Some Vandals there may be even yet who cherish the same unworthy feelings towards the Irish race as towards their language and literature. With such as these we have nothing to do.
“Non ragionar di lór, na guarda e passa.”
Let us now see what the other difficulties alluded to are worth. With respect to the Irish characters, they are only a form of the early mediæval Roman letters, and can be learned in half-an-hour. Any person who cannot make use of them will certainly be unable to learn the language itself. The grammar is not so complex as that of the Latin or Greek among ancient, or of German or Hindoostanee among modern languages, and when once the rules of Aspiration and Eclipsis are mastered, it is comparatively easy. The sounds are of course different from those of the English language, but so are those of every other tongue. Whatever articulate sounds the ear is accustomed toit will hear with plea- sure, and unaccustomed ones will at first seem disagreeable. Thus the English “th” in “length” is an abomination to most of the peoples of the Continent who do not possess it in their own tongues, the ll so much admired by the Welsh is unpleasant to the other inhabitants of Great Britain, and so on. Accordingly, the Irish aspirated c and g, the ng at the beginning of a word, the broad ll and n, the slender r and some other sounds must at first appear strange to the unaccustomed ear. To a person habituated to speak nothing but Irish, the English consonants sound harsh and uneuphonious, and in our opinion with much greater reason. We consider the Irish language, when properly spoken, as particularly sweet and euphonious, and much better suited for singing than any of those of the northern part of Europe, and we speak from considerable experience. These things should all be explained by the teacher to his pupil, and the ear of the latter should be accustomed, by frequent repetition, to the more peculiar sounds of the language. As Duḃaltaċ Mac Firbisiġ would say, thus should the foirceadlaiḋe act towards the fóġlaintiḋ.
The little use made of Irish in commerce and trade, it being colloquially almost entirely restricted to the peasantry in the west and south, the small number of modern books printed in the language—these do not constitute reasons why it should not be revived and still flourish, if proper means are taken for the purpose, nor do they take away from its beauty and scientific value. The same objections might have been made half a century ago to various other European languages which are now flourishing. These arc, therefore, obstacles to the learning of Irish which both teacher and pupil can afford to disregard. Slight obstacles, such as those we have mentioned, have been conquered in Wales, Belgium, Bohemia, Iceland, &c., and why not in our island? and of this we may be certain, that a language is a most distinctive mark of the intellectual independence of any nation, and the best guarantee of its continuance.
The teaching of Irish must be modified in its methods to suit two classes of learners—those who speak the language from their childhood, and those who have little or no knowledge of the spoken tongue. Of the former class it may be affirmed that they have been worse than neglected in an educational sense, and that every effort has been made to deprive them of the inestimable treasure of their native tongue. If the “National” system of education had been really national from its inception, Irish-speaking children would be taught first to read Irish as a preparation for learning English: and this it is not yet too late to put into practice. By this rational plan, instead of time being lost, much time would be gained, and the teaching would be comprehensible to the children, and approach towards completeness. For such children primers and spelling-books wholly in Irish should be prepared; and there is no reason why elementary geography and arithmetic should not be likewise taught in the vernacular tongue of the pupils. Such a course would not prevent these children learning English as well, and in a much more intelligent, satisfactory, and consequently quicker manner than is done at present—for instance, in the Arran Islands or in