During the past six or seven years I have grown so accustomed to having an organ at my disposal for the expression of my views and whims that I have come to look on an organ, as some men look on tobacco and others on motor-cars and aeroplanes, as among the necessities of life. Use is a second nature, and the growing complexity of civilization adds daily to the list of indispensable things. I have a friend who wonders how I manage to exist without a Theatre of my own to “potter about” (being a poet in his public capacity he relaxes by being slangy in conversation), and another who marvels that I find the running of a School more interesting than the running of a Palestrina Choir. But Providence gives each of us his strength and his weakness, his wisdom and his folly, his likes and his wants as different one’s from the other’s as the markings on the palms of our hands. I have never felt the need of tobacco or of an aeroplane (I am sure that both one and the other would make me dizzy), but I do find the possession of a School and of an organ necessary at once to my happiness and to my usefulness; a School for bringing me into contact with the wisdom of children, and an organ for the purpose of disseminating the glad and noble things I learn from that contact. Whether those to whom I preach will place the same value on my preaching as I do myself is another question: enough for me that my tidings are spoken, let the winds of the world blow them where they list.
It will thus be understood that it is a fortunate thing for me, if not for the public, that I founded An Macaomh before I descended from the bad eminence of the editorship of An Claidheamh Soluis. I have still my organ; and it is a luxury to feel that I can set down here any truth, however obvious, without being called a liar, any piece of wisdom, however sane, without being docketed a lunatic. An Macaomh is my own, to do as I please; and if through sheer obstinacy in saying in it what I think ought to be said, I run it against some obstruction and so wreck it, at least I shall enjoy something of the grim satisfaction which I suppose motorists experience in wrecking their thousand guinea Panhards through driving them as they think they ought to be driven.
A slight change in the sub-title of An Macaomh hints at a slight, a very slight, widening of its scope. The Review will remain identified with our adventure at Sgoil Eanna as long as the two endure, but I think it will become less and less of a school magazine (at least in the accepted sense) as time goes on. My hope is that it will come to be regarded as the rallying-point for the thought and aspirations of all those who would bring back again in Ireland that Heroic Age which reserved its highest honour for the hero who had the most childlike heart, for the king who had the largest pity, and for the poet who visioned the truest image of beauty. I think I shall be able to give An Macaomh this significance without departing from my original intention of admitting to its pages the work only of those who are in some way associated with Sgoil Eanna. Nearly everyone whose name stands for high thought or achievement in any sphere of wholesome endeavour will in his turn address our boys in their study Hall; and these addresses will find a place in An Macaomh along with the work of the masters and pupils. It may be that the most precious boon enjoyed by the boys of St. Enda’s is the way they thus come in personal touch with the men and women who are thinking the highest thoughts and doing the highest deeds in Ireland to-day.
Philosophy is as old as the hills, and the science of to-day is only a new flowering of the science that made lovely the ancient cities and gardens of the East. With all our learning we are not yet as cultured as were the Greeks who crowded to hear the plays of Sophocles; with all our art institutions we have not yet that love for the beautiful which burned in the heart of the middle ages. All the problems with which we strive were long ago solved by our ancestors, only their solutions have been forgotten. Take the problem of education, that is the problem of bringing up a child.
