From Guth na Bliadhna, vo. 4, 1905.
I find myself on a long stretch of mountain road in remotest Iar-Chonnachta. I am in the heart of the lonely silent land in which the Gael maintains his last firm foothold. Anglicisation, as a living energetic fact, is at least a score of miles behind me. I should have to travel the distance, either to Galway or to Oughterard, to find a community whose daily speech is English. In the cabins which dot these brown hillsides, or which lie along the shores of these sheltered bays, Irish is the only language known. The thought makes my journey pleasant. In the kindly Irish west I feel that I am in Ireland. To feel so in Dublin, where my daily work lies, sometimes requires a more vigorous effort of imagination than I am capable of.
But even in Iar-Chonnachta Anglicisation has its busy agents. A car approaches, driving rapidly to catch the Galway train at the roadside station ten miles off. As it passes me the driver, a country lad in báiníns, salutes me cheerily in Irish. The passenger, an important-looking person enveloped in a huge overcoat, salutes me neither in Irish nor in English. He favours me instead with a supercilious stare. In the west it is not customary for two strangers to pass on the road without exchanging greetings. But allowance must be made for the difference in status between the important-looking gentleman and myself. I am a mere member of the general public. He is an Official Personage. He is the representative of the English State. He stands for Civilisation. He incarnates Education. To be precise, he is an Inspector of “National” Schools.
He is evidently returning from “inspecting” the “National” which lies half a mile ahead on the roadside. I marked it when I passed this way twelve months ago. I knew it to be a “National School” by its ugliness. Moreover, as I cycled past, I heard the loud voice of a man talking in English. It is only inside “National” Schools that one hears English in Iar-Chonnachta.
Scarcely has the car rattled by when in front of me on the road there arises a cheerful clamour. Plainly, the children let loose from school. The din grows nearer. I catch lively interchanges in Irish.
“Togha fir, a Sheagháin!”
“Do shlán fút, a Mháirtin!”
“Ara, a Chuilm, a dhiabhail, céard tá tú a dhéanamh?”
It sounds wondrously pleasant, this sudden and jocund uproar amongst the silent hills. There is still life and joy in Ireland. Even a spell of five hours a day in a “National” School does not avail to still the song of youth in the heart of a child.
“Is breagh an rud an óige, agus is breaghtha ‘ná sin an tsaoirse!” says a recent Irish writer, recalling school days spent in this very region which I am traversing. So these boys feel now, though the thought may not shape itself into so many words. But there is a special reason for this sudden and vociferous outburst of Irish on the part of these liberated scholars. They have spent five hours in a “National” School. This means, my Scottish Gaelic reader, that for five mortal hours they have been precluded from exchanging as much as a syllable with one another or with any one else in the only language they know. And why? Understand that they are being “educated.”
We have unique and wonderful “educational” methods in the west of Ireland. One of them is to ignore the only language spoken by the pupils. Another is to pretend that there is no such place in the world as Ireland. A third is to inculcate that the English Government is Almighty Providence, and that America is an El-Dorado in which gold is to be picked up on the streets. So our children, who enter school with an abundant store of pure and vivacious Irish, leave it “educated” into ignoramuses who speak no language, who own no country, who have but one ambition in life – to shake the dust of Ireland off their feet as soon as they can; mere atrophied intelligences; countryless waifs; industrial inefficients carefully and laboriously manufactured under the aegis of the State and at the expense of Irish ratepayers.
But I digress. The merry group of school boys approaches me. These are but in process of “education.” Intelligence has not yet been “educated” from their countenances, nor laughter from their hearts. That will come all too soon. In school, indeed, they are blocks, stones, clods. But here, with the mountain road beneath their bare feet and the mountain breeze blowing in their faces, they have hearts, they have intelligences, they have – as my ears tell me – voices. Facts which my genial friend the Inspector, who has spent some hours in vain endeavours to induce them to speak English, is doubtless far from suspecting.
The clamour is hushed into comparative decorum as the group draws near me. As each passes he salutes me shyly but pleasantly in Irish. Most of them know by sight the “diune uasal” from Baile Átha Cliath who stayed in the village last year, who went boating with some of their fathers and elder brothers, and who so often made one of the fireside group at Conn ––’s evening céilidh. So they have a merry nod and a smile for me, and give me voluble answers to my questions, which range from the state of the parish priest’s health to the recent improvements in the handball-court behind Pat ––’s shop.
The group passes on with renewed outburst of joyous clamour. A race is started, and they soon disappear over the brow of the hill in the road. As I approach the schoolhouse, I descry coming towards me a solitary straggler from the merry band – a small gasúr, in bare feet and báiníus like the rest. He comes along slowly, and as he draws near I perceive that he is crying bitterly. Now I recognise him as the little son of Máire –– at the cross-roads. He it was whom I took with me as my companion when I climbed Cnoc –– last year. Naturally, I stop him to renew acquaintance, and to inquire the cause of his tears.
“Céard tá ort, a Sheagháinin?”
“Bhu-bhu-bhuail an máighistir mé?”
“Ó-ó. Agus céard rinne tú as an mbealach?”
“L-labh-labhair mé Gaedhilge leis an ‘Inspecthor’.”
The child had been caned – cruelly caned, as I learned afterwards – because, in a moment of confusion, he had spoken Irish to the Inspector!
If these things happened in Poland or in Finland or in Alsace-Lorraine these islands would ring with denunciations. The British and the West British and – for aught I know – the North British press would report the facts under scare headings. We should hear of the “Language War in Finland,” or of the “Reign of Terror in Polish Schools,” or of “German Aggression in Alsace-Lorraine.” But when Connacht is in the theatre of tyranny the outside world hears nothing, for England controls the press agencies.
I want my Scottish Gaelic friends to realise the sternness of the fight which is being waged in Ireland. We have nearly 700,000 Irish speakers. Over one-third of the area of the country Irish is the language of the majority of the homes. We have wide districts, west, and north-west, and south-west, in which for practical purposes Irish is the only language known. Yet the school system in these districts still, broadly speaking, ignores Irish as an instrument of education. In only thirteen schools in all Ireland has the Bilingual Programme, recently wrested from the Commissioners of “National” Education, been officially sanctioned. Not one-sixth of the schools in the Irish-speaking area make a genuine effort to utilise the vernacular as a medium of instruction.
There are still schools in purely Irish-speaking localities in which Irish has absolutely no place whatever on the school programme. There are still schools in which, whilst the pupils speak no English, the teacher speaks no Irish – schools, that is to say, in which the instructor and the instructed have no means of communicating one with the other. There are still schools in which children are punished for speaking Irish – furtively, of course, for if the facts were made known it would, in the present state of public opinion, be rather awkward for the teacher and manager. Finally, the general progress of Irish-speaking children is everywhere tested by Inspectors who know no Irish, and permission to teach Irish as an “extra” subject is conditional on a favourable report as to general progress from these incompetent and often hostile Inspectors!
Such is “Education” in the West of Ireland!
PÁDRAIC MAC PIARAIS.
P. H. PEARSE,
Editor of An Claidheamh Soluis.