Sad­hbh’s first book a treat for chil­dren – as Gaeilge


Wicklow People (West Edition) - - INTERVIEW -

SAD­HBH DEVLIN says that be­ing the mother of twin girls is her favourite job among a list that also in­cludes be­ing an award win­ning blog­ger and a TV re­searcher.

The lat­est oc­cu­pa­tion added to her busy sched­ule is be­ing a chil­dren’s au­thor – which brings the con­ver­sa­tion back to the two daugh­ters. Sábha and Lile pro­vided valu­able in­spi­ra­tion and some market test­ing too for the book, which was launched re­cently at a re­cep­tion in Dubray Book­shop.

‘Bí ag Sproai Liom’ (loosely trans­lated as ‘come play with me’) was writ­ten by 39-year-old Sad­hbh and il­lus­trated by Tar­sita Krüse as a valu­able ad­di­tion to the choice of child-friendly books in Ir­ish.

The lan­guage has been a con­stant in the au­thor’s life since the Bray na­tive was dis­patched from home in the Dar­gle Road area to Scoil Chualann pri­mary.

This was fol­lowed by yet more im­mer­sion in the ver­nac­u­lar at Coláiste Íosagáin in Stil­lor­gan be­fore going on to study drama and Ir­ish at Trin­ity Col­lege. It sounds like a per­fectly nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion but, in fact, the Ir­ish was not her first pri­or­ity in se­lect­ing her univer­sity course.

In­stead she rather ex­pected to ma­jor in drama as she had been im­mersed in theatre for much of her teenage years. Going even fur­ther back, she still re­calls be­ing brought to the chil­dren’s act­ing school run by Gladys Shee­han at the age of seven.

Then most of her spare time dur­ing her teenage years was passed in or around Dry Rain Theatre, tak­ing part in am­bi­tious pro­duc­tions of Shakespeare clas­sics ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of ‘Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream’.

The Ir­ish in her was not to be de­nied, all the same, as she par­tic­i­pated in a Gael­geoir splin­ter group which broke away from Dry Rain to do their own thing for a while.

Ar­riv­ing in Trin­ity, Sad­hbh cer­tainly en­joyed the col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence – ‘be­ing in the city cen­tre and the free­dom of it’. She did her share of the­atri­cal work while a stu­dent, from de­sign­ing posters and as­sist­ing back­stage through to per­form­ing be­fore the foot­lights.

How­ever, she did not see her­self as one of the stars, one of the heavy hit­ters such as Tom Vaughan Lawlor (later Nidge in ‘Love/Hate’) who was a class­mate. She dis­cov­ered that the Ir­ish depart­ment was a warmer and more wel­com­ing place, so the drama be­came rel­e­gated to sec­ond place.

‘I am bilin­gual,’ she muses. ‘I have two lan­guages that I can com­mu­ni­cate in – and I love both of them.’

Par­ents Siob­hán and Sam Gal­lagher cer­tainly did not break into Ir­ish reg­u­larly at home in Dar­gle Road: ‘There was no Ir­ish spoken around the break­fast ta­ble grow­ing up.’

Yet the Ir­ish tongue has be­come a strong fea­ture in the lives of their off­spring after the Gal­laghers took the brave step of send­ing the chil­dren to a gaelscoil. When they started by se­lect­ing Scoil Chualann for their el­dest daugh­ter, the ben­e­fits of im­mer­sion in Ir­ish were still largely un­proven, at least in Bray.

As it turned out, not only has Sad­hbh since made much of her liv­ing though is­land’s original tongue, but one of her sis­ters is on the staff of a gaelscoil in Wick­low town while the other used to teach the lan­guage to tots.

Their brother, by the way, works in RTÉ where he is more than happy to con­duct con­ver­sa­tion in Ir­ish if re­quired.

Maybe the fact that Siob­hán Gal­lagher’s mother Máire McKay hailed from Mayo and had knowl­edge of Gaeilge from the cra­dle ex­erted some in­flu­ence. Some­times these things skip a gen­er­a­tion.

After her time at Trin­ity, Sad­hbh emerged with her de­gree to take up work with var­i­ous Ir­ish lan­guage or­gan­i­sa­tions which have sprung up with State back­ing. She spent much of her time on the pay­roll at Comh­lu­adar, which aims to help fam­i­lies rais­ing chil­dren through Ir­ish.

The job had her trav­el­ling the length and breadth of Ire­land giv­ing talks on the sub­ject in pub­lic li­braries or to com­mu­nity groups.

She also had a stint with Comhar na Muin­te­orí Gaeilge pro­vid­ing sup­port through Ir­ish to sec­ondary school teach­ers. And she en­joyed a

spell too as ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer with For­bairt Naion­raí, an or­gan­i­sa­tion back­ing the national net­work of Ir­ish lan­guage pre-schools.

Then three years ago, aus­ter­ity caught up with the State-spon­sored Ir­ish sec­tor and the back­ing from the tax­payer was trimmed.

