Biaidh a gcreideamh gan mhilleadh gan traochadh,
Biaidh an Eaglais ag teagasg a dtréada,
Bráithre, easbuig, sagairt, ‘s cléirchibh, –
‘S biaidh síth go deoidh ‘na dheoidh ag Eirinn.
– AN SIOGAIDHE ROMHANACH (1650)
IRISHMEN of all creeds can agree upon this fact, that the more complete a separation is effected between Ireland and England, the better it will be for the moral welfare of this country. It could hardly be seriously denied that England is the most irreligious country in the world. In backward parts of the country the universal materialism is concealed by a disguise of odd superstitions, like the wearing of black clothes on Sundays. There are many places in England where to be miserable on Sundays is a law as rigidly observed as a savage’s equally-reasonless taboo. A superstitious dread forbids the touching of a piano’s keys or the playing of a healthy game on that day, but there is no restriction on the reading of the notorious Sunday Press or of the still viler stories of the leading English novelists. Novelists in England to-day who are read by hundreds of thousands, and whose services are used to drill public opinion, owe their eminence to the propagation of vice, and one of the four leading magazines of England owes its circulation to the lurid description of things unmentionable in Ireland. During the hysterical period of the war, old respectabilities have been torn aside, and the English Press has admitted without shame the animal conditions which prevail through the length and breadth of Britain. Vices like those of Pagan Rome in the hour of her fall have been justified with emotional excuses, and sentimentally flaunted, and the last shreds of the moral law have been gaily thrown to the wind. Yet it is not the coarseness and animalism that now are admitted to permeate English life from the ruling classes down to the humblest conscript that are the sole, or even the chief, menace to Ireland in the English connection.
We may rely on the virility and refinement of an undegenerate people to safeguard Ireland from the grosser traits of England, but the materialism which pervades English culture is a real danger. English manners hypnotise all who come within their range of influence. The honest Irishman who goes to Westminster is, save he be of the rare irreconcilable mettle of Parnell, overcome with the constant supercilious parade of English might. In a place where scholars and statesmen and literati and pressmen are unanimous in the agreed fictions of English propaganda, he begins to distrust himself and his simple mentors in Ireland. In a very short time, England has enslaved his mind. He sees the world through English eyes. Irish Nationality becomes unreal to him. Catholicity and its ideals seem foreign and remote. His standards are overthrown. Useless creatures, like Nelson and Clive, who passed through history with no achievement but some conquest for capitalist masters, become greater in his vision than the builders of civilisation or the Saints of the Church. Ultimately, like Mr. Dillon, he babbles of pride in the Empire that has been his nation’s bane. The cosmopolitan spirit of the Nationalist is replaced with the cramped selfishness of the Jingo.
English literature is as hypnotising as Westminster. It carries the insular faults of English culture into the bosom of Irish homes and schools. The constant reiteration, directly and by suggestion, of materialist conceptions, which marks both classic and modern English literature, insensibly and subtly influences the mind nourished on that literature towards a base opinion of human motives and a despairing outlook upon human hopes. In another place it may be possible to examine English literature home, but the observation will now suffice that it is a disgrace to Catholic Ireland that Catholic schools can be found to accept their programmes from a body that hates all the traditions of the nation – programmes in which the basis of literary teaching is the writings of materialists and jingoes. If we are to have a race true to its past, gracious and idealistic, the English literature on which our education is based, and with it the periodical and book productions of the modern English Press, must be interdicted – and then replaced by the literature of Ireland and Christendom.
It may be said that literature has a full right to treat of the whole range of human experience, and that moral or idealistic issues should not be introduced in a merely literary question. This is true. But education is not a merely literary question. The writers which we place before youth are selected, not solely in respect of their style or their fame, but also with an eye to those qualities of subject-matter which refine and inspire the young mind, and extol those whom we would fain have youth admire. England, to rear an Imperial race, educates her youth on Macaulay, so that they shall learn to admire the character of a Warren Hastings, of whom Macaulay wrote: “He was an unscrupulous, perhaps an unprincipled statesman ; but still he was a statesman, and not a freebooter.” – a distinction without a difference. It is surely deplorable that this same author should be taught in Irish Catholic schools, instead of Dante and Montalembert and Fenelon, or Céitinn, O Bruadair and Neachtain. We cannot pretend to have the smallest conception of what a self-determining Catholic education should be, when we ignore the proud and pure Gaelic literature of which we should be custodians, and the mighty names of Christendom which should be first in our minds.
