From An Claidheamh Soluis, 4 August, 1906.
I was lazing the other evening in my garden —even Gaelic Leaguers ‘laze’ sometimes; and I am fortunate—or unfortunate—in possessing a garden full of quaint crannies and ingles which perpetually invite me to dalliance.
My favourite nook is one overlooking the smooth lawn which stretches at one side of the house. From it I have a noble view of my elms,—I am rather proud of my elms which are among the oldest and loftiest near Dublin. Also this particular alcove is fragrant in the evenings with the scent of Cape jessamine—and it is only in the evenings that i have time to ‘laze’. So here you will often find me watching the sunset; and here I was on the particular evening already referred to.
Not watching the sunset however,— it was only six-thirty in mid-July, I was reading the Freeman’s Journal on the British Education Bill, and— I fell asleep. I did not seem to have slept very long when I was aroused by a step on the gravel walk. It was the postman, who, seeing me in my wonted place came up the walk to me with a bundle of letters and papers,
As he laid them on the rustic table before he saluted me in Irish. I started for I had known that the local post-office staff included an Irish speaker.
“You have Irish,” I said to him speaking also in the vernacular, “To be sure I have Sir,” replied he with what sounded like a note of surprise in his voice. “If I hadn’t it’s a small chance I’d have of my present job.”
“Good,” I said laughing at what I took to be a piece of sarcasm on the well-known attitude of the Post Office towards the things of the Gael. As the postman turned to leave, I noticed that he wore a uniform which I did not remember to have seen before. It was a very dark green and on the collar in small letters of white metal was the cryptic inscription ‘P na hÉ’
“What does ‘P na hÉ’ stand for?” I asked. “‘Post na hÉireann’ of course Sir.”
The note of surprise in his voice seemed somewhat accentuated. “Why this is capital!” I exclaimed. “Have we brought the Post Office round so far? Who would have dreamt of this two years—six months—ago. And I have seen nothing about it in the papers!”
The postman was now regarding me in downright astonishment as though my enthusiasm were something incomprehensible to him. He saluted me and walked off looking back uneasily more than once.
I turned to the bundle of letters he had left on the table. They were all addressed in Irish and to my surprise the familiar pencilled translation was absent. On looking closer I discovered the stupendous fact that the very postmarks were in Irish.
“The Post Office is marching,” I said, “Have they made An Craoibhín Postmaster General or what does it all mean? Hello, here’s my copy of An Claidheamh Soluis. It will have something to say about this new development.”
The packet which I drew towards me seemed rather bulkier than An Claidheamh Soluis generally is. Have they enlarged the paper I asked myself. Strange that they did not give notice of it beforehand. Or say, this is probably the special Oireachtas number.”
I tore off the wrapper and spread the paper out. A large broadsheet and every word of it in Irish. Advertisements and all! The front page consisted of a couple of signed editorials followed by crisp news notes. At the foot of the page was a literary feuilleton. I ran my eye down the columns of news. Their first item that struck me was this (I roughly paraphrase the Irish in which it was written):
“The forthcoming Oireachtas promises to be one of the most remarkable in the long history of what has now grown to be one of our most venerable national institutions. We say venerable because though the Oireachtas is not much more than a hundred years old the first festival was held in 1897, yet it is a link with a past which is remote from us less by reason of a span of years which has elapsed than in virtue of the virtue of the enormous changes intellectual, political, social, which has passed over our country since the days when Hyde, O’Leary, MacNeill and their compeers first challenged the intellectual supremacy of a foreigner in Ireland.’”
This paragraph was so stupifyingly unintelligible that I glanced at the top of the paper to see was it really An Claidheamh Soluis and what was the date of it. There for the first time I read the title: The Daily Claidheamh, and the date: Lughnasa 4, 2006.
Had I like Rip Van Winkle slept over a hundred years? Impossible! Was I being made the recipient of some strange revelations of futurity? Most improbable! Was this there merely a common or (both literally and figuratively) garden dream?
With admirable presence of mind I determined to waste no time in debating these questions with myself lest supposing I was asleep I might awake before I had extracted all the information possible from my twenty-first century Claidheamh. So I turned eagerly back to the news column and read on:—
“The Oireachtas will, as usual, be formally opened by the Ard-Rí. A unique feature of this year’s festival will be the presence on initiation of the state of various distinguished foreign visitors and delegations. Among the more important potentates who will assist at the opening ceremonies are the Emperor of the French, and the President of the Russian Republic, and the Protector of the Indian Commonwealth.
Much interest is manifested in the visit of the French Emperor as it is the first time that a Bonaparte Sovereign has set foot in Ireland. His Imperial Majesty with the Russian and Indian Presidents will be guests of the Ard-Rí at the Palace of the Nation. Among the learned bodies which will be represented are the French Academy, the Hungarian Academy, the Norst-Norsk Theatre and the Japanese Society of Arts. The Oireachtas Oration will be delivered by the Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin and the writing of the Oireachtas Ode has been entrusted to Padraic Ó Domhnallain.
