Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge/Imleabhar 1/Uimhir 1/The Editor's Address

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Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, Imleabhar I, Uimh. 1 by David Comyn
The Editor’s Address
[ 17 ]



The Gaelic Journal.

The heavy burden of establishing and conducting a periodical exclusively devoted to the interests of the Irish Language has rightly fallen to the Council of the Gaelic Union.

Their wisdom and patriotism have been proved by their work, and by no portion of their work more than by the lines which they have laid down for the conduct of this periodical. Their provisional circular, widely distributed, and which has met with all but universal approbation, indicates clearly the course of action.

It is well known that they have for some years conducted in several important weekly journals “Gaelic Departments,” which have prepared the way for their Gaelic Journal, and have, in fact, rendered the establishment of such a journal a matter of necessity.

Since they first commenced their work, now more than six years ago, the feeling in favour of the preservation of our ancient language in those districts, where it still keeps its ground has been steadily increasing. The progress towards the end in view may have been slow, but it has been sure; and now, at length, what there can be no hesitation in considering the most important step yet decided on, and likely to be the most useful and most productive of good results, is about to be taken.

The Council having unanimously decided on appointing me Editor of their journal, it is necessary that I should say a few words as to the hope I have of being able to do some service in that position.

I have too high a sense of the honour they have thus done me, and too keen an appreciation of the spirit which prompted the proposal, to attempt to decline it, or to hesitate about undertaking a work of labour and responsibility.

Were it not that I know very well on whom I can depend for willing help in this work, I should be the very reverse of confident. The early numbers will show that those who have all along provided the varied literary contributions in prose and poetry for the “Gaelic Departments” of which I had charge, are still working in such a way as will probably, in a very short time, render my office, as before, almost a sinecure. The difficulty I have hitherto experienced was, not the want of readable original matter, but the want of space in the scanty column or so allowed me in newspapers, and which very often caused great disappointment to able contributors who were only anxious to work for the production of a modern Gaelic literature, if permitted.

It will be strange, indeed, if this journal, founded as it is on an independent basis, going neither to the right nor to the left, but keeping its object steadily in view, should be allowed to languish and die. Established, not as a commercial, but as a purely patriotic undertaking, and by those who have already given such good earnest of their zeal and energy, I cannot believe that Irishmen will fail in their clear duty of sustaining the Gaelic Union, which in this effort needs the aid of all.

Many things are yet necessary to complete_our country’s regeneration and secure her happiness, but I am unwilling to believe that in the struggle she would suffer her language to be lost; and I think that if the case were fairly put before the people, they would not purchase a (perhaps) very temporary material advantage by the loss of the one grand link which binds them to the past—the one indelible, undying and unmistakable mark of Irishmen.

David Comyn.

The Late Archbishop MacHale.

On the 7th November, 1881, the great defender and supporter of the Irish language departed this life. It is now exactly a year since the elegy we print in this number was written by the youthful Gaelic poet, so well known under the nom-de-plume of “An Chraoibhin Aoibhinn.” We content ourselves on the anniversary of the sad event [ 18 ] which called forth this touching and beautiful tribute by simply placing the poem before our readers. It requires no words of ours to keep the great prelate’s memory green. This poem is, so far as we know, the only wreath of song which has been offered to the memory of the poet who gave us Homer’s heroic page and Moore’s sweet lyric in our country’s language for the first time.

Our readers are, doubtless, aware that a Memoir of the “Life and Times of John MacHale” has been recently published by Rev. Canon Bourke. We intend noticing this work in a future number, and shall here advert to it merely for the purpose of introducing an account of the Archbishop’s Life by the same author in the Irish language, and which will be continued in this journal until concluded. This is a different work—in its plan, style and scope—from the English “Life,” and (at least in the early part) may be looked on as the original of the English. It was undertaken in consequence of a suggestion made to us by Mr. Thomas Flannery, of London (himself a clever writer of Irish prose and poetry, and a contributor to this journal), that we should ask Canon Bourke to write Archbishop MacHale’s Life in Irish as the most fitting tribute that could be offered to his illustrious friend’s memory. Canon Bourke willingly complied, and more than nine chapters were written before he even entertained the idea of writing the English work, which, as he says in his preface, he was pressed to begin by literary friends. Though not so comprehensive in its scope, the Irish “Life,” we venture to think, will be found quite as interesting as the English work. The style is clear, easy and natural, and our Irish classes and students will find it a most desirable reading book.