We constantly speak and write as if a philosophy of education were first formulated in our own time. But all the wise peoples of old, faced and solved that problem for themselves, and most of their solutions were better than ours. Professor Culverwell thinks that the Jews gave it the best solution. For my part, I salute the old Irish. The philosophy of education is preached now, but it was practised by the founders of the Gaelic system two thousand years ago. Their very names for “education” and “teacher” and “pupil” show that they had gripped the heart of the problem. The word for “education” among the old Gael was the same as the word for “fostering;” the teacher was a “fosterer” and the pupil was a “foster-child.” Now to “foster” is exactly the function of a teacher: not primarily to “lead up,” to “guide,” to “conduct through a course of studies,” and still less to “indoctrinate” to “inform,” to “prepare for exams,” but primarily to “foster” the elements of character already present. I put this in another way in the first number of An Macaomh when I wrote that the true work of the teacher may be said to be, to help the child to realize himself at his best and worthiest. One does not want to make each of one’s pupils a replica of oneself (God forbid), holding the self-same opinions, prejudices, likes, illusions. Neither does one want to drill all one’s pupils into so many regulation little soldiers or so many stodgy little citizens, though this is apparently the aim of some of the most cried-up of modern systems. In point of fact, man is not primarily a member of a State, but a human individuality — that is, a human soul imprisoned in a human body; a shivering human soul with its own awful problems, its own august destiny, lonelier in its house of clay than any prisoner in any Bastille in the world. The true teacher will recognise in each of his pupils an individual human soul, distinct and different from every other human soul that has ever been fashioned by God, miles and miles apart from the soul that is nearest and most akin to it, craving, indeed, comradeship and sympathy and pity, needing also, it may be, discipline and guidance and a restraining hand, but imperiously demanding to be allowed to live its own life, to be allowed to bring itself to its own perfection; because for every soul there is a perfection meant for it alone, and which it alone is capable of attaining. So the primary office of the teacher is to “foster” that of good which is native in the soul of his pupil, striving to bring its inborn excellences to ripeness rather than to implant in it excellences exotic to its nature. It comes to this, then, that the education of a child is greatly a matter, in the first place, of congenial environment and, next to this, of a wise and loving watchfulness whose chief appeal will be to the finest instincts of the child itself.
It is a long time since I was first attracted by the Gaelic plan of educating children. One of my oldest recollections is of a kindly grey-haired seanchaidhe, a woman of my mother’s people, telling tales by the kitchen fireplace. She spoke more wisely and nobly of ancient heroic things than anyone else I have ever known. Her only object was to amuse me, yet she was the truest of all my teachers. One of her tales was of a king, the most famous king of his time in Ireland, who had gathered about him a number of boys, the children of his friends and kinsmen, whom he had organized into a little society, giving them a constitution and allowing them to make their own laws and elect their own leaders. The most renowned of the king’s heroes were appointed to teach them chivalry, the most skilled of his men of art to teach them arts, the wisest of his druids to teach them philosophy. The king himself was one of their teachers, and so did he love their companionship that he devoted one-third of all the time he saved from affairs of state to teaching them or watching them at play; and if any stranger came to the dun during that time, even though he were a king’s envoy demanding audience, there was but one answer to him: “the king is with his foster-children.” This was my first glimpse of the Boy-Corps of Eamhain-Macha, and the picture has remained in my heart.
In truth, I think that the old Irish plan of education, as idealised for boys in the story of the Macradh of Eamhain and for girls in that of the Grianan of Lusga, was the wisest and most generous that the world has ever known. The bringing together of children in some pleasant place under the fosterage of some man famous among his people for his greatness of heart, for his wisdom, for his skill in some gracious craft — here we get the two things on which I lay most stress in education, the environment, and the stimulus of a personality which can address itself to the child’s worthiest self. Then, the character of free government within certain limits, the right to make laws and maintain them, to elect and depose leaders — here was scope for the growth of individualities yet provision for maintaining the suzerainty of the common weal; the scrupulous co-relation of moral, intellectual, and physical training, the open-air life, the very type of the games which formed so large a part of their learning — all these things were designed with a largeness of view foreign to the little minds that devise our modern makeshifts for education. Lastly, the “aite,” fosterer, or teacher, had as colleagues in his work of fosterage no ordinary hirelings, but men whom their gifts of soul, or mind, or body, had lifted high above their contemporaries — the captains, the poets, the prophets of the people.
As the Boy-Corps of Eamhain stands out as the idealization of the system, Cuchulainn stands out as the idealization of the child fostered under the system. And thus Cuchulainn describes his fostering:
“Fionnchaomh nourished me at her breast; Feargus bore me on his knee; Conall was my companion-in-arms; Blai, the lord of lands, was my hospitaller; fair-speeched Seancha trained me in just judgment; on the knee of Amhairgin the poet I learned poetry; Cathbhadh of the gentle face taught me druid lore; Conchobar kindled my boyish ambition. All the chariot-chiefs and kings and poets of Ulster have taken part in my bringing up.”
Such was the education of Cuchulainn, the most perfect hero of the Gael. Cuchulainn may never have lived, and there may never have been a Boy-Corps at Eamhain; but the picture endures as the Gael’s idealization of the kind of environment and the kind of fostering which go to the making of a perfect hero. The result of it all, the simplicity and the strength of true heroism, is compressed into a single sentence put into the mouth of the hero by the old shaper of the tale of Cuchulainn’s Phantom Chariot: “I was a child with children; I was a man with men.”
