The Birth of the Gaelic League

Kilkenny Town, April 1897

The Tholsel, KilkennyOn Tuesday evening a meeting was held in the Council Chamber, the Tholsel, for the purpose of starting a branch of the Gaelic League in Kilkenny with the object of preserving the National Language of Ireland. There were in attendance:

Mr.J.McNeill B.A. Editor (Gaelic Journal) Mr. James Casey, Secretary Gaelic League Dublin, Mr.J.St.Clair Boyd M.D., Belfast, Mr. O.J.Bergin, B.A. Cork, Mr. J. Murphy, Mr.Denis Fleming, Secretary of the Lee Branch Cork, Mr. J. L. Ahem B.A. represented Waterford. The Right Worshipful Alderman T. Cantwell, Mayor, Mr. R. Barry, Mr Denis 0′ Sullivan, Mr. W. 0′ Neill, Mr. P. Kangley, Mr. W. Cassin T.C., Ald. M. M. Murphy, Solr, Mr.C.J.Kenealy Town Clark, Mr. T. Barry, Mr.T. W.O’Hanrahan. J.P.T.C. Mr. E. Nowlan T.C., Mr.M.J,C.Buckley, Mr. E.0′ Connell, Mr. M.Dunne, Mr. John McCarthy and e&e.

On the motion of Mr.T.Barry seconded by Mr.O’Hanrahan, the Mayor was moved to the Chair. The Mayor, on taking the chair, said he regretted very much the meeting was not larger, but a very small seed often produced a wonderful tree, and he hoped though their meeting was a small one, it would be a seed that would grow and become a tower in the land. Ald. Murphy moved that Mr.T.Barry would act as secretary to the meeting. They should all feel grateful to Mr. Barry for the energy and ability with which he had worked up this business in Kilkenny. Mr. P Kangley seconded the motion which was unanimously passed. Mr. Barry then read the following resolutions which would be submitted to the meeting:

1st- “That a branch of the Gaelic League be established in Kilkenny and we call upon the people of this city and county to support the movement of the League for the preservation and extension of the National Language.”

2nd- “That we demand that the fullest possible recognition of the Irish language in every grade of every education and especially that it should be taught to the children of Irish-speaking parents from the earliest stages. That we feel that provision for teaching Irish should no longer be postponed in the Training Colleges and that we gladly commend The De La Salle Training College for having made such provision.”

3rd- “That we ask the clergy of Ireland following the patriotic example of the clergy of other nationalities, to give their earnest support to this movement on behalf of The Mother Tongue.”

4th- That we call on associations formed in Ireland for mutual improvement to systematically adopt the study of the Irish language and to do all in their power to promote its cultivation and in particular we call upon the G.A.A. to encourage the ordinary use of Irish as a medium of communication among their members especially in Irish-speaking districts.”

5th- “That we request all Irishmen to support the Gaelic Journal; the only paper in Ireland devoted exclusively to the cultivation of the Irish language and literature.”

6th- “In view of the fact that three Celtic chairs have been founded in leading American Universities within the last 6 months, we are of the opinion that it behoves the Irish Universities and Colleges to afford facilities to their pupils to become acquainted with the importance of Celtic philology.”

Ald. Murphy said, he had very great pleasure in being allowed to propose the resolutions and hoped they would not only adopt them but that they would act on them in the spirit and to the letter. There was very little use in coining there and promising a series of resolutions unless they meant to carry them out and act on them in future and he sincerely hoped all present, and a large number of the citizens who were unfortunately unable to attend due to the inclemency of the weather, will take up this matter earnestly and assist in the study of, and make themselves and their children as far as they could, perfect in the use of the Irish language. He had never ceased to regret his absolute want of knowledge of the Irish language and there was scarcely a day that he had not found necessity for the use of it. There was no earthly reason why they could not all, irrespective of religion or politics, join in this praiseworthy movement. (Hear! Hear!) They might also include the ladies though he was sorry they saw none of them at the meeting, yet any movement they take up, they do their best to carry it through, and if they joined in this it would be a success, they would teach their children and it was the rising generation they wanted to learn it.

