Betrayal of the Irish Language (Rooney, 1909)

1.424-35. William Rooney, Prose Writings, (Dublin and Waterford: M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd., n.d.[1909] ), pp.13-14. BL YA.1991.a.13422

Extract from William Rooney, Prose Writings (1909), on the betrayal of the Irish language during the nineteenth century.

This passage from Rooney’s lecture ‘A Recent Irish Literature’, delivered on the 20th of January, 1899, before the Celtic Literary Society, Dublin, describes the neglect, tantamount to an act of betrayal especially on the part of those placed to do more, of the Irish language in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Nation and the Irishman did their part by the language, and the Shamrock in its earlier days did likewise, but it was reserved for our generation to attempt the completion of the work which proselytiser, Catholic bishop and national school had, each after a different fashion, formed and fostered. From the proselytiser with alien sympathies, from the national schools with thinly-masked ideas of the same type, little interest in Irish could be expected; but from those who were not merely the guardians of our faith, but properly, also, the fathers of their oppressed, repressed, uneducated people, we were entitled to look for help and leading. We did not get it; and to its absence period after period, aided, undoubtedly, to an enormous extent by the disastrous years which reached a climax in ’48, we may attribute all the damaging decline which has marked the latter half of the century. Some little semblance of interest in the tongue of the Gael marked every generation before ours; but we, with our backs turned to everything native, our eyes perpetually on the Parliament of the foreigner, dazed by joyous anticipation of a “Union of Hearts,” forgot everything but the shibboleth of the hour, and were gradually degenerating into mere automata, until a crash came, and in the rending of the veil we saw for the first time what was before us, and paused.