The brilliant young Connacht poet whose recent volume of verse we review elsewhere, and who is by the way the direct descendant of Padraic Ó Domhnallain of Uachtar Ard, one of the pioneer Gaelic Leaguers of the early part of the last century. The evening gatherings of the Oireachtas will be held in the Theatre of Ireland, whose auditorium since recent extensions seats 15,000 people.”
In another part of the paper I found interesting details as to the ceremonies which the approaching Oireacthas—the one hundredth and tenth—was to be opened:—
“The opening of the Oireachtas is being timed to take place at 10am. The royal procession will start from the Palace of the Nation at 9.30am. The order will be as follows. The Herald of Ireland with his attendants, a detachment of National Guard, headed by a Band of Pipers of the first Regiment of the Light Infantry, a troop of Cuirassiers of the Ministers, the Ard Rí attended by his staff and escorted by mounters Chasseurs, the Boy-Corps of the Palace Cuirassiers. (N.B.— I use ‘National Guard,’ ‘Light Infantry,’ ‘Cuirassiers,’ ‘Chasseurs,’ and ‘Boy-Corps,’ to translate “Fianna Éireann,” “Ceithearnaigh,” “Laochraide Luireach,” “Rapairí,” and “Macraidhe,” respectively.)
The Ministries and other public buildings along the line of march will be decorated. The troops will salute at the statue of the Monument to Ireland Free in Plás na hÉireann and at the O’Growney Monument at the head of Slighe, Eoghan Uí Gramhna. The President and officers of the Gaelic League the adjudicators and officials of the Oireachtas, the members of the Irish Academy, the Bards (robed) with the distinguished personages specially invited will be assembled on the platform around the base of the Hyde Monument in Plás an Chraoibhín.
The general public will be accommodated in the temporary stands which line the four sides of the Plás. On the arrival of the Ard-Rí the cannon in Dún Bhaile Átha Cliath will fire a salute. The Oireachtas will then be formally opened in accordance with the ancient procedure revived as our antiquarian readers recollect in 1913. The Herald of Ireland will proclaim the Peace of the Gael, the Bard of Ireland will invoke the spirit of Gaelic Thought and Imagination, and the Ard Rí will declare the one hundred and tenth Oireachtas in session. The trumpets and cannon will then salute the Oireachtas and the National Hymn will be intoned.”
In a column of occasional jottings titled “Brúsgar,” I read the following note: —
“Some of our readers may not be aware of the fact the Oireachtas was some time after its institution of revival in 1897 mainly an indoor festitical. We are so used to the open air musters in Plás an Chraoibhín and in Pairc an Fionn-Uisge that we find it difficult to realise that the Oireachtas Ode and Oration were once delivered in a stuffy hall to a sweltering audience. Our correspondent Mac Ui Mhaik Thuile of Inis Chortaidh reminds us of the fact that the first al-fresco performance of plays in Pairc an Fhionn-Uisge in connection with the Oireachtas occured in 1921, and that the Ode and Oration were for the first time delivered in the open air in 1959. It must be remembered that as a result of the draining of the bogs and the reforestation of the country, the temperature of Ireland has risen several degrees with the last century. Which explains why it is now possible for us to hold nearly all our gatherings whether for business or for pleasure in the open air. We who are used to a Baile Átha Cliath of shady boulevards nor cafes in 1906 people then paraded sun baked streets in summer and ploughed their way through sludge in the winter while they restored for ‘refreshment’ to evil smelling dens known as public houses, which no decent woman would enter.”
I next turned to the leading articles. The first discussed an educational measure recently introduced in the Dáil or Lower Chamber of the Irish Parliament, the second dealt with Irish Drama with special reference to the forthcoming performance of a new play by the great psychological dramatist Aodh O hAodhagáin at the Oireachtas, mentioning incidentally that O hAodhgáin had in the previous year been the recipient of the Nobel Prize and that a French translation of his ‘Parnell’ had been ‘couronne’ by the French Academy. The third leader congratulated the nation on the amicable adjustment of a diplomatic dispute which had arose between Ireland and the South African Republic
Interested by the first editorial I turned to the parliamentary column to read the report of the debate referred to. Only the gist of the speeches was given — a fact for which mindful of the deadly verbatim report of the Freeman I was grateful.
“The senior member for Port Láirge introduced a Bill for the compulsory teaching of Japanese as a second language in seaports towns and cities. In recommending the measure to the Dáil he dwelt on the immense and growing importance of Japanese as a commercial language. In fact it bade fair to become a world tongue. He conceived that Irish boys and girls equipped with a sound commercial of Irish and Japanese the two dominant tongues, one of the West the other of the East, would have an enormous advantage over the children of less progressive nations such as Germany and France, not to mention England (laughter) in which Japanese was not taught and Irish as yet only partially.
The Minister of Education (Reacthatre an Oideachais) regretted that the Government was unable to accept the measure. He quite agreed with the member for Port Lairge as to the commercial value of Japanese though he was not impressed by his assurance that it was likely to become a universal language. Prophecies on that subject were generally unfortunate. A hundred years ago English writers and statesmen were optimistic enough he might say foolish enough to prophesy that English was about to become the universal language and today they were face-to-face with the fact that English was only spoken by a few peasants in Somersetshire.