If we fail for the present to secure complete separation from Horatio Bottomley’s country, we can at least, by the thorough-going revival of Irish, erect an impenetrable wall between us and Bottomley’s culture. It is our first duty to civilisation to bring Gaelic literature back into the air of life and scholarship, and to ensure that our students shall draw their first literary inspirations from purely Gaelic sources. It is not less our duty to ourselves. If this course is not followed, English literature will completely Westminsterise (or demoralise) our coming generations, and the Ireland of Luke Wadding and Brother O’Clery and the Jacobite singers will be lost beyond recovery. The establishment of Irish literature as the basis of our culture could be effected, even without free institutions, in a few years. The Sinn Féin principle of self-help, the principle by which the Gaels, in darker days than ours, held fast an untarnished tradition, could effect the salvation of Irish culture with but a small united effort. Catholic managers and teachers could refuse, point-blank, to carry out the work of Anglicisation and demoralisation which is delegated to them by the English Government. In the last resource, independent schools could everywhere be set up a St. Enda’s in every parish. English programmes, beside injecting indiscriminate English literature into our schools, also make Irish history subordinate to English history, and conceal the whole truth about the Continent. These programmes could be rejected, and for the present, Anglo-Irish literature (Mitchel, Ferguson, Mangan) could be taught in their place, with Irish history based on the books of Mrs. Green, Mr. Figgis, James Connolly and D’Arcy McGee, and Continental history based on the works of Ozanam and other representative writers of Christendom.
During the transition period, too, Dante, the world’s greatest poet, could be taught through English translations. Good Irish translations of the classics of Christendom would be forthcoming as soon as the demand arose. Meanwhile, teachers would make Irish the medium of ALL teaching. This they would do by introducing it in all their talk with their pupils. In French classes, they would say, not, Translate into French “Where is my hat?” but Cuir Frainncis ar – “Cá bhfuil mo bhairead?” Instead of “dismiss” they would say “scaoilidh” Within a year, pupils having a Junior Grade knowledge of Irish could be brought to the standard of understanding the whole school’s discipline and procedure in the national tongue. And as Irish thus became real and pupils thought in the language, the time would come for the complete substitution of Irish for English, and Irish literature would be read with deep understanding and profit. Even to-day, it could be taught to Senior Grade pupils who at present learn Irish without the literature. All this is not mere possibility. It is what MUST be done if the last flickers of Holy Ireland are not to be trodden out under Bottomley’s heel, but instead, re-kindled to a new life. In this work the religious will take an important part. Already, Gaelic culture is at its strongest and finest in the convents of Ireland, and we may confidently expect those, who have no peers in patriotism, devotion and enlightenment, to perform so holy and wholesome a task as speedily as qualified workers are available. We may hope, too, that the pulpit, which so tragically assisted the spread of English in Ireland, will powerfully co-operate in the restoration of Irish. The time should not be far when it will be possible for the Gael in every Irish town to attend Irish-conducted devotions, and when the former balance in favour of the English minority will be restored in favour of the increasing Irish minority.
In the restoration of a noble and gracious culture in the place of one falling into corruption, all classes should vie. And wonderful are the hopes that the vision of a re-Gaelicised Ireland awaken. It may even be that the religious reunion of Ireland will thus be hastened and achieved. In the world of the Beurla, the creeds stand apart, filled with suspicions and misunderstandings, the work of English propaganda. In an Anglicised Ireland, no rapprochement may ever be hoped for. The Anglicised Protestant cannot rid himself of the prejudices of Mahaffyism, and the Anglicised Catholic, typified by O’Connell and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, is not an endearing figure. Catholic and Protestant have wandered so far apart that they cannot find each other save by going back to where they parted. A thing is found where it is lost. Religious unity was lost in Ireland where Gaelicism was abandoned. Division and sectarian hostility have only existed where the English tongue has triumphed.
The Gael has doubtless his full share of human weaknesses. But the evils of actual decadence he escaped, so long as he was free. These evils – political corruption, jobbery, simony, vice, disbelief, materialism were never among the faults of which Gaelic Ireland could be accused. They came only with Anglicisation, of which, indeed, they are the fruits. With them came the divisions which always before had been escaped in Ireland. In Gaelic Ireland, Williamite soldiers alien in race as well as in creed united with those they settled among. In Anglicised Ireland, Belfast, largely Gaelic in blood, stands aloof with distrust and doubt.