Look at Wales and the manner in which they had preserved their language. They taught it in the schools and they had all their books – their prayer books, their bibles in Welsh, the names over the shop doors were in Welsh, and was it not a pity the Irish could not do the same. They had experience within the last few days of how another association the Royal Society of Antiquaries was worked. In that society people of all religions and politics were united as one man and there was no reason why they should not do the same and he sincerely hoped that they would irrespective of religion or party spirit, endeavour to make the Irish language movement in Kilkenny a great success. Mr.C.J.Kenealy said, he would like to share the privilege of seconding Aid Murphy in his proposition to adopt the resolutions, read by the Hon. Sec.

Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin - Seosamh Mac Suibhne Ealaíontóir

He thought it was full time Kilkenny should have taken the step which had now being initiated and he was proud to say by the energy and with a solicitude for the preservation of the Irish language by this Hon Sec. (Hear! Hear!) It was indeed a strange thing that of all cities in the world in the city of the Confederation, the Irish language was neglected. Of course they were very much inland and being inland told against them more or less so far as the use of Irish was concerned, because in the seaport towns people are accustomed from their earliest infancy to hear, if not use the grand old tones of the Celtic tongue. Unfortunately, like the proposer of the resolution he did not understand a word of Irish, except a few phrases gathered here and there. It would be his biggest ambition to be able to speak Irish fluently. (Hear! Hear!)

The one thing necessary was to make a beginning and he thought they had made a very sensible beginning that night. As their worthy Mayor said the meeting was small, but small beginnings have had great ends. He had much pleasure in seconding the resolutions and hoped the school would take up the Celtic language and develop it more than they had done up to this and give an opportunity to the Irish people to develop a study of the language, which for its music and which for its age and which for the assistance it gives to almost every other language under the sun, is unequalled in any language in the world. (Hear! Hear!)

Mr.E.Nowlan in supporting the resolutions said he did not see how the question of politics or party or religion came into the matter at all and the best thing they could do was to try and set to work as soon as possible and see what could be done. Mr.W.Cassin said he agreed with Mr. Nowlan as to starting the classes at an early date. The meeting was small, but he thought that was due to the want of being properly advertised. He agreed with Mr.Nowlan that politics or religion had nothing to do with the matter. They should be left clean out of the question altogether, let it be Irish and Irish only. (Hear! Hear!) Mr James Casey , Sec of the League then explained the working and methods of the Gaelic League and said a language could not remain still if it did not expand it would certainly go backward, and the method in which they wanted to keep it alive was to get at the people who spoke Irish and pointing out the beauties of the language they were casting aside like a disused thing, show them it was a language which had always been the pioneer of Christianity and civilisation. They also pointed out that learned savants were only too anxious to attain a knowledge of the Irish because it furnished them with a key to philology.

They had now come to Kilkenny to establish a branch here, and surely it was fitting that in the city wherein was enacted the infamous statute which has had a paralysing influence on the Irish language for so many years should do something now to endeavour, to preserve it. In the county of Kilkenny there are four thousand Irish speakers chiefly situated in the baronies of Ida, Iverk, Knocktopher and Kells. There was work for an active branch of the Gaelic League. All these people should be got at and personally canvassed and their duty pointed out to them – that it is incumbent on them not alone to speak Irish themselves and not to be ashamed of it, but to banish false shame which has been such a curse in the past. Get at these people and establish branches throughout the country so that the young people may have an opportunity of knowing their mother tongue. He concluded by quoting the lines written by Father Mullins;

“Oh! be Irish Irishmen and rally for the dear old tongue,
Which like ivy round ruins, to the dear old land has clung;
Oh! snatch this relic from the wreck, the only and the last,
And show what Ireland ought to be, by pointing to the past.”

Mr.Bergin, in supporting the resolution spoke in Irish. Dr.Boyd of Belfast, next addressed the meeting and said when he was asked to come here and assist in establishing a branch of the Gaelic League in Kilkenny he responded with great pleasure. He wished every success to the branch. The members of his branch were very anxious whenever a branch was founded to offer every encouragement and were always willing to send representatives. Mr.J.McNeill BA, who spoke for some time in Irish afterwards said, there was not the slightest doubt that among the mass of people in this country the word national had a kind of political sense. Of course politicals were necessary, but politicals were not Nationality. There was nationality independent of politicals. A National language was a reality, a living fact, and the surest and the soundest way to cultivate and preserve their Nationality, was by seizing on such real elements as they found existing and preserving them. If the Irish people cultivated their national language and literature there would be no such thing as a struggle for it. The movement might be summed up in two words “Be Irish”.

