I conceive that my testimony ought the more readily to be admitted from the fact I treat therein more particularly of the Gaels, and if any man deem that I give them too much credit, let him not imagine that I do so through partiality; praising them more than is just through love of my own kindred, for I belong, according to my own extraction, to the Old Galls or the Anglo-Norman race.
– KEATING, Preface to History of Ireland.
THE aim of the resurgent Gael is expressed in the motto of the Gaelic League: The achievement of a free Gaelic nation, for Gaelicism is the fount and origin of all modern Irish Nationalism. Patriotism has two phases. There is firstly the zeal for liberty that springs from economic or material oppression. It was this spirit that animated the Irish Protestant Republicans in 1798, when Irish freedom was fought for in the name of the Rights of Man. There is secondly the innate, God-implanted desire of every spirited people for self-expression, and patriotism of this apostolic sort will demand liberty even where slavery is softened by luxury and disguised. Were Ireland but a province or a colony, she would speedily become loyal to the English Empire on the removal of her economic grievances and the opening up of her material resources.
But because Ireland is a nation by virtue of her native Gaelic culture, material prosperity only emboldens her to seek yet further means for self-expression. It is not true that Irish Nationality thrives on grievances were that so, England would remove those grievances. It thrives, like all healthy organisms, on prosperity. The acquirement of the land, instead of killing the Irish farmers’ zeal for political liberty, created a sturdy, resource-possessing population doubly eager to get this country completely into their hands so as to shape it according to the dream of their hearts and the design of God.
The sole bond of Irish Nationality, is and always was the native Gaelic culture and whatever the chanting details may be, the underlying motive of every strong national movement can be traced to the restoration of Gaelicism. Movements and causes in Ireland may always be observed to succeed or fail in proportion as they approximate to Gaelic tradition. The existence of the Gaelic norm as the public ideal is the most unmistakable phenomenon of Irish life. In proportion as artists work back to Gaelic origins, so does their work gain in conviction, colour and success. In proportion as they have read deeply of Gaelic literature, the work of our poets and story-tellers possesses for the general Irish public “grip” and reality. In proportion as our publicists are absorbed in Gaelic ideals are they trusted and loved like the Sinn Fein leaders, in distinction to the distrusted and contemned children of Anglicisation.
It is not to be supposed that Gaelicism is a narrow racial cause. When we say that all things non-Gaelic in Ireland are foreign we do not mean that nobody has any part in Irish-Ireland save people who, like many folk in Donegal to-day, can trace their personal descent back to Niall of the Nine Hostages, and thence, theoretically, to the ancestor of the Milesian race. We merely mean that the Gael is the normal national type, and that divergence of that type is a mark of foreign influence, interests or allegiance. Indeed, nobody with an elementary knowledge of modern racial science would so far err as to suppose that anything like homogeneity of race exists in Ireland any more than in any other European nation. Even an unscientific glance at any Irish assembly will detect a score of different types.
The old mythological story of the Milesian nation has now long gone by the board. We know that primitive Ireland was populated by immigrations from many sources the earliest large immigration, that of the Tuatha de Dannan, being, according to Dr. Sigerson, of a Teutonic origin; for did they not come from the North, as Scandinavians would, and were they not, Teuton-like, famed for their musical and magical arts? As for the Celts, no one knows who they were, and we know from the Latin authors that when they populated Gaul they were already a race of mixed types. We know that an Ireland – of mixed tribes was compounded into a nation sometime early in the Christian Era [query: by the universal change from pasturage to agriculture?] and that the united nation received numerous immigrations of Norsemen and Normans, and later of Anglo-Saxon Englishry.
So long as Gaelic culture remained dominant in Ireland, all these races were in turn absorbed and moulded to the national type. In a patriarchal country, names count for nothing as evidence of origin, for in such countries nothing is commoner as a social custom than the legal fiction by which foreigners are admitted to the body corporate on the adoption of the clan name. Hence, nobody knows less about his origin in Ireland than an O or a Mac. He may be descended from any race which ever entered Ireland before modern times when names were fixed. It is impossible to estimate, therefore, what proportion of bearers of Celtic names are of Celtic origin until such time as ethnologists shall measure all our skulls, when surprising conclusions may be looked for.
