mac Réamoinn’s Last Interview
Seán Mac Réamoinn was not in good physical health for the last couple of years of his life but his mind remained as sharp as ever. He was unable to attend the Winter School at all during that time and although he still came to the Summer School it was only for one or two days. Sadly, the 2006 Summer School was to be his last. He arrived in Lisdoonvarna at the end of the week, and was present at the final lecture, John A. Murphy’s 'Irish-Ireland’: Self‑delusion, then and now, before going on to the Roadside Tavern where School participants, including several Merriman stalwarts and old friends had gathered to conclude the week.
Despite other calls on his attention, Seán kindly consented to be interviewed about the founding of Cumann Merriman. As far as we know, this is the last interview he ever gave and considering his involvment, not only in creating and developing the Cumann Merriman, but in previous attempts to promote Brian Merriman and Cúirt an Mheán Oíche, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting one. Please feel free to listen to this interview.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Cumann Merriman issued the following obituary following Dr. Mac Réamoinn’s death.
Seán Mac Réamoinn 1921–2007
Is cúis bhróin an‑mhór do Chumann Merriman bás an Dr. Sheáin Mhic Réamoinn, inniu 17 Eanáir 2007.
Bhí sé ar dhuine de bhunaitheoirí an Chumainn, ball saoil oinigh agus ball den Choiste Acadúil ab ea é go dtí lá a bháis.
Fear é a thug treoir agus údar machnaimh don Chumann agus is cinnte gur chuir sé go mór le cáil agus le feabhas an Chumainn de bharr a fhlaithiúla is a roinn sé a mhóreolas agus mar gheall ar an domhaintuiscint a bhí aige ar shaol na hÉireann agus ar shaíocht na Gaeilge go háirithe.
Chuir a ghuth cinn sainiúil go mór leis na léamha breátha a rinne sé ag na hócáidí filíochta ar dlúthchuid iad de chlabhsúir Scoileanna Merriman.
Suaimhneas síoraí go raibh aige.
Irish Times, 18th January
Sean Mac Réamoinn, who has died at the age of 85, was an extraordinary member of a generation of Irish public servants that was in itself marked by exceptional talent and breadth of vision: he was passionately devoted to Ireland and things Irish, intolerant of stereotypes and skin‑deep patriotism, polymathic, witty in several languages, and the embodiment of a conviviality always adorned with good manners and a sheer sense of fun.
He was a prime mover in the development of the Merriman Winter School, which was devoted to the Irish language in its many aspects. At the Merriman Summer School, from which this had sprung, he regularly acted as a sort of pied piper to devoted bands of foreign students... Not just in Irish and English, but in Welsh, French or Italian, as the occasion required, he would deliver himself of bon mots that sounded as if they had been prepared hours or even days before, but were actually fresh minted. How else could one explain his instant response to a French visitor who asked him what the word crúbeen meant. Think of it, the bemused Frenchman was instructed, as the patois of tiny feet.
Sunday Tribune, 21st January 2007
I never saw anyone turn away at the door for fear of being bored by Sean Mac Réamoinn. He did important things in his life, and one of them which no obituary will omit, was that with his friends, a marvellous band of bilingual and Ireland-loving men and women, he founded Cumann Merriman. The Merriman people relished the language and what’s more they relished life — they liked other people and drinking and singing and listening to singing and being attracted and set‑dancing and gossip and the acquisition of detailed, intimate knowledge of every corner of this island. Their summer school aimed to rescue Irish for pleasure and emotion.
Irish Times, 22nd January 2007
Just to be in his company was to feel honoured and to feel endorsed. From the beginning, his kindness, his quickness, his critical esteem were all important to my own self-esteem and important to the self‑esteem of this country.
From Séamus Heaney’s oration at the funeral.
Irish Times, 23rd January 2007
Ina cholún seachtainiúil sa pháipéar seo, tar éis an chéad Scoil Merriman i 1968, scríobh Seán Ó Ríordain, file: Ní ag cáineadh na scoile ná Mhic Réamoinn atáim nuair a deirim gurb ionann iad. Má thugann tú comharthaí sóirt na scoile seo fé ndeara is gearr go bhfeicfidh tú croiméal Mhic Réamoinn ag nochtadh chughat as an gceo... go lá sochraide Mhic Réamoinn sheas an t‑ionnanú a rinne an file idir é agus Scoil Merriman agus Mac Réamoinn.
Eilís Ní Anluain.
Sunday Independent, 28th January 2007
In fact the so‑called Gaelic Mafia was merely a meeting of minds among those who wanted to invigorate the Irish imagination by integrating the Irish language with the reform of Irish society along radical lines. But if the Gaelic Mafia had existed, Mac Réamoinn would have been the Godfather. Mac Réamoinn’s pluralism made nonsense of any such name calling. In time his wit won over many who had been hostile to Irish and made them feel at home in Mac Réamoinn’s republic. And I am convinced that any future Irish Republic must look like a meeting of Cumann Merriman, where Northern Protestants will rise before dawn to roust the lazy republicans out of bed.
