Táin Bó Cuailnge ’na dhráma/Preface

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Táin Bó Cuailnge ’na dhráma by Peadar Ua Laoghaire
[ iii ]


The question will probably be asked, “Why has the story of the Táin been presented to the public in a dramatic form?” The principal reason is this. The form of dialogue is the form in which the Irish language has lived through all those centuries that have elapsed since it began to be spoken, whatever their number has been. The form of dialogue is the form in which the full strength and beauty of the language has manifested itself to me during my whole life.

As one instance of that manifestation can state an experience which I had in the town of Macroom nearly forty years ago. Two men came to me one day and asked me to settle a dispute which they had about the old old matter, a bit of land. I asked one of them to remain outside the house while the other would be giving me his version of the merits of the matter in dispute. That man began and made his speech in Irish. I listened. I was so charmed with the man’s language and manner that I listened to him silently for a full hour, merely asking now and then a little question for the purpose of clearing up a point. That man spoke for a full hour in clear, beautiful Irish, and he explained his own views of the matter in dispute, and, in a sort of parenthetical speech, now and then, he explained the versions which he considered the other man would probably give of certain points when his turn to speak should have come. I listened on. I have now to state that that man never missed the proper place for his parenthesis, and that he never failed to come back at the right time and in the right way to [ iv ]the main line of his argument. Moreover, he drove home every point and wedged in every parenthesis, without even making an uncharitable insinuation about his opponent.

The full conviction was forced in upon my mind that neither Mr. Gladstone nor Mr. Balfour, with all their mental training, ever used the English language in a more masterly manner or with more thorough effectiveness than that man used the Irish language.

When he had said what he wanted to say he stopped. Then I asked him to go out and send me in his opponent. The opponent came in. He made his speech. He gave his version of the business. He drove home his own views and he pulled the ground from under the feet of his opponent regarding the points which he suspected the opponent had insisted on, just as cleverly and as effectually as the opponent had done regarding him. He also spent a full hour in making his speech and he made the same impression On my mind as his opponent made.

I have this to say with regard to both men. There was never a hesitation regarding the use of a word. Their utterance was slow and deliberate, but the words came with smoothness and each word as it came was exactly the word which ought to have been used.

I have heard that that has not been the case with Mr. Balfour, that it is painful to listen to him sometimes, hesitating until he can find the best English word. There was no such hesitation in the speech of any of my two Irish speakers. Their words came slowly and deliberately, but with an exquisite fitness which was simply delightful to listen to.

I have instanced those two men, but my experience [ v ]has been exactly the same with regard to speakers of Irish during my whole life.

On the other hand, I have been always disappointed with the sort of Irish prose which I have been reading or listening to. I mean, of course, the prose which has been produced in recent times. It is turgid and nonsensical. The writers of that Irish prose appear to have had in their minds the idea that they were bound to something entirely different from the sort of Irish they spoke to each other every day, something ‘classical,’ I dare say. The result of their ‘classical’ notions has been turgid nonsense. If they had had the common sense to write in the style in which they spoke to each other in their business transactions we would have as the result something worth reading and worth listening to instead of the turgid nonsense.

There is a strange thing to be seen in connection with this turgid nonsense. During the period which produced it we have had poets, and the poetry which they have left to us is splendid. It is all splendid, but some of it is more exquisitely beautiful than anything of the kind which I have ever met. Some of the little pastoral poems which have been produced in this country during the past couple of centuries are far superior to anything that Horace ever composed. Then here is something inexplicable. Some of those same poets wrote bits Of Irish prose as headings to their songs and those same bits of Irish prose are the very extreme of ugliness. How is it that they were able to produce the exquisitely beautiful song, and then that they could not produce One decent sentence of prose? I can see only one explanation of the matter. It is this. When the poet was writing, or [ vi ]rather making his song, he was writing or composing for his public. Hence he was using the every-day speech of that public, and he was using for his work the most beautiful forms and shapes of that same every-day speech. Hence the fascination it had for the every-day speakers. He was giving them the very cream of their own every-day speech. On the other hand, when he wanted to write his bit of prose, the every-day speech would not do at all. He felt he should be ‘classical.’ The result has been—turgid nonsense.

When I began to write Irish I made up my mind to go to the field in which the Irish language is to be found at its best. It is to be found at its best in the mouths of good old Irish speakers. That is, in good Irish dialogue. That is the reason why I have put the story of the Táin into a dramatic shape, or, into dialogue shape. It came out in that shape some years ago in the Cork Weekly Examiner. A good many old Irish speakers who are now dead were reading it then and writing letters to me to tell me how delighted they were with it. They were getting it “in their own talk.”

Of course it is not necessary to tell any sensible person that this drama was never intended for the stage. It is intended for readers. If the reader wishes, he can easily find for himself, in his own imagination, a far better and cheaper stage than any that the richest of theatres could built. That is the stage on which this drama of the Táin is intended to appear.


Castlelyons, 13th October, 1915.