Breatnach, Micheál (1881–1908), writer and Irish-language activist, was born 16 September 1881 in Lochán Beag, Inveran, Co. Galway, son of Micíl Breatnach, farmer, and Margaret Breatnach (née Ní Fheinneadha). Although only learning to read and write Irish in his mid-teens, he was raised in a purely Irish-speaking household and did not learn English until he attended Scoil Shailearna in An Cnoc. He qualified as a national school teacher in 1901, but his passion for the Irish language revival brought him in that same year to London, where he was employed as assistant secretary to the Gaelic League (which he had joined while still at school) and worked at its Duke St. office.
A popular and charismatic figure, Breatnach combined relentless dedication to the language movement with an austere work ethic. As well as administrative and teaching activities, he wrote prize-winning essays for An Claidheamh Soluis as ‘Cois Fhairrge’ and became (1903) that paper's London correspondent, writing incisively as ‘An Matal’. On the progressive wing of the League, he studied a number of European languages and was a prominent francophile.
He returned to Ireland in 1905 after an attack of pleurisy, which brought a steady decline in his health, and took a teaching post at Coláiste Chonnacht, Toormakeady, Co. Mayo. He travelled to Belgium to study bilingual teaching methods and then taught Irish at St Jarlath's College, Tuam, Co. Galway. Failing health forced him to spend three winters in the Swiss Alps, from where he wrote a series of articles later published as Seilg i measg na nAlp (1917). Breatnach translated Charles Kickham's (qv) Knocknagow, published in four parts as Cnoc na nGabha (1904–29), and wrote a survey of Irish history from the arrival of the Celts to the foundation of the Gaelic League, published in three parts as Stair na hÉireann (1909–13).
Rapidly deteriorating health curtailed his writing, and he died aged 27 on 28 October 1908, drawing a lengthy, eulogising obituary from Patrick Pearse (qv) in An Claidheamh Soluis. He later came to be regarded as one of the great lost leaders of the revival movement. A collection of his writings, Sgribhinní Mhíchíl Breatnaigh, maille le n-a bheatnaigh (ed. Tomás MacDomhnaill), was published in 1913.