The possession of a non-Celtic name, again, is no evidence of non-Celtic ancestry, for Celtic names were for long illegal, and those who, in the Pale, adopted English names and entered the towns, thus cutting themselves from the clan influence, transmitted those foreign names to later generations. On the other hand, we find bearers of names like Keating, Nugent, Walsh, Hackett and Fitzgerald, of known non-native origin, among the leading classics of Irish literature and the leading champions of Gaelic nationality.
Hence it is clear that any attempt to base the Irish Nation on racialism is absurd from the outset. Such an attempt has never been made by any Nationalist of authority. Gaelicism, then, is in no sense racial, and the Gaelic nation offers a welcome to its citizenship to the child of any race if he, living in Ireland, accepts the sovereignty of the Irish Nation. But for all this, Gaelicism is none the less real: it is no whit artificial. We shall see what is the position in Ireland of the national Gaelic type if we look at the case of England. That country is populated by even more mixed races than is Ireland, but there is no mistake possible as to the existence of the English national type. Celts, Teutons, Mediterraneans, Slavs, Semites, and even Asiatics are found among “typical English-men,” eminent in English politics, English letters, English social life.
A wholly insignificant little tribe called Angles, which populated a little corner of the country, has given its name to the national type, and probably not five per cent, of the most English Englishmen have in them a drop of -“Angle” (or ” English “) blood. The English national type, like the Irish, has drawn its talents from many sources, but it is an unmistakable reality, with illimitable resources for absorption and assimilation. The foreigner who settles in England finds the atmosphere of the national type strong upon him. In England, he does as the English. To win the confidence of the people he lives among, he talks and acts as they do. His children are indistinguishable from their English companions. Every virile and free country possesses this power of impressing the national type upon settlers. The Frenchified Englishman, the Americanised Jew, are familiar enough as examples.
Irish Nationalists, seeking a free Gaelic nation, expect nothing unreasonable when they look for all citizens of Ireland of whatever origin to conform to the type named after the Gaels, as settlers in England conform to the type that is named after the Angles. It is not proposed to achieve this absorption by coercive means. In national matters, more than in any others, “the man who complies against his will is of the same opinion still,” and the nation would profit nothing by seeking to make Irishmen of strangers – many of whom in a country mean increased national wealth against their will. The Irish State will, indeed, have the right to demand that all children educated in Ireland are taught the language of the country, but there all compulsory measures towards enforcing national culture will cease. The Gael will rely solely upon the virility of his culture for its triumph.
Already we see it at work. In former years, when the Gael was completely submerged and Anglicisation stood unchallenged in Ireland, foreigners who came to Ireland lost their private characteristics to acquire only the watery English culture propagated by Trinity College. They saw nothing of Irish-Ireland paid heedless ears to stories, maybe, of the alleged indolence and worthlessness of the “Irish peasantry” and followed the fashions set by the imitation-English vice regal court. To-day a complete change has set in. The National University, the Abbey Theatre, the Anglo-Irish literary movement, the several schools of National Art; all these have contributed to make the native culture the most interesting feature of life in the metropolis.
The intellectual barrenness and artistic sterility of the Ascendancy in Ireland – Trinity College has not produced a dozen scholars in all its history who have left names that the average man can recall – are glaringly obvious beside the mental vigour of the resurgent people, and the stranger in Ireland finds that Gaelicism alone offers him any matter of interest or attraction. Hence, all visitors in search of intellectual, artistic, or social life in Ireland wholly ignore the Ascendancy classes, and seek the functions and circles of the national and reviving Gaelic life. The foreigner who writes of Ireland writes of Irish-Ireland: his pen can find no subject of interest in the doings of the tawdry Castle sets, the art-barren, cultureless, Unionist classes. Our visitors, thus at last find the Gael sovereign in intellectual life in Ireland as soon, we hope, he will be in economic and social life.
We have won in the mental realm, and the phenomenon of Gaelic absorption has begun. Only the other day we heard of a family of Dutch origin, settled in Ireland, adopting a Gaelic dress for its name, as but a few years ago it would have adopted an English form. Everywhere a similar process is at work. Young men of partially foreign blood, born overseas, feel the attraction of the resurgent spirit, and come home from America and the English colonies to seek absorption in the reviving nation. Ascendancy people of goodwill desert their class to throw in their lot with Ireland. Anglicisation sees itself attacked at every hand, and it has no moral or cultural defence to oppose to so formidable a foe, or preserve its unnatural existence.