An Macaomh, of which we hope to publish a number every Midsummer and another every Christmas, will record the fortunes of our adventure at Sgoil Eanna and supply us with the means of preserving in an accessible form the work, artistic and scholarly, done at the school. Its purpose will thus be wider than, and to some extent essentially different from, that of the ordinary school magazine. I mean not merely that it will be a genuine Review, educational and literary, rather than a glorified Prospectus, but that it will be a personal mouth-piece in a sense that is quite uncommon among kindred publications. It will form a vehicle for the expression of opinions which in their every detail are proper to myself, but in their general scope are fully shared in by all the friends associated with me in the work of Sgoil Eanna. We are not a religious community, but I do not think that any religious community can ever have been knit together by a truer oneness of purpose or by a finer comradeship than ours. It was the memory of this companionship in a year’s pioneer work, very pleasant as I look back over it, that, I think, prompted the use of the word “adventure,” a moment ago, rather than any feeling that our work has partaken of the nature of an experiment or that we are entitled to figure as heroes as having set our hands to something very difficult or very dangerous.
Some of my friends have been looking forward to An Macaomh for my story of how Sgoil Eanna came to be. There is very little to tell. Various high and patriotic motives have been assigned to me in the press and elsewhere. I am conscious of one motive only, namely, a love of boys, of their ways, of their society; and a desire to help as many boys as possible to become good men. To me a boy is the most interesting of all living things, and I have for years found myself coveting the privilege of being in a position to mould, or help to mould, the lives of boys to noble ends. In my sphere as journalist and University teacher, no opportunity for the exercise of such a privilege existed; finally I decided to create my opportunity. I interested a few friends in the project of a school which should aim At the making of good men rather than of learned men, but of men truly learned rather than of persons qualified to pass examinations; and as my definition of a good man, as applied to an Irishman, includes the being a good Irishman (for you cannot make an Irish boy a good Englishman or a good Frenchman), and as my definition of learning as applied to an Irishman, includes Irish learning as its basis and fundament, it followed that my school should be an Irish school in a sense not known or dreamt of in Ireland since the Flight of the Earls. This project, I say, appealed to two or three friends whose hearts were pat with mine; and Sgoil Eanna is the result.
I feel very grateful when I remember how fortunate I have been in all the things that are most important to the success of such an undertaking as mine. I have been fortunate in the site which accident threw in my way; I have been fortunate in the fellow-workers whom I have gathered about me; I have been fortunate in my first band of pupils, seventy boys the memory of whose friendship will remain fresh and fragrant in my mind, however many generations of their successors may tread the class-rooms of Sgoil Eanna.
And first, it is a pleasant thing to be housed in one of the noble old Georgian mansions of Dublin, with an old garden full of fruit-trees under our windows, and a hedgerow of old elms, sycamores, and beeches as the distant boundary of our playing field. Cullenswood House has memories of its own. A hundred years ago it was the landmark in the district where two centuries previously the Wood of Cullen still sheltered Irish rebels. That Wood is famous in Dublin annals, for it is under its trees that the Irish, come down from the mountains, annihilated the Bristol colonists of Dublin on Easter Monday, 1209; whence Easter Monday was known in Dublin as Black Monday, and the fields on which our school-house looks down got their name of the Bloody Fields. A fresh colony came to Dublin from Bristol, and in 1316 the citizens took revenge for Black Monday by defeating a new ambuscade of the O’Tooles in Cullenswood. But all that is an old story. In 1833 Cullenswood House was bought from Charles Joly, the then proprietor, by John Lecky, grandfather of the historian. John Lecky was succeeded by his eldest son, John Hartpoole Lecky; and John Hartpoole Lecky’s son, William Edward Hartpoole Lecky, was born at Cullenswood House on March 26th, 1838. So our school-house has already a very worthy tradition of scholarship and devotion to Ireland; scholarship which even the most brilliant of our pupils will hardly emulate, devotion to Ireland, not indeed founded on so secure and right a basis as ours, but sincere, unwavering, lifelong.
