Page:Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge vol 1 no 1.djvu/38

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the Rev. Mr. Charles, of Bala, on whom the mantle of Mr. Jones had fallen, was appointed.

This excellent clergyman tried every means to have the people of these districts instructed in Welsh. He asked for subscriptions, employed teachers, trained them himself, wrote catechisms and other elementary works in that language. His zeal and unselfishness soon brought him subscriptions, and enabled him to found more schools. On introducing one to any place, he previously visited the place, called upon the influential inhabitants, and upon the parents of the future scholars, he spoke kindly to the children, showed the parents the blessings of education for their children, promised to assist them with books if they were too poor to buy them; the teacher was to take no entrance money; not to encroach on the people, nor intrude upon them unless specially invited into their houses. Surely it was no wonder that the language of Wales should revive. The people after a time became so interested in it that the necessity of these day schools was superseded by the increase of Sunday schools, and these have brought Welsh to have a flourishing literature of its own.

The term “revive” above has been used designedly, for the same baleful influences had been at work in Wales that proved so disastrous in Ireland. The Rev. Mr. Charles says: “At first the strong prejudice which universally prevailed against teaching them to read Welsh first, and the idea assumed that they could not learn English so well previously instructed in the Welsh language—this, I say, proved a great stumbling-block in the way of parents to send children to the Welsh schools, together with another conceit they had, that if they could read English they would soon learn of themselves to read Welsh; but now these idle and groundless conceits are universally scouted. This change has been produced not so much by disputing as by the evident salutary effects of the Schools, the great delight with which the children attended them, and the progress they made in the acquisition of knowledge. The school continues usually at one time in the same place six or nine months, &c.” This is the way that the language of Wales was saved from becoming obsolete.

These extracts awaken thoughts of a painful nature. On the same year that saw the Rev. Griffith Jones entering on his life-long mission for the instruction of the Welsh in their own language, an Irishman, equally patriotic. Hugh MacCurtin, a native of Clare, had prepared for publication an English-Irish dictionary, which, with the brief Irish grammar appended to it, contains 700 pages. But it was in exile in Paris he compiled this work. It was published there through the friendly exertions of a patriotic priest, the Rev. Conor O’Begley. MacCurtin was an ardent lover of his native language, which he said is “copious and elegant in expression .... though it has been declining these five hundred years past, whereas all the modern tongues of Europe have been polishing and refining all that time.” In an introductory Irish poem he calls on the “nobles of Ireland, the heirs of affectionate generations, to forsake their lethargy and [help him] to urge on the earnest publication of their books.” He complains of this long fit of torpor which had come upon them all, “even on their wives and children,” causing them to “forget the ancient tongue of their ancestors, the enlightened discourses of their fathers.” He had in preparation an Irish-English dictionary; it never saw the light, any more than the other works he had compiled for publication.

Of the nobles of Erin, the Venerable Charles O’Connor, of Belenagar, only gave heed to his appeal, and Irish was then a proscribed tongue; it was but a few years before that Dean Swift said: “It would be a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language ... so far at least as to oblige all the natives to speak only English on every occasion of business, in shops, markets, fairs” ... and this he believed might be done in half an age . . . and at a cost of six thousand pounds a-year, or three hundred thousand pounds in all. Fashion naturally was equally against the proscribed tongue. “I have heard many gentlemen among us talk much of the great convenience to those who live in this country that they should speak Irish. It may possibly be so; but I think they should be such as never intend to visit England, upon pain of being ridiculous.” (Hardy’s Life of Lord Charlemont.) The proscription fell into abeyance, but the cursed fashion flourished. Those who intended to visit England were heard to speak disparagingly of the Irish tongue; their underlings took up the same tone; from these it went down to the tenants and cottiers. The natural parental affection of the Irish peasant gave way to his desire for his child’s welfare. He directed the brutal hedge school abecederian to put a tally under his child’s neck, and should the child speak a word of the only language he could articulate there was a notch inserted in the tally, and very often the child’s back was cut with the cat-o’-nine-tails.

No wonder the fitness of things made the Irish die out altogether in the greater part of the central plain of Ireland. And what have the inhabitants of this central plain gained by the extirpation of their native tongue from amongst them? Have they become more intelligent? Have their children become more intelligent? It is well known to all that in the National Schools of Ireland there is a system of results’ payments—that is, a pupil that passes in any branch of school learning earns a fee for the teacher. The test questions are the same for all schools, and, of course, the most intelligent child earns most results’ fees. In the English-speaking plain the children have never yet heard a word of Irish; their fathers heard none; the grandfathers may have heard a few words when children. Outside the plain and in the islands the majority of the people are bilingual: some are, as was said, exclusively Irish; and some are trying to forget Irish and to learn English. These latter children are, says the highest living authority, the most stupid children he ever met; they consequently can earn scarcely any results’ fees. The exclusively Irish-speaking, though intelligent, can earn but very little, because the Inspectors, as a rule, being ignorant of the language, cannot draw out the intelligence of the pupils. These two classes of Irish-speaking children reduce the amount of average results’ fees earned by the pupils who are bilingual. In the English-speaking counties the teachers are as good as in the other counties, and all the appliances are more favourable. In which, then, are the highest results’ fees earned by the pupils? Underneath is a contrasted table of the average amounts earned in some of the best districts of both classes—it tells its own tale.


English-speaking Counties.

Carlow, Queen’s Co. Wicklow, Kildare, Down,
6/3 5/6 5/4 4/9 5/8

Irish-speaking Counties.

Clare, Kerry, Waterford, Cork, Donegal,
7/1 6/6 6/4 6/8 5/7

English-speaking Counties.

Antrim, Dublin,
5/10 4/8

Irish-speaking Counties.

Sligo, Leitrim,
7/- 6/7