Now, reader, don't be alarmed, we are not going to ask you to call your wife machree, or your child mavourneen instead of my heart and my dear, as you do or ought to do now. We do not want you to learn names for those implements of agriculture and trade, those articles of furniture and dress, those relations of love, and life, and religion, other than you in infancy lisped.
For you, if the mixed speech called English was laid with sweetmeats on your child's tongue, English is the best speech of manhood. And yet, rather, in that case you are unfortunate. The hills, and lakes, and rivers, and forts and castles, the churches and parishes, the baronies and counties around you, have all Irish namesnames which describe the nature of the scenery or ground, the name of founder, or chief, or priest, or the leading fact in the history of the place. To you
p.103these are names hard to pronounce, and without meaning.
And yet it were well for you to know them. That knowledge would be a topography, and a history, and romance, walking by your side, and helping your discourse. Meath tells its flatness, Clonmel the abundant riches of its valleys, Fermanagh is the land of the Lakes, Tyrone the country of Owen, Kilkenny the Church of St. Canice, Dunmore the great fort, Athenry the Ford of the Kings, Dunleary the Fort of O'Leary; and the Phoenix Park, instead of taking its name from a fable, recognises as christener the "sweet water" which yet springs near the east gate.
All the names of our airs and songs are Irish, and we every day are as puzzled and ingeniously wrong about them as the man who, when asked for the air, I am asleep, and don't waken me, called it "Tommy M'Cullagh made boots for me."
The bulk of our history and poetry are written in Irish, and shall we, who learn Italian, and Latin, and Greek, to read Dante, Livy, and Homer in the originalshall we be content with ignorance or a translation of Irish?
As we urged before, with a detail which we cannot now repeat, three-fourths of the people are of Celtic descent, notwithstanding the English names imposed on so many of them by Act of Parliament, policy, fashion and meanness, and the Irish, the most pure of the Celtic dialects, must be fitted for their voice and ear, best to speak, most sweet to sing, most strong to rouse, most suited to the genius of the people, even as Greek best suits the men descended from the conquerors of Marathonthe men who inherit Athenian mouths, ears, and musical faculties, who breathe
p.104the air, and dwell on the slopes of the Hymettus. It were as absurd to expect the Irishman to be in full native health in India as to look for a full development of all his powers in oratory, music, and history, when using a tongue which leaves his fathers nameless, gives his fathers' deeds in translated fragments, strains his organs, and cramps his musical powers.
But it will be said, 'tis too late to revive Irish, it has no modern literature, modern science is as nameless in Irish as Irish localities, airs, &c., are in English, and after all 'tis impossible to succeed.
This sounds plausible, but 'tis very shallow. As to Irish not having a modern literature, we say, so much the better, if the present or coming generation have the energy to set about creating one. If they go to the work with strong passions, they will build a literature fast and firm enough; they will be greater, and the parents of higher excellence, than if they studied and repeated instead of originating songs, histories and essays. The old Irish literature is ample to give impulse, and character, and costume to a new literature.
The want of modern scientific words in Irish is undeniable, and doubtless we should adopt the existing names into our language. The Germans have done the same thing, and no one calls German mongrel on that account. Most of these names are clumsy and extravagant; and are almost all derived from Greek or Latin and cut as foreign a figure in French and English as they would in Irish. Once Irish was recognised as a language to be learned as much as French or Italian, our dictionaries would fill up, and our vocabularies ramify, to suit all the wants of life and conversation.
These objections are ingenious refinements, however, rarely thought of till after the other and great objection has been answered.
The usual objection to attempting the revival of Irish is, that it could not succeed.
If an attempt were made to introduce Irish, either through the national schools or the courts of law, into the eastern side of the island, it would certainly fail, and the reaction might extinguish it altogether. But no one contemplates this save as a dream of what may happen a hundred years hence. It is quite another thing to say, as we do, that the Irish language should be cherished, taught, and esteemed, and that it can be preserved and gradually extended.
What we seek is, that the people of the upper classes should have their children taught the language which explains our names of persons or places, our older history, and our music, and which is spoken in the majority of our counties, rather than Italian, German, or French. It would be more useful in life, more serviceable to the taste and genius of young people, and a more flexible accomplishment for an Irish man or woman to speak, sing, and write Irish than French.
At present the middle classes think it a sign of vulgarity to speak Irishthe children are everywhere taught English and English alone in schoolsand, what is worse, they are urged by rewards and punishments to speak it at home, for English is the language of their masters. Now, we think the example and the exertions of the upper classes would be sufficient to set the opposite and better fashion of preferring Irish; and, even as a matter of taste, we think them bound to do so. And we ask it of the pride, the patriotism,
p.106and the hearts of our farmers and shopkeepers, will they try to drive out of their children's minds the native language of almost every great man we had, from Brian Boru to O'Connellwill they meanly sacrifice the language which names their hills, and towns, and music, to the tongue of the stranger?
About half the people west of a line drawn from Derry to Waterford speak Irish habitually, and in some of the mountain tracts east of that line it is still common. Simply requiring the teachers of the National Schools in these Irish-speaking districts to know Irish, and supplying them with Irish translations of the school books, would guard the language where it now exists, and prevent it from being swept away by the English tongue, as the red Americans have been by the English race from New York to New Orleans.
The example of the upper classes would extend and develop a modern Irish literature, and the hearty support they have given to the Archaeological Society makes us hope that they will have sense and spirit to do so.
But the establishment of a newspaper partly or wholly Irish would be the most rapid and sure way of serving the language. The Irish-speaking man would find, in his native tongue, the political news and general information he has now to seek in English; and the English-speaking man, having Irish frequently before him in so attractive a form, would be tempted to learn its characters, and by-and-by its meaning.
These newspapers in many languages are now to be found everywhere but here. In South America many of these papers are Spanish and English, or French; in North America, French
p.107and English; in Northern Italy, German and Italian; in Denmark and Holland, German is used in addition to the native tongue; in Alsace and Switzerland, French and German; in Poland, German, French, and Sclavonic; in Turkey, French and Turkish; in Hungary, Magyar, Sclavonic, and German; and the little Canton of Grison uses three languages in its press. With the exception of Hungary, the secondary language is in all cases, spoken by fewer persons than the Irish-speaking people of Ireland, and while they everywhere tolerate and use one language as a medium of commerce, they cherish the other as the vehicle of history, the wings of song, the soil of their genius, and a mark and guard of nationality.