From The United Irishman, July 15, 1899
There can be no question that the movement making for the perpetuation of ideas Irish has grown and widened considerably since the fall of parliamentarianism by the death of Parnell. The Irish language movement, the Feis Ceoil, the literary revival, and a few kindred propagandas have to a great extent stopped the dryrot which, commencing with the partial subsistence of Fenianism, had all but entirely emasculated the nation by the Union of Hearts. Today we welcome most heartily the increasing signs which tell of a return, in the country districts, to the manners, ideals, and opinions which have resisted seven hundred years of the sword, famine, and corruption. But while the people to a degree have awakened, there are at work agencies and influences more insidious than any of those which in other days threatened the National existence.
Obviously, the most dangerous things are those which work under a popular guise; and of these the most general is the concert, organised for charitable or other purposes from time to time in every town in Ireland. Now, notwithstanding all effort, the lamentable fact is that our amateur singers invariably affect the namby-pamby nonsense of the pseudo-Italian school and its English imitators. Nothing is too extravagant, inane, or unmeaning so long as it has received the patronage of London and has become fashionable. We do not expect that Ireland, any more than other nations, should refuse to accept and applaud anything of worth that has been produced by other peoples; what we complain of is, that while we all but entirely neglect our own productions, we encourage foreign ones simply and solely because they are foreign. The fad to be in the fashion dominates all circles. The reverend president of a bazaar eagerly solicits the aid of “talented lady and gentlemen amateur singers,” and passively submits to the latest skirt dance of the last new song from some “Geisha” or “Gay Parisienne.” We have heard in this city of Dublin young girls singing sentiments which, if they were avowed by them in ordinary conversation, would render them liable to be considered rather worse than they should be, and yet the items were applauded, solely because the audience was too absolutely heedless of what they were doing to give the matter the slightest thought. We have seen young men make fools of themselves under similar circumstances, and pride themselves on being laughed at. At these bazaars men and women go about in the most outlandish costumes, decorations hired from anywhere outside of Ireland, all the latest effects of phonograph, cinematograph, and kinetoscope are gathered together under some hitherto unheard of title, and the entire olla podrida foisted on the Irish public. Then, amid a mighty clamour, his Excellency drives down to give a tone to the affair and endeavour to draw the patronage of the moneyed classes. A military band, or failing that, the R.I.C, or the Dublin Police discourses loyal music, and the fete goes merrily forward. The Press gives an enthusiastic trumpeting to the affair, everyone interested congratulates everyone else on the “great success,” and never a thought is given to the effect which all the mirroring of Anglicism, all the soulless, senseless song and crash and glitter must have on the young. Possibly the promoters and controllers of these affairs consider themselves Irish. Doubtless they are, after a fashion; but only so because they are not English or Dutch or American, God help them! The fault is not theirs. Go into their homes and think to yourself what a foreigner would say, listening to the songs, looking over the books, the papers, and the music, and noting the general air of their places. Then, if you can, think out what the Ireland of the future will be if this state of things is allowed to continue.
It is not necessary here to trace this Anglicisation to its beginning. Without any doubt, from the first day that Irish ceased to be the general tongue of Ireland, the corroding influence has been at work. We have only to look around us in any direction to see how woefully prevalent it is. Take any social organisation that is started, cycling, boating, or amusement club, and see the name which its devotees confer upon it. Foreign almost invariably. Our young commercial men, the clerical staff of our towns, are too utterly respectable to join such a “low crowd” as those who form the ranks of a Gaelic football club. Hurling is altogether beneath them; but Rugby football or hockey are quite in their line. Hockey is their especial favourite, for their young lady friends can join them in the game, and there is no fear of their practises being disturbed by tradesmen fellows and rough customers for whom Sunday is the only free day. With the relative merits of any of those games we have here no concern, for of them, as of the songs, the worth of worthlessness is a very minor factor. The chief reason of their being affected by anybody in Ireland is purely and solely because they have been introduced from the other side. Golf is the latest addition to the weapons of Anglicisation, and is being taken up by that brainless and backboneless section who would follow a superior in anything, if promotion were possible by it. We all know how golf got a foothold in Ireland, and we can guess the circle whom it first entranced. Latterly the votaries of “fashion” have taken to it, and all the snobbishness and slavishness of clerical Dublin have followed in their wake. It is hardly worth noticing, save as a straw which tells the direction of the wind, for it will die a natural death, when some billiard-playing Chief Secretary or Viceregal cricketing enthusiast comes along, but it shows how utterly demoralised the “respectable” and self-styled educated classes of our towns are.
