Delivered in Banba Hall, Dublin, under the auspices of the O’Growney Branch of the Gaelic League, Feb. 14th, 1904.

On being asked by the hard-working members of the O’Growney Branch of the Gaelic League to address a few words to you on the occasion of this night’s entertainment, I felt it difficult to refuse, as I have long ago learned how justly the members of this branch appreciate the full significance of the language movement, and how strenuously they labour to attain the objects of that movement. We are in the position of a poor, weak country striving to hold its own against a powerful populous nation across the Channel. This city, the capital of our country, should be something more than a mere suburb of London. The people of Dublin and the people of Ireland should be something better than mere imitators of English life, of English fashions, of English manners, and English morals. It is impossible that a vast city like Loudon, the centre of legislative and executive power, the headquarters of the machinery that governs a great empire, should not affect powerfully this city and this entire Island. Its influence on our trade, our commerce, our social and intellectual life is profound and far-reaching; it extends to the lowest classes in the community, it affects the very paupers in our Unions, and for the most part it is an influence that tends to destroy our trade, to cripple our commerce, to wipe out the great landmarks of public morals that purify and sweeten our social intercourse. London life, and the life in the great English cities, is in a corrupt and degenerate stage, and its contagion is spreading far and wide. Without, perhaps, our fully perceiving it, Dublin and other Irish cities and even many country districts are becoming; tainted by the foul effluvia that excudes from that mighty but degenerate mass of human beings. Against this growing contagion, against the encroachment on every side of English influence, there is one powerful antidote: it is that the rising generation should be inoculated with the spirit of their ancestors, should drink Irish traditional lore at the fountain head, and should have their souls steeped in the health-giving waters of native literature and legend. The rising Irish race must be taught to take a pride in the long story of their country’s resistance to injustice and oppression, in the noble part played by their ancestors in civilizing and Christianizing the tierce tribes that dwelt by the Rhine and Garonne, shrouded in the mists of barbarism and sitting in the valley of the shadow of death. They must be taught to lisp the names of Irish heroes, saints and sages. They must be made to imbibe the spirit of the ancient civilization of Erin. It is only by catching up that spirit that we here in Dublin, or that Irishmen generally can ever be anything more than a nondescript body of merchants and farmers. Once we lose sight of the great landmarks of our history, once we fail to learn the lessons that it teaches, we lose the virility of our national life, and sink more and more to the level of nondescript units of the British Empire.

The study of native history and native literature and legend must flourish amongst us, if we wish to keep unbroken the thread of our national existence; it is the vivifying principle that gives point and force to all our other pursuits, to our commerce, our industries, to art, to music, to science. But the study of our history and literature and legends can never be what it should be unless the Irish language is amongst us not as a dead and learned tongue, but a living reality, a live vernacular speech cultivated as other living tongues, and yielding the fruit of a literature racy of the soil. The living speech is a living lesson in Irish history—a lesson, too, that is destined to impress itself on the civilized world and spread the past greatness and fame of Ireland to the ends of the earth. Though short the time since the tide of the Irish Revival has begun to flow, the living accents of that language have gone forth, laden with melody, like a refreshing breeze from the Atlantic:—

‘In air the trembling music floats,
And on the winds triumphant swell the notes,
So soft, so sweet, so loud and yet so clear,
Even listening angels lean from heaven to hear;
To farthest shores the ambrosial spirit flies,
Sweet to the world and grateful to the skies.’

But this movement for the preservation and extension of the living Irish speech—is it to be a sham or a reality? Its success is admittedly necessary if we wish to save our country from the degrading state of being a mere nondescript ward in the vast edifice of the British Empire. If I read our history aright we were born for much more than this. Our native language and literature, if duly cultivated are sufficient to mark us off as a distinct race, with a distinct history, and a distinct civilization—a civilization that impressed itself on Europe. long before the foundations of the British Empire were laid. And if we are true to that civilization, if we are assiduous in cultivating our literature and language, when the British Empire goes to pieces, as all great empires have done, our country will emerge from its ruins no mere misshapen fragment of an opaque planet, but a fully-developed star destined to shine evermore in the firmament of the nations. I look forward to an evolution in the future history of this country; we have the deposit of our native language and literature entrusted to us by those who went before us, and we are bound to look forward to the countless generations of Irishmen that are to come after us, whom it would be rank injustice to defraud of so precious a national heritage.

Are we to have a sham language movement or a real one? What are our representative boards doing to emphasise the claim of the language to public recognition? What are our scholastic institutions doing to train the young in the traditions of their country. Recent legislation has put on our public boards men who are in close touch with the people, men who are supposed to echo their aspirations and their hopes. I cannot believe that the language movement will assume national proportions until I see our public boards taking off their coats to the work of its preservation and extension. The public boards have a great responsibility in this matter. They are the accredited voice of the people, they are the guardians of public honour and public faith, they are the exponents of national sentiment. They wield a tremendous power for good or evil. In a matter like the language movement, which can be made to enter into the daily lives of the people, they can do mighty work. They have only to lead, the people will follow. There are a thousand ways in which they can bring the language to the front. Some methods will suit some districts, some others. But it is in their power, without force or violence, to push the language to the front, and keep it at the front, in every corner of the island. Hitherto the public boards, with a few honourable exceptions, have done nothing for the language. It is high time that they should bestir themselves.

We see at this moment around us signs of the vast changes that are taking place in the national, the social and corporate life of our country. The old and wretched system of land tenure is passing away, the tiller of the soil is being assured of a permanency in his holding; our educational systems are gradually freeing themselves from their old traditions of ineptitude; local and national power is gradually coming within the clutch of the representatives of the people: old institutions are sinking with a crash, new institutions are springing into existence. It is our aim, and it is within the power of the public boards to realise that aim, to plant the ancient language of Erin in its living state amid these institutions, as an institution twining itself indissolubly with them all, so that it may grow with their growth and strengthen with their strength.

If these new institutions are allowed to take root and grow up without the fostering protection of the national language, no power on earth can prevent their becoming strong and inerradicable English institutions planted on the soil of Ireland—no power on earth can prevent their becoming perennial sources of Anglicisation. It is in the power of the public boards to make the fountain of national sentiment and citadels of national power by advancing the national language to its due place in public life.