Coming to the principle policy of the Irish Education Department of the Irish Government on the linguistic question was the policy which had been followed by them ever since their country had achieved independence, and which, if he was not mistaken, was first formulated by An Claidheamh Soluis (applause) upwards of a century ago. He might state that policy in two sentences, every child has a right to be taught its own mother-tongue, every child ought to be taught at least one other language. If there would bear with him he would remind them of a few facts now belonging to ancient history, but important to be born in mind in any discussion on the subject. Almost the first act of the Revolutionary Government of 19—(the figure was unfortunately blotted) had been to establish a national education system embodying the two principles he had referred to.
Under that system, Irish was regarded as the vernacular or the first language over one third of the total area of the country. English being regarded as the vernacular over the remaining two thirds. In the first named area English, French or German was taught as a second language in the other Irish was the second almost universally adopted though a few schools, chiefly in the North-East, adhered to French or German for a few years. Irish as they were aware rapidly extended its vernacular area with the result that in a generation and a half it completely ousted English as first language.
The conquest of England by the Russian Republic and splitting up of the British Empire into independent kingdoms and republics soon destroyed the commercial value of English, which henceforward had only a literary and historic interest; its linguistic interest had always been small. This English commenced to drop out of Irish schools even as a second language. Some tongue more valuable either from the intellectual or from the commercial standpoint being adopted in its stead. At present the situation was that every Irish child was taught Irish as a matter of course every Irish child was taught in addition to it at least one other language. The Government laid down so much as de rigeur it refused to go further and specify what languages should be taught in a given district in addition to the national language. That was a matter for local management acting under the control of the district authority. He found that the languages most favoured were such classical literary languages (he did not refer to what were once known as Ancient Classics) as French, German, Italian, with the (in a sense) younger and more vigorous tongues of what he might call New Europe Russian, Norwegian, Danish, Flemish and Hungarian, in theory any language might be taught, even English.
A member interrupting asked whether English was taught in any Irish school. The Minister of Education— Yes, in three, two in Beál Feirste and one in Rath Ó Maine (laughter). Continuing, the Minister said there was nothing to prevent the teaching of Japanese where desired and in fact it had already been placed on the syllabus in Coraight, Port Láirge. Loch gCarmain, Baile Atha Cliath and some other ports who had extensive trade with the East, but he was entirely opposed to setting the precedent of making any particular language other than the national language a compulsory subject of study anywhere. Apart from the general aspect of the question there was the further important point that the bill proposed by the member for Port Lairge would interfere with the right hitherto enjoyed by local school authorities of arranging the details of their own programmes. He hoped the Dáil would reject the Bill.
Other members have spoken the bill on division was thrown out by 291 votes to 19.
I found that the result of the debate was favourably commented upon in the editorial columns of An Claidheamh where it was remarked:
On the linguistic question, Ireland stands in 2006 where the Gaelic League and An Claidheamh Soluis stood in 1906. She will stand there till the end. The mother tongue de rigueur for the rest — liberty”
On another page of the paper I found a column of literary reviews. One noticed a history of the National University founded by public subscription in 1911 before the War of Revolution in which by the way its students played a prominent part. Another reviewed a new novel by An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire, whom it hailed as the literary descendant of An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire described as ‘perhaps the foremost literary figure of the revival of a century ago’, a third welcomed Padraic Ó Domhnallain’s new book of verse and a fourth discussed issues raised in a recently published work entitled ‘A Hundred Years of Irish Literature” In the course of the last mentioned review I read.
We agree with the author that Irish poetry was saved from death from inamination by the movement which took its rise in Connacht about the year 1910. Previously, Irish poets had wavered between two standards of form in the 18th century standard which imposed metrical bonds to strict that they crushed out all thought and the foreign or English standard which though apparently affecting only the externals in reality affected the spirit of the poetry itself depriving it of the life giving sap of native inspiration.
The pioneers of what has come to be known as the Connacht movement like Ronsard and his followers in 16th century France set up again the standard of the Antique. As the poets of the Pleiade revived the ballads, the rodeau and so on, these Western poets revived the Ossianic Laoi of Rosg and some of the similar forms of the Dán Díreach. They raised too the banner of Liberty so boldly and fearlessly of the lives and loves, the hates the joys the sins, the sorrows of men even as ancients did in Ireland ever as the great poets of all time have done mocking at conventions keeping in mind only the one sacred duty of the poet to utter his soul’s thoughts be those thoughts what they may.
With regards the tons of 18th century poetry discussed from MSS about the beginning of the 20th century—”
At this moment a voice broke in on my reading. I started and dropped the paper which to my surprise had turned into a copy of the Freeman’s Journal containing an article on the British Education Bill as it fluttered to the ground from my hand. The bundle of letters and papers which the postman had brought had disappeared if they had ever been there.
“Ag brionglóide do bhíos, is dócha,” I said to myself as I stood up and followed the voice which called me to tea.