Ó Sándair, Cathal (1922–96), Irish-language writer, born 15 July 1922, in Weston-super-mare, Somerset, was one of five children (four sons and a daughter) of Simon Saunders, a professional boxer and tram-driver from Dorset, and his wife, Florence (née Eliot) from Dublin. The family moved to Dublin in his childhood and Cathal was educated firstly in Scoil Treasa, where his teacher Proinsias Ó Súilleabháin (1889–1956) stimulated his interest in the Irish language. His first trip to the Connemara gaeltacht took place at the age of ten when he was sent by Coiste na bPáistí to the Cois Fharraige area where he stayed in the home of community activist and president of the oireachtas, Seán Ó Conghaile. He received his early secondary education at the CBS, Synge St., and obtained 440 marks out of 400 in the intermediate certificate examination in Latin, the extra 40 marks being awarded as a result of a full 10 per cent bonus for answering in Irish. Subsequently he attended Coláiste Ciaráin in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
After leaving school he enlisted in the Air Corps in Baldonnell, Co. Dublin. He became active in the Craobh Moibhí branch of Conradh na Gaeilge and regularly took part in public meetings on the Irish language. On leaving the Air Corps he entered the civil service, employed initially in the provisions’ office during the second world war and subsequently in the customs and excise service. He was stationed for a time in Carlingford, Co. Louth, where he was active in preventing smuggling across the border between Co. Louth and Co. Armagh. He spent six months in Connemara in 1953 under a Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge scheme organised for writers and the following year left the civil service to concentrate full time on his writing. After an initial success, however, his income was insufficient and he attempted unsuccessfully to return to the customs service. At one stage, he considered emigrating to Canada. Finally, with the assistance of friends lobbying on his behalf, he was readmitted to the service in 1963. He was stationed in a number of places throughout the country, spending time in Cork, Waterford, and Shannon. He was an avid linguist and studied all the Celtic languages as well as French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Dutch. During his time as a customs officer he regularly took notes on hearing new words and phrases in various languages after boarding a boat or aeroplane.
He was a prolific writer of children's literature. In total, approximately 500,000 copies of his works were sold, a total unsurpassed by any other Irish-language writer. It is estimated that he wrote approximately 160 books, some of which remained unpublished. An Gúm lists 106 titles in its catalogue, Leabhair agus ceol: liosta ginearalta (1962) and Breathnach and Ní Mhurchú add a further nine titles to the list (Beathaisnéis). His writing career began at the age of 16 when he published his first short story under the pen name Cuan Aoibheann in the Irish-language section of Our Boys magazine. He published an anonymous pamphlet for the Glúin na Buaidhe wing of Conradh na Gaeilge, entitled Tusa agus an Ghaeilg: a word to the worker (1944). This work was written in English and sold 20,000 copies within six months of publication. His first children's book was published under the title Tríocha piosa airgid (1942). The following year, the first work in the detective series Na mairbh a d'fhill (1943), with its hero Réics Carlo, was published. This series, in particular, was a huge success with approximately 30,000 copies of Na mairbh being sold. Indeed, 100 or so of his books are about Réics Carlo. Seán Réamonn noted that ‘whenever Ernest Blythe visited the Government Publications sales office for copies of official reports or papers he invariably bought a Réics Carlo before leaving’ (Réamonn, 323).
He was also a regular contributor to Inniu where from 23 January 1953 he published the first series of ‘An tEiteallán dofheicthe’, the first comic strip in Irish. By that year, he claimed to have written 1,500,000 words and he published a detective novel in English, Bullets are trumps. He also wrote his magnum opus Leabhar na Laethanta, which remained unpublished. This consisted of sixty-five typed volumes (4,000 pages in total) dealing with various everyday events in Ireland and the Celtic countries.
Ó Sándair was a recipient of Gradam Bhord na Gaeilge the first year it was initiated. He married Máire McGeown from Co. Armagh and they had four children. Ó Sándair died 18 February 1996.