‘We had done quite well but even­tu­ally the funds were pulled’: she took her re­dun­dancy pay-out after 13 years of con­sis­tent em­ploy­ment, re­solved to spend more time with the twins.

It was an abrupt fi­nan­cial change for the fam­ily. Hus­band Mark Devlin – a boy more or less next door ro­mance – is a spe­cialised art han­dler, look­ing after paint­ings for gal­leries and auc­tion houses.

Work was scarce for him too around the same time as the cou­ple had plenty of time on their hands to spruce up their home in Bray’s Hawthorn Road. Sad­hbh also found her­self de­vot­ing her­self more in­tensely to her own blog on the in­ter­net.

‘I have al­ways writ­ten or blogged,’ she re­veals re­call­ing that she penned her share of ans­gsty ado­les­cent po­etry in her youth.

She also pub­lished one is­sue of a cul­tural mag­a­zine called ‘Ruby Fix’ be­fore mov­ing on to the web after she be­came hooked on a se­ries of on­line di­aries.

‘wherewish­escome­’ has been on the go for eight years now, telling her fol­low­ers about life with two daugh­ters and pass­ing on tips for things to make at home, like felt uni­corns or loo roll rein­deer – all in the English lan­guage.

It was when she at­tended a cre­ative writ­ing course at the Bray In­sti­tute of Fur­ther Ed­u­ca­tion that tu­tor Dave Lor­dan sug­gested she should try to ex­plore Ir­ish.

She was not im­me­di­ately gripped by the idea but her ex­pe­ri­ence of read­ing as Gaeilge with two very young girls even­tu­ally per­suaded her to con­sider writ­ing her own book.

She made a pitch to Ir­ish lan­guage pub­lish­ers Futa Fata for a guide to home crafts but they were not in the market for a work of non-fic­tion.

How­ever, they recog­nised po­ten­tial tal­ent when they saw it and pro­posed she should in­stead de­vise a pic­ture story book.

Sad­hbh has learned since that, though sim­ple in ap­pear­ance, writ­ing pic­ture books for chil­dren re­quires the au­thor to learn a strict for­mula: ‘the pic­tures and the words have to work to­gether sym­bi­ot­i­cally. There has to be a hook on each page.’

WHILE the story may be set out ini­tially in thou­sands of words, by the time the process is fin­ished, the thou­sands have been re­fined down to fewer than 500.

What fi­nally emerged as ‘Bí ag Sproai Liom’ re­quired a plot. In­spi­ra­tion for the story line came from the twins when they asked their mother about the games she played as a child.

‘I would love to play with you when you were a child,’ de­clared one, set­ting off a pro­duc­tive train of thought.

The re­sult was the book’s hero­ine called Lúna, a young in­ven­tor with a busy mother and an in­ter­est in time travel.

And fi­nally, a pic­ture story re­quires pic­tures, so Futa Fata teamed their new au­thor up with Brazil-born Tar­sila Krüse.

To­gether the Bray woman and her Brazil­ian il­lus­tra­tor have come up with a book which will bear re­peated bed­time read­ing by par­ents and chil­dren to­gether.

Sales in Ire­land of the book will not make Sad­hbh a mil­lion­aire, though the pub­lish­ers will seek to have it trans­lated into other lan­guages around the world – so, fin­gers crossed.

How­ever, be­ing an au­thor at least means she is in de­mand as a speaker at lit­er­ary events and li­brary read­ings, not to men­tion work­shops with school­child­ren.

Launch­ing Bí Ag Sproai Liom was tinged with sen­ti­ment for Sad­hbh as Dubray Books was where her mother used to work. Siob­hán Gal­lagher brought her to the shop where the lit­tle girl was pre­sented with her first book by boss He­len Clear – a col­lec­tion of po­etry ‘Morn­ing is a Lit­tle Child’.

Sad­hbh Devlin has a spo­radic al­ter­na­tive ca­reer in tele­vi­sion, largely in the back­ground but oc­ca­sion­ally in front of the cam­era too with TG4. She was pre­sented ‘An Fear Breaga’ a pro­gramme which had her out and bout on lo­ca­tion with pri­mary school pupils ex­plor­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. She con­tin­ues to work as a free­lance re­searcher with the sta­tion, trav­el­ling ev­ery now and again to the sta­tion’s head­quar­ters in Con­nemara.

She lets slip that she has a reg­u­lar crafts col­umn which ap­pears in a par­ent­ing mag­a­zine.

‘I do a lot of dif­fer­ent things,’ she says as she adds up the strings to her bow. ‘I am some­one who likes a chal­lenge and I like be­ing cre­ative. I don’t want to go back to sit­ting at an of­fice desk.’

Never idle, the plot of a sec­ond book is al­ready whirling at the back of her brain.

Sad­hbh Devlin with her daugh­ters Sábha and Lile and her new book Bí Ag Spraoi Loim.

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