AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY

 

THE NAME Brookeborough is hardly the likeliest to come to mind in any discussion of the Irish language and Gaelic literature. But it was Rosemary Lady Brookeborough who, one afternoon last month, unveiled a plaque on the wall of her old family home, Galgorm Castle, Antrim, to the memory of her great aunt Rose M. Young (1865-1947), better remembered perhaps as Rois Ni Ogain. She is described on the plaque as scolaire Gaeilge and a new edition of her seminal collection of Irish verse, Duanaire Gaedhilge (1921), prepared by Dr Diarmaid O Doibhlin of the University of Ulster, was launched later that evening by Lady Brookeborough.

It was in many ways a unique occasion, bringing together very disparate strands of Ulster tradition, which were fused and reconciled in the remarkable woman whose life and words we had come to celebrate. And it should be remembered that Rose Young was only one of a group of Ulster Protestant ladies who had, in the early days of the Gaelic League, come to discover and fall in love with the Irish language and culture. They were drawn, as by a magnet, to the Glens of Antrim then largely Gaeltacht and there, in Portnagolan, by Cushendall, they enjoyed the hospitality of Margaret Emmeline Dobbs (1871-1962), who became a central figure in the group.

She was born in Dublin where she first heard Gaelic, spoken by a Scottish servant but moved to Antrim in 1898 on the death of her father, who had been Sheriff of Carrickfergus. Her father James was involved in the Larne gun running, a fact which did not inhibit her close friendship with Roger Casement, to whose defence fund she made a large contribution. In fact, three of Casement's cousins were also members of the "Glens" group.

One of 12 children

There was also Ada MacNeil of Glendun Margaret Hutton, wife of a Belfast industrialist, and a friend of P.H. Pearse and a benefactor of St. Enda's school Barbara McDonnell of Glenariff, a descendant of James Mc Donnell, a Belfast physician and philanthropist, who 100 years earlier had been a mainstay of the first Gaelic revival in that city. And there was Rose Maud Young.

She was the seventh of 12 children born to John Young, a prosperous merchant, whose family had acquired Galgorm from the Mountcashel family some years before her birth.

She was educated privately in the manner of her class and time, emerging from the schoolroom in December, 1884, when she was 19. Her further formal education was confined to two years' training as a teacher in England. An introduction to Irish studies appears to have come through Bishop William Reeves, first when, as rector of Ballymena, he was a frequent guest at Galgorm, and later, on visits to the episcopal residence in Dunmurry, where she saw some old Irish manuscripts which he had acquired.

That was in 1889. Two years later she visited Oxford, and went over to the Bodleian and saw the M.S. Annals of Tighernach and the M.S. life of Colmcille by O'Donnell. Then in 1903, while on an extended visit to a sister in London, she attended Irish classes conducted by Micheail Breathnach, and by Edith Drury (who later compiled the classic collection Amhrain Mhuighe Seola.

Back in Galgorm the following year, "Miss Ada MacNeill came to read Irish with me" and in July she attended the first Glens Feis. Willie and Mary (her brother and sister) "went down to it."

In 1905, she attended the Oireachtas in Dublin, and lunched with Douglas Hyde. In 1906 she went to Belfast to stay with Mrs Hutton for an Irish play, Maire Ni Eidhin at St Mary's Hall and the following. July "walked up the glens with Brian O'Byrne to see W McShane, Rose McGrogan and Biddy McVeagh to talk Irish." So began the apprenticeship of the young scolaire Gaeilge, it progressed at classes in Belfast from 1907 to 1911, and at summer courses in Donegal.

The quotations in the last two paragraphs are from Rose Young's own diaries covering the years 1883-1942, which she collated and edited in two volumes as cited by Dr O Doibhlin in his admirable edition of Duanaire Gaeilge, and in his paper Womenfolk of the Glens of Antrim and the Irish language.

Two lives

They were made available to him by Lady Brookeborough, to whose generous co-operation he pays tribute. Apart from the account they give of what have called the author's apprenticeship as a Gaelic scholar, they offer a fascinating picture of a life lived in two worlds one of a prosperous family socially on terms with the local gentry and welcome in many of the "big houses" of the country, but equally welcome in the cottages of the Glens and of west Donegal.

In her diaries, unionist meetings and UVF parades share pages with Gaelic gatherings in June 1911 there was a great party at Galgorm for the coronation of George V and a few days later, Rose was at a feis at Garron Tower. And so it continued to the end. In 1935 she records the Royal Jubilee celebrations, with bonfires on the Antrim coast, and in 1938 the inauguration of her old friend Douglas Hyde as President of Ireland.

As Diarmuid O Doibhlin emphasises Rose Young and her friends are not to be dismissed as "dilettantes toying with this strange archaic language, women who had little else to do and were just following a whim or fancy." Duonaire Gaedhilge and other works of scholarship and creativity bear witness to the insight and energy of these women of great independence of mind, who knew "that the language and the culture enshrined in the language is a vast human resource for all Catholic Protestant and Dissenter."