Tomás Bán Concannon was born on Inis Meáin 150 years ago on November 16, 1870, the son of Páidin Concannon and Annie Faherty. He was called ‘bán’ because of his blond hair and to differentiate him from other neighbours of the same name. He was educated on the island and, unusually for an islander, in the Monastery School in Galway. When he was 15 his brother brought him to America where he went to a number of colleges and attended Eastman College in New York where he graduated with an MA in accountancy. He spent some time working in a business selling rubber stamps, then in his brother’s vineyard in California, and he later set up a business in Mexico. It was there he came across a journal called Gaodhal published by Conradh na Gaeilge in the US. So he learned to read and write in Irish in Mexico.
He had gathered enough money to come home to Ireland for a holiday for several weeks. However, while back in Ireland, he became very interested in Conradh na Gaeilge activities. He met Pádraic Pearse for the first time on Inis Meáin, and together, they set up the first branches of the Conradh on the islands. This was necessary as the only realistic outlet there for young people was emigration and they all wanted to learn English. As a result of his work, many islanders learned to read and write in Irish for the first time. He began to tour around the country as a timire for the Conradh, no sacrifice was too great for him as far as the language was concerned. He funded himself initially, but eventually they paid him a salary.
He spent a year the US in 1905 with Douglas Hyde collecting money for the Gaelic League. They had just left San Francisco having collected £2,000 there when the earthquake occurred, so they returned and handed the money back to the relief fund. They came home with £20,000, a vast amount in those days.
In 1906 he married Helena Walsh who was, like him, a republican. She was also a distinguished scholar and author of several books, a TD and later, a senator. They eventually set up home in Kingshill, Salthill, where they lived out their lives. For much of that time, he worked as an insurance inspector. It was Pádraic Pearse who named their house Lios na Mara. Tomás took no active part in the War of Independence though he occasionally hid people who were on the run, and as a result endured some visits from the Black and Tans. He was a close friend of Eamon De Valera’s and Dev always stayed with him when he came to Galway.
He wrote a number of books and co-authored a number of titles with Helena. She died in 1952. To the end of his days, Tomás was promoting the Irish language, indeed his dedication to that cause was hugely significant. He had a small orchard at the back of the house and if local children went to his door (as I did ) and said, “May I have an apple please”, you would be very politely refused. If however you said, “Ba mhaith liom úll, má’s é do thoil é”, you would be have a little conversation in Irish, be told ‘Fan nóiméad’ and would often leave with several apples.
Tomás died in 1961 and is buried beside Helena in the New Cemetery.