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Brother introduced students to radio

A NUMBER of researchers have been credited with inventing the radio. Names such as Marconi, Stubblefield and Fesseden have been mentioned but as far as a few hundred people in far scattered parts of the world are concerned, the name they will always associate with the basic radio is that of a Clare-born Irish Christian Brother.
 Br Seán MacConmara with one of his old radios. Photograph by John Kelly
He may not have invented the radio but Br Seán MacConmara was hugely influential in extending his interest in electronics and the radio through the medium of the Our Boys monthly magazine, published by the Irish Christian Brothers and circulated to all the countries where they had established teaching schools.
Each publication carried a radio club column by Br MacConmara, encouraging young students to establish an interest in electronics. Over a period of time, the column included a step-by-step guide, accompanied by the appropriate designs and suggestions, on what the students had to acquire to build their own radio. Many of them did and as a result, got employment in the electronics industry later in life.
It was while he was teaching with the order in Clonmel that the Kilmurry McMahon-born Christian Brother extended his interest in the radio. It started as a hobby and with the help of local shop owner, Martin Maher, who supplied him with parts, he built his first radio. At the time, it cost just a few shillings. He said the necessary earphones were the most expensive item.
He once picked up a station in France playing Irish céilí music and the students in Clonmel were fascinated. Then came the suggestion in June 1967 from a Buttevant reader of the radio column that a club be formed. Br MacConmara followed up the idea and by February 1968, Our Boys Radio Club had a total of 122 members from 25 countries. By January 26, 1969, the numbers had grown to 236 from places such as Belgium, Zambia, India, Jerusalem, England and the West Indies.
In each of the towns in which he taught, Br MacConmara continued the work of the radio club, involving local students, recalling that Drogheda had one of the best clubs.
Retired since 1990 and a member of the Christian Brothers community in Ennis, the life of Br MacConmara is one of many activities and major achievements, as recalled by another West Clare native, Professor Michael O’Connell of the National University of Ireland, Galway, when the university conferred Br MacConmara with a Master of Arts last October.
Br MacConmara has served as chairperson of the National Garden Association of Ireland and as council member of Trees for Ireland. He was also the founder of the St Columba’s Gardening Club in Dublin. Despite his busy life, he always found time to maintain close links with County Clare. While teaching in Dublin, he served as PRO for Muintir an Chláir and since returning to Ennis, he has published guides to the Burren’s world renowned flora, including Clare’s Wonderland and also an Irish version, Luibheanna an Chláir.
He has also studied the life and times of GAA founder Michael Cusack and published works including Micheal Ciosóg, Cusack’s Country and The Man from Carron. He was a guest speaker on Cusack at the 2006 Merriman Summer School and through Cusack, he has forged a connection with NUIG, insofar as the Cusack papers are archived in the James Hardiman Library, having made their way there through the offices of a former librarian and fellow Clare person, Patricia O’Connell.
With his strong Clare roots and his contributions to the cultural life of the county over many decades, the honour of Clare Person of the Year was bestowed on him in 2002.

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