After the famine and theinstitution of Home Rule, Ireland was a partially broken country.
Ireland became in need of nationalism in itsland, along with something that would set the Irish apart from England. Thisbecame known as the Gaelic cultural revival movement. It was most successful inthe three areas, the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League and theAnglo-Irish literary Revival. The Irish languagedramatically declined throughout the 19th century.
During the famine,there were 4 million Irish speakers. This number fell to 680,000 by 1891 anddropped further throughout the years. These stark figures illustrate theshocking decline of the Irish language and proved that if it continued todecline at this rate, the language would be extinct within a number of years.
As Irish struggled to survive, the embrace of the English language offered analternative existence to the ravages of famine. English was seen as a languageof prosperity whilst Irish was generally associated with poverty. This promotedthe learning of the English language and soon enough Irish mothers demandedthat English be taught instead of Irish in primary school. The use of Englishas a first language provided the citizens with further opportunities withregards to work and travel as it was a common universal language at thisperiod.
English was also associated with power as it was only the most powerful figures in Ireland, likelandlords, judges and politicians who spoke English. As a response to the deteriorationof the Irish language, Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill joined and formed theGaelic League in 1893. The Gaelic League was designed for therestoration of the Irish language which they realised was dying out completelyat that stage. The Gaelic League was a grassrootsmovement that has played a central part in Ireland’s national building. The Gaelic League had many effects inIreland including reviving the Irish language, improving schools, making thesocial life of Ireland better and having less discrimination among othercountries. It was designed in order toseparate Ireland from England. From the perspective of other nations, Ireland wasjust part of the United Kingdom, like Scotland and Wales were, and wasconsidered under the control of England. Many Irish citizens were not contentwith the partial freedom Ireland received from the Home Rule Act, including Hyde and MacNeill.
It was this act thatgave Ireland a chance to hold its own parliament, however, it would keepEnglish institutions and would speak English as their national language. The effects of this organisationchange the success of Ireland as a country. The Gaelic League was not only asource of nationalism and unity for the country, the league also gave Ireland asense of uniqueness from its dominating and overbearing neighbor, England.
TheLeague eventually helped the country gain its independence. The Gaelic Leaguedid, however, experience great difficulties throughout its existence and becamea factor in the eventual civil war in Ireland. The League’shopes were demoralising English culture and to recreate their Irish languageand literature civilisation.
Their efforts met withalmost immediate success with branches of Connradh springing up in practicallyevery parish in the country. ‘Feiseanna’ were organised on a county basis whichappealed to youths. Many books were published teaching simple Irish words andphrases for those anxious to learn. This was a major impact on the increasing of the level of interest inIrish as most publications of Irish were in an old form, very difficult tounderstand and learn, and usually very expensive to purchase.
Native speakers, known asTimirí (travelling teachers) went around setting up Irish classes. One of themost important effects of The Gaelic League was the improved education andrenovation of the Irish national school system. Before the League, the youth inthe Irish educated society was geared toward English cultural and politicalstandards and held the Gaelic heritage in contempt.
There was a lot of pressurefrom the Gaelic League on the National Board of Education, which was largelyresponsible for the introduction of the English program. The League was verysuccessful, primarily because it argued for the program on educational grounds.It contended that the most effective and efficient way to educateIrish-speaking children was through the medium of both Irish and English. Withthe aim that they both are well-read in both languages by the time they leftprimary school. The school curriculum was now being taught by both English andGaelic speaking languages. This change was firstly recognised at college leveland at universities in Dublin, which guaranteed successes of their students nomatter what language they’re taught in. Later the League made Irish compulsory forentry to the new National University of Ireland. Irishheritage was spread across Ireland from the students at school and because ofthe big number of Irish, Gaelic speaking students, there was hardly anydiscrimination.
The new schools allowed for the students to have a bettereducation and with that better education, allowed for a better job in thefuture as well. Adults in Ireland found it very difficult to find work in theSouthern and Western counties of Ireland due to the very little industry foundin these rural parts of Ireland. Hence, most Irish people searched foremployment in Dublin. As a result of this immigration became extremely highduring this period. While the League did not make Irish theeveryday language of Ireland, it generated enough enthusiasm to stop itdisappearing altogether. By 1908, the Gaelic League had almost 600 branchesnationwide. The Irish newspaper called AnClaidheamh Soluis became very popular with Irish citizens as it was in theform of modern Irish which was a lot simpler to understand and read compared toold Irish. In 1897 the League was successful in expanding the rights of Irishspeakers giving testimony in the law courts.