The Guardian, 16th February 2007
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 that sexuality was a tremendously important thing... Mac Réamoinn was a stalwart of Cumann 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.
Comhar, February 2007
Labhair dáréag ar fad den altóir ag Aifreann na sochraide, agus d’fhéadfá éisteacht le dáréag eile, le chomh greannmhar agus chomh spéisiúil is a bhí a gcuid scéilíní faoi Sheán Mac Réamoinn. Ach ní greann ar fad a bhí ann; ghabh na hiriseoirí Mary Maher agus Nuala O’Faoláin buíochas lena seanchara Seán faoi threoir agus comhairle a thabhairt dóibh agus iad ina n‑iriseoirí óga, agus bhí mná a chaointe ann freisin: Pádraigín Ní Uallachain, a cheol Slan, a Ghrá agus Doireann Ní Bhriain Mo Ghile Mear.
Bhí cáil an raibiléiseachais ar Sheán lena bheo, chomh maith le cáil an eiciúiméineachais. Silim go mbeadh sé féin an‑sásta Ardeaspag Caitliceach Bhaile Átha Cliath, Diarmuid Martin, a fheiceáil ar thaobh amháin den altóir, an Ministéir Preispitéireach Terence Mc Caughey ar an taobh eile, Uachtarán na hÉireann, Máire Mhic Giolla Íosa, ag na raillí, agus iad uilig ag éisteacht go haireach le Louis Marcus, Giúdach agus dlúthchara le Seán, ag aithris scéalta ón gcrannóg arbh é Seán féin fear a gcumtha nó a gcéad inste. I bhfocla Sheáin Uí Ríordáin, tá pearsa imithe as an saol.
Liam Mac an Iomaire.
Sean was also instumental in the launch of RTE mobile community service that traveled to towns and villages to broadcast locally made programmes to a local audience with a low powered transmitter.
In 1974, RTE launched a mobile radio station that visited many provincial towns and villages and inner city communities broadcasting for a week. The mobile radio station would arrive in an area where a community committee would have been working for a number of months previous laying down the groundwork for the broadcasts. RTE provided the equipment and the technical support while presenting and editorial control would be controlled by the community. A thirty watt transmitter with a radius of five miles allowed the station on the air with the main frequencies used being 96.2mhzFM and a one hundred and fifty watt transmitter on 202m medium wave.
May 9th - 17th Liberties Radio, Dublin City
May Raidio Lios Tuathail, Listowel Co. Kerry.
June 17th - 22nd Raidio Druimseanbhoth, Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim.
July 19th - 24th Raidio Bheal an Atha, Ballina, Co. Mayo
August 4th - 10th Raidio Ghuire, Gorey, Co. Wexford.
August 13th - 16th Radio Sligo.
August 20th - 23rd Radio Birr.
September 12th - 19th Raidio Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
October 27th - 31st Raidio Loch Gorman, Wexford Town.
November 24th - 28th Raidio Chill Chionnaigh, Kilkenny City.
February 23rd - 28th Raidio Thuma, Tuam, Co. Mayo.
March 1st - 6th Raidio Ath Bhui, Athboy.
March 11th - 20th Raidio Luimni, Limerick City.
May 11th - 19th Radio Liberties, Dublin City.
May 20th - 25th Trinity College Radio, Dublin City (202mMW only)
July 20th & 21st Raidio Ros Goill
July 23rd & 24th Raidio Aituil Ghaeltacht Iardheiscart, Donegal
July 27th & 28th Raidio Baile Na Finne, Fintown,Donegal
July 31st & August 1st Raidio Aituil An Chlochain
(The Above four stations were opt outs from Radio Na Gaeltachta.)
September 16th -
October 1st Raidio Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
May Radio Athlone, Athlone, Co. Westmeath.
May 23rd - 28th Radio Abbeyleix, Co. Laois.
August 1st - 6th Radio Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.
August 15th - 20th Radio Claremorris, Co. Galway
August 29th - Sept. 3rd Raidio Na Gaillaimh, Galway City.
September 26th-Oct. 7th Raidio Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
October 10th - 15th Raidio Roscomain, Roscommon Town.
October 19th - 24th Raidio Phobail Cheartharlach, Carlow Town.
December 12th -17th Raidio Phobail Loch Gorman, Wexford Town.
(For part of 1977, RTE's mobile studios were loaned to the BBC in Wales for the experimental Radio Bro)
(In 1977 most of the station became known as Raidio Phobail **** which translated into english as Community Radio ****)
February 24th - 26th Raidio Phobail na Rinne agus An tSeanna Phobail
March 31st - April 5th Raidio Phobail Droiceda, Drogheda, Co. Louth.
