The Starting of the Gaelic Journal, November 1882

From `For the Tongue of the Gael' by Tomas O Flannghaile, 1896

THIRTY-SIX years after the death of Thomas Davis the first journal devoted to the living Irish language has appeared in Ireland's capital. Though no Gael himself, Davis dearly loved the Gaelic race amongst whom his lot was cast, and thus it is that by all true Irishmen his memory will ever be fondly kept and honoured. The national music, national games, all worthy national customs and institutions found in him a warm sympathizer and an eloquent advocate.

Especially did he love and admire our ancient, but still beautiful Gaelic Tongue, and he never lost an opportunity by word or example of showing this love and admiration. Impatient at the ignorance of so many of his countrymen, and disgusted with the rubbish that passed amongst them for 'Irish' in the songs and novels of the day, he was forced to tell them at last--as readers of his works will remember--that "really it was time for Irishmen to learn Irish." We know too, how ardently he longed to see an organ in the press for the advocacy of the Gaelic cause, and for the active literary cultivation of the language. He and his generation however, passed away without seeing this wish realised. But he had sown good seed.

The Gaelic Journal then, so long dreamt of, so long wished for, has at last appeared, and its reception has been kindly and encouraging. Though printing has been known and carried on in Ireland for some three hundred years; though during that period numerous works in the Irish language have been published not only in Ireland, but also in England and on the continent--at Louvain, Paris, Rome and other places; and though a periodical press has existed in the country for close on two hundred years, yet it is only in 1882 that we first print on Irish ground a periodical even partly in the Irish language, devoted to the interests of that language and its literature. This is a fact that must appear strange to all but natives of the country. There have been, no doubt, Journals of Archaeology and 'Transactions' of Antiquarian Societies published from time to time, and these occasionally have given some attention to the relics of our older literature. But their attention has generally been of the sort bestowed on our ancient bronze swords, our round towers and other venerable remains of antiquity: the native language and its literary monuments have held but a very subordinate place among the objects of their solicitude and as far as the living tongue and its literature are concerned, their very existence has been ignored.

The causes that have hitherto operated against the rise of a vernacular Irish press are, many of them, beyond the scope and province of this journal to discuss, but as they are obvious, there is all the less need to refer to them here. More plea sant will it be to point out the causes and agencies that have at length made the Gaelic Journal a reality. Amongst these must be briefly mentioned (1) a growing taste among the reading portion of our people for things national, and a juster idea of the value of such things as we can still call our own; (2) the labours of devoted Irish scholars during the last fifty years--as O'Donovan, O'Curry, Davis, Petrie, Todd, Archbishop MacHale, Canon Bourke, S. H. O'Grady, John Fleming, Hennessy and Whitley Stokes--some of whom, happily, we have still amongst us; (3) the labours of continental scholars in the general field of Indo-European philology, and more particularly those of Pictet, Zeuss, Ebel, Gaidoz. de Jubainville, and others in the special field of Celtic philology; (4) the labours of learned bodies like the Royal Irish Academy, the Celtic Society, even those of the Irish Archaeological Society, but more especially those of the Ossianic Society; (5) the establishment of the "Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language;" and (6) above all the formation of the Gaelic Union, for no other society or body had ever thought or would ever think of so practical a means of cultivating the language--or indeed, of cultivating the living language at all.

Our objects have already been sufficiently stated. Our main purpose is to popularise the study and use of our language, not amongst one class only but amongst all classes of our people--especially those who have held aloof so long and who know so little about it.

The more they know of it, the more they will desire to know. Some of the most hostile are amongst the most ignorant. Irish would surely be more creditable and even more valuable to our people than the smatterings usually acquired of French and German and other foreign tongues, which--as Mr. John Fleming said in his excellent Irish article in our first number--"not one in a hundred, nay, not one in a thousand of our Irish educated class, ever has occasion to use." When our people reflect more on this, we may soon hope that Ireland's work will be done, that Ireland's language and literature and history and antiquities will be elucidated--not so much by foreigners as by her own sons. And there is no shadow of doubt but that the surest and easiest and most natural way for Irishmen to the right understanding of those more ancient literary works, which still remain to us, and which foreigners so much envy us, is through the living Irish tongue. The greatest Celtic scholars of the continent have gladly acknowledged their indebtedness to O'Reilly for his Irish Dictionary--mainly a dictionary of the modern tongue; and both O'Donovan and O'Curry owed much of their success with the more ancient Irish writings to their extensive and intimate acquaintance with the modern Irish idiom, spoken and written.

Our readers will now understand that it was in no mere antiquarian, no antediluvian spirit that this journal was founded; and in no such spirit shall it be conducted. Those who want archaeology must look for it elsewhere. Our work is not so much with the past as with the living present. So the Irish in this journal will for the most part be the warm living thoughts of living Irishmen and Irishwomen. It will not be the language of the Leabhar Iomunn, nor of Leabhar na h-Uidhre, nor of the Leabhar Laighneach, nor of the Seanchas Mór; but rather as might be expected the Irish, as near as we can approach it, of the best authors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--of the O'Clerys, of Keating, of O'Molloy, of Bedell, of O'Donlevy, of O'Gallagher, of the Connacht and Munster Bards. These are the men who shall be our models, who shall give us our standard, except of course in such respects as their style may have become too obsolete for the present day.

As to the Gaelic Union, its platform we think is broad enough for all Irishmen to find room upon. We are not by any means all Gaels; we number in our body also descendants of Danes, of Normans, and of Welshmen, among the earlier races, besides representatives of some of the later stocks that have been planted in Ireland. Some of them, if not very prominent or ostentatious, are very real and true friends of our movement. Many of them in their love for the Gael and things Gaelic, remind us of the men who in former times often became 'more Irish than the Irish themselves.' Many of them would shame a number of people who boast themselves true Gaels--even some who wear O's to their names as big as cart-wheels.

For the present we are well content that our journal should go double-barrelled in the hope that it may do the more execution. Those whom our Irish shot may not reach, may be struck by our English ammunition. For ourselves, we would prefer one single barrel of greater calibre, of pure Irish metal, long and strong and straight and polished. But let our readers take warning. We shall not always, nor for long, humour them in their ignorance, or their laziness. We have too much to put before our readers in Ireland's own tongue, to fill these columns with English, of which plenty good and bad can be had cheap elsewhere. So if there be any of our subscribers to whom the happy thought has not yet occurred, let them lose no time, but hurry up and begin forthwith to learn to speak and read and write the mellifluous Gaelic of Erin.*

* NOTE.--The above article, or rather the substance of it, appeared under the title of "Our Position" in the third number of the Gaelic Journal, published in Dublin, Jan., 1883. After thirteen years of much vicissitude, it is pleasant to chronicle that this Irish periodical still holds its place. It has been edited in turn by Mr. David Comyn, Mr. John Fleming, and latterly by Father O'Growney, the young and energetic Professor of Irish at Maynooth, under whose editorship it promises to have a more vigorous and more brilliant career than ever. [During Father O'Growney's temporary absence in the United States, the acting editor has been Mr. John MacNeill, B.A., a young but accomplished Irish scholar.]