Letter on the Commission on the Gaeltacht
Letter on the Commission on the Gaeltacht
4 March 1925
William T. Cosgrave
The Commission on the Gaeltacht (the term used to describe the Irish-speaking areas) was one of the first commissions established by the government of the Irish Free State—an indication of the high priority given to protecting and restoring the Irish language. The cultural and political importance of the Irish language was an issue on which supporters and opponents of the treaty were in agreement, and it was seen as a unifying force in a divided society; but the Irish-language policy served to alienate the Protestant minority. This letter is included in the Report of the Commission on the Gaeltacht, published in 1926.
General Mulcahy, T.D.,
Chairman, Commission of Inquiry into the Preservation of the Gaeltacht, 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin.
A CHARA DHÍL,—The commission of which you are chairman has been formed, and its terms of reference drawn up, in the hope that proper inquiry will lead to a clear and definite national policy in respect of those districts and local populations which have preserved the Irish language as the language of their homes.
By the consitution of Saorstát Éireann, Irish is expressly recognised as the national language. Its maintenance and cultivation have always been an important element of the national policy which has led up to the establishment of a sovereign state in Ireland. Of this policy the Oireachtas and the government of Saorstát Éireann are the appointed trustees. We believe that the Irish people as a body recognise it to be a national duty, incumbent on their representatives and their government as on themselves, to uphold and foster the Irish language, the central and most distinctive factor of the tradition which is Irish nationality; and that everything that can be rightly and effectively done to that end will be in accordance with the will of the Irish people.
We recognise the facts and the factors that have militated in the past and by force of continuity still militate in large part against the very existence of the Irish language: its exclusion from most of the activities of public life, from "court and bar and business"; its exclusion for generations from nearly all our schools; how it fell under a kind of social ban and became in the minds of many a badge of poverty and backwardness. The neglect and contempt, the ignominy and the abuse to which it has been subjected, are a part of our tragic history. These very things and their unfortunate effects, instead of infecting us with their spirit and making us also contemptuous and apathetic, ought rightly to enliven our purpose to undo the damage of the past—the more so, because the possession of a cultivated national language is known by every people who have it to be a secure guarantee of the national future. Our language has been waylaid, beaten and robbed, and left for dead by the wayside, and we have to ask ourselves if it is to be allowed to lie there, or if we are to heal its wounds, place it in safety and under proper care, and have it restored to health and vigour.
We recognise also that the future of the Irish language and its part in the future of the Irish nation depend, more than on anything else, on its continuing in an unbroken tradition as the language of Irish homes. This tradition is the living root from which alone organic growth is possible. For this reason, the Irish people rightly value as a national asset their "Gaeltaeht," the scattered range of districts in which Irish is the home language.
These districts are known to coincide more or less with areas of rural Ireland which present an economic problem of the greatest difficulty and complexity. The language problem and the economic problem are in close relation to each other, and your commission is asked to consider both together.
The public will look with eager interest to the course and outcome of your inquiries, and public opinion may be expected to support any practical measures that can be instituted to safeguard the future of Irish as the home language and the economic future of the people who use Irish as their ordinary and principal language of intercourse with each other.
Mise, Le fíor-mheas ort, (Signed) LIAM T. MAC COSGAIR.
CoimisiÚn na Gaeltachta Report (R. 23/27), Dublin, 1926.