Dramatic Scenes.

It has been reserved for our day to witness, and for our journal to contain, the commencement of a series of Dramatic Scenes, the first ever written in the Irish language, and which develop a new vein of literature, hitherto almost unknown among Gaelic writers. It is true, beginnings have been already made by some good translations of portions of English drama; but as an original Irish composition, so far as we know, nothing similar to the piece which we with great pleasure place before our readers in this number, has hitherto been attempted. It is also true that in many of our ancient poems the chief characters speak for themselves, often with an interlocutor (not unlike the Greek chorus); but in these there is no attempt at dramatic design, colouring or plot. Nevertheless, we are in- formed that in Scotland some of these ancient dialogues were regularly recited, and the characters sustained with some regard to dramatic effect. But dramas, after all, they are not, and do not pretend to be; yet, considering the stirring scenes, well-conceived characters and striking incidents which are now and then to be found in our ancient writers, it cannot be said (as has been rashly asserted) that they had no dramatic talent or appreciation of theatrical effect, though it does not appear they ever followed out this particular line of art as they did so many others, or in the style which has produced so many glorious scenes in other tongues.

To our Irish readers no words of ours are necessary to introduce the “Soliloquy of Brian Boroimhe before his last Battle,” but by such of our friends as have the misfortune to be still without sufficient knowledge of Gaelic to enable them to appreciate the rev. author’s composition in the original, these remarks may not be considered entirely out of place. In further pity for their ignorance, and in order to encourage them to study, the author has yielded to a suggestion made to him since the Irish manuscript passed into our hands, and now appends a worthy English translation of his own work. We venture to hope he will continue this practice until such time as it becomes no longer necessary, when all our readers will be able not only to read and write Irish, but to converse fluently in the language with their Irish-speaking fellow-countrymen—a consummation devoutly to be wished.

[ 19 ]

Our Scotch and Welsh Friends.

The name of Iain Ban og is well known among Gaelic readers as that of one of the most correct writers of Scottish Gaelic in modern times. We gladly insert his hearty Highland “Welcome” to our effort, and hope, as he promises, that we may frequently hear from him. No Irish scholar will have any difficulty in reading his Gaelic, which is very little removed from that of our best standard authors, and is remarkably free from the artificial variations of which too many recent Highland writers are so fond. We have also to express our thanks for his efforts on behalf of our under-taking.

Mr. William Spurrell, J.P., of Caermarthen, South Wales, is distinguished as a Cymric scholar, an enthusiast for the preservation of the Welsh language, and author of several valuable works on that ancient tongue, including a very useful grammar and two dictionaries. He also edits “Yr Haul” (“The Sun”), a popular monthly Welsh magazine, and has always taken a lively interest in the doings of those who labour for the preservation of the Irish language. The Gaelic Union has to acknowledge several practical letters and much sound advice, which, coming from so experienced a source, shall always command their respect, even on points where both parties still “agree to differ.” In another portion of this journal we copy a notice written by Mr. Spurrell in his magazine in reference to our movement. He writes as follows in explanation of his Welsh article:—

