Translated from the original Irish. From Ideals in Ireland, compiled by Lady Gregory in 1901.
What is the chief cause that has put Ireland back now compared with other countries on this side of Europe? The answer I will give is, there are many causes, but the chief cause is – bad teaching. A country without teaching is not a real country, but a piece of earth on which a lot of people are set, without knowledge of the good beyond the bad, or of truth beyond falsehood. That is what Ireland is like. There have been schools in it for the last sixty years that have killed the mind of the country. Is there any other country in the world where we can find schoolmasters who have only one language teaching children who have only one language, and the language of the schoolmaster not the same as the language of the children? Schoolmasters “teaching” children that do not understand them, and children “learning” from masters they do not understand!
When these schools were set on foot, schools that were sarcastically given the name “National Schools,” Irish was the language of the country, from Galway to Dublin, and from Waterford to Donegal, except among the Scotch of the province of Ulster. But then masters were put to teach (or to destroy) the children who had no English, and the end of the story is that they put broken English in the place of pure Irish through three-quarters of the island. With broken English came the laying waste of the mind of a people who were as quick in speech, as quick in business, as able, as witty as any people in the whole of Europe, but were left as blind, as dull, and as dark as any wild untaught natives.1
It may be thought that I am speaking too strongly on this subject. I am not adding one inch to the truth. The English schools have robbed the Gael of all that he had, – listen to the sum of things they have taken from him. In the first place, they have taken away his language, and with the language has gone his music, for they were bound together, and with his music has gone his light heart. They have taken from him his poems and his songs and his old sayings and his stories, and they have taken away his knowledge of the history of his country and of his forefathers, for they, too, were bound up with the language, and when it was taken from him they went also. They have taken from him his wit and his quickness and his deep thinking, for he can never bring out the deep things that are in him in the broken English that has been put in his mouth; and the man that is without stories, without music, without poems, without traditions, without knowledge of the history of his country and of his own forefathers – it is not usual for that man to have any thought at all, except the trivial thoughts that come to him from the wants of the hour. This is how Ireland and the Irish are left now, and it is little wonder that the people should be so backward and so ignorant as they are.
And it is not only the poor people who have suffered like this, but big people in the same way. If an Irishman were as learned as a Chief Olamh in all the things that related to Ireland and the Irish, there was not a penny of profit to be got out of that knowledge. Everything was banished that belonged to Ireland, and the Gael out of the lower schools and out of the high schools and out of the colleges. Nothing was taught but things that did not belong to Ireland, things that were of special interest to the English, or things that were common to the whole world. No one could think it possible to build up an intelligent people on that road – but men with no knowledge of the human mind. It is not in such a manner that other countries teach. A friend of mine was in Denmark, and he was astonished at the amount of wealth got out of so poor a country by dairies and by farming. “No doubt,” said my friend to a well-educated Dane, “the children are instructed in the schools as to dairying and farming.”
“They are not,” said the Dane, “but they are taught the old Danish poems (sagas) in the schools; that makes good Danes of the children, and then they become good farmers.”
That is a true word!
Our Commissioners of Education have succeeded in making bad Irishmen by millions, but they have never succeeded, and they never will succeed, by their method in making good farmers of them.
There are now a hundred and fifty branches of the Gaelic League, and it is the sure belief of everyone who is in them that Ireland will always be backward until every Irishmen learns to have respect for himself and, as well as that, love for his country. “Respect for ourselves and love for our country” – that is the grip for the people to raise themselves with. We are all convinced that they will never raise themselves without that. And there are educated men amongst us that came from the people, and that live among the people, and that know the people twenty times better than the lords and gentlemen who sit on the National Board, and everyone of them knows that this is the truth.
