When I sent the last number of An Macaomh from Cullenswood House I had no more idea that within twelve months I should be sending out this number from a slope of the Dublin mountains than that I should be sending it from the plains of Timbuctoo. Yet very soon afterwards I had convinced myself that the work I had planned to do for my pupils was impossible of accomplishment at Cullenswood. We were, so to speak, too much in the Suburban Groove. The city was too near; the hills were too far. The house itself, beautiful and roomy though it was, was not large enough for our swelling numbers. The playfield, though our boys had trained themselves there to be the cleverest hinders in Dublin, gave no scope for that outdoor life, that intercourse with the wild things of the woods and the wastes (the only things in Ireland that know what Freedom is), that daily adventure face to face with elemental Life and Force, with its moral discipline, with its physical hardening, which ought to play so large a part in the education of a boy. Remember that our ideal was the play-green of Eamhain, where the most gracious of all education systems had its finest expression. In a word, St. Enda’s had the highest aim in education of any school in Ireland: it must have the worthiest home.
To these considerations was soon added another. The parents of some of my boys were pressing me to establish a similar school for girls. I had hoped that this burden would be taken up by someone else; but, though many were eager to join us, no one seemed quite sufficiently detached from the claims of other service to become the standard bearer of this new adventure. Then it came to me, with the clearness of a call to action, that by taking one very bold step I could at once achieve a more noble future for St. Enda’s, and make it possible for a sister-school to come into being, with similar potentialities of growth. If I could transplant St. Enda’s to some wide and beautiful place among or near the hills, Cullenswood House (which was fortunately my property) would naturally become the cradle of a girls’ school, even as it had cradled St. Enda’s. Here was a great possibility. All those interested in my work agreed as to its desirability. I have constantly found that to desire is to hope, to hope is to believe, and to believe is to accomplish. I wrote to some friends, poor but generous people who had helped me in other causes; I consulted those of the parents of my boys whom it was my privilege to know personally; a sufficient number of those thus appealed to shared my desire transmuted, through hope, to faith; and our faith has found its inevitable fruition in accomplishment. St. Enda’s has now as noble a home as any other school in Ireland can have had either in old time or new; and Cullenswood House shelters its sister-school of St. Ita’s. Thus the adventure of three years ago is seen to have been the forerunner of a new order; and An Macaomh, hitherto the organ of a school, becomes in some sense the organ of a movement.
The permanence of that order is not yet guaranteed; the issue of that movement I do not yet see. Wise men have told me that I ought never to set my foot on a path unless I can see clearly whither it will lead me. But that philosophy would condemn most of us to stand still till we rot. Surely one can do no more than assure oneself that each step one takes is right: and as to the rightness of a step one is fortunately answerable only to one’s conscience and not to the wise men of the countinghouses. The street will pass judgment on our enterprises according as they have “succeeded” or “failed”; but if one can feel that one has striven faithfully to do a right thing does not one stand ultimately justified, no matter what the issue of one’s attempt, no matter what the sentence of the street?
In most of the enterprises of life a fund of faith is a more valuable asset than a sum in Consols. Many years ago I knew a parish priest who wanted to build a church. He went to his bank for a loan. When asked by the bank manager what security he had to offer, he made the simple and natural reply: “St. Joseph will see you paid.” “St. Joseph is an estimable saint,” said the bank manager, “but unfortunately he is not a negotiable security.” The mot passed into a proverb among the commercial folk of Dublin, and the bank manager gained the reputation of a wit. Both bank manager and priest have since gone down to dusty death; but the priest’s dying eyes saw his church walls rising slowly, and to-day the church stands, grave and beautiful, in the midst of the people. The laugh, to speak without irreverence, is on the side of St. Joseph. So does the spiritual always triumph over the actual (for the spiritual, being the true actual, is stronger than the forms and bulks we call actual), and a simple man’s faith is found more potent than a negotiable instrument. If sometimes this does not seem to hold, it is because of some wavering on the part of those who profess the faith, some shrinking from an ultimate heroism, some coming home to them of an old and forgotten sin. That is why in the history of the world the tales of its lost causes move us most and teach us best.