I send you a copy of the Haul (Sun), with a notice of the Gaelic Union Report. As you possibly may not understand the Welsh, I give you a free translation of what is said:—“Some of our readers who may till now be unacquainted with the fact will be glad to know that there is in operation in Ireland a society for cultivating a knowledge of the Irish language, and for publishing books for that purpose. As has been the case with the Welsh language, Irish has been a mark for the ridicule of ignorant English folk, and, we fear, of ignorant Welsh folk too. It is not a difficult thing to despise what the despiser does not understand. But learned linguists, especially on the Continent, highly prize both languages, as well as their sister dialects, and acquire from them information not easily obtainable without their help. There are also many very valuable manuscripts in the language of the sister isle; but the language is under one disadvantage that the Welsh is free from, that is, its very awkward orthography and inconvenient letters. The Irish literati adhere to the old form of letters and spelling with determination, forgetting that the written language is not always the spoken language, and that the best orthography is that which shows in the clearest manner what is the speech of the people at each epoch. A fixed unchangeable orthography hides the history of the language; while the method of putting in writing what is spoken by the people should vary to answer their speech, and so become a record of the changes that are taking place in it from age to age: that constitutes an historical orthography. As for etymological or derivative orthography, it is not easy to settle its principles. If the form of the language from which a word is taken is to be retained, many cognate words, differing much from each other, should be written in the same form as in the language from which they are taken, as esgob, bishop, évêque, &c. which thus ought to be written as in Latin, if not as in Greek. The truth is, it is the business of linguists to trace the derivation of words, and the business of ordinary writers to show to the eye as clearly as possible what the language on the speaker’s tongue is. A great error of the day is looking on spelling, especially English spelling, as a holy thing of the holiest.” Mr. Spurrell continues: “We here have no schools for teaching Welsh except Sunday schools, and there persons learn in the hour or two of the Sunday to read Welsh more easily than they learn to read English in six or seven hours of each of the six working days. The reason is that Welsh is nearly phonetic, each letter having, with very few exceptions, only its own proper sound.”

Our journal’s new year begins on the 1st November, the “great Feast of Samhain among the ancient Irish,” and the morrow of the momentous “Oidhche Samhna,” which, through so many ages, even to this day, has continued in Ireland and Scotland to be devoted to those curious and primitive ceremonies which, as shown elsewhere in this number, present in the two countries such remarkable evidence of a common origin. With Lá Bealtaine (May-day) Oidhche Samhna marked the great divisions of the year in the primitive calendars of our ancestors. Each of these was subdivided into two portions, thus forming four ráithe, or “quarters,” but no arrangement of months appears. On the eve of Samhain the Feis Teamhrach, or great assembly of Notables at Tara, was solemnly opened every third year, and in other ways the date seems to have marked “Le Jour de l’an” among the Celts. In next month’s number we shall copy from Dr. O’Donovan’s “Introduction” to “The Book of Rights,” his learned essay on the “Division of the Year among the Ancient Irish.”

[ 20 ]The much admired poem entitled “Resurgam,” printed on page 16, has been copied and quoted from by many journals and newspapers. The Daily News speaks of the author as the “poet of the Gaelic Union.”

Rev. John E. Nolan, O.D.C., Hon. Sec. to the Gaelic Union, purposes in an early number to recount the history of the movement set on foot by him for the preservation of our native language, over which he has watched so sedulously, and for which he has worked so zealously.

We are obliged to hold over for next number the first of a series of articles in Irish, by Mr. Thomas Flannery, on the use of “the word in Irish names,” and which is in type. We shall also shortly print from the pen of this practical Irish scholar a careful and learned review of the Gaelic Prayer Book—“An Casán go Flaitheamhnas,”—recently published by Rev. John E. Nolan.

There are few, indeed, who have laboured for the cause of the Irish language so earnestly, unselfishly and ably as has Thomas O’Neill Russell, for the past twenty years. We are glad to see that he has not yet wearied of well-doing, and it is a source of great gratification to us that his name appears among the contributors to our first number. He has also promised to continue in behalf of our present venture that whole-hearted support he has always given to our efforts.

Among the contributors to our next number will be P. W. Joyce, LL.D., author of the “Irish Names of Places” (two series), an Irish Grammar and other works.

