Not much more literate than these little Celts were some of the parents of the children in the mountainous parts of the County of Waterford fifty years ago, when Dr. Abram found the little mountaineers such a» he describes them; and such the dark-headed children of Camus would be found by an examiner like Dr. Abram, who knew how to question them in their native tongue. In the three localities enumerated there are at least 100,000 souls, and there are many other similar localities along the sea-board district.
Now it is to the promoters of the Gaelic Union incomprehensible how educationists should persist in teaching these poor children of the Irish-speaking districts after the irrational fashion they are following. Had the little group at Camus, for instance, been a colony from the banks of the Seine, lately introduced into Ireland to carry on some industrial manufacture, would the children among them, in the first instance, be taught through the English language as a medium and by a teacher ignorant of any other language? No one in Ireland would recommend such a course. But the Irish-speaking children of Camus, and of such other localities, are as ignorant of the English language as so many French children; why then not treat them as French children in like circumstances would be treated?
The Times goes on to say: “The Gaelic Union, however, is not at all satisfied to devote itself to an archæological inquiry. Its purpose is to recall the common employment of Irish as a medium of communication .... But a language as a national instrument cannot be kept in life because its heirs, many or few, desire to preserve it. If it be requisite for the general purposes of national existence, it will survive as Welsh and Breton has survived. . . . The British connexion .... has reconstructed Irish existence and nationality on a model to which the ancient Irish language is alien. Gaelic does not express modern Irish wants and ideas. They are expressed in English. .... Had Irishmen continued to speak Irish, a majority of them would have learnt English also, as a majority of Welshmen learn English, and a majority of Bretons French. . . . Had there been purely Irish thoughts for which Irish was the sole vehicle, the language would never have become obsolete. As it is, the resumed use of Irish would be simply for the translation of thoughts from the English, in which they are born, into a dialect as foreign to Irishmen . . . as English was to the men of Connaught in the days of Queen Elizabeth. ... To lavish ardour in bribing teachers and school-children to learn a language which can teach them nothing, and by which they can teach nothing, is like endowing a day labourer with a machine to test gold. ....... Irishmen are shrewd enough not to be tempted in large numbers to the unremunerative outlay of brain power. .... Many creatures .... are most interesting as specimens which are neither desirable nor possible subjects of cultivation . . . . It is a pity that admirers of its very real antiquarian riches (i.e., of the Irish language) should waste on the vain effort to force back upon their countryman a piece of furniture they had already turned out of doors, labour which might be fruitfully spent in fitting it for safe and honourable deposit among the treasures of the National Museum.”
The writer appears to think that the Irish language is actually dead, and that nothing remains but to lay it out decently, and to fit it for a respectable place in the National Museum, where archaeological inquiries can be held over “its very real antiquarian riches.” These antiquarian riches, if printed, would fill, on the authority of the late Professor O’Curry, over 30,000 quarto pages of letter-press; they are now in manuscript, unpublished, unedited, untranslated, laid out in the Royal Irish Academy, in Trinity College, Dublin, &c., &c. And how many scholars in the world now really capable of editing these manuscript riches? Could the number be counted on the fingers of two hands? There are, I know, two natives of Ireland among them, Mr. Whitley Stokes and Mr. W. M. Hennessy. We have had in Ireland for nearly a century archæological and antiquarian societies, and valuable work they have done in editing and publishing many of our manuscripts; but those who have done this work have almost all left us, and to this pass we have now come, that if the elucidation of these antiquarian riches be left to archaeological inquirers, the people of the globe in 2882 may expect to see the last page of them issue from the press, but not in a very correct shape, for when the Irish language is in its winding sheet, no one can understand its idioms. Those who would preserve the Irish language are altogether concerned about the people in the Irish-speaking districts. They will, of course, gladly encourage and help all who desire to study the language of the country, but they would prefer seeing the little dark-headed children of Camus taught Irish at first in the schools, and next taught English through it as a medium, to seeing ten times as many in the non-Irish localities learn it as a dead language. That the Breton and the Welsh have survived is not clue to any fitness of things in either language; the Breton is still the spoken language of Bretagne, though the French Government have used every means to extinguish it, even to the forbidding of its being taught in the schools. A gentleman from Scotland who had made a tour in the province about four years since, in a paper published in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, explained the reasons why it is still alive. The Bretons are as devoted to their priests as any people on earth, and their priests love the old language of their country, and hence its preservation.
As to the language of Wales and its people, “the whole country was in a most deplorable state with regard to the acquisition of religious knowledge” previous to the year 1730, when the Rev. Griffith Jones, of Llandower, made the first attempt of any importance, on an extensive scale, to erect schools for the instruction of the people to read their native language. He, in allusion to the endeavours of those who would banish Welsh by teaching English, asks in one of his letters:—“Should all our Welsh books, and our excellent version of the Holy Bible, and Welsh preaching ... be taken away to bring us to a disuse of our tongue? So they are in a manner in some places, and yet the people are no more better scholars than they are better Christians for it.” This good man lived for thirty years after this date, and during these years he laboured unceasingly to preserve his native tongue, and, as a matter of course, he was able to bring many others to his own way of thinking, and to engage them zealously in his work. Among these was a pious lady of fortune, Mrs. Bean, who survived him several years, and by will left ten thousand pounds, the interest of which was to be applied for ever to the use of the schools founded by him. The will was disputed by her niece, who got the case into Chancery, where it continued for thirty years; but it was at last declared valid, and the accumulated interest was then applied to the support of circulating charity schools throughout the whole principality. The number of Mr. Jones schools, it may be mentioned, amounted to two hundred and twenty during his lifetime; yet there were many mountainous districts without any schools, and to one of these districts