Tony Birtill – a tribute

Tony Birtill was a long-serving Board member of the Liverpool Irish Festival (13 years). Championing Irish language and Irish connectivity across the city, Tony was a well respected and well liked man, famed for his hikes and mountain walks. Below, his friend and colleague, Tom Ryan, remembers him.


It was with deep sadness and great regret that we learned of the death of Tony Birtill aged 67, R.I.P. He slipped away peacefully at Woodlands Hospice, Longmoor Lane, Liverpool on 21 Oct 2021.

A great champion of the Irish language in Liverpool has departed us.

Tony was born in Walton, in Everton, Liverpool and is survived by his wife Grace and son Liam. He received his early education at Blessed Sacrament RC Primary School (Walton) and then Cardinal Godfrey Christian Brothers High School in Everton.  Tony developed a keen interest in the Irish language from an early age, through listening to his mother (who came from Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in Ireland), speaking it and listening to her conversing with his Aunt Greta -in Irish- when she came to visit.  A graduate of the University of East Anglia (Economic History and Economics), he obtained his teaching diploma at the University of London Institute of Education.  Subsequently he taught for many years in further and higher education.

On his return to Liverpool, Tony undertook Irish lessons under the tutorship of Dr. Brian Stowell, the well known Manx and Irish language revivalist. He gained O-Level and A-Level qualifications in the Irish language before undertaking an Irish language teacher training course. After Dr. Stowell returned to his native Isle of Man, Tony taught Irish lessons at night through Liverpool University during the 1990’s and latterly at the Liverpool Irish Centre, right up until the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2019.

Tony was very keen on the outdoors and was a qualified mountain walking leader. He spent many years acting as a walking guide amongst the hills and mountains surrounding Oideacas Gael in Glencolmcille, Co Donegal.  Leading up to lockdown, despite the fact that his health had commenced to fail, Tony continued his active outdoor life as a walking guide and rock climbing enthusiast. So devoted was he to delivering his Irish language lessons that, not long before lockdown, when he injured his leg during a rock climbing accident and was unable to drive, he persisted in delivering Irish language lessons, being picked up from home and dropped off again by his students. Images of him hobbling into the Heritage Room at the Liverpool Irish Centre at this time evoke fond memories amongst his students.

Tony joined Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) in November 1990 and quickly re-established the Liverpool Branch, which had lapsed at this time. This branch survives in good health to this day and its membership is increasing steadily; a testimony to his dedication over the intervening years.

A man of many parts, Tony was also a well known author, journalist and historian, and a frequent contributor  of articles to The Irish Post and Liverpool Echo newspapers, in addition to Irish language publications including Foinse, , Beo.ie, and Tuairisc.ie.  He gave numerous interviews about the Irish language in Liverpool to Radio Merseyside, RTE News, Radio na Gaeltachta and Radio Ulster and was the “go to person” in relation to the history of the Irish and Irish language in Liverpool. His book A Hidden History  – The Irish Language in Liverpool, gives a compelling account of the Irish language -and Irish immigrants who settled in Liverpool over the past 200 years- and has received wide acclaim from academics as well as the general readership.

A genial, friendly and knowledgeable person, Tony will long be remembered for his willingness to share his love and knowledge of the Irish language and his encyclopaedic memory of the history of Irish immigrants who settled in Liverpool, over the years, as evidenced by his book.

Tony will be sadly missed by all who knew him and particularly by the membership of the Conradh na Gaeilge branch in Liverpool and the wider membership of the organisation, together with all the students that have passed through his capable hands. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and relatives at this sad and stressful time.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam/May God have mercy on his soul.