Each of our own souls has its own unwritten annals of causes lost and won. Some of us might fight our silent interior battles more stubbornly if we realized that the issue of each one of them has a bearing on the issue of every battle that shall ever again be fought for all eternity. The causes, earthly and divine, which we champion suffer from every defeat that Right has ever undergone in the fortresses of our hearts. Lonely as each soul is in its barred house, it is part of a universal conscription, and its every disgrace brings dishonour on the flag. It can best be true to its causes, and to the great cause, by being true to its finest self.
So much depends on what we only half know and on what we know not at all in ourselves and in those about us, that no man can be certain how his schemes will eventuate. But be sure that if we do manfully the thing that seems right to us we must in the long run rise to some achievement. It may not be the achievement we dreamt of; it may, to the world, and even to ourselves, wear the aspect of a failure. But the world is not our judge, and a weary and disappointed spirit is often unjust to itself.
My friends and I hope and believe that we have founded in Sgoil Eanna and Sgoil Ide two noble schools which for many years to come will send out Irish boys and girls filled with that heroic spirit which in old days gave Macha strength to run her race and prompted Enda to leave a king’s house for the desolation of Arran, and which in the days of our great-grandfathers sent Emmet with a smiling face to the gibbet in Thomas Street, and nerved Anne Devlin to bare her back to the scourges of Sirr’s soldiery. A new heroic age in Ireland may be a visionary’s dream, or it may come about in some other way than that which we have planned; our schools may pass away or degenerate: but at least this attempt has been made, this right thing has been striven after, and there will be something to the good somewhere if it be only a memory and a resolve in the heart of one of the least of our pupils.
I am not sure whether it is symptomatic of some development within me, or is merely a passing phase, or comes naturally from the associations that cling about these old stones and trees, that, whereas at Cullenswood House I spoke oftenest to our boys of Cuchulainn and his compeers of the Gaelic prime, I have been speaking to them oftenest here of Robert Emmet and the heroes of the last stand. Cuchulainn was our greatest inspiration at Cullenswood; Robert Emmet has been our greatest inspiration here. In truth, it was the spirit of Emmet that led me to these hillsides. I had been reading Mr. Gwynn’s book, and I came out to Rathfarnham in the wake of Emmet, tracing him from Marshalsea Lane to Harold’s Cross, from Harold’s Cross to Butterfield House, from Butterfield House to the Priory and the Hermitage. In Butterfield Lane, the house where he lived and where Anne Devlin kept her vigil still stands; the fields that were once Brian Devlin’s dairy farm are still green. At the Priory John Philpot Curran entertained and talked, and there Emmet came and raised grave pleading eyes to Sarah Curran. Across the way, at the Hermitage, Edward Hudson had made himself a beautiful home, adding a portico and a new wing to the solemn old granite house that is now Sgoil Eanna, and dotting his woods and fields with the picturesque bridges and arches and grottoes on which eighteenth century proprietors spent the money that their descendants (if they had it) would spend on motor-cars. The Hudsons and the Currans were friends; and, so the legend runs, Emmet and Sarah met oftener at the Hermitage than at the Priory, for they feared the terrible eye of Curran. Old people point out the places where they walked and sat: the path that runs through our wood to the left of the avenue is known as Emmet’s Walk, and the pseudo-military building occupied as one of our lodges is called Emmet’s Fort. A monument in the wood, beyond the little lake, is said to mark the spot where a horse of Sarah Curran’s was killed and is buried. I have not troubled to verify these minute traditions; I doubt if they are capable of verification. The main story is true enough. We know that Emmet walked under these trees (some of them were already old when with bent head he passed beneath their branches up the walk, tapping the ground with his cane as was his wont); he must often have sat in this room where I now sit, and, lifting his eyes, have seen that mountain as I see it now (it is Kilmashogue, amid whose bracken he was to couch the night the soldiers were in Butterfield House), bathed in a purple haze as a yellow wintry sun sets, while Tibradden has grown dark behind it. I do not think that a house could have a richer memory to treasure, or a school a finer inspiration, than that of that quiet figure with its eyes on Kilmashogue.
