Aralt Tadhg Mac Giolla Chainnigh was born “Harold Timothy Kenny”, in Ingersoll, Ontario 13 September 1959. His family was of Irish extraction with connections to Sligo, where the family surname had an earlier form of “Kilkenny”. The authentic Gaelic form of the family name, “Mac Giolla Chainnigh”, originates in the Dungiven area of Co. Derry. In Canada, the family settled near Orillia, north of Toronto, with other important Irish family connections in the Lucan area, north of London, Ontario.
Aralt grew up on a farm in the Ottawa Valley (Douglas, Ontario) steeped in the Irish traditions of the area. It was there that he began playing fiddle, a passion which he has retained throughout his life, playing most recently with the Kingston Céilí Band, and the Wild Canadian Geese in the Bog.
In his senior years at Opeongo High School, he won many academic distinctions, received the “outstanding senior athlete award”, and served as Head Boy of the student’s council. He completed his undergraduate education at Royal Roads Military College, and the Royal Military College of Canada. He is among very few graduates of Royal Roads to have won a “triple crown” (recognized as top student in his year in all categories of assessment: academic, athletic and military). He was awarded the Governor General’s Bronze medal in 1979 for top academic achievement in his year, as well as the Royal United Services Institute Award for Best First Year Cadet. In his final year, he held a senior appointment as Squadron Leader, and also acted as Pipe Major in the military band. During his time at university, he was a member of various varsity teams (volleyball, cross-country running, wrestling) and won college championships in cross-country running, track and field, and debating. He graduated in 1982 with first class honors in Engineering Physics, receiving the senior award for achievement in second language training . He received a Master of Science degree in Astrophysics in 1989 from the University of Calgary, and a PhD from the same institution in 1995. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree by correspondence from Athabasca University in 2000.
As a military officer, he served with the First and Second Battalions of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, as well as Regimental Headquarters. He held positions of platoon commander, company second-in-command, and Regimental Archivist. He was awarded the Regimental Medal of Achievement in 1984. In 2009 he served with Regional Command (South) Headquarters, as an operational analyst responsible for campaign evaluation in the Southern Region of Afghanistan.
His military career also involved biathlon competition, both as coach and athlete. He won numerous Canadian Army Championship medals between 1982 and 1986, and served as Head Coach of the Canadian Biathlon Team at the NATO Championships (CISM) in 1986.
He was posted as a lecturer to the Royal Military College of Canada in 1992, and was subsequently promoted to Assistant and then Associate Professor. His area of research is the circumstellar envelops of symbiotic stars. His primary observations are taken from international radio interferometers (VLA, MERLIN, AT, VLBI). He has also done observations at optical and x-ray wavelengths. His theoretical work has involved the fluid dynamics of colliding stellar winds, and synthetic mapping their morphology.
He began his interest in the Irish language in 1989, attending community courses. He began teaching Irish in 1994 and has continued to teach ever since. In 1995 he, and two friends, attended an Irish Immersion Weekend hosted by Daltaí na Gaeilge in Esopus, New York. The experience convinced them to organize their own immersion event through the Harp of Tara Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí, of which Aralt was chair, and that event has been run annual since that time. Connections were made with other Irish language organizations in Toronto (Cumann na Gaeltachta, Taca na hÉireann), and Montréal (Comhrá). In 2000, Aralt took over leadership of Cumann na Gaeltacht from the founder (Séamus Mac Con Charraige) with the intention of raising money to purchase a parcel of land to establish as a Gaeltacht. The concept was that the land would be developed as a location where people could come, any time of the year, to share the company of other Irish language speakers, or to learn Irish if they didn’t already speak it. Summer immersion weeks have been run since 2002, and in 2006 a 70 acre property, along the Salmon River in the Tamworth/Erinsville area was purchased by members. The project was officially opened in 2007 by Declan Kelly, the Irish Ambassador. A letter from the Minister of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in Ireland, Éamonn Ó Cuív, recognized the site as the “first Gaeltacht outside of Ireland”. The Gaeltacht project, “Gaeltacht Thuaisceart an Oileáin Úir”, has succeeded remarkably since that time, winning first place in the Global Gaeilge competition in 2008, and third place in 2009 and 2010. The project is featured in a TG4 documentary “Gaeltacht Cheanada”. In 2011 Cumann na Gaeltachta ran the first Irish language “Oireachtas” outside of Ireland (“Oireachtas Gaeilge Cheanada”), for which the organization received an official congratulatory letter from the President of Ireland, Máire Mhic Ghiolla Íosa.
Aralt is also active in other organizations promoting the Irish language. He has served as the provincial Irish language officer of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, for North America, since 2005. He has been on the executive of the North American Association for Celtic Language Teachers since 2005, serving as Corresponding Secretary, Vice-President, and President.