HC Deb 18 June 1896 vol 41 cc1418-24

*SIR THOMAS ESMONDE (Kerry, W.) moved:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold Her assent from the Rules of Examination for 1897 of the Intermediate Board of Education for Ireland in so far as they relate to the number of marks assigned to the Celtic language and literature in the Preparatory grade. The hon. Baronet complained that the marks for Irish had been reduced from 600 to 300, and suggested that the reduction, if such were necessary, should have been made in Italian or Greek. It might be said that Irish was a dead language, but, in that sense, so was Greek and so was Latin. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give them an assurance that there would be no permanent reduction in the marks. There was a strong desire among the people that a knowledge of the Irish language should be a part, and an important part, of the education of the country. He should like to see 1,000 marks given for the study of Celtic instead of only 500 as at present, thus making it an important branch of education. At all events, the study of Irish might be made as important a subject of instruction as that of French or German, 700 marks being given equally for each. He thought this might be done without difficulty; it could be done by increasing the aggregate of marks given, if not otherwise. He had been unable to find any solid reasons why the Commissioners should have reduced the aggregate of marks from 5,500 to 5,400. He had read the correspondence which had taken place between the Commissioners and the Society for the Cultivation and Preservation of the Irish Language, and no other reason was given for the change than that it was made in the interests of the Irish students themselves. In presence of the fact that the subject was one in which the people and the students took a deep interest, that reason was very shallow and misleading. The Commissioners alleged, moreover, that the managers of schools in Ireland had made no remonstrance against the change. For this fact a very valid reason might be adduced. When the rules of the Commissioners were sanctioned by the Lord Lieutenant, the school managers were under the impression that they thereby became law as a matter of course; but many of them had since become better informed on the matter, and it was more than probable that the Commissioners would very shortly receive strong remonstrances against the rules, and find that serious objection was taken to their enforcement. In those circumstances, he would ask the Chief Secretary to consider whether the number of marks given for the study of Irish could not be increased, either by reverting to the old arrangement or increasing the aggregate number of marks, and whether, if the Commissioners still thought it necessary to reduce the total number of marks, he could not arrange that the reduction should be made on some other subject than on the study of Irish. For his own part, he could not see why the point might not be met by increasing the aggregate of marks given. At any rate, he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider, in deference to the strong feeling that existed in Ireland on the subject, whether it was not possible to place the study of Irish at least on the same footing with that of German and French, giving an equal number of marks to each subject. He moved the Resolution that stood on the Paper in his name. ["Hear, hear! "]


, in seconding the Motion, said the step taken by the Intermediate Board was calculated to have a very detrimental effect on the study of the Irish language. A highly successful effort was just now being made to promote the cultivation of Irish literature, and it seemed to him very strange that this time should have been selected for making this unfortunate change. If the number of marks for other languages had been proportionately reduced there would not be so much cause of complaint, but it seemed a very extraordinary arrangement to select for this exceptional treatment the original language of the country. The action of the Intermediate Board had been strongly protested against by the Gaelic League, and it deserved to be condemned by everyone interested in the preservation of the old Celtic tongue. It was a retrograde and ill-advised step, for which no justification could be found.


thought the House would agree that it was rather an unusual matter to interfere in a question of detail of this character with the discretion of the Intermediate Education Board. Such interference ought not to take place except on some important question of principle and on very clear cause shown. He did not think there was any important question of principle involved in the reduction of marks from 600 to 500. The action of the Commissioners in this matter must be judged in connection with the reduction of the normal number of marks it was possible to obtain from 5,500 to 5,400. The reason of that reduction he understood to be this. If they took, as the normal curriculum in intermediate education, Greek, Latin, English, and three mathematical subjects, it was only possible to secure a maximum of 5,400 marks. The substitution of two mathematical for one classical subject, and taking German and Celtic or Celtic and French, gave a maximum of 5,500 instead of 5,400 marks. A somewhat artificial stimulus was thus given to the study of Celtic, and he believed it was on that ground that the Commissioners reduced the total number of marks to 5,400. That being the case the question arose as to whether the one hundred marks should be taken off Celtic or French and German. It was necessary to take off 100 from one subject or the other, or else the two subjects of French and Celtic or German and Celtic could not be taken together, otherwise the total number of marks obtainable by any person who took up one of the classical languages and English, or three mathematical subjects, and either French and Celtic or Celtic and German, would be 5,500 instead of 5,400. Therefore, the Commissioners, in the interest of the Celtic students, reduced the number of marks for Celtic from 600 to 500, in order that it might be possible for students to take up Celtic and German or French and Celtic together, and yet not exceed the maximum number of marks allowed. Of course, it would have been possible to have reduced the marks allotted to French or German, and allowed Celtic to remain where it was. He did not express any opinion one way or the other. He had his own opinion, but he did not think the House would care to hear it. He really based his resistance to the Motion, not on the question whether Celtic ought in the abstract to be placed on an equality with German or French, but simply on the ground that this was eminently a question for the Commissioners of Intermediate Education to decide, and not for the House of Commons. The Commissioners of Intermediate Education were a representative body. He would read to the House their names:—Judge Ball—[cheers]—Chief Baron Palles, Dr. Salmon, the O'Conor Don, Rev. W. T. Martin, Mr. Barkley, and the Most Rev. Dr. Walsh. They were more capable than the House of deciding whether it was to the interest of inter- mediate education that Celtic should have 500 rather than 600 marks, and on that ground he appealed to the House not to reverse the decision come to by such a body.


