Preface

Na leathanaigh bhunaidh

An séú leathanach (gan uimhir).
An seachtú leathanach (gan uimhir).
An t‑ochtú leathanach (gan uimhir).

Tras-scríbhinn

Preface.

In acceding to the Linguaphone Institute’s request to write a Preface to their Irish Text-book, my pleasure is tempered by the consciousness of a certain feeling of guilt — the guilt of a usurper. I feel that such a Preface had keen more fittingly written by one of the great pioneers of the Language Movement, the men who, thirty-five years ago, with infinite faith and courage, founded the Gaelic League and flung the first rays of light upon a scene where all was dark. The fortunes of the Irish language during the nineteenth century were such as to make pessimism, if not a virtue, at any rate one of the most forgivable of faults. The production of written literature had slowed down to a dead halt, while the spoken language had been driven into or over the mountains of the Atlantic seaboard which had now become the mute guardians of our native tongue. The want of facile communications between the Irish-speaking communities, the non-existence of either an Irish-speaking central authority or a daily press in the vernacular, the absence, in fact, of all those factors which make for unification in a language might easily have brought about disintegration had it not been for the strong literary tradition and that feeling for and respect for correctness and scholarship which are so marked a characteristic of the Gaoltacht. The hour of danger has happily gone by, and the Irish Renaissance has come. A new and distinctive literature is in the making at the same time as the language itself is passing through a period of reconstruction and unusual expansion. The Linguaphone Irish Course is a notable, and significant achievement, and must be ranked as avaluable: contribution to the Irish Language Movement. When it was first proposed, there were those who saw a thousand and one difficulties in the way — difficulties which have all disappeared in the actual achievement. Among these difficulties, someone was bound to mention that dreadful word “dialects,” as if Irish had a monopoly of dialectical differences. Mr. Bernard Shaw is reported as saying that there are forty million dialects of English, while M. Grammont, writing of his own language, stated: Il n’y a pas deux personnes qui prononcent exact ment de la m’me mani re-dans tous les cas et pour tous les mots. Both of these statements probably only amount to the truism that human speech exhibits infinite variety, but they are useful if they disabuse our minds of the notion that there exists in any language a body of speech to which we have any right to affix the label “standard.”

I am glad that the Linguaphone Institute did not attempt to produce an artificial creation which they might have called “Standard Irish.” Instead they have given us, in both the oral and written parts of the course, real living Irish which no learner need have any hesitation in accepting as a model and which will carry anywhere in Irish Ireland.

The speakers were selected with the utmost care after exhaustive tests carried out in Dublin. I think users of this course would like to know something of these persons whose voices they will hear so often: they are of course all native-speakers of, Irish who were born and reared in the Gaoltacht.

The lady’s voice belongs to Maire Ni Ghuairim, who was born at Roisin na Maithniach in the heart of Connemara, a district often visited by Padraig Mac Piarais and made famous by him in “Íosagán” and other of his stories — Máire remembers very vividly his visit to the school she attended. It was at this school that she first began to study English, and she tells me of her feeling of despair on seeing the teacher’s blue pencil cross out word after word in one of her early written compositions in that language — an essay on the turnip. It is only of recent years that she has come to reside in Dublin, and her voice has lost none of that subtle charm and soft music which will always recall the draoidheacht of Cois Fairrge.

Mícheál Ó Maoláin’s deep, sonorous voice will be recognised at once by those who have been in the habit of listening-in to 2RN. He was born at Cill Rónáin on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, a place well known to Celtic scholars and Irish-Irelanders — Pearse, O’Growney, Zimmer, Finck are but a few of the famous names it suggests. Here Mícheál spent all his boyhood, not coming to the mainland until his eighteenth year, so that it has sometimes been said in jest that he belongs rather to the Atlantic Ocean than to Ireland, He has long been a worker in the cause of Irish, and his activities have brought him into contact with men who have figured large in Irish literature and politics. When the late Arthur Griffith was editor of the United Irishman, it was Mícheál who, for some time, had charge of the Irish column in that paper. He is also well known as a contributor to Fáinne an Lae. He is so intensely Irish that I feel I am doing something improper in writing of him in English. It might be said of him, as was said of the Russian composer, Borodin, that his nationalism exudes from every pore. We must journey to the north-west corner of Mayo to find the birth-place of Seán Ó Ruadháin, the third speaker, and, after leaving the railway at the nearest point to his home, we will find a further journey of more than twenty miles through mountainous country awaiting us. Seán was born at Baile Dhubhlocha on the shores of Blacksod Bay, some six miles south of Belmullet. The great Mayo mountains, lying to the south and east, have helped to keep this district almost purely Irish-speaking; it is returned as 99.7 per cent. Irish-speaking in the report of the Gaoltacht Commission. Seán, like Mícheál, is a teacher, writer and lecturer. He has published some text-books for schools, and is a contributor to An Stoc, An Domhan Toir and Fáinne an Lae. He broadcasts lectures on literary and historical subjects, and is president of the Dublin section of the Fainne.

I have not thought it necessary to say anything of the writers of the text; nothing I could say would add to their prestige as Irish scholars, The Linguaphone Institute has been fortunate in securing the services of such writers and speakers, and the result has been a course in Irish of a high order. For the teacher who is not in immediate contact with the Gaoltacht or who has not frequent opportunities of conversing with native speakers the records will provide an invaluable test by which he can check his own pronunciation and that of his pupils. The private student may find the course more effective than the employment of a teacher in the ordinary way. How often does it not happen that, on the evening when the teacher is due, a few friends drop in and the Iesson is lost. How often, too, when the teacher has failed to make us grasp a phrase after two or three repetitions, have we not hesitated to ask him to repeat it once more — we don’t like to tire him; he may get impatient with us, or he may think us dull-witted. None of these disadvantages attach to a gramophone record: it is always available, it never tires or loses patience, and we need never fear that it will form an unfavourable opinion of our intelligence.

These records will travel far beyond the shores of Ireland In America, in Australia, wherever the children of the Irish race are found they will be welcomed, and in many parts of the world men and women of Irish parentage will listen once again to the language they heard from their parents or grandparents by the fireside in Ireland. In that way they will form a new link between the exiled Gael and the Motherland.

S. Mac Niocaill.