Ó Conluain, Proinsias (1919–2013), broadcaster, author and promoter of the Irish language and music, was born on 17 August 1919 in Sessiaghmagaroll, Co. Tyrone, the eldest of three children and only son of Bernard Conlon and Mary Conlon (née Heron). His father was from a farming background, was well travelled and deeply engaged with Irish politics. In an essay on his family's life and history in Tyrone, Proinsias described how his father (newly-returned from New York) joined the IRB, and was one of those from the Benburb-Glebe-Clonfeacle area who cycled to Coalisland on Easter Sunday 1916 to join Denis McCullagh's (qv) men from Belfast to take part in the rising in the north (Dúiche, 56). His mother's family were also engaged in local politics, albeit in a more conservative manner. His maternal grandfather (known affectionately as M. J.) was a justice of the peace and his great uncle Peter Trainor Kelly served in Seanad Éireann (1938–48).
Proinsias was educated at St Patrick's College, Armagh, where he came into contact with Gaelic language and music enthusiasts such as Pádraig Mac Giolla Átha, Seán Ó Baoill and Jeremiah Hicks, the last of whom often contributed to programmes he made later in life. He sat his senior certificate examination in 1938 and applied to Dungannon Regional Education Board for a scholarship to attend QUB. Despite being the only successful candidate that year, he was denied the scholarship on the grounds that the board did not have sufficient funds. His outraged grandfather brought the case before the Ministry of Education. Ó Conluain was offered the scholarship, albeit two months late, but had already accepted a civil service position in Dublin, his father telling him 'if you're a papist in this part of Ireland, you take a job where you can get one' (Ir. Times, 8 June 2013).
He began his career in the Department of Education where he worked as an editor at An Gúm (1940–47), overseeing the production of textbooks, dictionaries and books in the Irish language. During that time he also wrote scripts for Radio Éireann using the pen-name Conn Ó Briain and, in 1947, he permanently joined the station, along with Seán Mac Réamoinn (qv), Séamus Ennis (qv), Norris Davidson and P. P. Maguire. Together they formed the first mobile recording unit, travelling the country recording traditional music, dialects and local stories on acetate discs.
During a career that spanned almost forty years, Ó Conluain made and presented scores of programmes focusing on Irish folklore, music and language. In doing so he preserved for posterity the disappearing voices of Irish tradition, among them the songs of Róise Mac Grianna (qv) on Aranmore Island, the last Irish speakers in the Sperrin mountains of Tyrone and the voice of the folk singer Robert Cinnamond (1884–1968) from Ballinderry, Co. Antrim. In addition to his work with the mobile recording unit, Ó Conluain also made important documentaries on fellow music-collectors such as Carl Hardebeck (qv), Henry Morris (qv), Sam Henry (qv) and Francis O'Neill, as well as singers such as Eddie Butcher (qv), Paddy Tunney (qv) and Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh. In 1971 he was co-founder, along with Hugh Shields, Breandán Breathach (qv) and Seóirse Bodley, of the Folk Music Society of Ireland (FMSI), and he attended their meetings regularly with his wife Sheila (née Murphy), as well as writing articles for their newsletter Ceol Tíre.
Ó Conluain contributed significantly to the preservation of Irish language and music as both an author and editor. From its founding in 1943, he wrote for Inniú, the weekly Irish-language newspaper edited by Ciarán Ó Nualláin (qv), and was a founding member of Club Leabhar na Sóisear, which made books in Irish more readily available for secondary school students. From 1941 he was a member of the Irish-language organisation Ghlúin na Buaidhe (a breakaway from Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin's (qv) Craobh na h-Aiséirighe after its expulsion from Conradh na Gaeilge because of Ó Cuinneagáin's political activities); during the 1940s he occasionally addressed its street meetings. In 1945 he and some others from Ghlúin na Buaidhe were elected to the council of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. He was co-founder and editor of the journal Dúiche Néill: Journal of the O'Neill Country Historical Society, to which he contributed several articles on Irish music ranging from 'Who wrote “An Chúileann”? Was it a Benburb man, Muiris Ó Dúgáin?' (1988) to 'A Tyrone woman and her songs: Mrs Eileen Keaney of Glenelly and Belfast' (1992) and 'The tunes we played going away' (2008). He wrote two Irish language biographies: An Duinníneach (1958), a much-admired biography of the lexicographer Patrick Dinneen (qv), which he co-wrote with Donncha Ó Céileachair (qv), and Seán T.: scéal a bheatha á insint ag Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh (1963), on the early years of Ireland's second president Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh (qv), which Ó Ceallaigh told to Ó Conluain in person. He was inspired by Sean Ó hEochaidh (qv) to record the memoirs of his seanchaí and goldminer father-in-law Micí Mac Gabhann (qv), whose story took him from a hiring fair in Donegal to the goldmines of the Klondike region in north-western Canada. Ó hEochaidh recorded the story for the radio archives and Ó Conluain helped him to shape it into the book Rotha mór an tsaoil (1958) which won the annual Irish Book Club award in 1958 and was translated by Valentin Iremonger (qv) as The hard road to Klondike in 1962. He also had a deep interest in cinema and filmmaking in Ireland, writing two books on the subject: Scéal na scannán (1953) and Ár scannáin féin (1954).
In 1983 Ó Conluain retired from RTÉ. In an interview in November that year, he recalled some of his favourite memories from being on the road with the mobile recording unit, among them was being introduced to poitín by Séamus Ennis, and the first recording of a keener who performed without the benefit of a corpse (RTÉ archives, 11 November 1983). Throughout his career Ó Conluain's impact on Irish music, language and broadcasting was immense. In 1979 he was awarded a Jacob's television and radio award for a documentary series he produced on the Irish countryside, and in 1996 he received the Gradam Sean-Nós Chois Life award. In 2005 he was conferred with an honorary doctorate in literature by the University of Ulster, followed in 2006 by the Gradam Aitheantas na Píobairí Uileann award.
Aged ninety-three, Ó Conluain died in Dublin on 30 May 2013, survived by his daughter Mairead, having been predeceased in 2002 by his wife. He requested that his remains be donated to medical science and, in the absence of a funeral, a celebration of his life was held at the Royal Society of Antiquaries, Dublin, on 17 July 2013 where friends and family spoke eloquently about his contribution to Irish culture and music. Having donated more than 500 sound recordings, books, journals, programmes and newspapers to the Irish Traditional Music Archive and hundreds more to the RTÉ archives, he left behind an enduring legacy that continues to contribute to Irish language and cultural preservation.