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Feardorcha Ó Colla (1942 - 2013):
Journalist and broadcaster

Feardorcha Ó Colla

Feardorcha Ó Colla was a broadcaster for Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the Irish state broadcaster; in particular he was one of the groundbreakers in broadcasting in the Irish language and in his case, to the Donegal Gaeltacht in particular.

Ó Colla (eng Frederick Coll) of Gweedore  (Gaoth Dobhair), County Donegal, was the youngest of the three children of Teague Ó Colla, a farmer, and his wife Bridget (née McBride); he was educated in the National Schools (primary-level schools) of Na Doirí Beaga and Cnoc an Stollaire; received his secondary education at Ardscoil Mhuire in Gweedore; then completed a degree in Commerce at University College, Galway. After graduation, he worked for some time as a teacher before entering that world in which he became best known.

Before Raidió na Gaeltachta came on air (to be precise, at 3 pm Easter Sunday, April 2nd, 1972), radio technology and access to it was rather primitive in Gaeltacht areas. In fact, not every household even had a radio set, and neighbours might gather in one parlour where there was a set. As a measure of distance both geographical as well as more figuratively, it was once even reported that an Easter Mass was broadcast from “a pub”, having misunderstood the station’s reference to the “teach an phobail” – that is, church -  in Carraroe. Raidió na Gaeltachta grew out of a campaign by the Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement, which had set up a pirate station Saor Raidió Chonamara in Ros Muc, and broadcast initially at Easter 1970.

In 1972, RTE established the station to serve the Irish-speaking communities scattered in the western parts of the island, in small non-contiguous areas, rather marginalised, including in County Donegal. Seven journalists were appointed, with Ó Colla as regional controller for Donegal. He had a particular talent for programme-making and it was said of him that in his role at Raidió na Gaeltachta, referring to the spread-out Irish-speaking communities: “As a broadcaster he gave the voice they never previously had to many small and marginalised communities. Through his work, the Gaeltacht communities of Donegal felt they had a radio station that belonged to them.” 

In its earliest days, the seven broadcast for only two hours per day, and, as one of them, Máirtín Ó Fátharta, would later recall: “It was revolutionary, as we were interviewing people who had nothing to sell, who weren’t involved in politics or community affairs and who were being asked to talk about their lives and themselves.” In later years, the wider world came to know some names which first were given broadcasting light of day by Raidió na Gaeltachta. Timlín Ó Cearnaigh, from Gweedore, opened the station’s Donegal studio with Feardorcha Ó Colla (he was also hired for Teilifís na Gaeilge when it began broadcasting in 1996) and recalled: “Raidio na Gaeltachta recorded the very early Clannad, along with Altan’s Mairéan Ní Mhaonaigh when she was only 10 years old. And we gave a stage to many traditional musicians starting off.”

Ó Colla was regarded as politically impartial, though he did have distinct political views, namely, he was a supporter of Fianna Fáil and after he left RTE he worked as a party activist, particularly at election times. He was also a keen supporter of the GAA and was one of the instigators of Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta, the annual Gaelic football competition contested by clubs from the Gaeltacht areas.

Tá tuilleadh eolais faoin mbeatha seo ar fáil sa mBunachar Náisiúnta Beathaisnéisí Gaeilge,, anseo.

Further information about this subject can be accessed in, the Irish-language biographies database, here  

Born: 16 June 1942
Died: 22 October 2013
Richard Froggatt
Bibliography:; Irish Times 9.11.2013