Edward Hudson’s son, William Elliot Hudson, was born in this house on August 11th, 1796. He lived to be the friend of Davis and Duffy, and whenever any good cause they had at heart was endangered for want of funds, Hudson’s purse was always open. The Celtic and Ossianic Societies found him an unwearying patron. He died in 1857, having a few months before his death endowed the Royal Irish Academy with the fund for the publication of its still unfinished Irish Dictionary. He also left the Academy his library. If ever we have money to spare we will place a bust of that good man in one of our halls (the Academy has, I think, a marble bust of him by Christopher Moore). It is a strange and symbolic thing that the house in which William Hudson was born should after a hundred and fourteen years become the locus of such an endeavour as ours, and that his father’s grottoes and woodland cells, though they never (as Hudson seemed to have hoped posterity might believe) resounded to chant of monk or voice of Mass-bell, should re-echo the Irish war-cries of eighty militant young Gaels who find them admirably adapted for defence in the absence of cannon. Edward Hudson in the eighteenth century had his eyes on the sixth century, but he was building for us in the twentieth. His quarrying had ends he did not foresee, and his piled stones have at last their destined use.
One of the Hudsons married James Henthorne Todd, whose place is the next to ours on the Dublin side. On the other side of us stretches Marley, through which our stream comes from Glensouthwell and the hills. “Buck” Whaley’s more modest mansion is beyond the Priory. They were noble homes, those eighteenth-century mansions of County Dublin. An aroma as of high courtesy and rich living, sometimes passing into the riotous, still adheres to them. The Bossi mantle-pieces, the great spaces of hall, the old gardens, with their fountains and sun-dials, carefully walled in from the wilderness, all this has a certain homely stateliness, a certain artificiality if you will, not very Irish, yet expressive of a very definite phase in Irish, or Anglo-Irish, history. In such mansions as these lived those who ruled Ireland; in such mansions as these lived those who sold Ireland.
A prayer for Edward Hudson who made this home for us. A prayer for him for the spaciousness of soul which, while he was sufficiently the creature of his day to wall his inner gardens with walls as straight and as square as ever eighteenth-century formalist loved, prompted him to fling his outer walls now near, now far, up hill and down dale, so as to include within their verge not only the long straggling wood, and the four wide fields, but a winding strip of mountain glen with a rushing stream at its bottom. Perhaps I ought to say that I am not really sure that it was Hudson who built these walls: indeed walls were here half a century before his time; but there is a fashion at Sgoil Eanna of attributing everything ancient and modern to Edward Hudson, who has become a sort of local equivalent to the Roman guide’s Michelangelo. “’Tis wonderful the life a bit of water gives to a place,” said my predecessor’s gardener when conducting me on my first tour over the Hermitage. The stream makes three leaps within our grounds, and over each cascade thus formed a bridge has been thrown. When the river is in spate, as now, I hear the roar of the nearest cascade, a quarter-of-a-mile off at night from my bedroom. It reminds me of the life out there in the woods, in the grass, in the river. And in truth I don’t think more of wild life can be crowded into fifty acres anywhere else so near Dublin. It is not merely that the familiar birds of Irish woods and gardens seem to swarm here in numbers that I do not remember to have seen paralleled elsewhere, but that the shyer creatures of the mountains and hidden places abide with us or come down often to visit us, as if they felt at home here. With a smothered cry a partridge or a snipe will sometimes rise from your feet in the wood; when you come through the fields on some wild place of the stream you will not seldom surprise a heron rising on slow wings and drifting lazily away; often a coot will plash in the water. But the glory of our stream is its kingfishers. You catch athwart the current, between the steep wooded banks, a quiver of blue, a blue strange and exotic amid the sober greys and browns; then another and another, sometimes as many as five at a time, like so many quivering blue flames. We are all under geasa to cherish the rare, beautiful creature that has made our stream its home. There are fiercer and stronger fishers that haunt the stream too. Once or twice I have seen the little eager form of an otter gliding behind the sallies where the stream cuts deep. I think it is partly to that free-booter we owe it that the trout are not as numerous now as they were of yore. Yet we will not intervene between him