April 17th - 22nd Raidio Phobail Chaisil, Cashel, Co. Tipperary.
May 1st - 6th Community Radio Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan.
May 23rd - 28th Community Radio Portarlington, Co. Laois.
June 5th - 10th Community Radio Kilarney, Co. Kerry.
June 19th - 24th Community Radio Bundoran, Co. Donegal.
July 17th - 22nd Community Radio Belturbet, Co. Cavan.
July 24th - 29th Community Radio Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim.
August 7th - 12th Community Radio Loughrea, Co. Galway.
August 15th - 20th Community Radio Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford
September 11th - 16th Community Radio Fermoy, Co. Cork.
October 11th - 16th Raidio Phobail Muileann Cearr, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.
October 23rd - 28th Community Radio Castlerea, Co. Mayo
November 6th - 11th Community Radio Newbridge, Co. Kildare.
March 12th - 17th Raidio Phobail Luimni, Limerick City.
March 22nd - 27th Raidio Phobail Rath Eanna, Raheny, Dublin.
April 5th - 11th Raidio Phobail An Sionna, Shannon, Co. Clare
April 26th - May 2nd Raidio Phobail Dun Dealdan, Dundalk, Co. Louth.
May 7th - 12th Raidio Phobail An Gaillaimhe, Galway City.
May 16th - 21st Raidio Phobail Na hUaimhe, Navan, Co.Meath.
May 25th - 30th Raidio Phobail Tober A'Choire, Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo.
June 4th - 10th Raidio Phobail Eochaille, Youghal, Co. Cork.
June 18th - 24th Raidio Phobail Leitir Ceannan, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
July 16th - 20th Raidio Phobail Achadh An Luir, Virginia, Co. Cavan.
August 6th -10th Raidio Phobail In Se Guaire, Gorey, Co. Wexford.
September 12th - 21st Raidio Phobail Phort Lairge, Waterford.
October 15th - 20th Raidio Phobail Dhurlas Eile, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
November 16th - 21st Raidio Phobail Mainster Na Feile, Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick.
Nov. 26th - Dec. 1st Raidio Phobail Cluainin Ui Ruaric, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim.
March 8th - 11th Raidio Phobail Bhaile Munna, Ballymun, Dublin.
March 14th - 21st Raidio Phobail Luimni, Limerick City.
April 10th - 15th Raidio Phobail Baile Atha I, Athy, Co. Limerick.
April 30th - May 6th Raidio Phobail Carraig Na Siuire, Carrick -on- Suir, Co. Tipperary.
May 14th - 20th Raidio Phobail Atha An Ri.
May 24th - 29th Raidio Phobail An Gaillaimhe, Galway City.
June 5th - 11th Raidio Phobail An Longfort, Longford Town.
June 18th - 24th Raidio Phobail Maigh Ealla, Mallow, Co. Cork.
July 2nd - 8th Raidio Phobail Aonach Uruhumhan, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.
July 11th - 17th Raidio Phobail Muine Bheag, Bagnalstown, Co. Carlow.
July 23rd - 29th Raidio Phobail Cill Maintain, Wicklow Town.
August 4th - 9th Raidio Phobail Cill Ras, Kilrush, Co. Clare.
August 21st - 26th Raidio Phobail Caislean Ghriaire, Castlegregory.
September 3rd - 9th Raidio Phobail Rath Caola, Rathkeale, Co. Limerick.
September 12th - 20th Raidio Phobail Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
September 25th - 30th Raidio Phobail Cora Droma Ruisc, Carrick - on - Shannon, Co. Leitrim.
October 6th - 10th Raidio Phobail Caislean An Bharraigh, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
October 15th - 21st Raidio Phobail An Cabhain, Cavan Town.
November 5th - 10th Raidio Phobail Dun Na nGall, Donegal Town.
November 21st - 27th Raidio Phobail Muineachan, Monaghan Town.
March 13th - 21st Raidio Phobail Luimni, Limerick City.
April 6th - 11th Raidio Phobail Liberties, Liberties, Dublin.
April 21st - 25th Raidio Phobail Cill Chullinn, Kilcullen, Co. Wicklow.
May 4th - 9th Raidio Phobail An Clochain Liath, Dungloe, Co. Donegal.
August 3rd - 8th Raidio Phobail An Scriobarain, Skibereen, Co. Cork.
September 7th - 26th Raidio Phobail An Iarthair, The West of Ireland.
(Based in Castlebar Co. Mayo, Community Radio West also had studios in
Claremorris, Knock, Foxford and Ballina.)
October 7th - 14th Raidio Phobail Mainstir Na Corann, Middleton, Co. Cork.
October 19th - 24th Raidio Phobail Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
November 5th - 11th Raidio Phobail Oileann Ciarrai, Castleisland, Co. Kerry.
