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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Nov 1929

Vol. 13 No. 2

University College, Galway, Bill, 1929—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be read a Second Time."

I suppose that the reason that this Bill is not certified as a Money Bill is because of the inclusion in it of the third section. All the rest of the Bill, as regards the money to be given to the college in Galway, is purely a matter of money. There is some reason why an increase in the annual grant should be given. I do not suppose that any member of this House would at all object to the education imparted in Galway College being made as efficient as possible by having sufficient grants to carry it on, but when we come to Section 3, I wonder whether the House has studied it. It says:—

It shall be the duty of the Senate of the National University of Ireland, the Governing Body of the College, or the President of the College (as the case may be), when making an appointment to any office or situation in the College, to appoint to such office or situation a person who is competent to discharge the duties thereof through the medium of the Irish language, provided a person so competent and also suitable in all other respects is to be found amongst the persons who are candidates or otherwise available for such appointment.

Many people would say that that is of no importance, probably because such an individual does not exist at present. Probably there may be one or two, but there cannot be many more, persons who are capable of teaching Latin, Greek, Mathematics, Medicine, Surgery, or anything else in the Irish language. If this is merely meant as an expression of opinion, that at some distant day we shall have the Irish language so spoken in learned circles that men capable of filling these posts can be appointed, there is not very much in it, but one ought to look at it a little further. One has the reputation of the Free State a bit at heart, and when you think of any senate of a university that is bound to make appointments under such an order of that kind, and when you think of the senates of the universities of the world looking at what we, Free Staters, are doing, I am afraid that everyone of us must say that we are putting education at a very low level. Of course, it may be possible for people to teach these other subjects through the medium of Irish, but the ordinary individual who is educated in a university or college must know that he himself must first of all have a competent knowledge of the Irish language if he is to be taught in that language. The first thing that one would say as regards poor Galway College is that there cannot at present be under-graduates there who could possibly take their education in that way. We know exactly what state the Irish language is in in this country. How could any class of under-graduates be got together at present to study medicine, surgery, mathematics, or any other subject if the mode of teaching is through the Irish language? Surely professors in a university should be chosen because they know the subject which they are going to teach and not because they have a little knowledge of something else which has nothing to do with the subject which they are going to teach. Why it is necessary to tack on that section in the Bill I cannot see, though everyone of us is perfectly willing to pass the Bill and to help Galway College in every way possible.

I do not suppose that at present it is any use opposing the Bill because that clause is in it. I think a great many of those who are listening to me have as much interest in Irish education and the reputation of our Irish colleges and universities as I have, and I do not think that we should let it go out amongst the universities of the world that that is the kind of education which the Free State is trying to put forward. This, in my opinion, is a very great pity. That it cannot be carried out, and that it will probably not injure Galway College at present I perfectly agree, but when you take it as an expression of what the two Houses of the Oireachtas propose to do with their universities, and the kind of standard which they propose to apply to the professors and lecturers in the universities as to the knowledge which they must possess, I think it is a very great pity. If it has to be done, it has to be done. It may be a gesture, but it is one that I would be very hard pressed to defend in any university centre in any part of the world. I think that in Ireland we ought to try, if we can, to keep our heads in the air and see that the education imparted in our schools and universities is fit to be compared with the educational systems of other countries, and that the men who teach in our schools and universities are chosen with as high a standard of competence as could be found anywhere. I do not think that anybody could defend this clause in the Bill.

I do not know if it is wise to deal at any length with the remarks made by Senator Jameson. Senator Jameson is, in my opinion, running true to form. He represents a certain opinion that still exists in this country, and that is apparently oblivious of the spiritual and national outlook of the country. I will try to deal with one point that he mentions, and it has reference to the position we occupy in the eyes of university people throughout the world. It has been to me always a humiliation to meet university people from other parts of the world, and the main humiliation in meeting them arises from the fact that the universities in this country up to the present have shown no distinctive mark any more than there might be in universities in Birmingham, London or Glasgow. University visitors from other parts of the world on their first visit here are invariably amazed that the Irish language, Irish folk-lore and the linking up of folk-lore and tradition, and all that the Irish language stands for, are, to a great extent, neglected in our universities.

I do not think that Senator Jameson is aware of the very live activities in all the universities in Northern Europe. In those universities a great deal of money and labour is being expended in an attempt to link up folk-lore, traditions and the old cultures of different nations. That activity is mainly directed through the different university groups. In Ireland at the present time we have people visiting in order to study the Irish language and ancient Irish culture. They go to the Gaeltacht in order properly to understand these things, so that ultimately they will be able to link up the traditions of Gaelic culture and associate them with the traditions of their own culture and their folk-lore at home. The attitude adopted by Senator Jameson is typical. It is something that we have heard enough about in the Seanad to leave aside for good. It is the intention of the people, of the present Government, and of a Government that may come in the future—at all events, it is the intention of the two big parties at present in the country—to see that the Irish language is made a national issue.