Now, what is the cure for this mischief? What is there for us to do to make the Irishman respected again, himself and his children? It is, the Gaelic League says, to change the teaching, and teach Irish-wise henceforth and not English-wise. In any place where the old tongue is living, teach through the old tongue, and in any place where it is dead, allow the people to learn it, if they desire it. Teach the history of Ireland to the children of Ireland. Give liberty to every school to teach history if it chooses, to teach its own choice of history; not a tasteless, feeble, history, but a popular history that will have sap and pleasure in it, a history that will take a grip of the child. It is an abuse beyond bounds that there should be a man on the Board who will not allow Irish history to be read in any school unless it teaches lies, unless it teaches the children that their forefathers that came before them were naked savages, without learning, without character, without any sort of good behaviour. That man would now allow Irish children to learn Irish history unless the history contains falsehoods like this.2 This shows he has never given any heed to human nature. If you take a young boy, a boy who has come from a gentle and honourable stock, and if you put in his head that his father was but a tinker and that his mother was but a beggar woman, do you think you increase that boy’s honour or his respect for himself, or that you make his conduct or his behaviour better, or that you do him any good at all? No good ever came of a lie, but miserable harm will come of a lie of this sort. The rock that is the foundation-stone of the Gaelic League is “The Irish mind” and “Respect for our race,” and if this is allowed to us we will build up some certain thing upon it; but the people of the Board wanted in the past to make their own hovel on a wet bog, and without any stone foundation under it, but contempt of the people for themselves, and contempt for and ignorance of their race. They will never rear anything till the day of Judgment on their rotten foundations, but a thing without strength, without goodness, without profit, not to be put in comparison with the building of other countries. The greater share of those who are directing the education of the Irish are politicians; their teaching was intended to throw education back, and their desire was not to make an understanding people of the Irish, but to make them an Englishised people. And with the hope of making them good Englishmen in the end, they began by making bad Irishmen of them, and that is a bad beginning.
There is Irish teaching wanted in this country, and the country itself has this long time been calling on the Board to give it. The Catholic Bishops ask for it, the managers of twelve hundred schools ask for it, the hundred and fifty branches of the Gaelic League ask for it, the County Councils and Rural Councils in their hundreds ask for it, but they have not got it.
There is no free country in the whole of Christendom where, if the people of the country asked such a thing as this with one will and one voice, as has been done in Ireland, it would not be given at once as a matter of course. But it is not so in Ireland. If there is any little thing we want in this country we have to begin to wrangle and to make a disturbance and put fights and tumults on foot, much as the English would have to do if they wanted to disestablish the House of Lords. And yet people tell us that this is a free country! The National Board is not under the authority of Parliament itself, and the whole nation has asked it to give us sensible Irish teaching, and we are none the better off. It is not possible for us to ask more strongly than we have asked. There is nothing else we can do without breaking the peace. And people still say this is a free country!
The high schools and colleges of Ireland are now doing their very best to build up people in the likeness of the people who are brought up in England. But if they will think for a moment they will see their folly.
We do not agree by any means that the same education that suits the English suits also the Irish, and it is not in our mind that an English education is better than an Irish one for Irish boys. If all who are brought up in these schools were to go to England when they grow up, or to make their home among Englishmen, it would be possible to think there was some little right on the side of the directors of these schools; but when it is sure and certain that the greater part of them will stay at home in Ireland itself, or go amongst their kinsmen in America, then we must be dissatisfied at seeing them without the Irish education that is fitting for them.
If I am asked what is an Irish education, I would say that it is one that teaches the student, as a matter of course, everything that relates to Ireland and the Irish before teaching things relating to England and the English. I would say that if people are to live all their life in Ireland (as most of us are) it is much more necessary to them to have a knowledge of things relating to Ireland, the place where they are going to live, than of things relating to England, where they are not going to live. This is according to nature, and I do not think there is another country in the world where this truth is forgotten as it is here.
I do not think there is any other country in the world where the men who are in charge of the education of the people are not accountable either to the people or to the Government; nor do I think there is any other country in the world where the riches, and the endowments, and the treasures of learning, that belong to the country, are left in the keeping of men so blinded with politics and with religious bigotry as are the greater share of the learned men in “that English fort,” Trinity College.
1 The following appeared in an article in All Ireland Review, November 3, 1900: “The present writer recently heard the teacher of a school in an Irish-speaking district of Connemara describing the process of dealing with the mind of a little child: ‘The first thing we have to do is wring the Irish out of them,’ and making a motion with the hands as if twisting a cloth, – ‘we wring the Irish out of them, and then they can begin to understand what we teach them.’ ‘And how long does it take to wring the Irish out?’ ‘About two years,’ was the reply.”
2 These are the words of Dr. Fitzgerald, who is now at this moment directing the education of Ireland on the path that pleases him. He has refused leave for a certain history to be read in the schools because, he says: “No child reading this would gather that the Irishry spoken of were for hundreds of years before 1600 A.D. a pack of naked savages, whose habits were an abomination to all civilized people and a sore trial to the good monks and others who tried in vain for generations to improve them.”