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.”