Ó Nualláin, Ciarán (1910–83), journalist and Irish-language writer, was born 2 February 1910, in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, one of twelve children of customs and excise officer Micheál Victor Ó Nualláin and his wife, Aigneas Ní Ghoirmligh, both from Omagh, Co. Tyrone. He was a brother of the author, Brian O'Nolan (qv), and his uncle, Gearóid Ó Nualláin (qv), was professor of Irish in Maynooth between 1909 and 1940. The family spent a number of years moving around, living in Glasgow, Inchicore in Dublin, and Tullamore, Co. Offaly, before finally settling in Dublin in 1923. The children were brought up through the medium of Irish. Like his elder siblings, Ó Nualláin was educated at home by his father and by a number of home tutors. At one stage his father attempted to tutor them by post from whichever town he was stationed, each child receiving a letter containing handwritten exercises. In 1923 at the age of 13, he began attending the CBS, Synge St., Dublin, where he was in the same class as his brothers Brian and Gearóid. Unused to formal education, his first experience appears to have had a traumatic effect on him and both he and his brothers were the victims of bullying. Four years later he entered Blackrock College, Dublin, and subsequently matriculated to UCD in 1928. He graduated BA in 1932 and was awarded a higher diploma in education in 1935.
After leaving college, he spent a short time teaching and then worked as a freelance journalist. He was to remain in journalism for the rest of his life and played an important role in the development of journalism in the Irish language. He was employed by the Irish Independent at the end of the 1930s but lost his job during the second world war through staff cutbacks due to newsprint shortages. He worked as a freelance journalist and afterwards was employed by Craobh na hAiséirí, Conradh na Gaeilge, where he was editor of the annual Aiséirí. He resigned after a disagreement with the founder of Craobh na hAiséirí, Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin (qv). A new organisation, Glúin na Buaidhe, was founded in 1942 after a split within Craobh na hAiséirí. Its new head, Proinsias Mac an Bheatha (1910–90), invited Ó Nualláin to become secretary. Prior to this, Ó Nualláin had contemplated founding a new Irish language newspaper. He believed in the importance of such newspapers to promote the language and show it still had relevance in the twentieth century. He also understood the importance of providing the Irish-speaking public with its own press and a newspaper that would serve the whole country. A new monthly newspaper, first titled Indiu and later Inniu, was duly launched on 17 March 1943 with Ó Nualláin as editor. He contributed material to it and subsequently functioned as literary editor after his retirement. In 1945, he was elected a member of Comhairle Chomhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge.
Ó Nualláin possessed a high level of competence in the Irish language and always insisted on a high standard as editor of Inniu. He was critical of many of the prose works written in Irish and of those who devoted all their efforts to writing about Irish-language issues instead of engaging in creative writing. According to Seán Ó hUrmoltaigh (Agus, Apr. 1992, 17), Ó Nualláin's motto was ‘scríobh as Gaeilge agus ná scríobh faoin Ghaeilge’; (‘write in Irish, not about Irish’). He influenced a number of writers including Tarlach Ó hUid (qv), who stated that he learned from Ó Nualláin the necessity for anyone intending to write in Irish to read works in the Irish language as well as the need for accuracy in speaking the language and in the grammar (Inniu). Mac an Bheatha notes in the preface to his work Téann buille le cnámh that it was Ó Nualláin who first motivated him to write.
Ó Nualláin's publications include Oidhche i nGleann na nGealt (1943) and Eachtraí Pharthaláin Mhic Mhorna (1944). Material from his columns in Inniu was published under the title Amaidí in 1951 and again 1983. Seán Ó Tuama (1926–2006) chose his poem, ‘Lord Balderdash is sixty today’, for inclusion in Nuabhéarsaíocht (1950). His work Óige an deartháir (1973), a biography of his brother Brian, provides an account of their childhood. Unlike Brian he never achieved international acclaim for his work which was written solely in the Irish language. He was also unwilling to translate any of his work into English because he believed such translations were detrimental to producing modern works in Irish, diminishing the motivation to write in Irish in the first place. John Cronin has commented that similar to his brother Brian, there is an almost complete absence of women from Ó Nualláin's fictional work (New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua). Oíche i nGleann na nGealt contains no women characters and only one of the four short stories in Eachtraí Pharthaláin Mhic Mhorna, ‘Gnaithe Iaschaireacha’, has a brief appearance by a woman.
Ó Nualláin was of a taciturn nature and according to Tarlach Ó hUid, who succeeded him as editor of Inniu, although both men shared an office together for thirty-five years, sitting back to back, they rarely spoke to one another unless to discuss work-related issues. During the course of that time they never once greeted each other in the morning, said goodbye in the evening or wished the other well when going on holidays. On the street, they avoided one another.
Ó Nualláin had a love of classical music and was a competent pianist as well as possessing a wide range of interests that included the Latin classics, chess, Spanish and the music of Beethoven. He remained single throughout his life.
The NUI intended to award Ó Nualláin an honorary doctorate on 24 March 1983 in recognition of his work and to mark the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of Inniu. He died on 23 February 1983, one month before the degree was to be awarded. He was buried in Deansgrange cemetery, Co. Dublin.