and the fish; let them fight on their old war, instinct against instinct. Sometimes rabbits come out and gambol under the trees in the evening; and they are happy, in the foolish way of rabbits, till one of the river rats wants his supper. So day and night there is red murder in the greenwood and in every greenwood in the world. It is murder and death that make possible the terrible beautiful thing we call physical life. Life springs from death, life lives on death. Why do we loathe worms and vultures? We all batten on dead things, even as they do, only we, like most of our fellow-creatures, kill on purpose to eat, whereas they eat what has been killed without reference to them. All of which would be very terrible were death really an evil thing. . . . The otter and the river rats had made me forget the gentle squirrels. They share our trees with the birds, and try in vain to teach them (and us) their providence. A flying hurley ball has no terror for them, and sometimes they disport in the chestnut tree in the playfield even while a hurling match is in progress. They have a distant outpost beyond the walls. Often I see one running across the road from the Priory woods to ours. Long may their little colony flourish.
If our boys observe their fellow-citizens of the grass and woods and water as wisely and as lovingly as they should, I think they will learn much. That was one of my hopes in bringing them here from the suburbs. Every education must be said to fail which does not bring to the child two things, an inspiration and a certain hardening. Inspiration will come from the hero-stories of the world and especially of his own people; from the associations of the school place; from the humanity and great-heartedness of the teacher; from religion, humbly and reverently taught, humbly and reverently accepted, if it be really a spiritual religion and not a mere formula. In proportion as they bring such inspiration schools fulfil well the first part of their task. But they have more to do than this.
No dream is more foolish than the dream of some sentimentalists that the reign of force is past, or passing; that the world’s ancient law of unending strife has been repealed; that henceforward the first duty of every man is to be dapper. If I say that it is still the first duty of every man to be good, I shall be accused of being trite; but I am not more sure of the rightness of this than I am that it is the second duty of every man to be strong. We want again the starkness of the antique world. There will be battles, silent and terrible, or loud and catastrophic, while the earth and heavens last; and woe to him who flinches when his enemy compasses him about, for to him alone damnation is due. If this is true, it is of the uttermost importance that we should train every child to be an efficient soldier, efficient to fight, when need is, his own, his people’s, and the world’s battles, spiritual and temporal. And the old Ossianic definition of efficiency holds good:
“Strength in our hands, truth on our lips, and cleanness in our hearts.”
“Strength in our hands.” Our boys at Sgoil Eanna (and our girls at Sgoil Ide) have been seeking and gaining strength in their hands and all that strength of hand connotes (for the Ossianic storyteller meant the phrase to cover much) in many places and by divers ways, chiefly on their playing-fields and by wielding their camans. My salient recollection of last year will always be of a sunny hurling field and the rush of our players up it; of the admiration of the onlookers to see such light boyish figures, looking whiter and slighter in their white jerseys and knickers than they really were, pitted against young men, yet, going into the field so nonchalantly; of the deep cheer often repeated as their opponents piled up points; of Maurice Fraher, grand in defence, rallying a losing field; of the battle-cry “Sgoil Eanna” ringing out in clear boyish voices as Eamonn Bulfin received the ball from Vincent through Fred O’Doherty; of breathless suspense at a passage of miraculous passing between Eamonn Bulfin, Brendan O’Toole, and Frank Burke, back and forward, forward and back, all the world wondering; of Jerome Cronin standing ready, a slight figure, collected and watchful; of Burke, daring as Cuchulainn (whom he resembles in his size and in his darkness) outwitting or prostrating some towering full-back; of a quick pass to Jerome Cronin, Jerome’s lightning leap, his swift swinging stroke, and the ball singing into the goal as the heavens rang to the shout of “Sgoil Eanna”! Some such rally as this (it was like Cuchulainn’s battle-fury when Laegh reviled him) brought us absolute victory or changed rout into honourable defeat on many a hurling and football field last year. We fought our way through the season, winning the leadership and medals in the Juvenile Hurling League, and losing them in Minor Hurling and Football only in the finals.
