Page:Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge vol 1 no 1.djvu/36

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think with him. And what are these objects? To banish the English certainly is not one of them. It is the language of commerce, science, art, and so on; let it remain such. The promoters of the Gaelic Union—many of them—are admirers of the English language and of its noble literature. With the language of Shakespeare and Newton we are well satisfied—nor yet would we require a single definition in the works of Salmon or Casey to be translated into Irish. We are striving to keep the Irish tongue alive where it is still spoken as long as we can; we wish to have all the local words in the language taken down while those who know these words are still alive. We also wish all the songs or fragments of songs, poems, proverbs, folklore, traditions, manners, customs, to be written as soon as possible, before the old Irish-speaking people leave us; we wish to create an interest in the language that people may learn it in order to take down these things. There are, moreover, in the Royal Irish Academy, in Trinity College, &c., piles of Irish manuscripts—manuscript treasures as they are thought by the ripest scholars of Germany, France, Italy, and other countries. These scholars think the Irish manuscripts worth translating into the languages of their respective countries; and in order to fit themselves for the task of translating them they learn Irish, of course as a dead language. Hut there are so many idioms in Irish—they are almost innumerable—and the shades of difference between the meanings of many of these idioms are so nice, that it is a life-long labour to a foreigner to master them, if he can ever master them at all. Those who speak the language in early life have no difficulty in understanding the meaning of these idioms—even the illiterate never commit mistakes in the application of them. It is only Irish-speaking scholars, then, that can rightly understand, translate, and explain these idioms, and we wish the language to be preserved alive until the last page of our manuscript materials is secured for the scholars of the world; and we wish the Irish to be taught to Irish-speaking children from infancy in the schools, and the English language through it as a medium, that so these little Celts may be brought up as rational beings, and that the gifted among them may learn the new science of comparative philology, and in this way be prepared to give our manuscripts to the world of letters. No one will say that the people of Ireland are not as capable of learning philology as their Aryan kinsmen of the Continent; and surely with equal culture they can understand their own language better than any other people in the world. All along the sea-board and in the islands, from the Foyle to Waterford Harbour, the people speak Irish: we wish, then, especially for the reasons given above, that the children should be taught Irish at first in the schools, at home, everywhere. But would not this be sacrificing the children? The localities specified above are the poorest in Ireland; the children in these localities are soonest taken from school—would it not be better, then, to have the children taught as they are now, i.e., English at first, and during all the time they remain at school? Let us see.

In one portion of a school district in Donegal there were, four or five years since, 30,000 exclusively Irish-speaking people. No attempt had ever been made in a single instance in this district to turn to any account the pupils’ knowledge of Irish. The children seeing turf at home and in the bog since infancy could not say what turf is, or what is a bog. It is the Inspector of the district that tells this in a Blue-book. It must be allowed that these children did not gain much by being taught in English during their time at school. In February, 1880, the correspondent of a Dublin daily paper thus describes the state of education in a portion of Kerry:—“In all the vast district lying to the west of Dingle scarcely a word of English is spoken. ... In Coumeenole not a single individual in the village could speak a word of English, and the young children, though they attend school, and are able to read the third and fourth books tolerably well, feel wholly at a loss to comprehend any question addressed to them in English.” It may be said that these children were incorrigibly stupid. No such thing: had the Inspector or the correspondent been able to question them in Irish, he would have got intelligent answers. Fifty years ago, the Right Rev. Dr. Abram, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, said of such Irish-speaking children:—“The little country children presented to me for Confirmation who had been taught the Christian Doctrine in their native language, as far surpassed, in the knowledge of their religion, the children taught in the English language, as the rational being surpasses in solid sense the chattering jay.” Dr. Abram had been President of St. John’s College, Waterford, and Professor in the College, too, and no more strict and methodical educationist could be found, nor any person less prone to exaggeration. It may be added that the children of the very highest classes only, or the children in the larger towns, were at that time taught the English Catechism, whereas all the poorer children, servants, and such, one-half of whom never entered a school door, were taught in Irish. Had these latter been questioned in English, a moiety of them, I am sure, would fail in telling what turf is or what is a bog.

As regards the Irish language, then, Ireland may be divided into two districts—the first comprising all the localities in which the language is still spoken, and the other, all those where the language has died out. The former district may be roughly taken as the sea-board and islands already described. In this district the greater portion of the people are more or less bilingual, though in many parts of it they are exclusively Irish-speaking, or nearly so, as, for instance, the thirty thousand in Donegal already mentioned, the people to the west of Dingle, in Kerry, and the great majority of the inhabitants of Connemara. Perhaps the best idea of what kind the exclusively Irish-speaking people are, may be formed from the “Report of the Medical Commission of the Mansion House Committee,” by George Sigerson, M.D.[1] Speaking of Camus, a locality in the west of the County Galway, Mr. Tuke, as quoted at p. 31 of the Report, says:—

“There you see, peering above the rocks, little dark heads of men, women and children, attracted by the unwonted sight, come out of their cabins to reconnoitre. As you walk among them on landing, they watch you with curious eyes: they do not beg, and cannot answer your inquiries, for most of them do not understand, and few can talk English,” &c.

On this passage Dr. Sigerson remarks: “The reference which Mr. Tuke makes to the prevalence of the Irish language here, may also be applied to other districts. Indeed, in almost all the localities we visited, a knowledge of the Gaelic language must be requisite for the full performance of their duties, by all who, like clergymen, physicians and others, have to deal closely with the people. Medical terms are not, for instance, well understood, even by those peasants who speak English, and mistaken answers have been given (e.g., tending to confound typhoid with typhus), as was ascertained by questioning the speakers in their native tongue. Then they express themselves with correctness, and often with remarkable grace.”

  1. Browne and Nolan: Dublin, 1881.