It has been a pleasure, then, to work in Cullenswood House. It has been a greater pleasure to work with colleagues who are in the truest sense friends and comrades. And it is a still greater pleasure to be able to give the noble words “colleague” and “friend” and “comrade,” an extension which will include pupils as well as masters in its scope. I who, throughout the year, have often enough been critical and exacting may here once and for all, let myself go in praise. It is very likely that by driving a little harder, by packing a little closer, we could have compressed more information into our boys’ heads than we have actually done; but I do not think that we could by any possible means, or with any possible school staff, have gained a more willing and intelligent co-operation, or laid a sounder and more enduring basis for future work. I admit that our opportunities were unique. In no other school in Ireland can there be, in proportion to its size, so much of the stuff out of which men and nations are made. There is hardly a boy of all our seventy who does not come from a home which has traditions of work and sacrifice for Ireland, traditions of literary, scholarly or political service. If every boy in the Boy-Corps of Eamhain Macha was the son of a hero, nearly every boy in the Boy-Corps of Sgoil Eanna is the son or brother or nephew or cousin of some man or woman who is graving a mark in the history of contemporary Ireland. That in itself is a very splendid inspiration. It is much for a boy to start life with the conscious knowledge, “I am the son of a good father.”
Again, we have here the advantage of a unique appeal. We must be worthy of our fame as the most Irish of Irish schools. We must be worthy of Ireland. We must be worthy of the men and women whose names we bear. We must be worthy of the tradition we seek to recreate and perpetuate in Eire, the knightly tradition of the macradh of Eamhain Macha, dead at the Ford “in the beauty of their boyhood,” the high tradition of Cuchulainn, “better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour,” “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me;” the noble tradition of the Fianna, “we, the Fianna, never told a lie, falsehood was never imputed to us,” “strength in our hands, truth on our lips, and cleanness in our hearts;” the Christlike tradition of Colm Cille, “if I die, it shall be from the excess of the love I bear the Gael.” It seems to me that with this appeal it will be an easy thing to teach Irish boys to be brave and unselfish, truthful, and pure; I am certain that no other appeal will so stir their hearts or kindle their imaginations to heroic things.
The value of the national factor in education would appear to rest chiefly in this, that it addresses itself to the most generous side of the child’s nature, urging him to live up to his finest self. I think that the true work of the teacher may be said to be to induce the child to realize himself at his best and worthiest, and if this be so the factor of nationality is of prime importance apart from any ulterior propagandist views the teacher may cherish. Even if I were not a Gaelic Leaguer, committed to the service of a cause, it would still be my duty, from the purely pedagogic point of view, to make my school as Irish as a school can possibly be made.
What I mean by an Irish school is a school that takes Ireland for granted. You need not praise the Irish language — simply speak it; you need not denounce English games — play Irish ones; you need not ignore foreign history, foreign literatures — deal with them from the Irish point of view. An Irish school need no more be a purely Irish-speaking school than an Irish nation need be a purely Irish-speaking nation; but an Irish school, like an Irish nation, must be permeated through and through by Irish culture, the repository of which is the Irish language. I do not think that a purely Irish-speaking school is a thing to be desired; at all events, a purely Irish-speaking secondary or higher school is a thing that is no longer possible. Secondary education in these days surely implies the adding of some new culture, that is, of some new language with its literature, to the culture enshrined in the mother tongue; and the proper teaching of a new language always involves a certain amount of bilingualism — unless, indeed, we are to be content with construing from the new language into our own, a very poor accomplishment. The new language ought to become in some sense a second vernacular; so that it is not sufficient to speak it during the limited portion of the school-day that can be devoted to its teaching as a specific subject: it must be introduced during the ordinary work of the school as a teaching medium, side by side with the original vernacular. This argument justifies bilingualism as an educational resource, always and everywhere; but in Ireland, where there are already two living vernaculars, bilingualism is an educational necessity. Obviously, too, it is the one irresistible engine at the disposal of those who would restore Irish as a living medium of speech to the non-Irish-speaking three-fourths of the country.
