The Revival of the Irish Language



Taken from The Irish Fireside, Volume 6, Number 133, 1886

Drawing towards the end of December, people generally take a retrospective glance, of longer or shorter duration, over the year about to pass away. Many take a more extended view, and look back over several of the preceding years. To most people the prospect is not altogether satisfactory, and they naturally look, with other anticipations, towards the new year which will shortly replace the old one. They next begin to lay down rules of life, and programmes as to the way they will employ themselves for the next twelve months. This new chapter in their autobiography is to be very correct. With scarce an exception all will be better men or women than heretofore. Some will be more religious even; many will be more dutiful children, many better fathers and mothers; others will apply themselves more closely to their business; some will be more attentive to their studies. They will not in future give so much time to amusements, not even to light reading; it shall be all hard work in the battle of life, or in the preparation for it. No doubt there is a great deal to be amended, a great deal of pruning and grafting to be done; but all shall be done, and thoroughly, whether for self, for friends, or for country.

And you, reader of the Irish Fireside, young man or young woman, what will you do for your country? You are a patriot no doubt. You are ready and willing to make sacrifices for your country, but the country does not require any great sacrifices from you just now. Educate yourself; that is the way in which you can most effectually serve yourself and your country. Make yourself acquainted as well as you can with the industrial resources, the history, the language, and literature of the country. You will then be a patriot, and able to serve the country. At present what do you know of Irish history? You know a few great events—the landmarks. You can describe the battle of Clontarf, the battle of Aughrim; but can you state, however briefly, the events that led to these fights? Can you write a brief memoir of Emmett or Grattan, of Hugh O'Neill, or Sarsfield! The natives of Ireland are called Celts. Can you tell anything about the ancient Celts? They were, in all probability, the first family to leave the parent hive in Central or Western Asia, and it is only when they had been stopped by the great Western Ocean, and had been retracing their steps towards the rising sun, that we meet with them for the first time in historic records. We know now that they were of the same stock as the Hindoos, Persians, Afghans, Greeks, Romans, Teutons, Slavs. It is of very late their claim of kindred with these other great races has been allowed—the Britons especially fighting against this claim up to the birth of the present generations—and conceding it grudgingly when the mass of evidence in favour of the Celts was simply overwhelming.

But though you cannot learn a great deal about these old Celts, the little that you can learn about them is full of interest to their descendants. We meet them first on their return journey in Northern Italy four centuries or so before our era. They spread terror through all the tribes of that Peninsula, and sacked the Eternal City. They, a century later, pillaged the Temple of Delphi, passed over to Asia Minor, and after roving about there for a time they settled down, and their descendants were those Galatians to whom St Paul wrote his Epistle. They were a brave people—as brave as any people on this earth—tall in stature, with white skins, golden hair, and blue eyes; they wore long hair and moustaches—the glibbs and coolins which more than a thousand years after were thought deserving of the utmost penalty of the law in Ireland. In attack and in an enemy's country they were invincible, but in defending their own homes and hearths they always failed. They had no time on the foreign war-path for jealousies or quarrelling with one another, but at home, and mostly at their banquets, they shed one another's blood; and, while the enemy was subduing a kindred tribe at some little distance, the Celts sat down quietly until their neighbours were attacked. "It is but seldom that two or three States join together to ward off the common danger. Thus, while they fight singly all are conquered," said a Roman historian. "When irritated they rush in crowds to the conflict, openly and without any circumspection, and thus are easily vanquished by those who employ stratagem." According to Strabo. Livy tells of a Gaul who stood out like Goliath, challenging any Roman to come forth and meet him in single combat. The Romans were staggered, the Gaul for a while unanswered and unopposed, and he proceeded to jeers and putting out his tongue in mockery at them. "His person was extraordinary in size." "But the Gauls have swords that are long and without points." Another authority says—"Their swords are so fashioned that they deliver one good cutting stroke, but at once become blunt and bent, so that unless the soldier has time to straighten the sword with his foot and the ground it is incapable of striking another blow. The Romans, coming to close quarters, deprived the Gauls of the power of using their swords for slashing." The Romans having launched their terrible spears came to close quarters with their short, sharp-pointed swords, and slaughtered almost unresistingly their more powerful opponents, who were "stripped naked above the waist for the fight," as the Irish were at the Battle of Down in 1260:—

Fine linen shirts on the race of Conn,

And the foreigners in one mass of iron.*

[* Leinti cael-sroill fa chloinn g-Cuinn

As Goill 'na naon-bhroin iaruinn].

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