Civilization has taken such a queer turn that it might not be easy to restore the old Irish plan of education in all its details. Our heroes and seers and scholars would not be so willing to add a Boy-Corps or a Grianan to their establishments as were their prototypes in Ireland from time immemorial till the fall of the Gaelic polity. I can imagine how blue Dr. Hyde, Mr. Yeats, and Mr. MacNeill would look if their friends informed them that they were about to send them their children to be fostered. But, at least, we can bring the heroes and seers and scholars to the schools (as we do at Sgoil Eanna) and get them to talk to the children; and we can rise up against the system which tolerates as teachers the rejected of all other professions, rather than demanding for so priestlike an office the highest souls and the noblest intellects of the race. I think, too, that the little child-republics I have described, with their own laws and their own leaders, their life face to face with nature, their care for the body as well as for the mind, their fostering of individualities yet never at the expense of the commonwealth, ought to be taken as models for all our modern schools. But I must not be misunderstood. In pleading for an attractive school-life, I do not plead for making school-life one long grand picnic: I have no sympathy with sentimentalists who hold that we should surround children with an artificial happiness, shutting out from their ken pain and sorrow and retribution and the world’s law of unending strife; the key-note of the school-life I desiderate is effort on the part of the child itself, struggle, self-sacrifice, self-discipline, for by these only does the soul rise to perfection. I believe in gentleness, but not in softness. I would not place too heavy a burden on young shoulders, but I would see that no one, boy or man, shirk the burden he is strong enough to bear.
As for the progress of things at Sgo Eanna, our Boy-Corps now numbers just a hundred, which is two-thirds the muster of the Boy-Corps of Eamhain. When we reach Eamhain’s thrice fifty I think we shall stop. I do not know that any man ought to make himself responsible for the education of multitudes of children; at any rate, to get to know a hundred and fifty boys as a master ought to know his pupils is a task that I feel sufficiently big for myself at present. The work is fascinating. One’s life in a school is a perpetual adventure, an adventure among souls and minds; each child is a mystery, and if the plucking out of the heart of so many mysteries is fraught with much labour and anxiety, there are compensations richer than have ever rewarded any voyagers among treasure-islands in tropic seas.
In the Midsummer number of An Macaomh I threw out a modest hint to millionaires that Sgoil Eanna was in need of an endowment. I am afraid no millionaires read An Macaomh. Of the wealthy people who do read it none of them took my hint. I begin to fear that it is only poor men who are generous. Or, perhaps, the explanation is that wealth and ideas do not consort. At any rate, except that one kind friend has undertaken to provide us with a School Chapel, we have been left the proud privilege of carrying out our new building scheme unaided. We have now our Study Hall, built to hold thrice fifty with room and verge to spare; our Art Room; our Physico-Chemical Laboratory; a new Refe tory, the old Refectory having been converted into a Library (where we have already two thousand volumes); and a new Museum. I do not know that we need much else in the way of accommodation or equipment for teaching, except, perhaps, a special room for Manual Instruction. That will, doubtless, come in good time. We have a way of getting things done here, and are commencing to eliminate the word “impossible” from our vocabulary.
The original Prospectus of Sgoil Eanna announced that where the parents so desired pupils of the School would be prepared for the examinations of the Board of Intermediate Education. Nevertheless, having no guarantee that we would receive any credit for our direct method teaching of languages or for our bilingual methods of instruction in other subjects, we decided last year with the concurrence of the parents of our boys, to hold aloof from the Intermediate. The establishment of a system of oral inspection by the Intermediate Board has brought about a new state of affairs which makes it possible for us to avail of the Board’s grants, without sacrificing any of our principles. We have not converted the School into an Intermediate School pure and simple, but we are prepared to fulfil the announcement in our first Prospectus, that is to say, to send forward for the examinations of the Intermediate Board such boys as we think its programme suits, always pre-supposing the willingness of the parents. The only change in our method of working which this entails is that towards the end of the year we shall have to devote a few weeks translating the prescribed language texts into English: for the rest, all our language teaching will be done on the direct method. Our classes in Physics and Chemistry have been placed under the inspection of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction: here unfortunately, English must reign until Irish evolves a body of technical terms in these subjects. This cannot be done in a day or a year. As a preliminary we want Irish-speaking students to study Physical Science and then to write text-books. I would advise the Gaelic League to interest itself in the training of Irish speakers as Science Teachers. To an advertisement last year for a Science Master “with a knowledge of Irish,” I received no reply; to an advertisement making no stipulation with regard to Irish I received forty. The explanation is not far to seek. The fact that Irish does not form part of the essential basis of education in Ireland, not being essential for entrance to the Universities and hence not essential in the secondary schools, means of course that students who intend to specialize in Science neglect Irish as unnecessary to their purpose.