With regard to Galway University, I would remind Senator Jameson that it is situated at the nearest possible cultural point to the Gaeltacht itself and in that area practically 45 per cent. of the people are Gaelic-speaking. Surely it is not too much to expect that what I might call the minor university of Ireland will devote its attention in some form to the development of Gaelic culture in that area. I do not think the people whom Senator Jameson represents have any grievance. We have two universities in Dublin, one in Cork, and one outside our scope— Queen's University, Belfast—and surely it is not too much to expect that at least one university, and that, perhaps, the smallest and the least endowed, will get a chance to rehabilitate in this country its national traditions. With these remarks I will leave Senator Jameson to his own thoughts and to your mercy.

I do not know whether this is the opportune time, but I would like to suggest one thing in regard to this Bill. In the apportionment of this grant, if the administration have any control over the expenditure of it, there should be some attempt to direct that a certain amount of the increased grant should go towards the more intensive development of the literary side of the language coming from the Gaeltacht. I also suggest that a certain portion of it should be set aside for the gathering together, the recording and the safe keeping of such vocal traditions as still exist in the Gaeltacht. There is no doubt that each year that goes by sees a certain amount of the folklore of the country going into the grave. I understand from those who are competent to speak on the matter, that a very considerable amount of folklore has been lost during the last few years. I venture to make the suggestion to the present administration that they should advise the university authorities in Galway to devote special attention to this side of the matter, namely, the preservation of folklore. There is something there that we should save from being lost. Once it is gone it can never be recovered; not all the grants that the Oireachtas can make will revive it once it has passed away. It is, as I say, a question of daily and annual loss. This loss is going on constantly. The older people who have this folklore are dying out. I do not want to labour the matter. I am sorry that there is no one here, so far as I know, who would be likely to bring this matter up. There are lots of people who are much more competent than I to speak on such an important matter. I urge strongly that a recommendation be issued from the Government to the Galway University authorities that a portion of this money should be set aside for the purposes I have outlined.

There is one other point in connection with the administration of Galway University just as in connection with other universities. Do we get any record of how the money is apportioned and spent throughout the various universities? I have no doubt that the money is wisely spent in the best interests of education in the universities, but I see by the last financial returns that university accounts are audited by the Department of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I think that is the position. I do not know whether the actual disbursements of the amount of the grant, etc., are made known, or whether they are available to the public generally or to the members of this House. On the expenditure of the money in the other educational departments we do get a very clear analysis. I am not for a moment suggesting that the money voted for the universities is money that is badly spent. I would like to know, and it would help us to sustain our interest in the various branches of education if we could know, how this money is spent. If it were possible it would be most helpful to have enlightenment on that matter.

Listening to the lamentable phrases that Senator Jameson has poured out before us, I think none of us can feel very sorry that he is disappointed in this Bill. He has sung the swan-song of the old régime. He is trying to rake up the old spirit and to keep it on. The truth is that it is hopelessly dead. It is peculiar at this time that he and others like him have not tried to accommodate themselves to the views of the young people of this country, the people who are growing up with different ideas. They come from a different set of people. Of course Senator Jameson and those he represents have never tried to do that. They have always tried to hold on to the old traditions which are dying out, and which have become in the last few years hopelessly washed out. Of course, Senator Jameson, like many other people in this country, has no idea of what the state of the Irish language really is. These people imagine that that language is completely dead, that no one wants to revive it, and so on; or else they think it is an attempt at a revival of some antiquated language like Hebrew or some such language. The Senator ought by this time have learned that it is nothing of the kind. He ought to have learned that the Government of this country, whichever side is in power, is determined to make the Irish language the language of this country, the spoken and written language of this country, and that any lamentations by him and others are merely beating the air and are quite useless.

The Senator speaks about the Irish language as being at a very low level, and he said that if he had to defend the low level in education here before any university he would be sneered at. The truth is that all intelligent and thoughtful people who come to this country from such places as Germany, Norway or France regard the Irish language as being the language that should be kept up in the country. They think that every effort should be made by the Government and the people to keep it up. People of that kind who come over here attach more importance to the revival of the Irish language than to any other activity of the Government. Therefore, Senator Jameson is entirely wrong when he speaks of the Irish language as being at a low level in the matter of education. I do not think that it is really necessary on my part to spend much time over this matter, because what I say is already admitted by thoughtful people. I would, however, urge Senator Jameson to try as a sensible man to get it into his head and into the heads of other people like himself that all this talk against the Irish language is unwise. By doing that, they are setting themselves up against the opinion of the people and the public life of the people in this and every other country.

