Language Enthusiast and Friend to All: Remembering Tom Moriarty

He was not known as Dr. Moriarty to his Irish language students but simply as Tom. Although he was a scholarly man with significant history and language credentials, he was very approachable and thoroughly enjoyed every Irish language student who attended his classes in Berchmans Hall.

When he started teaching Irish to members of the public, there were not as many materials available as there are today. He used a dictionary, a Christian Brothers’ grammar, and a conversation manual to be able to construct a curriculum that became accessible to members in our western Massachusetts community. Without his leadership as well as help from George Bresnahan and Kathleen Gilhooly, very few in our area would have been introduced to the unique richness of the Irish language that is so important to our shared heritage.

I remember my first class with Tom. Our class lacked confidence, but he would begin with a proverb or an Irish placename. Rather than plowing forward with grammar, he managed to draw you in without overwhelming you with detail. Once the hook was set, there was no escaping. In many cases, the student began his lifelong journey to learn the structure of the language, develop speaking skills, and encourage others to do the same thing. Tom’s salesmanship was unassuming and low key yet very effective.

Over the years, I was lucky to become his friend. We worked together with our wonderful Elms partners to establish our existing Fulbright link, the annual Irish language day, and the recruitment of Irish language poets Nuala Ní Dhomnaill, Louis de Paor, and Darina Ní Chinnéide. None of these events would have been possible without Tom’s leadership and collaboration skills. The development of these extraordinary programs and introduction of these personalities to our community made us unique. As a result of his dedication, there are now many dedicated and capable Irish language students in the area.

I spent time last month in West Kerry with Tim Allen, a longtime friend of Tom’s, discussing what we admired about our friend. Being proud of his Holyoke and Kerry roots was very clear, but it was his personal qualities – courtesy, loyalty, curiosity and appreciation – that won us over. I would be remiss not to mention his attention to detail on preparing a proper pot of tea as well as his appreciation of a nicely drawn pint. It was a nice night reminiscing about our friend.

The following day I met two Irish speaking people from Cork who were involved with the administration of a Gaelscoil (Irish Speaking School). To be comfortable talking with those people in our shared Irish language was a wonderful gift and a reminder of Tom’s special legacy.

I thought back to that first class in Berchmans Hall and the proverb that he used. Is minic a rinne bromach gioblach capall cumasach. (A ragged colt often made a powerful horse). All of us increased our mastery of the language under his guidance. For that and for all his other kindnesses, we thank him and will not forget him.

– by Gerald Costello