‘The drive to revive the language in effect failed’
Pól Ó Muirí
There is a very interesting review in this week’s The Irish Catholic by that paper’s book editor, Peter Costello, of The Irish Franciscans 1534-1990 (Four Courts Press, ed by Edel Bhreathnach, Joseph MacMahon OFM and John McCaffrey). Commenting on one of the essays in the collection, Costello notes: “The involvement of the Franciscans with the Irish language is one critical area but Dr Daly leaves unresolved the mystery of just why, passionate as it was, the drive to revive the language in effect failed. She notes that Sean Lemass had little interest in the language. We are now living, not in the Ireland that de Valera imagined and the Franciscans supported, but in the Ireland that Lemass created.”
I am tempted, frivolously, to suggest that the Franciscan involvement with the language was due to some Medieval reports that suggested the language of heaven was, in fact, Irish. (Though, if memory serves me correctly, some Welsh clerics also made that claim for their own language.)
On a more serious note, did the ‘revival’ fail and was the State Lemass created, culturally, better than the one de Valera hoped for? Irish is not in the greatest health in many Gaeltacht areas but there is a Gaeltacht in seven counties of Ireland’s 32, representing an unbroken linguistic link of immense importance and heritage; the language is doing well in many urban areas and there is a professional and educated class of Irish speakers, writers, dramatists, lecturers and thinkers whose company would surely have gladdened the heart of that most famous Franciscan, Aodh Mac Aingil, in his Louvain posting.
In fact, could one argue that there is more Irish in Ireland now than was ever the case even in Mac Aingil’s time – and that that would not be the case without the State’s help?