In every country all over Europe the universities are engaged in teaching these small languages which were being crushed out by greater languages; and we look upon ours as the greatest of these languages. They speak German in Bohemia, and they speak the French language in Belgium, and so on. All these languages are being taught in the universities. In Ghent they are establishing a university which is to be purely Flemish. I know that Flemish is more widely spoken in Belgium than Irish is in Ireland, but we all know that this is a matter that requires to be built up.

I did not intend to speak on this measure, because I expected that the Second Reading would receive general assent. I am in favour of this Bill chiefly because of this third section, and because I believe that this third section is to be put energetically into operation. I cannot allow to pass unchallenged the statement that was made by Senator Jameson that there are not two people in this country capable of instructing pupils through the medium of the Irish language, and that there are not two pupils in Ireland capable of receiving instruction in the Irish language. That statement, to my mind, simply shows that Senator Jameson is entirely oblivious of the culture that is growing up around him. He is oblivious of the fact that even before this Irish language revival there were many teachers, and those the best teachers, who were capable of instructing pupils in the Irish language. There were some pupils who were capable of receiving that instruction in Irish, and I was one of them myself.

There is always something heroic in the attitude of the man who stands up to defend lost causes. I remember reading about a man who burned himself in his own house sooner than receive the light of Christianity from Saint Patrick. He was the last of the pagans. There is something heroic about being the last of the pagans. I would like to impress upon the House as forcibly as I can the need for the revival, or rather the preservation, of the folk-lore of the West which has been referred to by Senator Connolly. Some Senators may not know that in the West there is still a Gaelic civilisation, possessing a very high culture. Senator Jameson and others would be willing to admit that amongst the poor people in the West of Ireland there is a refinement which is not to be found amongst the poor in other parts of the British Isles, a refinement of culture and a nobility of character which they find it hard to explain. But I will give him the explanation now. These things are a survival of the culture which existed in Ireland, and particularly in the West of Ireland, more than 2,000 years ago. That culture and that refinement are not yet dead. They survived like the Irish language, and they will survive, and I hope that this university which is being endowed—not very liberally—is being endowed for the express purpose of preserving the refinement and continuing that refinement and that Irish culture.

I am sure that in time Senator Jameson will become a convert. I am certain he will, because I do not see how any man who has a patriotic or honest outlook can fail to become a convert to the preservation of this Gaelic civilisation. Now, I hold that you cannot have Gaelic civilisation in this country revived unless you have schools and unless you have a university in which to foster it. Neither can you have a Gaelic State. I hope to see as an adjunct to, or as part of, the Gaelic revival a Gaelic university in the West of Ireland, with high culture and with professors of great attainments—a university that will be spoken of in all parts of the world. Senator Moore mentioned that in Ghent at the present time they are attempting to revive the Flemish language and to establish it as the spoken tongue in that university. Quite right and proper. The Flemish tongue as spoken in Belgium does not compare with the Irish tongue from the cultural and philological point of view. The Irish language was the language of a great many European countries at one time. I do not pretend to be a scholar, but scholars will tell you that from the philological point of view, from the cultural point of view, Gaelic is more interesting, and certainly more important, than the tongue which we are speaking here to-day. I am sure you will give this Bill a Second Reading, and I am going to vote for it on the express understanding that the clause which is so objectionable to Senator Jameson is going to be put into full force and operation.

Out of sympathy with one who has often played a lone hand in this House, I would not like it to go forth that Senator Jameson is the only one who holds, in substance, the views that he expressed. Senator Comyn drew a picturesque metaphor of the heroic persons who defended a lost cause. I could draw an equally picturesque metaphor of the brave persons who attempt to prevent people from rushing to their doom, and I am not at all certain that, in effect, that sentiment is not held by many people who, Senator Comyn suggests, are his supporters. I go about the country and I do not find this fierce enthusiasm for the compulsory revival of the Irish language that I hear expressed by public representatives. If only for that reason I regret that the Government cut into the Constitution and repealed the Article dealing with the Referendum. I feel bold to assert that if there was an honest Referendum to-day on a clear-cut issue such as this, and if people were left without pressure to express their opinion as to whether they wished the language to be compulsory in education, there would be an overwhelming answer in the negative. I do not believe that Senator Comyn's sentimental feeling is shared by the rank and file of the people.

But, after all, this is not a matter of lost causes or sentiment, or tradition, or what is going to be; it is a matter of right or wrong; it is a matter of common sense. Is the country and is Galway College going to prosper under a doctrine such as is implicit in Clause 3? I do not say that if you had everything equal in other respects there would be any harm whatever in teaching sciences through the medium of Irish if it were possible. But implicit in that clause is undoubtedly almost an instruction that the scales shall be weighted in favour of instruction through the medium of Irish. As Senator Moore knows, one very ardent Gaelic advocate in the Dáil pointed out how absurd that was, that there are no text books in any of these scientific subjects. Another Deputy was questioned as to whether such teaching was taking place, but he said he was unable to give a clear answer. Of course, it is common knowledge that it is impossible, and will be impossible for many years to come, to teach sciences like higher mathematics, medicine, and the other arts, through the medium of Irish.