In 1905 the League launched acampaign to force the Post Office to accept mail that was addressed only inIrish and fought to allow Irish business the right to have their store nameswritten in Irish.By1909 about 3000 of the 9000 primary schools were teaching Irish, compared withfewer than a hundred a decade earlier. Finally, after independence, the leaders of the new state, allinfluenced by the League, made Irish compulsory in schools and gave it thestatus of the ‘first official language’ in the 1937 Constitution. The Irish Literary Revivalwas an early 20th century movement in Ireland aimed at reviving ancient Irishfolklore, legends and traditions into new works of literature. It was by this time that Gaelic language had died outas a spoken tongue, except in the isolated rural areas of the West coast ofIreland. In its place, English had become the official and literary language.
Through the discovery by philologists of how to read Old Irish and thesubsequent translations of ancient Gaelic manuscripts, the reading of Ireland’sancient literature was made possible. Interestin Gaelic literature encouraged some people to develop a distinctively Irishliterature in English Heroictales caught the imagination of the educated classes. Anglo-Irish poetsexperimented with verse that was structured according to Gaelic patterns andrhythms and that echoed the passion and rich imagery of ancient bardic verse. This new-found interest inIrish literature and folklore encouraged Irish writers to develop a distinctivelyIrish literature in English. The Irish National Literary Society is founded inDublin by William Butler Yeats. The object of the Society is to promote theappreciation of Irish literature and culture and to provide a forum forintellectual and social activities in connection with these interests.
In 1899 W.B Yeats and LadyGregory founded The Irish Literary Theatre. Its purpose was to perform Irishplays written by Irish authors. The Theatre gave Irish writers theplatform they desired to display their works. Irish writers of the periodstrove to reclaim Ireland’s national identity in their writing by two differentmeans, both of which addressed the identity conflict resulting from thesuppression of the Irish language: some sought to create a new national literaturewritten in Irish, while others sought to create a distinctly Irish brand ofliterature in English. The Theatre was subsequently renamed the Abbey Theatre in 1904. Thefounding of the Abbey in 1904 came at a moment when the energies of theEuropean movement for free theatre combined with those of a gifted generationof Irish dramatists.
The new theatre also grew out of a fusion of Yeats andGregory’s Irish Literary Theatre with the Fay brothers’ Irish National DramaticCompany. The Abbey’s staging of Synge’ssatire The Playboy of the Western World, on Jan. 26,1907, stirred up so much resentment in the audience over its portrayal of theIrish peasantry that there was a riot. When the Abbey players toured the UnitedStates for the first time in 1911, similar protests and disorders were provokedwhen the play opened in New York City and Philadelphia.The years 1907 to 1909 were difficulttimes for the Abbey as it suffered many changes which affected the managementof the theatre. The Fay brothers, whose commitment to nationalistic and folkdrama conflicted with Yeats’s art-theatre outlook, departed for the UnitedStates.
Horniman withdrew her financial support, which was the hardest hit forthe theatre, and the management of the theatre changed hands several times withlittle success. The onset of World War I and the Irish Rebellion of 1916 almostcaused the closing of the theatre. However, its luck changed in 1924, when itbecame the first state-subsidised theatre in the English-speaking world.
Theemergence of the playwright Sean O’Casey also stimulated new life in the theatre, andfrom 1923 to 1926 the Abbey staged three of his plays: The Shadow of aGunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and theStars, the last a provocative dramatisation of the Easter Rising of 19161. Whilethe Abbey today retains its traditional focus on Irish plays, it also stages awide range of classic and new works from around the world.From the point of view of acultural organisation it is certain that the Gaelic League lost momentum in thenew State. Membership of the organisation was not the mark of prestige it oncewas and many of those who remained within the organisation were viewed the’refuge of dissidents’ by some politicians. Connections betweenLeague members did continue, albeit on a more ceremonial level with politicalrepresentatives sharing the same platforms as Gaelic League, and indeed G.
A.A.members at public political commemorations and at sporting finals. But ultimately,the dream of an Irish-speaking, Gaelic Ireland would never become a reality. 1