From The United Irishman, February 16, 1901.
Now that the progress of the language movement is slowly but gradually forcing the hands of those who have charged themselves with the education of our youth, it behoves all those interested in the nationalising of Irish education to look around them and take advantage of the return of reason just beginning to be apparent in the minds of school managers and others whose avocations brings them into intercourse with the young. The placing of the Irish language on its legitimate and rational basis is a move forward of incalculable value, but we must see that no excuse is left to any manager of the altered terms being unutilised. If teachers are unable to teach it through lack of certificates we must see that the great host of “unemployed teachers,” most of whom possess the necessary qualification, are called in to supply the deficiency. We must see that the exacting programme of the Commissioners is not worked in such a fashion as to leave no room for the teaching of Irish, and, above all, we must make the teachers conscious of the fact that they have either to make up their minds to teach Irish to their pupils or make room for some Irish man or woman who has a keener conception of duty.
Without a doubt, the national school teachers, as a body, have never exhibited over-zealousness in the matter of the language, or indeed of anything else connected with Ireland. Like most other sections of our population, they have drifted with the tide of the time and have become mere machines, men and women without souls, too listless to take any interest in the land or the people that paid them, and oftentimes too lazy to learn what the march of events demand. We say this with the full knowledge of the fact that a few of their class have distinguished themselves by their unselfish and consistent labours in the cause of national redemption. Their conduct against the dull background afforded by the action of their fellows shines like a star through the mist, and makes one hope that their class is not utterly worthless. They have the chance now of showing their patriotism by adopting the altered state of affairs, and giving a part of their days to Irish, and, if they teach it in the proper spirit, by appealing to the innate patriotism in every little breast, if they know enough of the traditions and associations connected with the subject, they will make the rising generation the most Irish that Ireland has known since the stars looked out upon the broken hopes and the winds bore upon them the caoine that wept for Aughrim.
But it is not merely by O’Growney’s primers that they will do this. The regulations of the Board insist on the pupils being taught six songs during the year. The regulations do not specify what songs; there is here no binding down of the teacher to any manual of Saxon songs, no need to practise “God Save the King” or “Hearts of Oak.” Let our national teachers, therefore, be Irish in this matter. Let them teach the children to sing six songs in Gaelic; they will find them as easy of teaching as anything in Goodman, or if they must teach them a song in English, let it be a song that will make them proud of their fathers and themselves. Let it be “Remember the Glories,” Davis’s “Nation Once Again” or “Oh! for a Steed,” or Barry’s splendid song of “The Sword.” Let it be anything with an Irish spirit in it, and not a colourless, mawkish absurdity about “Bright Sea Flowers.” Where has the taste been laid that seeks for satisfaction in the exotics of the London drawing-rooms, the “Genevieves” and the “Dear Hearts” that make life miserable at all our merrymakings? Is it not in the schoolrooms, where teachers have founded their views of manhood on the London Reader and the Ladies’ Novelette. What has brought us the flood of sea songs of “The Midshipmite” order? Is it not the criminal indifference of our school-masters to everything Irish – Moore sneered at as played-out rubbish, and the horrible sentiments of Davis and his school not to be dreamt of. Here now is the chance to do something as a recompense for all the harm that, unintentionally or otherwise, their class has done since the institution of the system. Have the school teachers of Ireland sufficient dignity and interest enough in Ireland to stand up for the right, and insist on Irish children being taught to sing Irish songs? If they have, the doom of the amateur buffoon and the “sentimental vocalist” is near at hand. For if we give the children of to-day something that they can take an honest pride and interest in, both from its own intrinsic value and its national worth, the popularity of importations will be but of short duration. We know no reason why the school children of the Irish-speaking districts should not be taught the necessary songs in Irish alone. Elsewhere other methods may have to prevail for the present, but nowhere can there be any excuse for not popularising Irish music.
The same facilities, unfortunately, do not yet exist for the teaching of Irish history, for the admission of Joyce’s book means nothing; it is a harmless, dry-as-dust production that will never inspire a boy or girl to anything great or self-sacrificing for Ireland. We must not cease insisting on the necessity for the real teaching of Irish history, and the Board will capitulate, if we be in earnest, just as they have capitulated over other matters. Meantime the teacher can do good by many means, provided he knows Irish history, which it is greatly to be feared most of them do not. But if he be tilled with the new idea he will not be above learning, and every day will provide the means of serving the country.