An apology is due to our Subscribers for the great delay in the publication of this number, which we fully expected ourselves would have seen the light at farthest before the middle of the month which is now drawing to a close. Our arrangements, however, being now completed, we expect that the December part will not be far behind its nominal date, and the January part we shall endeavour to have ready before the close of the present year, so that at least in 1883 we may start fairly with a clear conscience. We were loth to alter the date of this number, as we are hopeful that the unforeseen delays which attended its production can scarcely occur again.

Mr. John Sullivan, of St. Helier’s, Jersey, has favoured us with a French version of “The Exile of Erin,” which we print this month. We also give, among the “Opinions of the Press,” Mr. Sullivan’s remarks on our provisional circular in his paper, the Jersey Observer. We shall shortly print Collins’ Irish translation of “The Exile of Erin,” which is certainly not second even to the original. Our present number, by the way, bears something of a polyglot character. It is pleasant to find Irishmen and friends of the Irish cause noticing our effort in unexpected quarters.

Owing to the great variety of matters demanding our attention for this first number, we have to defer the publication of the List of Subscribers, which will commence in the second, and be continued in succeeding numbers. As all subscriptions are payable in advance, only the names of those who have paid up will be given. Intending Subscribers are earnestly requested to forward their proposed subscriptions or donations before the issue of the second number. The Council of the Gaelic Union has recently decided that all Members of their Society subscribing at least ten shillings per annum, not in arrear, will receive a copy free of the Journal each month. All moneys are to be made payable to the Hon. Treasurer, Michael Cusack, Esq., 4 Gardiner’s-place, Dublin.

A large number of circulars and forms for enrolling Subscribers are still on hands, and may be had, post free, for distribution, on application by letter to the Hon. Secretary. The Report issued for 1880, and the Pamphlet of Rules, &c., issued in the present year, may also be had.

Rev. Patrick O’Keeffe, C.C, Fethard, Co. Tipperary, a member of the Council, has produced a book, now well known, entitled “Moral Discourses.” As Mr. John Fleming, another member of the Council, and a well-known Irish scholar, is engaged in translating this work into Irish, we hope to be able to publish in future numbers his Irish version of some of these discourses. His classic style may be judged by the first [ 21 ]article in this number, which is from his pen, and which is “as good as a picture.” The very “look” of it in print would do good to one who did not even know Irish as the old lady did Greek, “by sight.” It may be necessary to remark that this journal is not a commercial speculation, nor has it any connection with any project whatever founded as a source of gain to the promoters. No one has in it any personal interest of a pecuniary or profitable nature. It is the property of the Gaelic Union, who have collected a small fund by way of “subsidy,” and which with the subscriptions they believe will be sufficient for its support.

In our next number, amongst other good intentions, we hope to be able to commence a “Notes and Queries” Department, a column for “Folklore,” a space for “Desiderata,” and “Answers” to Correspondents. For “Folklore” we have already a fair collection; and Rev. Mr. Cleaver and other friends have lately favoured us with some interesting specimens to begin with.

The Literary Committee appointed with the Editor to examine all articles chosen for insertion in this journal, consisting of Rev. M. H. Close, M.A., and Rev. J. J. O’Carroll, S.J., is a sufficient guarantee that the principles on which it is founded, namely, “non-interference” in controversy, either touching religion or politics, will be strictly adhered to. On this point it may not be out of place to quote from Christopher Anderson’s “Native Irish and their Descendants” a few remarks which seem very well suited to the present case. He writes:—

A very cheap periodical work, if well conducted by a man of principle, who, upon certain subjects, well understood the doctrine of non-interference, but was thoroughly imbued with the desire of benefiting his countrymen in every way, cautious of admitting speculative opinions, and determined to insert no mere idle reports, on whatever authority, but resolved to put the native Irish reader of the day in possession of what is indubitable as to nature, science and art, would be of essential service. There is not a people upon earth who would read such a thing with as much avidity, nor would any reader have a greater number of such eager hearers.

It shall be our desire to conciliate all who wish well to the Irish language; the susceptibilities of all must be respected, and no friend kept out of the ranks by petty jealousy or private spleen, so long as he is willing to work heartily and honestly.