Pól Ó Foighil

Pól Ó Foighil (1 June 1928 – 21 March 2005)[1] was an Irish politician and activist for Irish-speaking, coastal and island communities. A teacher turned co-operative manager, he was an active member of the Fine Gael party, and as a long-serving councillor he was the party's only elected representative in the Connemara Gaeltacht for two decades. He also served as a senator from 1989 to 1993.

Early life and family

Ó Foighil was born in Thurles, County Tipperary, and was educated by the Christian Brothers in Thurles and at University College Galway (UCG). His first job was as a teacher in the Cois Fharraige area of south Connemara, and he settled in Inverin. He married Chrissie Nic Eoin, and they had seven children.[2]

One of their four sons, Éanna, a medical student at UCG, committed suicide in 1982. Ó Foighil later spoke on RTÉ television about the impact of suicide on families.[2]


Ó Foighil's first community development effort was the establishment of group schemes for water supply, leading to the nickname "fear an uisce". He went on establishing Irish-language summer colleges in Connemara, and to develop co-operatives in Connemara, the Aran Islands, and Inishbiggle.[3]

As manager of the co-op on Inis Meáin, he supervised the construction of a desalination plant on the island,[2] and of a controversial wind farm. The environmentalist and author Tim Robinson opposed the wind turbines, and was accused by Ó Foighil of "giving vent to confrontational heritage attitudes" and of being "hell bent" on the depopulation of Inismaan".[4] He also campaigned for a cable-car to link the island of Inishbiggle in County Mayo with the neighbouring Achill Island.[5][6] Inishbiggle had no ferry service, and the short crossing to the island was frequently impassable due to poor weather, with result that families had to leave the island so that their children could attend school.[7] The government agreed to fund a cable car, but in December 2005 the plan was cancelled in favour of improved piers.[8]

Political career

His first political contest was as an independent candidate at the by-election in 1975 in the Galway West constituency, when he won only 7.5% of the votes.[9] In 1979, he joined Fine Gael, and stood as Fine Gael candidate at the 1979 local elections, winning seats both on Galway County Council and on Údarás na Gaeltachta. He stood again for Dáil Éireann at the 1981, November 1982 and 1992 general elections, but never won a seat.

However, in 1989 he was elected to the 19th Seanad Éireann on the Labour Panel, serving until 1993. He caused controversy in the Seanad by insisting on wearing the traditional Connemara 'báinín' jacket, and by changing his name to Pól 'Báinín' Ó Foighil.[10] He also fought unsuccessfully to have legislation and official documents made available to him in the Irish language, which under the Constitution of Ireland is the first official language.[11]

As a councillor, Ó Foighil successfully tabled a proposal to the draft Galway County Development Plan 2003–2009 that planning permission would be given only to applicants fluent in Irish. The provision was denounced as "fascist" and "a bit Bosnian" by residents of Galway city,[12] and was diluted before the development plan was adopted. The final plan required a "language impact statement" only for developments of more than one dwelling, stating that "Permission will only be granted where the Authority is satisfied that the effect of the development will be beneficial to the usage of the language in the area, if permitted."[13] The requirement that some units in a development be reserved for Irish speakers led to falling property prices, and to the son of a returned emigrant being unable to buy an apartment because he didn't speak Irish.[14] The language rule was described as an "act of political piety" by Sunday Times columnist Liam Fay.[15]

Ó Foighil unsuccessfully sought a nomination to run as a Fine Gael candidate in the 2002 general election. He had been told by party official Finbarr Fitzpatrick that he was too old, but put his name forward at the selection convention anyway. According to Pádraic McCormack TD, Ó Foighil challenged Fitzpatrick to 20 press ups, and told the convention that his hair was his own, his teeth were his own and that other parts of his anatomy were working very well, too.[2]

He died on 21 March 2005, aged 76. He had resigned from Galway County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta in 2004, but had been intending to run as an independent candidate in the 2005 elections to the Údarás.[16]


Ó Foighil is the subject of the 2011 TG4/Broadcasting Authority of Ireland funded documentary film, An Tarbh, by Mac Dara Ó Curraidhín.


  1. "Mr. Pól Ó Foighil". Oirechatas Members Database. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Strong activist for Irish language and west coast communities". The Irish Times. 26 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  3. "Ó Cuív tribute to late Pól Ó Foighil". RTÉ News. 21 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  4. Lorna Siggins (16 August 1999). "Energy agency supports proposed Aran windfarm". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  5. "Decision on Inishbiggle cable car by January?". The Western People. 22 October 1997. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  6. "Objection to CPO endangers Innisbiggle cable car project". The Irish Times. 6 February 2001. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  7. "Islanders are left all at sea". The Irish Times. 10 March 2001. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  8. Lorna Siggins (10 December 2005). "Inishbiggle residents lose their 30-year fight for cable-car link". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  9. "Pól Ó Foighil's electoral history". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  10. "Ó Cuív tribute to late Pól Ó Foighil". RTÉ News. 21 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  11. "Government knows stakes are high on referendums". The Irish Times. 7 April 2001. Retrieved 2008-02-19. Many remember the campaign of the former senator, Pól Ó Foighil, to have his constitutional rights as an Irish speaker vindicated in practice as well as in theory. Pól's point was that since Irish was the first official language, he was entitled to have legislation and official documents available to him in that language
  12. Lorna Siggins (21 December 2002). "Where only fluent Irish speakers need apply". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  13. "Galway County Development Plan" (PDF). Galway County Council. p. 81. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-11-22. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  14. Dara Flynn (20 February 2005). "Ireland: The Market: Language barriers". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  15. Liam Fay (18 June 2006). "Comment". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  16. Lorna Siggins (22 March 2005). "Tributes paid to former Fine Gael senator". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2008-02-19.

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