Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From Contemporary Ireland (1908) by L. Paul-DuBois

Below is an excerpt from L. Paul-Dubois' "Contemporary Ireland" from 1908 which provides a vivid (and to my mind touching) tableau showing some of the effects of the Gaelic Revival. It's also interesting in that it clearly indicates that adult education, nowadays ubiquitous, was at the time quite a novel concept. "Contemporary Ireland" can be found in its entirety here.

But the stranger is most forcibly struck when he attends some Irish class in a poor quarter in Dublin, or even London, and perceives how serious, deep, and infectious is the enthusiasm of the crowd, young and old, clerks and artisans for the most part - with an "intellectual" here and there - who are gathered together in the ill-lit hall. To these there is no doubt the thought of  learning anything, and above all of learning a language other than English, would never have occurred at any other time, but now after their day's work, they sit here with an O'Growney* in their hands, with shining eyes, and strained looks, greedily listening to the lesson, following with their lips, con amore, the soft speech of their teacher.

 O'Growney's "Simple Lessons In Irish"

Evidently here are people who have been transformed to the core of their being by this somewhat severe study, and by the importance of the social role which they wish to play, and which in fact they do play. Here, as elsewhere, the Gaelic movement has given an object, a goal, an ideal, to lives which, from their conditions, are often empty in these respects. Those who are in a position to know say indeed that few people of national feeling have taken up the study of Irish without being quickly aware of its strengthening and stimulating influence, without being fascinated by it as by a revelation. This shows that the language is for the children of Erin neither a dead language nor a strange one, but an integral part of their nature, a second self, an element of themselves that they had forgotten.

The English which they speak with a remarkable native accent is, as has often been remarked, an English learnt from books, and full of absurd Irishisms which have remained locked up within their brains, a heritage of which they were not aware; it is an English built artifically upon a Gaelic substructure.

*Eugene O'Growney was a priest and Irish scholar who wrote the then popular textbook "Simple Lessons In Irish".

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