From An Claidheamh Soluis, 4 October, 1902.
HERE are some notes on a flying tour, in which I managed to cover a large part of Irish-speaking Cork. Some of the ground was already familiar to me, much of it was altogether new. I shall dwell only on the more important points and places.
In Cork City, the most stimulating thing noticeable just at present is the incipient conversion of the North Parish into an Irish-speaking district. This is due partly to the fine local Branch of the League, partly to the work of the Eason’s Hill Schools. Anyone who doubts the feasibility of making even our cities Irish-speaking in time, should drop into these schools and have a chat in Irish with some of the boys – preferably with young Domhnall Ó Ceallachain. The visit will convince him, that given favourable management and efficient teachers, any Irish-born schoolboy can be made an Irish speaker in twelve months.
From Cork I trained to Macroom, and, making no stay there, pushed on on my bicycle for Ballyvourney. I made good progress, and reached the capital sooner than I expected. I had just enquired the distance from an old woman, whose reply was “Ta an village let’ ais.” A moment later a chorus of welcomes in Irish admonished me that I had reached my destination. As I was being directed to the Doctor’s house, the Doctor himself bore down on us, and carried me off. The evening passed rapidly, what with a dance in the new Hall, and a ceilidh afterwards in which Tadhg Ó Cruadhlaoich was the sole artist, ⁊ is é ba ṁaiṫ ċuige. The dance was one of the quaintest and most refreshing things in its way I have seen for a long time. It was delightful to see the grey-haired kindly Doctor dancing with a winsome cailin of sixteen, and a stout lump of a boy, who should be looking out for a wife, facing a diminutive maiden of five or six.
As regards actual speaking of the language, Ballyvourney is about on all fours with the Galway Claddagh. That is to say, the grown-up people habitually speak Irish, whilst the children, though understanding Irish and able to speak more or less of it, commonly use English amongst themselves. Where Ballyvourney excels is in its literary activity. Prose, poetry and folklore are assiduously cultivated by the young men, as are recitation and story-telling. There is a sturdy spirit abroad, and the parents are once more speaking Irish to the children. Of course, all this is due to the Doctor. The Doctor has rekindled and nurtured the literary instincts of the people. The Doctor has brought the young men and children up to the Munster Feis and the Oireachtas. The Doctor has built the fine Hall, which would do honour to a town of 2,000 inhabitants. The Doctor gathers in the young folk for dance and song and study every evening. In fact, Ballyvourney would not be Ballyvourney is the most striking example in the history of the language movement of the influence of a personality over a community.
From Ballyvourney a switchback road threads the hills to Ballingeary. I followed this, the Doctor accompanying me halfway. As I neared the village, the children going to school greeted me lustily in Irish without waiting for me to address them. The Ballingeary Schools, presided over by Mr. and Mrs. Scannell, are, as everyone knows, the premier schools in Ireland as far as the teaching of Irish is concerned. (In Ballyvourney, on the contrary, I understand that practically no Irish is taught in the schools.) I spent a pleasant hour in the Ballingeary Schools. The children sang charmingly in Irish, some tiny infants recited the prayers in a way that would do credit to their grandfathers, and the girls displayed the greatest proficiency in the Irish Catechism. I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a very juvenile Scannell in the person of a little girl of fourteen months, who lisps Irish delightfully.
From Ballingeary I went on to Gougane Barra, through what is probably the most Irish-speaking district in Cork. There the people salute the wayfarer in Irish as a matter of course, and the very children shout Irish to him from the roadsides. At Gougane, the green island and lone lake were astir with country folk from miles around, for it was St. Finbarr’s Day, and a Station was in progress. After a short halt – in which I renewed my acquintaince with Farther Hurley, the kindly P.P – I pushed on through Ceim an Fheidh for Glengarriffe. In traversing the glorious pass, one instinctively recalls Maire Bhuidhe’s grand war-song, and imagines he hears:
‘Na gárṫa-ġoil do ḃí aca is na mílte olagón.’
By the way, from Gougane on to Glengarriffe and Bantry, the sign-posts are bilingual. In due time I reached Glengarriffe – “Gleann Garbh Gaedhealach,” as a man in the Dunmanway crowd called it the preceding Sunday. Gaedhealach the Glen certainly is, but on the village, which consists almost entirely of hotels, the tourist blight lies heavy. From Glengarriffe, Pádraig Ó Scaghdha “shortened the road,” as far as Ballylicky Bridge. Thence I rode on alone to Bantry. Bantry is infested by tourists, who seem addicted to wearing tennis costume in all sorts of weather, and to carrying tennis bats instead of walking sticks.
In Youghal I stayed only long enough to observe the National Anthem of the place is “Dolly Grey.” I had not time to call on the able local Leaguers who, I fancy, have a stiff fight before them.
Curiously, the most heartening place, in many respects, which I visited was Fermoy, where Irish has long ceased to be spoken. Like many other English-speaking towns, it is throwing itself into the language movement with an energy which one looks for in vain in most of the Irish-speaking districts. In the latter districts, people cannot realize the danger that threatens the language. In the former, the best of the younger men and women are making frantic efforts to recover what their fathers let slip from them. Fermoy has a strong Irish citadel in St. Colman’s College. The young priests there – the whole professional staff, from President down, seems to be composed of young men – are enthusiasts to a man.
Irish is taught, cricket has been banished (the bats and balls are for sale), and the caman rules on the playground. The boys wear jerseys with the legend, “Ar gColaiste Fein.” A piper is to be introduced to teach the boys, and to march at the head of the hurling team. Irish dancing classes are also about to be formed. St. Colman’s undoubtedly deserves to rank with Newbridge as a real Irish College.
PÁDRAIG MAC PIARAIS.