Literary History of Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1899) - some extracts.

INDEX (sel. references): Phillip Barron, 620n [ed. Ancient Ireland]; Charlotte Brooke, Reliques, 301, 361, 364; O’Beirne Crowe, 402, 407; drama, nearest approach to, 11; Dryden, 271; Enda, 194, 201; Ferguson, 87 [poem on Crom cruach], 120 [on ogams], 522 [trans. Ó Gnive]; 586 [on Brehon law]; Giraldusm 181 [beauty of Ireland], 71 [Welsh pedigrees], 161 [on St Brigit]], 198 [on St Brendan’s voyages]; 210 [on Moling]; 461 [on Irish MSS illumination]; Grattan, 625 [on Irish language]; Rev Dr Graves, 120 [on ogams]; 137 [discovers date of book of Armagh]; Rev Dr Healy [several refers]; Miss Hull, xvi [Cuchullin saga, ‘interesting volume’]; James II [rekindles hope of the Irish; poems to, etc.]; Jubainville [14 refs on various subjects]; Lecky, 623; far Denis Murphy, 564 [life of Red Hugh O’Donnell edited by]; Patrick [c.15 refs]; Petrie, xii [antiquities at Tara], 457 [on Irish shrines]; Sir William Petty, 15[err], 618; Ryan’s history of Co. Carlow [citation; no details]; Sigerson, 106, 133, 147, 216, 409, 505, 596; Spenser, 494ff [on the Irish bards]; Swift, ix; 621 [proposes the extermination of the Irish language]; Ussher, 554, 211 [his Antiquities], 214 [on Calmin’s Psalter], 619 [attacks on Bedell], 620 [anomalous position of]; Zeuss, 147, 480 [Celtic invention of rhyme]; Zimmer [15 refs.]

‘As for the classical metres which were already completely lost by the middle of the eighteenth century, and the last specimen which I have found composed in Connacht is one by Father Patrick O’Curneen, to the house of the O’CONORS, OF BELANAGARE, in 1734, which is in perfect Deibhidh metre’ [sample follows]. [545.]

‘The first authorities I know of who speak of Irish as dying out are Dr SAMUEL MADDEN, who, writing in 1738, states that not one in twenty was ignorant of English, and HARRIS, who, in his description of the county Down six years later, says that Irish prevailed only amongst the poorer Catholics. Both these statements, however, are preposterously exaggerated. ... Madden’s statement that in 1738 nineteen-twentieths of the population knew English is an incredible one and so utterly disproved by all the other evidence, that it is astonishing that so sound and careful a historian as MR LECKY should have accepted it as substantially true.’ [Hyde continues to show evidence from other sources, such as Daniel Dewar, Dutton, in his statistical survey, Grattan, Kuttner, and Kohl, for several pages; 623ff.]

OGHAM: Brash’s great work [on oghams] supplemented by Sir Samuel Ferguson’s, and since that time Professor Rhys, and Dr Whitley Stokes ... to quote Mr Macalister, ‘between reduced to order the confusion which almost seemed to warrant the cryptical theories, and have therby raised Ogam inscriptions from the position of being mere learned playthings to a place of the highest philological importance, not only in Celtic but in Indo-European epigraphy.’ [12]

HENRY GRATTAN [quoted]: ‘I think the diversity of language and not the diversity of religion constitutes a diversity of people. I should be very sorry that the Irish language should be forgotten, but glad that the English language should be generally understood.’ This seems to have been also the position taken up by his great rival Flood, who, when dying, left some £50,000 to Trinity College for the cultivation of the Irish language. [625.]

SIR WILLIAM PETTY: writing in 1672, [Petty] has an interesting passage on the people of Wexford and of Fingal, ‘The language of Ireland is like that of the North of Scotland, in many things like the Welsh and Manques, but in Ireland the Fingallians [on coast some miles north of Dublin] speak neither English, Irish, nor Welsh, and the people of Wexford, though they speak in a language different from English, Welsh, and Irish, yet it is not the same with that of the Fingallians near Dublin. Both these sorts of people are honest and laborious members of the kingdom.’ Petty’s strictures upon the Irish language, of which he was utterly ignorant, and which he ludicrously asserts ‘to have few words’ need not here be noticed. He appears to show, however, that the Irish had already begun to borrow some words from English, and expressed many of the ‘names of artificial things’ in ‘the language of their conquerors by altering the terminations and language only.’ [618.]

EDMUND SPENSER - on the Irish bards: ‘[...] none dare displease them for fear to run into reproach though their offence, and to be made infamous in the mouths of all men.’ ‘Yea, they should b encouraged when the desire honour and virtue, but, these Irish bards are for the most part of another mind, and so far from instructing young men in moral discipline, that whomsoever they find to be most licentious of life, most bold and lawlesse [sic] in his doings, most dangerous and desperate in all parts of disobedience and rebellious disposition, him they set up and glorify in their rhymes, him they praise to the people and to young men make an example to follow.’ Further: ‘Yea, truly, I have caused divers of them to be translated unto me, that I might understand them, and surely they savoured of sweet art and good invention, but skilled not in the goodly ornament of poesie, yet were they sprinkled with some pretty flowers of their natural device, which gave good grace and comeliness to them; the which it is a great pity to see abused to the gracing of wickedness and vice, which with good usage would serve to adorn and beautify virtue.’ [495.]

JONATHAN SWIFT: ‘a declared enemy of the Gaelic speech, which he considered prevented “the Irish from being tamed”, at one time he said he had a scheme by which their language ‘might easily be abolished and become a dead one in half an age, with little expense and less trouble’. In another place he says,  “it would be a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language in the kingdom, so far at least as to oblige all the natives to speak English on every occasion of business, in shops, markets, fairs, and other places of dealing, yet I am wholly deceived if this might not be effectually done in less than half an age and at a very trifling expense; for such I look upon a tax to be, of only six thousand pounds to accomplish so great a work.’ Whatever the Dean’s plan was, he did not further enlighten the public on it, and the scheme appears to have died with him.” [621.]

MICHAEL KELLY: Hyde quotes from Kelly’s Memoirs, where the musician recalls being in the German court at Schoenbrunn, in the company of generals O’Donnell and Kavanagh, ‘my gallant countrymen’; the latter addresses him in Irish, and the Emperor inquires if he does not understand or speak it; Kelly replies that ‘none but the lower orders of the Irish people speak Irish’, and is struck by the impropriety of his remark, which the Irishmen, do not, or else pretend not to hear. [622.]

EDMUND BURKE: In 1760 Irish was so universally spoken in the regts. of the Irish Brigade that Dick Hennessy, Edmund Burke’s cousin, learnt it on foreign service. (See Roche’s Memoirs of an Octogenarian, n.p.) [621-22.].

Note also Hyde’s scathing remarks on Trinity, ‘by far the richest college in the British Isles, one of the wealthiest universities in the world, allows its so-called Irish professorship to be an adjunct of its divinity school, founded and paid by a society for - the conversion of Irish Roman Catholics through the medium of their own language.’ (Literary History of Ireland n.p.) [Cited in Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, c.p.58]

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