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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Irish (Gaelic) Language and Literature

"IRISH (GAELIC) LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE The decade following 1910 was a period of much activity in the publication of literature written in the Irish language (see 5.622 seq.). This activity took two forms, one the editing of older texts which had never seen the light before, and the other the creation of wholly new works. The Irish Texts Society in London, the learned magazine Erin published in Dublin, the Zeitschrift fiir celtische Philologie, published at Halle, the Revue Celtique of Paris, and the Celtic Review of Edinburgh (which ceased publication after 1915) were the principal media for the publication of the older texts. The Irish Texts Society in especial published a number of handsome volumes, all editiones principes of important works, the Poems of Daibhi o Bruadair in three vols., the Contention of the Bards in two vols., an ancient Irish book on astronomy, the fourth vol. of Keating's history, the poems of Carolan, an Irish version of the wars of Charlemagne, and some lives of saints. The Cath Catharda, an extended Middle Irish version of Lucan's Pharsalia, had already been finished by Whitley Stokes in 1909. It was the last work of that great scholar and was published posthumously in Leipzig as one of the Irische Texte series. In the following year Kuno Meyer printed his researches into the Finn Saga, with the oldest texts bearing upon it, in the Proceedings of the Ro y al Irish Academy, Todd Lecture series. The same scholar published in the Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften a masterly article on the early Irish poetry of the first half of the seventh century, in 1913. He died in 1919, and in the same year appeared the first half of his work on Fragments of the Oldest Lyrics of Ireland. Two other works which have lately appeared are Manus O'Donnel's Life of Columcille and O'Clery's recension of the Book of Conquests. The first was published in America in a sumptuous volume by the Irish Foundation of Chicago, and edited by Father Kelleher and Miss Schdperle; the second was published by University College, Dublin, and edited by Professors MacNeill and Macalister.

The Gaelic Journal, which had been founded in 1882, came to an end in 1906, with the 197th number, and the want of a scholarly magazine dealing with the phases and difficulties of the more modern language was keenly felt. In 1912 T. O'Rahilly started a magazine Gadelica, to which he himself was the chief contributor, which reproduced all the best and most scholarly features of the old Gaelic Journal. Unfortunately this magazine came to an end in 1913, and nothing of quite the same kind has since taken its place.

Other editiones principes of valuable Irish texts published by various scholars are Sean O'Neachtain's Adventures of Edmund O'Clery, edited by O'Neachtain; the poems of Padraigin Hackett, many of which had been wrongly ascribed to the historian Keating, edited by Prof. O'Donoghue; a collection of One Hundred Ulster Poems by Morris; the romance of The Son of the Eagle by Brian O'Corcorain, who died in 1487, edited by Digby and Lloyd; Art MacCooey's poems, edited by Morris; the poems of John Murphy " na Raithineach," edited by O'Donoghue; The Maguires of Fermanagh, an historical tract, edited by Dinneen; The Flight of the Earls, edited by Walsh; The Book of the MacSweeneys, by the same; and many others. All these works, now for the first time given to the press, have had a considerable effect in directing the eyes of the Irish people to their own past. They showed them what their language was capable of doing, and they stimulated modern writers.

It would be invidious to mention the names of some of these new authors while leaving out others whose claims to mention may be just as good. But the name of the late Canon Peter O'Leary, parish priest of Castlelyons, must be mentioned above all others. Although he began to write late in life, after the rise of the Gaelic League, he produced an amazing number of excellent works, of which his first book, Se'adna, is nearly sure to live. He wrote another long Irish novel, Niamh, about the battle of Clontarf; he retold the old stories of Ireland in several volumes; he translated much of Don Quixote, The Catiline Conspiracy, the Imitatio Christi (of which two other Irish versions have been also printed), the Fables of Aesop and other works. He also wrote two volumes of sermons. His great merit is that he was the first to turn his back resolutely upon everything that was bookish and old and unclear, and to turn for his mode of expressing himself to the folk speech of his native county of Cork, which he wrote with a clarity and power that have never been surpassed. How suitable the speech of the people became in his hands to express the whole gamut of the emotions was to many a revelation. He died in 1920, and has left his trace upon the language more deeply than any other writer of his time. Father O'Leary stands for the most representative writer of the Southern half of Ireland. Padraig O'Conaire (or Conry) would probably be regarded by many in 1921 as the best living writer of the Northern half. No two people could well be more different. Coming from Connemara, he had spent a considerable time in England, and many of his stories, notably the powerful tale called Exile, deal with life outside of Ireland. In him we see a determined tramp camping out beneath a tent or the stars, and walking all over the country, stick in hand, or driving a donkey before him with his belongings. Entirely fin de siecle, he never resorted to the past for his subject-matter, which hu draws wholly from his own experience or imagination. In many ways he reminds the reader of Maupassant.

Of late many stories have been translated from modern European languages into Irish, and these have helped to make the idiom flexible, although they are not original work. Irish literature got a great set-back during the political troubles following the rebellion of 1916. Two monthly magazines which published stories and folklore were burnt, one in Munster and one in Connacht. The Connacht editor was " on the run " in the mountains, and of the joint editors of the Southern paper one was " interned " and the other had his house burned, with all the MSS. which he had spent half a lifetime collecting, and all the songs and music he had taken down from old people, now for the most part dead. Padraig O'Conaire too had his little hut in the Dublin mountains burnt and several plays destroyed. The most scholarly work, and the latest upon Irish saga literature, is that of Thurneysen published at Halle in 1921, Die Irische Heidenand Konigsage, a volume of over 700 pages, the first part of which contains a general treatment of the subject and the second the Ulster saga.

It is difficult to say with any certainty how far the Irish language has maintained itself in Ireland since 1910. The action of Dail Eireann (the " Irish Republican Parliament ") in making it the official language of their first meeting, nothing else being spoken on that day, gave it a great lift in popular estimation. Many people might have been noticed, especially young men and women, wearing a gold ring on their dress, in the streets of the bigger cities and towns. This was to show that they spoke Irish and wished to be addressed in that language. It was observed that many of these people came to a violent end, and the wearing of this ring was consequently to some extent discontinued. Finally it may be said that whilst the reading, writing and speaking of the Irish language have increased very much amongst the cultured classes in the towns, the language, where it is still naturally spoken in the north-west, west and north, has not fared equally well, and it is in many of these places barely holding its own against English. (D. Hr.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Irish (Gaelic) Language and Literature'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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