What is the issue? I agree that if you could find a complete and isolated civilisation in the Gaeltacht and if Galway College were only asked to produce men to fill openings in the Gaeltacht, there would not be very much harm. But we know that that is not the case; we know that there is a large surplus, and that if Galway College, or Galway University—I am not quite sure which it is—is going to be used to the fullest advantage there must be a large export of pupils to outside the Gaeltacht—I do not necessarily say outside the Free State. In those conditions picture a young man who knows that he cannot find an occupation in an Irish-speaking district. Is he going to a university where the scales are so much weighted, where instruction is biased in favour of the Irish language? I say no. That is the test to apply. That overweighs all the sentiment. Bread and butter comes first, unfortunately, in this world. You may have all your high ideals, but those noble sentiments do not cut very much ice if people cannot earn bread and butter. After all, is that not the acid test of all practical things in this world? I think that all Senator Jameson has suggested was that we should go slowly, not try to force the pace, and keep sentiment more in line with reality.

There is no difference of opinion with regard to Gaelic folklore and scholarship. Nobody would accuse me of being an ardent advocate of Gaelic instruction, but I would be glad to see its scholarship developed, to see a Chair set up for the preservation of Gaelic traditions and all that Gaelic civilisation stands for. But that is quite a different matter from trying to force the teaching of practical subjects through the medium of the Irish language, if people cannot find an opening in this country for their qualifications hereafter.

I do not know that any of the Senators who have spoken have really read the Bill very carefully. According to its Title it is "to make provision for increasing the annual grant payable to University College, Galway, and for securing that persons appointed to offices and situations in that college shall be competent to discharge their duties through the medium of the Irish language." The third section has apparently been very hastily read by most Senators. After pointing out: "It shall be the duty of the Senate of the National University of Ireland, the Governing Body of the College, or the President of the College, when making an appointment to any office or situation in the college, to appoint to such office or situation a person who is competent to discharge the duties thereof through the medium of the Irish language," it goes on to say: "Provided a person so competent and also suitable in all other respects is to be found amongst the persons who are candidates or otherwise available for such appointment." I do not think that Senator Moore, Senator Comyn, and Senator Connolly read that very carefully.

There might be something to be said in respect of the point that was put by Senator Jameson if it were not for that clause. That is an important clause. It practically ensures that a person appointed to a professorship in the college shall not be appointed by reason of his knowledge of the Irish language unless he is competent in other respects. I do not think that the most hardened supporter of the Irish language would claim, or could claim, more than that.

This college is situated in an Irish-speaking district. Apart altogether from any sentiment in connection with the matter, it must be remembered that a considerable number of people in that area speak the Irish language. They ought to be afforded the same university facilities as other people. I do not think that that would be denied, even by those who might not otherwise agree with the proposal. This is the most suitable college in respect of which it would be possible to have such a policy as that, and allowing that that is so, there is a sound commonsense reason for having that college to function in such a manner as to accommodate a large proportion of our students. It is perfectly true that text-books are not now available, but I would expect that we ought at least, no matter what views we have on the Irish language, if we accept Irish citizenship, to hope to live to see the introduction of such text-books. I would certainly put this point very strongly, that it is not the purpose of the Government, nor is it, so far as I know, the purpose of any political party, to get persons into university positions whose only qualification would be a knowledge of the Irish language. That would absolutely defeat the purpose. University education is one of the most important services in the State.

I do not know that I could subscribe to all the criticisms of Senator Jameson and his friends that were uttered by some Senators. I should say, on looking over the history of the Irish movement for the last seventy or eighty years, that the real stalwarts in support of the culture and the language we have heard about came from the very people that Senator Jameson has been so closely associated with. I do not think it will be denied that such remarkable men as O'Donovan, O'Curry and others came from Dublin University. Their work remains as a monument to them. The support of the Irish cultural movement, and of the Irish language movement, is not the preserve of any class in the country. It ought to be the pride of all parties, and they should do all they could to contribute towards making it a success. But I think that we ought to start out with this at any rate, that we are not going to stand for a State in respect of which a passing knowledge of the Irish language is to be our hope or our aim. What we are looking to, and what we hope to get, is a real scholarly knowledge of that language, and a scholarly knowledge of other subjects, if possible, through that language, and the sooner the better.

Perhaps Senators might like to know that although so much of the teaching at present is being carried on through Irish the number of students in the college has increased considerably this year.

Question put and agreed to.