From An Claidheamh Soluis, 5 January, 1907.
The Irish-speaking child is the most important living thing in Ireland to-day. As Gaelic Leaguers we believe that the maintenance of the Irish language as a vernacular depends on the education—in a wide sense—of the Irish-speaking child. It is a noble thing to think that something like 200,000 boys and girls and young men and young women of Irish birth are to-day learning something about Ireland’s ancestral speech, and are thus coming to know for the first time something about Ireland itself—the real Ireland which has hitherto been concealed from them as though by a drawn veil. It does the heart good to contemplate that radiant army as it stands on the threshold of Éire na nGaedheal and salutes from afar its re-discovered Mother Country. But there is another band, smaller, alas! and dwindling day by day, infinitely pathetic, infinitely important, infinitely dear to the heart of Ireland. These are the little children nurtured in remote mountain fastnesses, and in hidden glens, and by lonely seashores, whose minds have never known any thoughts but Ireland’s, whose lips have never known any speech but Ireland’s. Few though they be in number, pathetic though they be in their lowliness, in their poverty, in their ignorance so carefully fostered by those whose proud task it should have been to lead them to knowledge, these are Ireland’s most precious possession; with them she is still passing rich; without them she would be poor indeed. The movement’s holiest and highest duty is to save these little souls for Ireland; to educate these young minds for Ireland; to nerve and strengthen these tiny hands that they may work and fight for Ireland.
Consider the Irish-speaking child. He is the fairest thing that springs up from the soil of Ireland,—more beautiful than any flower, more graceful than any wild creature of the fields or the woods, purer than any monk or nun, wiser than any seer. The birds and the trees, the rivers and the waterfalls have whispered their secrets into his ear; the winds and the waves have made solemn music in his heart. The voice of Éire has spoken to him through generations of soldiers and poets and seanchaidhes whose traditions he has inherited with their speech. The intense spirituality, the astonishing faith, the deep reverence for things unseen which characterised the old Gael are his birthright. And he has within him the wondrous power to hand down this glowing tradition to countless future generations. In the ordinary course of nature he will exercise that power unless he is prevented by force; and we all conspire to so prevent him! Daily and hourly we come between him and the fulfilment of his destiny. We do so when we speak English to him in his home; when we teach him the English catechism in Church and preach to him in English from the altar; when we send him to a school in which he reads, writes, spells, works sums, talks, and is talked to—we do not write ‘taught’—all day long in English. We end by effectually killing the vital spark of Irishism within him. Instead of cherishing and nursing the tender and beautiful thing, we slowly murder it. It is the most pitiful tragedy in ancient or modern history.
The language we use is not one whit too strong. No language that could be used would be too strong. By our treatment of the Irish-speaking child, we (the word ‘we’ covers adult Ireland in general; parents, clergy, teachers, educational administrators, politicians, public men, journalists), are not merely committing an atrocious act of cruelty, but are unconsciously destroying the seed of future hope for Ireland a Nation.