Bilingualism in practice implies the teaching of the vernacular of the pupils; the teaching, in addition, of a second language and the gradual introduction of that second language as a medium of instruction in the ordinary curriculum, with the proviso, however, that any further languages taught be taught always on the direct method. This is the bilingualism I have been advocating in An Claidheamh Soluis for the past six years; this is the bilingualism of Sgoil Eanna.
It must be remembered that bilingualism, as thus explained, requires, as indeed any sane teaching scheme must require, that the very earliest steps of a child’s education be taken in the language of the child’s home. In Connemara, and parts of Tirconnell and Mayo and Kerry and Waterford, that language is Irish: in Dublin it is English, When I was in Belgium I observed that most of the teachers delayed the introduction of the second language until the second school year was reached; at Sgoil Eanna we introduce it right on the first day, but in homeopathic doses, and so pleasantly presented as to appear always as a pastime to be enjoyed and never as a task to be learned. In the infant stage, little use can be made of the new language as a teaching medium; but as soon as the names of ordinary objects and qualities and the manner of predicating one thing to another have been learned, the bilingual principle comes into play.
To be concrete, at Sgoil Eanna, every child is taught Irish. Of thirty in the Infants’ and Junior Division only one child uses Irish as a vernacular, so that English is necessarily the basis of the elementary instruction; but Irish has been taught even to the youngest mites since the first day the School opened, is used freely in the schoolroom, and is cautiously employed in giving instruction in such subjects as Arithmetic, Nature-Study, and Physical Drill. In the Senior School, the instruction throughout (with the exception of that in Higher Mathematics, and Mathematical Science, where English must necessarily predominate until we have Irish text-books and a recognized body of technical terms) is fully bilingual. That is to say, Irish, English and other modern languages are taught, each through the medium of itself; subjects other than modern languages are taught through the medium both of Irish and English. As regards procedure, occasionally a lesson is given in Irish only or in English only; but the rule is, whether the subject be Christian Doctrine or Algebra, Nature-Study or Latin, to teach the lesson first in Irish and then repeat it in English, or vice-versa. In such subjects as Dancing and Physical Drill English can practically be dispensed with. As the general medium of communication between masters and pupils in the schoolroom Irish is the more commonly used of the two vernaculars.
This system has been at work since September last. We have yet to perfect it in many of its details, but it is not likely that we shall ever find it necessary to modify many of its principles. Already it has justified itself by its results. Boys who came to us on September 8th wholly ignorant that such a language existed, have now a good working command of Irish conversation, and can easily follow a lesson in Algebra or in Euclid conducted in Irish. At the same time I believe we have taught English and French (especially on the conversational side), Latin and Greek, Physical Science and Mathematics, at least as well as they are taught in any of the unilingual schools, while we have added a whole phase of work in History, Geography, and Nature-Study, to which there is no parallel in the curriculum of any school in Ireland.
I mentioned at the commencement that our boys now number seventy. It has been very pleasant to watch the steady accessions to the little band of forty that mustered on the first morning. We started with four classrooms, but had to add a fifth, a larger one than any except the main one, before the year was half-way through. Even the space thus secured is too small for our growing numbers. We have in hands a building scheme which includes the erection of an Aula Maxima for purposes of general assembly, of a Physical and Chemical Laboratory, and of a new Refectory (for we propose to convert our present Refectory, the fine old dining-room of Cullenswood House, into a Library). We are also anxious to build a School Chapel, in order that we may have the great privilege of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in our midst, and of daily Mass within our own walls. How much of this scheme we shall be able to carry out before our boys return in September is a matter which is at present exercising my mind. Sometimes I wish that a millionaire would endow us with a princely foundation, and sometimes I feel that it is better to build up things slowly and toilsomely ourselves.
