Why are the Irish-speaking pupils so much in advance? And would it be generous or fair to put an end to the intelligence that enables them to be thus in advance?
As for this marked superior intelligence in the children, the fact is patent; it would be, perhaps, just now invidious to account for it. That the children who are trying to forget Irish and learn English should be the dullest, as Sir Patrick Keenan says, is easily understood. In the memorial on Irish-teaching in schools, unanimously agreed to by the National Teachers in their Congress in 1874, it is stated that: “The parents in Irish-speaking districts have not English enough to convey their ideas, except such as relate to the mechanical business of their occupation. Hence they are not able in any degree to cultivate or inform the minds of their children (though often very intelligent themselves), who consequently grow up dull and stupid if they have been suffered to lose the Irish language, or to drop out of the constant practice of it.”
It may be added here that Clare, where the highest results’ fees in Ireland have been earned, is the most bilingual county in Ireland, i.e., the county where the teachers, pupils, and parents speak and understand both languages best, and that to this fact, their superior intelligence has been attributed by those most competent to form a correct judgment on the subject. It may also be stated that, as a rule, the best Irish speaker amongst the pupils is the best and most intelligent of them.
How many Irish-speaking children in the schools of Ireland I cannot say. Certainly there are more than were in all Wales when the Rev. Griffith Jones began his mission. It will not injure a single pupil of all these to learn to read Irish, and to those who speak Irish only, to induce them to try to forget it will be certain to render them dull and stupid. It takes a long time to forget Irish. In Donegal they were Hying to do so for a quarter of a century, when Sir Patrick Keenan found them “the most stupid children he had ever met;” and after another quarter of a century, these children cannot tell what turf is and what is a bog. How many keen Celtic intellects have been left fallow in that half century! At any rate, as Dr. Johnson said on a like occasion: “The efficacy of ignorance has long been tried . . . Let knowledge therefore take its turn.” As to bribing teachers and children to learn Irish, it is a practice of old standing. Nineteen centuries ago the pupils were bribed with crustula just as they are in this present year with higher premiums. In the next issue of the Journal will be given the opinions of the most philosophical educationists on the question “How should bilingual children be educated?”
I am, Sir,
Opinions of the Press.
“The Times,” London, 4th October, 1882.
A new movement is proceeding for the revival of Irish national spirit in a very extensive and permanent fashion. Some years since a few gentlemen combined to encourage the preservation and cultivation of the Irish language. They intended to pursue their object by issuing cheap Gaelic publications, and by distributing prizes among teachers and pupils. Very soon they felt the need of an organ to explain their views, and a couple of years ago prospectuses were circulated. Calls upon the leisure of the most active associate compelled a postponement of the scheme. Now the members of the Union have resolved both to constitute themselves a regular society, with affiliated bodies throughout the country, and also to establish, without further delay, a monthly magazine, partly English and partly Irish, though with a gradual increase in the proportion of the latter. The contents of the paper are to be poetry and prose, which may itself be poetical, with any other variety of literary genius which “several literary gentlemen who will be among the contributors” may infuse. The annual subscription is five shillings, with special terms when parcels are taken of six or more copies. While Archbishop Croke of Cashel is the patron, a security against the identification of “a national and patriotic endeavour” with distinctions of creed and party is afforded by the presidency of the O’Conor Don. With much self-restraint the committee has even refrained from the national colour. Its handbook positively has a blue cover. Whether the programme is to be fulfilled and The Gaelic Union Journal to appear depends henceforth wholly on the amount of countenance the design receives from without. Before the 10th of October the Honorary Secretary must have sufficient answers to his invitations to enable the first number to be published on the 1st of November, “the great feast of Samhain among the ancient Irish.” The projectors, who bestow all their labour gratuitously, very reasonably refuse to be put off with cheap expressions of good-will. With all their economy, they are already somewhat in debt; “it is support the society requires, not sympathy alone.” Before launching into print it insists upon having “such a number of names enrolled as will allow of considerable possible defections.” Our sincere admiration of so remarkable an exhibition of caution is only qualified by an apprehension that it is scarcely consistent with the fire and vivacity of national enthusiasm necessary to enlist popular Irish co-operation.
All, Saxons or Celts, will concur with the Gaelic Union in wishing that the Irish language may be preserved. No historical relics can approach in dignity and value an indigenous tongue. All the ancient monuments over which Sir John Lubbock has been watching are worth little in comparison with a distinct variety of human speech. Irish in particular is in want of care. Englishmen who explored the remoter districts of Ireland half a century back often found themselves where they could neither understand nor be understood. An experience still possible for them in Wales, and for Frenchmen in Brittany, has almost ceased to be possible in Ireland. Schools and the habit of wandering, and, perhaps, an addition of intellectual indolence, have made Irishmen no longer bilingual. Without attention and vigilance Irish might perish as Cornish has perished. Irish antiquarians have to exert their utmost zeal to maintain the philological tradition and vitality of a very important type of Gaelic. They would be grateful to any association like the Gaelic Union which seconded their learned efforts. 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. Without interdicting English it would prefer to find Irish spoken when the company was simply Irish. Sensible and prudent people, as the promoters of the Gaelic Union have shown themselves in the preliminaries of their undertaking, are not likely to believe they will ever succeed in banishing English. They hope to restore Irish for use in the inner circle to which they would reserve liberty for