This year we have called into existence (or rather Dr. Doody has called into existence on our behalf) a Leinster Inter-College Championship in Hurling and Football, which will further stimulate Sgoil Eanna to excel at its chosen games. And I am seeing to it that all our lads learn to shoot, to fence, to march, to box, to wrestle, and to swim. I hope that the other schools and colleges will follow us here, too. Every day I feel more certain that the hardening of her boys and young men is the work of the moment for Ireland.
The National University is at work, and Irish is part of its essential basis of work. The banner of Sgoil Eanna has been carried proudly into it by Denis Gwynn. At the examination in October for Entrance Scholarships at University College, Dublin, he won the first of the Classical Scholarships (£50), fighting, like our hurlers, a boy against men. His subjects were Greek, Latin and Irish. This, of course, is the highest academic distinction open to any pupil of a secondary school in Ireland. We may do memorable things in the years that are to come, but nothing more memorable, nothing more gallant, than the achievement of Denis Gwynn’s in the first year of the National University. Frank Connolly, Joseph Fegan, and William Bradley have also matriculated, so that something of our soldier spirit will soon be surging through Irish student-life outside these walls.
We sent forward some of our boys for the Intermediate last year, deviating from our maxims so far as to devote some weeks towards the end of the year to translating Irish and French texts into English. In the issue, John Dowling won an Exhibition in the Modern Literary Course of the Junior Grade, qualified for a prize in the Science Course, and won a Composition Prize in Irish. If we had concentrated on Intermediate work and adopted Intermediate methods I have no doubt we should have done even better. But we have not concentrated on Intermediate work, and have no intention of doing so; and as for methods, it is for the Intermediate Board to adopt ours, not for us to adopt theirs. In this coming year we shall use the Intermediate even more sparingly, convinced that our boys will be the gainers.
If we had been believers in luck we should never have left Cullenswood House, seeing that we achieved there last year the highest academic distinction and also the highest athletic distinction achievable by a secondary school in Ireland. Whatever tradition of success clings around the place our boys magnanimously bequeath to their sisters and little brothers who now sit in their old class-rooms and play in their old field. Of these newcomers in Cullenswood House, little can be written here, for they have yet their history to make. When I go to see them I find them full of the eagerness to attempt something, to accomplish something, if need be, to suffer something. I think that is the right spirit in which to begin the making of history.
It seems a far cry now back to our plays of February last, on the little stage at Cullenswood House, and their subsequent performance in the Abbey Theatre. Mr. Colum’s dramatization of one of the high tragedies of the Gael, “The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel,” was in the mood of great antique art, the mood of Egyptian sculpture and dan direach verse, solemn, uplifting, serenely sad like the vigil of those high ones who watch with pitying but unrelenting eyes the awful dooms and dolours of men. The other play, my dramatization of my own “Iosagan,” owed whatever beauty it had, a beauty altogether of interpretation, to the young actors who played it; and they did bring into it something of the beauty of their own fresh lives, the beauty of childhood, the beauty of boyhood. I fear that we shall find it difficult in the future to achieve anything finer in acting than was achieved by Sorley MacGarvey, Eamonn Bulfin, Desmond Ryan, and Denis Gwynn in “The Destruction of the Hostel,” and by Patrick Conroy and the whole group of children in “Iosagan.” And an almost higher achievement was the vast streets of Dublin. It was our last march to the old Sgoil Eanna. We have a larger school now, in a worthier place; but the old place and the faces in that march (for some who marched that night have never since answered a rally of Sgoil Eanna and never will again as schoolboys) are often in my mind; and sometimes I wonder whether, if ever I need them for any great service, they will rally, as many of them have promised to do, from wherever they may be, holding faith to the inspiration and the tradition I have tried to give them.