The spiritual union of the Irish people finds its chief obstacles in the Bernards and Greggs and Irwins, with their lesser imitators, who inflame sectarian passion, with blind incitements as though they were the medicine men of a savage tribe. To the senseless, nerve-shattering, uncivilised tom-toms of the fanatical and ignorant drummers, these men, sacrificing truth and charity, add impassioned denunciations that have often led to deeds of blood. The noble faith of Bedell, of Bunyan, of Comenius, which even the most orthodox Catholic must respect, is, and that by educated men to their greater guilt, reduced to a mere catchword for reasonless hatred. Catholicity is not opposed on dogmatic grounds which would be susceptible of debate but on the grounds that it is the faith “of the other people,” of the other tribe. This sort of Protestantism is purely totemistic. The Bernards and Greggs, with their bloodthirsty appeals during the War for more and more blood (“Smite, and spare not”); their demands for conscription, which they knew would violate the conscience of their peaceful neighbours, and lead to appalling scenes of bloodshed at their doors; their sneers at Ireland’s vital claims as “trivial matters not to be raised in wartime”; their prating of what England would do for Ireland, if Ireland would do this and that (as though England were divinely appointed in loco parentis); their mouthings about ” the causes of truth and justice and freedom,” amply proved that they stand for unrelenting and unscrupulous enmity to the Irish Nation.
There are Churchmen of high ideals and mild manners, laics of honesty and piety in the Irish Protestant Churches. But these churches, as institutions, are political machines, and are not concerned with anything that is fair or worthy in the Protestant religion. When Bedell, that lovable soul, had an Irish version of the Bible made, the Protestant Primate denounced him, declaring that he remembered nothing “at which the professors of the Gospel did take more offense . . . whereas I wish you had advised with your brethren before you would aventure to pull down that which they have been so long a-building” meaning the discrediting and destruction of the Irish language. Thus did the “Church of Ireland” show itself soon after its foundation, to be determined on the extirpation of Irish Nationality. Towards the end of the eighteenth century again, the Protestant Bishop of Cloyne, writing of the small knowledge of English in the south, said “if it be asked why the clergy do not learn the Irish language, I answer that it should be the object of Government rather to take measures to bring it into entire disuse.” At the present day no occasion is lost to oppose Gaelicism in all its forms, and to reiterate the formulas about “the Nation” (i.e., the forcefully-United Kingdom), and ” the English-speaking world,” which are intended to remind the Gael that he does not exist. English jingo festivals are celebrated with services and speeches, and the hanging-out over all church-buildings of the flag which symbolises the subjection of the Irish Nation. Every opportunity is availed of to wound the susceptibilities of the native Irishman, and to remind any Protestant of goodwill who may incline to charity towards the nation, that his inclinations are regarded as treachery to his class. In the name of religion, the Protestant Nationalist is ostracised, outlawed, intimidated.
To despair of the Protestant Churches because they are guided by men so intolerant, so unjust, would be unphilosophic. There was just as much cause to despair of Nationalist Ireland but a few years ago. Irish Nationalism fell into the hands of men as unprincipled as the Carsonite medicine-men. Yet the small faithful minority, after patient labour, succeeded in overthrowing the entire Party machine, and bringing health to the national body. There is a minority of men of clear vision and high principle that the Protestant political machine has yet to reckon with. The seed of the Tones and Mitchels has not perished. Gaelicism has given to the Protestant Nationalist a plain and sure objective. The memory of Padraig and Colum has lit within the sullen halls long consecrated to hatred. The Gaelic tongue has begun to be used in devotions of those “others that are not of this flock,” and the hymns of O’Ddlaigh and Tadhg Gaelach are monthly sung in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As our own Irish Saints, our genii loci, reappear in our memories, as the sweet vocabulary of Irish, with its Dia’s Muire and Beannacht an Leinbh comes back to our lips, surely the new Ireland that we discover, so fair, so free from the ugliness of the Beurla world, will be recognised as the familiar mother of us all. In this homely and unmistakable new-old land, shall we not realise our essential brotherhood, and readily drop, with the thoughts and practices of Anglicisation, the prejudices that have sundered us?
Let us press eagerly along the road before us, then the Gaelic road for who knows but that, at the next turn, it may reveal the beauty of the Civitas Dei set among the Irish hills?