They should be not only Irish in theory but in fact and there was no element whatever in a peoples existence which tends more to the preservation of a distinctive and individual nationality, than the preservation of an National language. (Hear! Hear!) There was no doubt it was perfectly possible to preserve the Irish language, they had nearly 700,000 people speaking it. And all they had to do was to keep them speaking it and there they had it for ever. A movement of this description which tends to preserve the existing elements of nationality among the people, will tend to promote that spirit of reliance, which is absolutely necessary to the material prosperity of the country. Mr. Kangley said it was the almost universal opinion of those who did not understand Irish that it was difficult to learn. Speaking for himself he might say he had to learn it as a dead language and mastered it! He strongly advised every person who possibly could to endeavour, to acquire some knowledge of the National language.

Mr.J.L.Aherne BA said, the difficulty in the way of reviving the language was the feeling that had got amongst the people, that the Irish was a worthless language and useless to the learner. In America quite recently, a Celtic chair was established in Washington University and three others in three important Universities. In Germany it was taught in the principal colleges and schools, it was an extraordinary fact that the principal grammar of the old Irish was one translated from the German. If it were a useless language would people who differed so much from the Irish take it up or cultivate it to such an extent. He had no doubt the majority of those present would take up its study as a national duty and be prepared to encounter all the difficulties in their way and overcome them. Mr. M.J.C. Buckley said that having been resident for many long years on the continent and living in a country which had made the most determined struggle not only to retain its language but also to revivify it, he was alive to the importance of the motto on the banner of Belgium “No language, No nation”. Without tiring their patience, he might be allowed to say a few words on the movement to which, as far as he could see, the Irish Journals, the Irish people and the Irish clergy were utterly blind and indifferent.

Where was their language used in the Courts of Justice, in the schools, in the shops, or in the churches?. Was it heard in any relation of social life?. They would have to overcome every difficulty and the only way to get that spirit of self-reliance which was so necessary, was by not caring how they might be laughed at or what powers were opposed to them, and resolve to adopt the motto of an advanced modern state in Europe, which is in the same position as Ireland, that where there is no language there is no nation. Let everyone who could not learn it himself at least give a little assistance. He concluded by wishing every success to the League and he thought it was one amongst many signs of the springing up again of that spirit that animated Davis and the others of that grand party that was above money and even personality, the Grand Young Ireland Party. (Applause)

Mr. J. Barry said that as the smallness of the meeting had been attributed to the want of advertising, but he should say that he did not meet with the success he expected in Kilkenny, which accounted for the lack of advertisements. But he did the best he could and one difficulty he had to face was that in the appointment of a provisional committee, he was afraid some might look upon it as partaking of a partisan character, and so he took the responsibility on himself He asked all present to come forward and hand in their names as members of the new branch. And announced that the following officers would be elected –

President, The Mayor, vice-president, Ald M.Murphy, Secretary, J.Barry: Treasurer, T.W.O’ Hanrahan, J.P. Committee, Denis O’Sullivan, E.Nowlan T.C, M.Ring T.C, W.Cassin T.C, C.J. Kenealy and R.Duggan J.P., Mr.O’Hanrahan moved a vote of thanks to the delegates who attended the meeting. Aid. Murphy seconded the motion which was carried with acclamation.

Mr.Casey replied on behalf of the delegates, Mr.Flemming then moved that the Mayor vacate the chair and that it be taken by Mr.Nowlan. He then speaking in Irish moved a vote of.thanks to the Mayor for presiding. Mr.Murphy seconded the resolution which was unanimously carried. The Mayor having replied the proceedings terminated.

Later arrangements were made for classes to be held in the Tholsel on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, commencing at 8.30 p.m. each evening. The classes will be under the direction of Mr. P.Kangley, a certified teacher of Irish.

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