Nov. 25th - Dec. 1st Raidio Phobail Muinchille, Cootehill, Co. Cavan.
March 1st - 6th Raidio Phobail Colaiste Na hOilscoile i gCorcaigh, University College Cork.
March 22nd - 27th Raidio Phobail Na Sceiri, Skerries, Co. Dublin.
April 19th - 24th Raidio Phobail Leim An Bhradain, Leixslip, Co. Dublin.
May 17th - 22nd Raidio Phobail Baile Atha Triom, Trim, Co. Meath.
July 1st - 6th Raidio Phobail inis Diomain, Ennistymon, Co. Clare.
September 6th - 11th Raidio Phobail Na Gleannatte, Glenties, Co. Donegal.
September 23rd - 29th Raidio Phobail Na Choibh, Cobh, Co. Cork.
October 11th - 16th Raidio Phobail Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
March 5th - May 28th
(Saturdays Only) Raidio Phobail Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
June 6th - 11th Raidio Phobail Claonadh, Clane.
June 27th - July 2nd Raidio Phobail Chill Mocheallog, Kilmallock, Co. Cork.
July 11th - 16th Raidio Phobail Beal Atha Na Slua, Ballinasloe, Co. Mayo.
August 22nd - 27th Raidio Phobail Mhainstir Na Buille, Boyle, Co. Roscommon.
September 5th - 10th Raidio Phobail Dhungarbhan, Dungarvin, Co. Waterford.
September 19th - 24th Raidio Phobail Bhaile an Chollaig, Ballincollig, Co. Laois.
October 10th - 15th Raidio Phobail Thamlachta, Tallaght, Co. Dublin.
November 7th - 12th Raidio Phobail Ghlasnaoin, Glasnevin, Dublin.
February 18th - May 13th
(Saturdays Only) Raidio Phobail Phort Lairge, Waterford City.
May 22nd - 27th Raidio Phobail Eas Geitine, Askeaton, Co. Limerick.
June 11th - 16th Raidio Phobail Na Gaillaimhe, Galway City.
July 2nd - 7th Raidio Phobail Chill Dara, Kildare Town.
July 16th - 21st Raidio Phobail Ard An Ratha, Ardara, Co. Donegal.
August 20th - 25th Raidio Phobail Roscre, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.
September 18th - 22nd Raidio Phobail Dun an Ri, Kingscourt, Co. Cavan.
October 1st - 6th Raidio Phobail Carraigh an tSionaigh, Foxrock, Dublin.
October 15th - 20th Raidio Phobail Sord, Swords, Co. Dublin.
April 15th - May 4th Raidio Phobail Chontae Luimni, Co. Limerick.
June 10th - 15th Raidio Phobail Cionn tSaille, Kinsale, Co. Cork.
July 1st - 6th Raidio Phobail Inis Carthaidh, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford.
July 15th - 20th Raidio Phobail Mainstir Na Corann, Co. Cork.
July 29th - August 3rd Raidio Phobail port Omna, Portumna, Co. Galway.
August 20th - 25th Raidio Phobail Cora Chathlin, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare.
September 23rd - 28th Raidio Phobail Nas, Naas, Co. Kildare.
October 7th - 12th Raidio Phobail Cluain Dolcain, Clondalkin, Dublin.
November 4th - 9th Raidio Phobail Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.
April 14th - 19th Raidio Phobail Beanntrai, Bantry, Co. Cork.
April 28th - May 3rd Raidio Phobail An Chlochain, Cliften, Co. Galway.
June 26th - July 1st Raidio Phobail Cnoc Muirfin, Mount Merrion, Dublin.
July 14th - 19th Raidio Phobail Baile An Mhota, Ballymoate.
August 18th -23rd Raidio Phobail Na Gleannta, Glenties, Co. Donegal.
September 1st - 6th Raidio Phobail Baile Sheamais Dhuibh, Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan.
April 6th - 11th Raidio Phobail Cill Dalua, Killaloe, Co. Clare.
April 27th - May 2nd Raidio Phobail Baile Mhisteala, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork.
May 18th - 23rd Raidio Phobail Atha Luain, Athlone, Co. Westmeath.
June 1st - 6th Raidio Phobail Cill Airne, Kilarney, Co. Kerry
June 15th - 20th Raidio Phobail An Cabhan, Cavan.
June 16th & 17th Local 2 FM Cavan (96.6mhz FM)
June 29th - July 4th Raidio Phobail Luimni, Limerick City.
Local 2 FM Limerick (96.6mhz FM)
July 13th - 18th Raidio Phobail Baile Cathail, Charlestown, Co. Mayo.
Sept. 28th - Oct. 3rd Raidio Phobail Ros Comain, Roscommon Town.
October 12th - 17th Raidio Phobail Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.