In a recent number of the Irish Rosary an Irish-American admitted his disgust to see the little boys and girls of the cities wearing hats bearing the names of her Brittanic Majesty’s battleships, and strutting about attired as British bluejackets. The cause of it is not far to seek; the women of Ireland have not realised the necessity there exists for their being National. Shut off, as they have been from active participation, and oftentimes interest in the struggle, they have not considered how much of its success depended upon them. How can we expect the boys and girls, who are to be the men and women of the future, to be anything but lumps of clay if their parents, and especially their mothers, know nothing, and care less, of their country? The age of miracles has passed, and the National spirit of the country must eventually wither and die if the memory and traditions of the past, which were to it as rain and sunshine to the shooting plant, do not survive to nurture it.
Take another phase. Of the numbers who annually take a week or so’s holiday, how many bother about spending them in Ireland? Few, very few, for, of course, one wants a little “life” during holidays, and Ireland is so dull and tame that it is not to be thought of, so we are perforce compelled to resort to Blackpool or Morecambe, or some other of the English rallying places congregate. There, amid the shriek of the steam whistle, and a label of all the dialects of Britain, we pass whatever time we have, losing our National identity in the horde of foreigners, seeing little, learning less, or learning only what makes us worse men and women than we were. We masquerade in an atmosphere of manufactured attractions, in a realm of tinsel and trumpery, leaving unvisited and unknown in our own lands the natural beauties that alone can elevate and ennoble human character. We do this simply because some one else of our friends and neighbours has done it. Because it is “class” to be able to boast an acquaintance with the charms of the British seaside; because this is “an age of progress, and one must go with the times.” We do it for the same reason that our fathers forsook the Irish language, because there are slaves all around us, and we have not sufficient manhood to emancipate ourselves from the thrall of custom and fashion.
What is the germ of it all? The criminal carelessness of every class in Ireland to the real interests of the nation. The National school, the intermediate school, the convent school, all our amusements, almost everything we read and the places we visit, all these constitute a series of influences daily drawing us further and further from the ideals that constitute and perpetuate a separate and distinct Nationality. It may not at first sight seem inconsistent for a professing Irish Nationalist, on being asked to sing, to immediately troll forth the latest London favourite. It might be construed rudeness not allow a young lady to oblige the company with something similar, though she professed an utter ignorance of Moore and all our other poets. It is no discredit, some may think, for the holiday seeker, who knows every stone in the streets of some mushroom British hamlet, to admit he has never heard of Gleann an Smoil or Carlingford. That such anomalies are not only possible, but permissible, is a sad comment on the reality of our vaunted National spirit. Fancy a Frenchman boasting his knowledge of Spain or Germany, and knowing nothing of his own country; or a German parading his mastery of Italian music while turning his back on the liedor of his own land! The fact is we have been too accommodating in our opinions and ideas, and we have allowed our sense of National self-respect to become so dulled as to be all but entirely destroyed. The revulsion which the last few years have seen is but a sign that the disorder is not absolutely incurable, but thorough recovery lies with the people, and the whole people. Unless the bulk of the people is moved, the foresight and efforts of a few enthusiasts cannot suffice. The issue is a very plain one. Do the Irish people desire an Irish Nation or a British colony, a people true to the past or one ignorant of it and indifferent to the future? Their acts belie their words. Let us be consistent; and the few who do really desire a nation can count their forces and take measures accordingly.