Nothing has given me greater pleasure during the past session than to watch Sgoil Eanna developing as it has been doing on the athletic side. Our boys must now be amongst the best hurlers and footballers in Ireland. Wellington is credited with the dictum that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton. I am certain that when it comes to a question of Ireland winning battles, her main reliance must be on her hurlers. To your camans, O boys of Banba!
The first number of An Macaomh appeared on the eve of our Cuchulainn Pageant and the Distribution of Prizes. The Pageant was a large undertaking, but we seem to have satisfied everyone except ourselves. We had over five hundred guests in our playing-field, including most of the people in Dublin who are interested in art and literature. I think the boyish freshness of our miniature Macradh, and especially the shy and comely grace of Frank Dowling as Cuchulainn, really pleased them. Mr. Colum wrote very generously of us in Sinn Féin, Mr. Ryan in the Irish Nation, and Mr. Bulfin in An Claidheamh Soluis. The Freeman’s Journal, in addition to giving a special report, honoured us with a leading article from the pen of Mr. Stephen MacKenna.
Mr. MacNeill distributed the prizes, and he, Mr. Bulfin, and Dr. Henry addressed the boys and our guests. I have a grievance against the reporters for leaving before the speeches. They were only speeches at a school fete, but they contained things that were better worth recording than all the news that was in the newspapers the next day. I did not go beyond what I felt when, in tendering the speakers the thanks of the masters and the boys, I said that our year’s work would have been sufficiently rewarded if it had received no other recompense than the high and noble things Mr. MacNeill had just spoken in praise of it.
Our plays this year will take place somewhere between St. Brigid’s Day and the beginning of Lent. They will consist of a Heroic Play in English and a Miracle Play in Irish. Mr. Colum is writing the English Play for us: its subject is the doom of Conaire Mór at Bruidhean Da Dearga. The Miracle Play will probably be the dramatized version of “Iosagan” which I print in this number of An Macaomh.
In writing the Cuchulainn Pageant I religiously followed the phraseology of the Táin. In “Iosagan” I have as religiously followed the phraseology of the children and old men in Iar-Connacht from whom I have learned the Irish I speak. I have put no word, no speech, into the mouths of my little boys which the real little boys of the parish I have in mind — boys whom I know as well as my pupils at Sgoil Eanna — would not use in the same circumstances. I have given their daily conversation, anglicisms, “vulgarisms,” and all: if I gave anything else my picture would be a false one.
The story which I now dramatize has been described by an able but eccentric critic as a “standard of revolt.” It was meant as a standard of revolt, but my critic must pardon me if I say that the standard is not the standard of impressionism. It is the standard of definite art form as opposed to the folk form. I may or may not be a good standard bearer, but at any rate the standard is raised and the writers of Irish are flocking to it.
“Iosagan” is not a play for the ordinary theatres or for the ordinary players. It requires a certain atmosphere, and a certain attitude of mind on the part of the actors. It has in fact been written for performance in a particular place and by particular players. I know that in that place and by those players it will be treated with the reverence due to a prayer. In bringing the Child Jesus into the midst of a group of boys disputing about their games, or to the knee of an old man who sings nursery rhymes to children, I am imagining nothing improbable, nothing outside the bounds of the everyday experience of innocent little children and reverent-minded old men and women. I know a priest who believes that he was summoned to the death-bed of a parishioner by Our Lord in person; and there are many hundreds of people in the countryside I write of who know that on certain nights Mary and her Child walk through the villages and if the cottage doors be left open, enter and sit awhile at the firesides of the poor.