The map of Ireland will give him scope for his enthusiasm. He will show his pupils Teamhair, Tailteann, Eaman Macha, Cruachan and Aileach, Caiseal and Kincora, and tell them of the valiant heroes and the lovely women who lived and loved within them. He will show them the Bay of Dublin, and trace for them the place where Brian’s army lay the day when night for ever set on the power of the Lochlannach in Eirinn. He will point out the road taken by the soldiers of Richard the vain glorious, and tell them how Art MacMurchadha hung upon their flanks, till he redeemed his name from the treachery of Diarmuid. He will show them the Dun outside of which sleep Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille, through whose streets swept one summer’s day long long ago the linen-clothed warriors of Brian O’Neill, the last High King of Eireann. He will point out Dundalk, and tell them of the great Cuchullain, and of his pathetic fight at the Ford with his friend and comrade, Ferdiah. He will show them the plain of Bregia and Magh’n-ealtaidh, the plain of the flocks beloved of Oisin, and, nestled in the ring of the Dublin hills he will indicate for them Gleann an Smoil, the voices of whose thrushes live for ever in the lays of the greatest of our bards. Close beside it he will show his pupils the mountains of Fiacha Mac Aodha O’Broin, of the Clann Tuathail, and of brave Michael Dwyer. There in a corner of Armagh county, marked by cross swords, he will show them the field of Beul an atha Buidhe, and tell them of the day when the chivalry of England went down before the soldiers of the two Aodh’s, and the Red Hand blazed triumphant over Uladh. He will show them Beann Boirb close by and tell them of Ruaidhri O’Mordha, and Owen the son of Art, and stout Phelim, who kept the fire ablaze till the master soldier came. There, nestling beneath the shelter of Sliabh Camalite, called of the Saxons Keeper Hill, he will find for them Ballyneety, where Sarsfield’s horsemen came upon the guns of William, and woke with them the echoes of a hundred hills. If he has read his Banim, he will tell them of the gallant Rapparee, Galloping O’Hogan, who led Sarsfield safely through the lines of the Saxons, and he will paint for them the day when the Brandenburghers were sent heavenward from the roof of the Black Battery by the Shannon. He will show them the path of O’Sullivan’s marvellous march from Beara to Breffini, find for them the spot where great Cathal Crobh Dearg, Cathal Mor of the Wine Red Hand, waits the trumpet call. He will show them Castlebar and Ballina, and Killala, and tell them of gallant Father Conroy, and Ferdinand O’Donnell, and of the day when the soldiers of the stranger fled from the bayonets of Humbert’s Frenchmen and the pikes of the Mayo mountaineers. He will show all the fields in Leinster sanctified by the blood of ’98, and outside the town of Naas he will endeavour to locate for them – we fear it is not marked on the map – the little churchyard of Bodenstown where Tone, the unconquerable and untiring, rests. He will tell them, too, of the graves in Dublin City, and will whisper that these things were not, and these men lived not, in vain. It would be a unique lesson in Irish geography, yet we doubt not the boys, aye and the girls of Ireland, too, would listen with interest to such a lesson, and we can see eyes filling and little hands clenching as a sympathetic teacher tells of all these things. It might not possibly recommend itself to an inspector, but Ireland that recks not of red-tape would not forget such teaching.
Equally potent for true education would it be to tell the scholars of the famous places in their own localities, of the men who lived and the deeds that were done beside the streams and around the hills familiar to them all. So, too, would a collection of the mineral wealth of their neighbourhood, its birds, its flowers, its trees, and its field-plants impress upon their minds the fact that their country is not as poverty-stricken as they are often told. Photographs of famous men and places would waken their interest, too, and make them think. A series of really National “Readers” would possibly not be admitted by the Commissioners, but there are many ways of directing the attention of children to National literature, and if the teacher is in earnest he will find the means. The primary school system lies at the bottom of much of the slavishness from which we have been suffering. Reforming it, we strike at the cancer that is eating the life out of the nation, but the operation must be thorough and no considerations of personality must be permitted to stay the hand of the surgeon.