From An Claidheamh Soluis, December 24, 1904.
“Gaeḋeal mise, ⁊ ní heol gur náir ḋom é.” Thus, in his fine address at the great Belfast meeting on Thursday last, did Dr. Henebry sum up the whole case of the Gaelic League. “Gaeḋeal mise, ⁊ ní heol gur náir ḋom é.” Here is a rallying-cry, strenuous, adequate, intelligible, which might well be adopted by the whole movement. “Gaeḋeal mise.” You and I and all of us are, or should be, Gaels, for Gaelicism is the birthright of everyone who springs from the soil of Ireland. Gaelicism, as we put it last week, is the traditional spirit of this land, the thing which gives continuity to Irish history, the thing whose possession as something still vital and energetic makes the Ireland of today the same Ireland as the Ireland of history; the thing on whose loss would ensue the death of Ireland. Gaelicism is the rightful inheritance not of any one section of the Irish people, but of the Irish people as a whole, and of every individual Irishman. It is, indeed, the actual possession only of a comparative few. Some amongst us have received it unimpaired from our fathers and mothers; a much larger number have grown to manhood or womanhood before coming into contact with it; a still larger number have yet to learn that such a thing exists, and that they have been living outside of it. But Gaelicism is the birthright of us all; of Protestant as of Catholic, of Unionist as of Nationalist, of non-native speaker as of native speaker, of North as of South. When we have all come into our birthright these distinctions, which now loom large and portentous, will be of less moment, for we shall all be simply Irish. The common possession of Gaelicism, which is the largest and most important element in Irish nationality, is the only thing which can make this land, in fact and spirit, one, – a whole, a coherent entity. Without it we are a mere parcel of warring creeds, and factions, and provinces, thrown together by accident on the same patch on land.
In the Irish Ireland of which we dream Ulster must play a large part. What one may call the Ulster mind is, as we think, one of the most valuable assets of Ireland. An Ireland without Ulster would be a maimed and impotent Ireland. Accordingly, we deem it of vital importance that the language movement should draw closer and closer to it, not merely that large minority of Ulstermen who are sprung from the Gael, who are our own kith and kin, but also that stranger, more aloof Ulster, that Ulster which is so remote from us that we find it difficult at times to imagine that it is part of Ireland. But it is, and we believe that in time even the Ulster which goes mad annually on the Twelfth of July will, through the language movement, find its way into the stream of Irish national life.
The great demonstration of last week was valuable, therefore, first as the starting-point of a wider and more active propaganda in Belfast itself, and secondly as a challenge to Ulster, a call to her to examine her conscience, to consider whether she is wise in consistently siding with the Gall and against the Gael.
The gathering was one of the vastest that has ever assembled under the auspices of the Gaelic League, but its vastness was less remarkable than what we may describe as the reserve-force of the enthusiasm which lurked under its quiet self-possession. Many Protestants sat on the platform and in the body of the hall. The Cardinal-Archbishop of Armagh presided, and was supported by the Bishop of Down and Connor and a large body of representative citizens. The Cardinal’s address, shrewd, kindly, humorous, dwelt happily on the essentially national, as distinguished from sectional, character of the League’s spirit. The work of the language movement was a work for all Ireland, and in affording a common platform to Catholic and Protestant, Gael, Sean-Ghall, and Nua-Ghall, North and South, the League was “softening the asperities” of Irish life, “bringing the people together and giving them a kindly feeling for each other.” That alone, as His Eminence contended, were sufficient to recommend the movement to the support of every patriot.
After the resolutions had been formally proposed by Mr. Ward and seconded by Mr. Walsh, the Most Rev. Dr. Henry followed with a speech which showed that he is whole-heartedly with the League. His Lordship’s announcements with regard to the status of Irish in St. Malachy’s College and in St. Mary’s Training College were greeted with ringing cheers. Elsewhere in this issue we print a report on the position of Irish in St. Mary’s.
Eoin Mac Néill, whom the Cardinal introduced as “a neighbour’s child,” dwelt on the necessity for Irishising the home life, and added some clear and straight sentences on the attitude of the League towards politics. Next came the Rev. Dr. Henebry’s Irish address, which was perhaps the event of the evening. It was easily followed by a large minority of the audience, and even those who failed to understand the words visibly caught some of their poetry and passion. In English Dr. Henebry dealt illuminatingly with the problem of language and nationality. The Editor of AN CLAIDHEAMH, who followed, confined himself mainly to the education question in its various phases.
Apart from the educative effect which the demonstration is bound to have on Ulster, we look for immediate results in the city of Belfast itself. Belfast contains some 80,000 Catholics, who are all at least potential Gaelic Leaguers where – to leave out of sight for a moment the much larger population of non-Catholics, many of the younger men amongst whom are steadily moving towards nationalism – is a vast field for work. In the ability and devotion of its workers, Belfast is, we think, singularly fortunate. The Old Guard of the League in Belfast, though it has sent “Conán Maol” and “Cú Uladh” to fight on other frontiers, still includes Dr. Boyd, and “Feargus Finnbhéil,” and Tadhg Mac a’ Bháird, and Liam Breathnach, and Séamus O Cealláigh, and Liam O Liodáin; and such workers as Donnchadh O Liatháin, and Seaghán O Ciarsaigh and Seaghán O Catháin, and Muiris O Griobhtha have recently brought to Ulster some of the zest and optimism of the League in Dublin and London and Glasgow. With such a spirit animating a large section of it as last week’s demonstration shows to exist, and with such workers as we have mentioned thinking and toiling in its midst, Belfast ought to play a distinctive and important part in the movement.