From The Irish Times, 17 May, 1905.
Yesterday, in the King’s Bench Division, before the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Andrews, and Mr. Justice Gibson, the magistrates’ case of McBride vs McGovern came on for hearing on a case stated for the opinion of the Court by the magistrates sitting at Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions, County Donegal, who, on the complaint of Head-Constable Hugh McGovern, R.I.C., convicted Niall Mac Giolla Brighide (Neil McBride) of the offence of not having his name and residence painted in legible letters on his cart, which he used for the conveyance of goods on the public road at Kill on 11th March last, as required by the Statute 14 and 15 Vic., chap. 92, Sec. 12. After hearing the evidence the magistrates made the following order: –
“That the defendant is convicted of the offence charged, and is ordered to pay a fine of one shilling, with one shilling costs; in default of payment to be imprisoned in the Jail of Londonderry for a period of seven days.”
In their case the magistrates stated that it was proved by the complainant that the defendant’s name and address were not painted legibly to the complainant, as they were not painted in English characters, but in Irish characters. It appeared that the letters painted on the defendant’s cart were of the proper dimensions, and could be legible to people who could read the Irish language. It was proved that three-fourths of the inhabitants of the district spoke Irish, that a large proportion of them spoke both Irish and English, and that a considerable number of them spoke Irish exclusively. The Irish language was taught as an extra subject in the National school of the district, and paid for by the Commissioners of National Education; letters and parcels bearing Irish addresses were delivered through the post, and the Irish paper “An Claidheamh Soluis,” and the Dublin and local papers containing articles and contributions in the Irish language circulated in the district, and were read in the district. Being of opinion that the name and residence of the defendant, being painted in Irish letters on his cart, were not painted in legible letters according to the Act, the magistrates gave judgment against the defendant, and the opinion of the Court was requested as to whether this decision was correct in point of law.
Mr. Walsh, with whom were Mr. T. M. Healy, K.C., M.P., and Mr. Pearse (instructed by Mr. P. M. Gallagher), appeared for the defendant (Neil McBride), and contended that the conviction was bad. It was a remarkable fact that the same man had been summoned before and fined half-a-crown, and Sergeant Murray, who was the complainant on that occasion, acknowledged that he could read and write Irish. Mr McBride, who was a farmer, was a very clever man and had been contributing to the papers both English and Irish poetry for the last twenty-five years. Counsel submitted that the word “legible” was to be contrasted with what was obliterated or defaced, and that there was nothing in any of the Statutes prohibiting the use of these Irish letters. What the Statute meant was what could be read, in contrast to what was obliterated or defaced. It should be enough for the police to get the name of the defendant correctly, so that they might be able to prosecute him if necessary. That was all that was required, and if they could not read the letters they had only to ask the man himself.
The Lord Chief Justice put the case of a Turk coming to the North of Ireland, to Donegal or Londonderry, and he wrote his name in Turkish characters, would that be sufficient to satisfy the Statute?
Mr. Walsh said that the case would not be a parallel one, but supposing the Turkish characters were so made to be readable to a Turk, and were not too small, or anything of that kind, would that be sufficient?
Mr. Walsh said it would supposing the Turk know nothing else but Turkish, and that he was a law-abiding man, and knew that the law of the country required him to have his name on his cart.
The Lord Chief Justice – Supposing a Turk comes to the North of Ireland, and goes about selling carpets, and can only write his name in Turkish characters, is he obnoxious to the Act of Parliament?
Mr. Walsh – If the Turkish characters were such that they bore no similarity whatever to any of the well-known types used in England certainly then they would be against the statute, because they would not be intelligible. There were far more people speaking Irish in this country, he pointed out, than was generally supposed. It was estimated at the last Census there were at least 640,000 Irish speakers in Ireland. Dunfanaghy was a very Irish district. The National Education Commissioners had the names of their books in Irish characters.
Counsel produced advertisements recently issued by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company, and said their lordships would find that they were all printed in Irish characters similar to the facsimile of the inscription on the defendant’s cart.
The Lord Chief Justice – Suppose there were no English letters at all – suppose it was written in Greek – what would you say?
Mr. Walsh – I say that if written even in Chinese characters, if these Chinese characters were such as were used continually every day in England, then they were brought within the Act. Counsel further stated that he would push his argument to the extent of the letters of any language provided they were legible.
Mr. Cecil Atkinson (instructed by Sir Patrick Coll, K.C.B.), appeared for the Crown in support of the magistrates’ decision. He said he would confine himself to the true construction of the Act of Parliament, the test of which, he submitted, was what the words in the English Act of Parliament meant. Anything that was inconsistent with the English language was a violation of the section of the Act of Parliament.
Mr. Justice Gibson asked if this point had ever arisen before in Wales, England, or Scotland?
Mr. Atkinson said it had not so far as he was aware, although the enactment was very similar.
Mr. Justice Gibson – Suppose the Irish name and address were written in the English characters, wouldn’t that be right?
Mr. Atkinson replied that he did not think so. The adopted language of the Legislature was English, and the Act of Parliament was to be construed in its English interpretation, and no other equivalent of the English language would be accepted by the Legislature as consistent with the provisions of the Act of Parliament. It was no argument to cite the case of the society or daily journals using Irish characters to some extent. It might as well be argued that because Punch made a joke in French, French was to be taken as the text for construing an English Act of Parliament.
The Lord Chief Justice – What do you mean by Pan-Celts?
Mr. Atkinson – If you ask me, Lord Castletown is a specimen of a Pan-Celt.
The Lord Chief Justice – That is a concrete instance. Is not a Pan-Celt one who advocates that everything should be in Irish instead of English? I do not mean any reflection whatever on them. I believe there are very interesting people connected with that Society. But that is what they believe.
Mr. Justice Andrews – But they are not in the habit of speaking in Irish?
The Lord Chief Justice – Oh, I don’t know.
Mr. Atkinson said he believed the Pan-Celts went so far as to say that they were distinguished from the English people, not only in language, but in habit and dress, and in mode of speech.
Mr. Pearse, replying to Mr. Atkinson’s argument, said that the Act of Parliament that was referred to was the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and they must take that Act in connection with the circumstances. Counsel further instanced the case of the name “Gibson,” the Irish equivalent of which, as adopted by one prominent member of the Gaelic League, he gave amid much laughter, as “MacGiolla Brighide.”
Mr. Justice Gibson – That is very interesting. (Laughter.)
Mr. Pearse said that if Mr. Atkinson’s argument were to hold good, Shuley Siabliagh should be written Walker, McRory should be written Rodgers, Mullen should be written De Moleyns; and that if an unfortunate Italian came over with the name Giovanni Giacomo his name should read John Joseph. (Laughter.) Counsel contended that the Irish language was a spoken language, and that its letters were current letters in the country.
Judgement was reserved.