I take it it is only fair that where the State intervenes to help materially an organisation of this character that some little thing might be expected in return from those who are interested in the railways. I go farther and put the thing on a rather higher plane than that. So far as the subject matter of this amendment is concerned, the mover of the amendment has a perfect right, and every Senator who stands up here has a perfect right to speak for all the citizens of the Free State. The Senator has a perfect right to put forward this amendment, and not only to appeal in favour of it, but to demand that these printed notices be printed in Irish. That is a Constitutional right. He has a right based upon the Constitution. Irish and English are set out and defined there as being the official languages of the Free State. In fact, clause 4 of the Constitution gives Irish pride of place as being the official language, and supplementary to that is the statement that English also shall be considered an official language.
There are many citizens of the Free State who know nothing whatever of the English language—who can neither read nor write it. They know nothing whatever of it. These railway lines run through certain districts in the Free State where the English language is not known. There are districts where many of the citizens going to the railway station might as well look upon a notice printed in Greek or Hebrew as in English. They would have to go to an interpreter or, perhaps, to the railway porter, to find out when the train would start for a certain place. These people may be relatively few, but still they have a Constitutional right and they are entitled to have public notices printed in Irish. I think where the State intervenes and comes to the rescue of organisations of this sort, trading communities, they should insist on these rights being observed; that is, if it is the policy of the State to revive the language and foster it, to give the citizens every facility for using it as a spoken language and reviving its spoken use. If that is the policy, I think the State and the Government where they intervene should lose no opportunity of inserting clauses which will further that policy. The time is ripe for testing the actual feeling of the Seanad in this matter of the language.
This question will be cropping up periodically in the legislation introduced here. It is better that, here and now, we should understand what the attitude of the Seanad is to be towards the language movement. If this language movement has any good in it. if this priceless heritage, as it has been described, is not to be lost it will require the greatest effort on our behalf. If we are not prepared to lend our aid and do our part in giving that revival help then it is simply a matter of mathematical calculation as to how many years with so much decay each year will see the end of the Irish language as the spoken language of this country. If that is to be the fate of our language, it would be better that we should cut this thing here and now and get on with something else. If it is dying and if we are a party to that, every man who stands up in this House and gives halting support to this movement is doing his part in facilitating the decay. If the language is to be allowed to die, it is better that we should know here and now and get on with something else. But would it be a good thing to know and feel that we in this Seanad, who had hitherto a better reputation in these matters than the Dáil —although we are supposed to be more conservative—should have responsibility for this? Would it be a good thing that instead of taking pride in being Irish, a pride in our past, in the traditions that have been handed down to us and in our own most priceless possession of all, we should allow these things to fade away and allow our language to die out? Would it be a good thing for us and our children, when they travel abroad, that they should have to hang their heads and admit that their ancestors dissipated their heritage?
If we allow our language to pass away and to decay we become merged and submerged in the great commonwealth of European nations. We will be no longer a distinctive race; we will have lost the hall marks of nationality. We are all Irishmen here and we have to face facts. We are not going to go back to where we were before the fight. We are now Irishmen with our own fate in our own hands, and I think, above all things, we ought to try and preserve the traits and characteristics of our race and be very jealous to guard what we still preserve—our distinctive nationality. Much has been written and spoken recently about the danger of losing by the accident of fire or otherwise some of the ancient treasures and relics in the Museum here. One can understand that if these things by any chance were to be destroyed, some evidence of our past civilisation would have disappeared. I am surprised that those who advance these arguments for taking every care of our national treasures, should have a different outlook with regard to the most priceless treasure of all—the national language, which, if destroyed, cannot be replaced.
It has been stated here in a former discussion that a railway ticket should not be made a text-book of the Irish language. Those of us who are students of the language go as often as we possibly can to the text books. Our point is that if you have public notices in the Irish language you have always an open page before you. As you go along the street, you have an open page in every direction you look. You are constantly brought into touch with the language and it is borne in upon you that you still have a national language. When other railway companies in other countries were confronted with the same problem, they were equal to it. They did their part in preserving the language. Instances were given by Senators here of what has been done in other countries where the same difficulty presented itself and the same question was raised. In those other countries they surmounted the difficulty by the railways, in a patriotic spirit, rising to the occasion and, I suppose at some extra expense, falling in with the public view of the matter. If there is one thing we ought to try and foster and guard more than another it is our language. It harks back to the very earliest days. It has been evolved by the civilization that has been spoken of —our early civilization.
It is the only self-contained and complete language in Europe. It is built from its own materials and it has been constructed on its own foundations. It has not borrowed from any other language. In fact, the most ancient languages in Europe have borrowed from Irish. That has been told us by very distinguished philologists from different parts of the world. Senator Doctor Sigerson and Senator Mrs. Stopford Green could speak on this matter. It is this beautiful language which these eminent men thought fit to travel from distant parts to study in this country that we are now concerned with. It is a sort of turning point in the fate of the language. If the Seanad takes a strong stand, I think we will impress upon the Government that it is our view that this question of the language is a most important thing from the purely national point of view and that we are determined to conduct our affairs here from that point of view. If we can succeed in impressing that upon the Government and if the Government will in every branch of its administration let it be known that it is their will to Gaelicise every Department of State, that disposition of the Government will permeate every official and we will have every reason to congratulate ourselves that we have done a very good day's work.