, in supporting the Motion, said this subject excited a great deal of interest in Ireland, and there were a large number of Irishmen who took a strong view of the matter. As had been pointed out, there had been—and notably within the past three years—a revival of the study of the Celtic tongue. Hon. Members opposite cast ridicule on the study of Celtic as compared with Latin and Greek. There was a mass of the most valuable Celtic literature to which men devoted lives, in many cases of starvation, owing to the scandalous neglect of the Government of the day and all who patronised literature. A considerable feeling had arisen in favour of the revival of the study of this old language. There were 700,000 people in Ireland who spoke it still, so it was by no means dead. Scholars came from Berlin and the furthest ends of Europe to Galway and remote parts of Ireland where the ancient language was spoken, and lived there to get the true accent and knowledge of the language. The ancient Irish tongue was most valuable and interesting. It was a matter of keen reproach to the people of Ireland that in Ireland the study of this ancient tongue had been neglected, and societies had been formed for its revival. Until this revival, the study of Celtic was on the decline in Ireland, and there were found to be no successors to the great scholars of the past generation, who carried Celtic scholarships throughout Europe. When Frenchmen, Germans, and Russians came to Dublin to study the Irish tongue, they had to confess that no guide could be afforded them. Endeavours had been made to cultivate the old tongue, and it was hoped to revive its study. It was a pity no encouragement was received from the Government. As an Irishman, he was deeply grateful to the hon. Baronet who had brought forward the subject.

MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)

said that if the Motion was for the encouragement of the Celtic language it would be at the expense of the French, German, Spanish, or Italian, or something that would be of practical benefit. The Intermediate Board was established, not to make great scholars or professors, but for the education of the children of the middle classes in those things which would be useful to them in after life.


said that all they asked for was that Celtic should be put on a level with these other languages, and thus given fair play.


said that if it was not put on a level, then there was an additional impetus given to French or German. He was sure that if the hon. Member for East Mayo himself had sons whom he wished to equip for the battle of life he would not select for them Celtic in preference to French or German. The Irish representatives represented the Irish people, and yet not more than two of them spoke one word of Celtic. [Cries of dissent.]

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)

joined heartily in the regret that their language had been neglected. Facilities might be given to the people of Ireland to learn the language of their own country. That language was spoken in the counties of Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Meath, and Donegal. Why was it preserved? It had been preserved as a consequence of the policy of former times to drive the Celts "to hell or Connaught." Instead of asking for equality, he would have asked that the marks for Celtic should be increased. He would rather see the youths of Ireland getting a good all round commercial education, including a knowledge of their own language, than learning Greek, French and German, that would be useless to them.

DR. TANNER (Cork, Mid)

said the Government tried to put down the Irish language simply because it was a national language. When he was at Leipzig, at a meeting of the philologues of Germany, a learned Professor of Kiel addressed him in a language to which he was not altogether accustomed, for by mistake he had been brought up in England, and he did not understand his native tongue when he heard it, and when the learned Professor said, "I am addressing you in the Irish language," he must confess he felt surprised and humiliated. The Government would do the worst they could against Ireland in every way; they would attack the Irish language as well as the Irish tenant, and even the Irish landlord, and all living, under a horrible system that comes in dolce far niente style.

The House divided:— Ayes, 33; Noes, 125.—(Division List, No. 251.)