Our first attempt at the presentation of plays was at our St. Enda’s Day celebration on March 20th, 21st, and 22nd last, when in the School Gymnasium, converted for the occasion into a beautiful little theatre, our boys performed An Craoibhin’s “An Naomh ar Iarraidh” and Mr. Standish O’Grady’s “The Coming of Fionn.” We had an audience of over a hundred each evening, our guests on the third evening including Sir John Rhys, Mr. Eoin MacNeill, Mr. W. B. Yeats, Mr. Stephen Gwynn, and Mr. Padraic Colum. All these, especially Mr. Yeats, were very generous in their praise of our lads, who, I hope, will not be spoiled by the tributes they received from such distinguished men. The Press notices, too, were very kindly. The Irish Independent and the London Sphere published photographs. The Freeman s Journal dwelt on the beautiful speaking of the actors, which, it said, had none of the stiffness and crudeness usually characteristic of schoolboy elocution. Mr. D. P. Moran wrote in the Leader:
“There was a prologue to each piece, and both were excellently spoken. Dr. Hyde’s little play, ‘An Naomh ar Iarraidh,’ was well done, and particularly well staged. ‘The Coming of Fionn’ was likewise a striking performance. We are not enamoured much of the cult of words on the stage that has to fight for existence in the world, but words and their delivery are all-important in school-plays. The players in ‘The Coming of Fionn’ spoke their words excellently, and half the pleasure of a pleasant performance was the distinct and measured declamation. Indeed, we can write with enthusiasm — though some cynical people don’t think we have any — of the plays at Sgoil Eanna. The stage and costumes emanated from the school, and the costumes were striking. . .
In the Nation Mr. W. P. Ryan wrote:
“The whole environment and atmosphere were delightful, but the human interest aroused by the boys is what remains kindliest in the memory. Boys as players are often awkward, ill at ease, and unnatural, as if they could not take kindly to the make-believe. The boys in the Sgoil Eanna plays for the most part were serenely and royally at home. An Craoibhin’s delicate and tender little drama was delicately and tenderly interpreted; it had a religious sense and atmosphere about it, and the miracle seemed fitting and natural. In the ‘Coming of Fionn’ one could easily lose sight of the fact that it was dramatic representation; the boys for a time were a part of the heroic antiquity; dressed in the way they were, and intense and interested as they were, one could picture them in Tara or Eamhain without much straining of the imagination. The heroic spirit had entered into their hearts and their minds, and one realized very early indeed that the evening’s life and spirit were not something isolated, a phase and charm to be dropped when they reappeared in ordinary garb. The evening’s sense was a natural continuation of that and many other evenings and days when the spirit of Fionn and his heroic comrades had been instilled into their minds by those for whom the noble old-time love had a vivid and ever-active and effective meaning. Fionn and Cuchulainn and their high-heroic kin had become part of the mental life of the teachers and the taught. With much modern culture they had imbibed things of dateless age, things that time had tested and found perennially human and alive.”
And Mr. Padraic Colum wrote in Sinn Féin:
“The performance of ‘An Naomh ar Iarraidh’ gave one the impression that the play could never be better produced. It is out of the heart of childhood, and it has the child’s tears, the child’s faith, the child’s revelation. In this performance there was a delight that must always be wanting in the great art of the theatre; the child actors brought in no conscious, no distracting personality. It was like the enacting of one of the religious songs of Connacht. It was Gaelic from the beautiful traditional hymn sung at the opening to the prayer that closes the play. Standish O’Grady’s masque is really for the open air. The scene is nominally a hut, but the speeches and sentiments demand spaciousness; the plain with forest for a background. After childhood with its inner life, here was youth with its pride in conquest and deliverance. The language of ‘The Coming of Fionn’ is noble, but it is not quite dramatic speech. In the production there was no professionalism, no elaborate illusion. It was one with all noble art, because it came out of a comradeship of interest and inspiration; the art was here not rootless, it came out of belief, work and aspiration.”
