The Revival of the Irish Language


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A contrast similar to that between Bedell and Bramhall was that between Bishop Berkeley, of Cloyne, and one of his successors. The former in the Querist asks "Whether there be any instance of a people's being converted in a Christian sense otherwise than by preaching at them and instructing them in their own language?" His successor in 1785 wrote a tract which reached the seventh edition, in which he talks wildly of "the Irish language as being an insurmountable obstacle to any intercourse with the people." A century later and the language has been pronounced a "bar to progress." So history repeats itself. Though it is almost unnecessary to say that the Irish language and the Irish people were as unmercifully treated when both nations were Catholic—thall 's abhus—as they have been since the Reformation, yet a few instances of this savage treatment in Catholic times will be given by-and-bye. But the treatment of Dr Bedell by the Irish people, when perhaps they were more enraged against their oppressors than at any time since the English invasion, should be made known as widely as possible. So we digress here to put it again on record.

Dr William Bedell, as we have seen, was appointed Bishop of Ardagh and Kilmore in the year 1629, and though the revenues of the two bishoprics afforded only a competency he resigned the see of Ardagh. That he was zealous in worrying for the interests of his own religion need not be said, but it was in an honest way, and he was good and kind to the poor people around him. "The great rebellion of 1641 broke out, and in the autumn of that year, when all around him there was nothing but fire and blood and desolation, a secret guard seemed to be set upon him and upon all that he had. He suffered, unquestionably, much distress, as no man could possibly be altogether exempted; but from the 23rd of October, when the civil commotions began, to the 16th of December, Bedell and all within his walls remained unmolested; indeed he was the only English man in the county of Cavan who was suffered to continue during this period in his own house undisturbed. Not only his house but all his outbuildings, as well as his church and churchyard, were filled with people who had fled to him for shelter, many of whom had lived in affluent circumstances, but were now glad of a little straw to lie upon. On the 18th of December, when the bishop was removed from his own house, he and his family were carried to the Castle of Lochwater, where all except himself were at first put in irons. These, however, were afterwards taken off, and on the 7th of January the family was finally exchanged for other prisoners, and relieved. During the four following Sabbaths Bedell preached regularly in his own church. … Next day (after the last of these Sabbaths) he was taken ill, and on the 7th of February, 1642, he entered the Eternal world"—(Christopher Anderson).

"The house in which Dr Bedell's body lay was that of Denis Sheridan—the great grandfather of the celebrated Richard Brinsley—and some companies of Irish horse and foot were drawn up before the door. The Rev. Alexander Cloghy [was requested] to read the burial service of the Protestant Church over the grave. … Then, ere the first shovelful of clay rattled on the coffin-lid, two files of musketeers took their position beside the grave, and discharged three volleys in the air 'Hic requiescat ultimus Anglorum' (may the last of the English rest in peace), exclaimed the native Irish who witnessed the interment. 'O, sit anima mea cum Bedello,' cried a Catholic priest, Father Edmund Farrelly, in words that have since become proverbial of Irish religious toleration."

Surely comment is not required here to show what a long way a little real kindness goes with the Irish. Our rulers and all concerned should have learned this lesson from the life and death of Dr William Bedell.

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