Ó Céileachair, Donncha (1918–60), writer, was born 27 November 1918 in Coolea, in the west Cork Gaeltacht, fifth child among four sons and two daughters of Dómhnall Bán, farmer, of Coolea, and his wife, Siobhán Ní Mhulláin (Johanna Mullins), of Scrahanagown. Dómhnall Bán was a renowned seanchaí (traditional storyteller). A short collection of his memoirs, Sgéal mo Bheatha, was published in 1940 and a collection of stories, recorded from him in 1932, was published in Béaloideas, the journal of the Irish Folklore Commission (xxviii (1960)). Siobhán was the sister of Dónall Ó Mulláin (qv), a local poet and composer of ‘An Poc ar Buile’. Donncha attended primary school in Coolea, where he was taught by the poet Pádraig Mac Suibhne (An Suibhneach Meann). He attended the preparatory college in Mallow for four years, then spent two years in De La Salle Training College in Waterford, where he qualified as a teacher in 1938. He held temporary teaching posts in Counties Cork, Mayo and Leitrim till 1941, when he was appointed to a permanent post in Dublin.
In 1945 Donncha attended a series of lectures on literature which the local Irish teacher, Dómhnall Ó Ceocháin, had organised in his native Coolea. These lectures, which were intended for potential writers from the Gaeltacht, were given by Daniel Corkery (qv) (1878–1964), professor of English at University College Cork (UCC). Encouraged by both Corkery and Ó Ceocháin, Donncha began to write and submitted short stories to the Oireachtas literary competition and to Radio Éireann. In 1950 he was awarded a Master of Arts (MA) degree in modern Irish by University College Dublin (UCD). His thesis, ‘Nótaí do Sgéal mo Bheatha’, was a linguistic study of his father's book. In the same year he was granted temporary leave of absence from teaching in order to take up a post as assistant editor to Tomás de Bhaldraithe (qv), who was engaged in the preparation of the English–Irish dictionary (published in 1959). In 1957 he took up an appointment in the Place-names Commission. He remained there for a year and a half, till 1958, when he left to resume teaching.
His first book, Dialann Oilithrigh, a humorous travel diary based on a pilgrimage to Rome, was published in 1953, followed two years later by Bullaí Mhártain, a collection of short stories of which fourteen were by Donncha and nine by his sister Síle, who had also attended Corkery's lectures in Coolea. Most of Donncha's stories had appeared previously in the magazines Comhar and Feasta and several had won prizes in the Oireachtas competition. ‘An Diúicín agus an Lady’ was awarded first prize by Radio Éireann in a short-story competition in 1955 but it appeared too late for inclusion in the collection. In 1958 An Duinníneach, a biography of the Irish lexicographer Pádraig Ua Duinnín, was published. Jointly written by Donncha Ó Céileachair and Proinsias Ó Conluain, it was awarded the prestigious Duais an Chraoibhín in 1960. In January 1960 Donncha had begun work on a biography of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The result of his work, Iognáid Loyola, was published posthumously, in 1962. Donncha Ó Céileachair died unexpectedly on 21 July 1960, as a result of contracting poliomyelitis. He married (1952) Esther Ní Éalaithe, a teacher from Kilgarvan. Esther's father, Tadhg, was a farmer. They had three sons and one daughter.
Though the corpus of Ó Céileachair's work is small, owing to his untimely death, its significance is considerable. An Duinníneach is one of the finest examples of narrative prose in modern Irish but, as it is a collaborative work, it cannot be fully ascribed to Ó Céileachair. Although an authority on the west Muskerry dialect, Donncha Ó Céileachair made a deliberate decision not to restrict himself to that dialect in his writing, and one of the more remarkable features of his work is the facility with which he embraced the central, standardised language without seeming to interfere with the integrity of his Munster heritage. His short stories, which are modern and literary, though drawing heavily on the tradition of the seanchaí, represent his most important achievement. Ó Céileachair consciously exploited the structure and many of the narrative techniques of the traditional hero-tale, with which he was familiar from his background in Coolea; his stories document Ireland's radical transformation from a traditional, Irish-speaking, rural society to a modern, English-speaking, urban society, and they depict the process of that transformation as a symbolic conflict between hero and villain. This highly successful synthesis of the two distinct narrative genres, the oral and the literary genre, is a unique achievement in modern Irish.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).