In the notes which I prefixed to the programme of the plays I said that our plans included the enacting of a Pageant in the early summer and of a Miracle Play at Christmas. The early summer has come, and with it our Pageant. It deals with Boy-Deeds of Cuchulainn, I have extracted the story and a great part of the dialogue from the Táin, merely modernising (but altering as little as possible) the magnificent phrase of the epic. I have kept close to the Táin even at the risk of missing what some people might call dramatic effect, but in this matter I have greater trust in the instinct of the unknown shapers of our epic than in the instinct of any modern. I claim for my version one merit which I claim also for my episode of the Boy-Deeds in the Táin, namely, that it does not contain a single unnecessary speech, a single unnecessary word. If Conall Cearnach and Laoghaire Buadhach are silent figures in our Pageant, it is because they stand silent in the tale of events as told by the Ulster exiles over the camp-fire of Meadhbh and Aileall. For Feargus I invent two or three short speeches, but the only important departure (and these have a sufficiently obvious purpose) from the narrative of the Táin are in making Cuchulainn’s demand for arms take place on the playgreen of Eamhain Macha rather than in Conchobar’s sleeping-house, and in assigning to the Watchman the part played by Leabharcham in the epic. For everything else I have authority. Even the names of the boy-corps are not all fanciful, for around Follamhan, son of Conchobar (he who was to perish at the head of the macradh in the Ford of Slaughter) I group on the playground of Eamhain the sons of Uisneach, of Feargus, and of Conall Cearnach, boys who must have been Cuchulainn’s contemporaries in the boy-corps, though older than he. On how many of those radiant figures were dark fates to close in as the tragedy of Ulster unrolled!
The Chorus and the Song of the Sword have been set to music by Mr. MacDonnell, the latter to an arrangement of the well-known Smith song in the Petrie Collection, the former to an original air. I feel this music gives dignity to very common-place words. My friend Tadhg Ó Donnchadha has kindly checked over the verses in bad Rannaigheacht Bheag which I put into the mouths of the Chorus. Obligations of another sort I owe to my brother, who is responsible for the costumes, grouping and general production of the Pageant, and to my nephew, Mr. Alfred McGloughlin, for help in the same and other directions. Mr. McGloughlin’s name does not figure among the School Staff, but he might truly be called a member of the Staff without Portfolio. He is at our service whenever we want anything done which requires artistic insight and plastic dexterity of hand, be it the making of plans for an Aula Maxima or the construction of a chariot for Cuchulainn.
It may be wondered why we have undertaken the comparatively ambitious project of a Cuchulainn Pageant so early in our career, so soon, too, after our St. Enda’s Day Celebration. The reason is that we were anxious to crown our first year’s work with something worthy and symbolic; anxious to send our boys home with the knightly image of Cuchulainn in their hearts, and his knightly words ringing in their ears. They will leave St. Enda’s under the spell of the magic of their most beloved hero, the Macaomh who is, after all, the greatest figure in the epic of their country, indeed, as I think, the greatest in the epic of the world. Whether the Pageant will be an entire success I cannot venture to prophesy, but I feel sure that our boys will do their best and that, if they do not render full justice to the great story, at least they will not spoil it. I feel sure, too, that Eamonn Bulfin will be duly beautiful and awful as Cathbhadh the Druid; that Denis Gwynn will be gallant and noble as Conchobar Mac Neasa, Conchobar, young and gracious, as yet unstained by the blood of the children of Uisneach; and that Frank Dowling will realise, in face and figure and manner, my own high ideal of the child, Cuchulainn; that, “small, dark, sad boy, comeliest of the boys of Eire,” shy and modest in a boy’s winning way, with a boy’s aloofness and a boy’s mystery, with a boy’s grave earnestness broken ever and anon by a boy’s irresponsible gaiety; a boy merely to all who looked upon him, and unsuspected for a hero save in his strange moments of exaltation, when the seven-fold splendours blazed in his eyes and the hero-light shone above his head.