From An Claidheamh Soluis, October 27, 1906.
A prominent Gaelic Leaguer priest has written to us protesting against our English leading article of last week as insolent and mischievous. We are very sorry that it has been so looked upon by any of our readers; especially sorry that the view has been taken by one for whose opinions we are bound to entertain deep respect. We need hardly say that the article was not written in a spirit either insolent or mischievous. We had no intention of penning an insult to the Church, and did not dream that anyone could possibly construe what we had written into an insult. We had hoped that the last paragraph of the article would have saved us from any misunderstanding.
Our Very Rev. correspondent gives us reasons for thinking that we were too sweeping in our statement that ‘the Church can snatch the living Irish language from death.’
‘I have,’ he points out, ‘been preaching in Irish and speaking Irish all my life, and the language has been steadily falling into disuse before my eyes. At this moment the people will speak Irish to me and immediately they will speak their bad English to each other and to their children.’
Evidently, then, there are localities in which the inveterate old habit of speaking bad English instead of good Irish works so strongly against the language that even the clergy are powerless to affect the situation. We were writing with certain districts of the West in our mind, of which we believe we can truthfully say that wherever Irish gets due recognition in the ministrations of the Church the future of the language is safe, while wherever Irish is ignored in the Church its final disappearance seems imminent. The Church, when all is said, is the influence which most profoundly affects both the private and the public life of Irish men and women, and it is almost self-evident that, speaking generally, the Church’s attitude towards an Irish movement makes all the difference between success and failure for that movement.
Last week our criticism was mainly destructive. This week we shall try to be constructive. The concrete suggestions we have to make are, however, not our own. They are those of one no longer with us in the flesh but whose spirit still walks in our midst and sometimes expresses itself in strange and beautiful wise from the lips of little barefooted children whom one meets in certain back-streets of Baile Átha Cliath. In what follows it is not we that speak, but An tAthair Séamus Mac Aindréis.
It was, we think, in the autumn of 1899 that we sat with An tAthair Séamus in a room overlooking a bay of the Atlantic. Our talk was of the movement, to which the veteran nationalist was then a comparatively new recruit. With characteristic thoroughness he had come to the Gaedhealtacht to study the situation on the spot and to read Céitinn’s ‘Trí Bior-Ghaoithe’ amid congenial surroundings. He spoke chiefly on the subject which of all others was nearest his heart in those last years of his life – the part which his brothers in the priesthood might play in saving the living Irish language. In his methodical and business-like way he checked off his suggestions on his fingers, and asked us to take note of them. We jotted them down in a pocket-book carried for the purpose of recording Irish idioms. To-day we have hunted up that old pocket-book, and from it we extract an tAthair Séamus’s suggestions, so far as they relate to the Irish-speaking districts.
We find that the entry is headed, ‘What Priests Might Do.’ And here, according to An tAthair Mac Aindréis, is what priests in the Gaedhealtacht might do for the language: –
(1). ‘Always speak Irish to Irish speakers.’
We told him of the Galway sagart who has never been known to speak a word of English to a parishioner who knew Irish, and with tears in his eyes An tAthair exclaimed: ‘I hope I’ll shake hands with him before I die!’ We wonder whether the hope was fulfilled?
(2). ‘Always preach in Irish if the majority of the congregation is Irish-speaking, even though it may understand English.
(3). ‘Always say the prayers before Mass in Irish,’ –
(4). ‘And the prayers after Mass.
(5). ‘Make all announcements from the altar in Irish.’
(6). ‘Have an Irish hymn sung after Mass.’
(7). ‘Have the Irish Rosary recited after Mass.’
(8). ‘Have the October Rosary in Irish, as also the Lenten Rosary or Stations of the Cross.’
(9). ‘Have the Irish Catechism taught.’
(10). ‘Offer prizes for proficiency in it and for regular attendance at the classes.’
(11). ‘Have the periodical Missions or Retreats conducted by Irish-speaking priests.’
(12). ‘Insist on Irish speakers making their confessions in Irish.’
(13). ‘Use Irish wherever the vernacular is permitted in Church ministrations, as in portion of the marriage service, etc.
(14). ‘Encourage the giving of Irish names – especially the names of local saints – to children in Baptism and Confirmation.’
(15). ‘Make frequent and fervent appeals from the altar and in the station-houses to the parents to speak Irish among themselves, and, above all, to their children.’
(16). ‘Have the language properly taught to all the children in all the schools.’
(17). ‘Pray at Mass and privately that God may bless the efforts being made by the Gaelic League to save the Irish language.’
Thus from his grave the old fighting sagart appeals to his brothers who hold the Gaedhealtacht for God and for Ireland.