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Irish Manuscripts (Author: W. B. Yeats)

section 1


Irish Manuscripts

Dr Yeats: ‘I beg to move the adoption of the final Report1 of Committee on Irish Manuscripts as follows:—
This Committee was appointed by Resolution of the Seanad adopted on the 19th April, 1923, in the following terms:—
That a Committee of the Seanad be appointed to submit to the Government a scheme for the editing, indexing, and publishing of manuscripts in the Irish language, now lying in the Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College, and elsewhere; for the scientific investigation of the living dialects; for the compiling and publishing of an adequate dictionary of the older language. That the Committee have power to invite the assistance of persons not members of the Seanad and to take evidence on the subject; the Committee to consist of Senators W. B. Yeats, Mrs. Alice Stopford Green, Mrs. Costello, and Edward MacLysaght; two to form a quorum.’

‘The Committee met in accordance with this Resolution on 26th


April, 1st May, 3rd May, 31st May and 27th June, 1923, and on the 21st of May, 1924.’

‘Evidence was heard from the following witnesses:—Dr. R. L. Praeger, Dr. R. I. Best, The Rev. Dr. Lawlor, Dr. Douglas Hyde, Mr. E. J. Gwynn, F.T.C.D.; Professor O. Bergin, Professor T. O'Rahilly, Mr. R. Foley, and Professor Tomás O'Máille.’

‘It was decided to make the following report to the Seanad:’

‘Your Committee is gravely impressed by the responsibility now laid upon the Saorstát towards the Irish people. For the first time in many centuries our country, free and independent, is charged with the pious duty of preserving and making accessible to Irishmen the mass of learning and tradition which forms the basis of our National history—a body of manuscript tradition bequeathed to us by a noble succession of scholars and scribes throughout a thousand years of labour, and further enriched by folk-lore, folk-song and music, and the important study of topography.’

‘It is well known that the British Government by its political and administrative policy through a long course of centuries did in fact make wreckage of Irish learning and language. But we are bound to remember that in our own time among the rulers there were men who did not remain deaf to claims of scholarship. We may recall the valuable services rendered from time to time by enlightened statesmen in funds allotted to such work as the Irish volumes of the Rolls Series; the Historical Manuscripts Commission; the Ancient Laws of Ireland; published by the Government under the direction of the Commissioners; the Ulster Annals, which it published under direction of the Royal Irish Academy. The Government was prepared to do the same with the Annals of Tigernach, when, unfortunately, the editor recommended died. A grant in aid to the Academy was employed, to issue the Todd Lectures, Facsimiles, etc., etc. For some years a grant was also given to the School of Irish Learning founded by Dr. Kuno Meyer, £700 in all.’

‘These are a few illustrations of obligations to the country recognised


by a British administration. We claim that the Irish Nation should fare no worse under a home Government, when it depends on its own honour, its own patriotism and resources, to complete the task of research, to preserve for future generations all that has been or can be saved of older learning, and to secure to the people of Ireland their full national tradition.’

‘We may observe that the present moment is usually favourable for reviving and enlarging the study of Old Irish Law and government even beyond the bounds of this country; since the important research work of Professor MacNeill is rousing amongst foremost Continental scholars a new interest not only in questions of language but of the study of Comparative Law. By judicious use of its scholars and its means Ireland may take the lead in a new historic movement.’

‘Your Committee, in the course of enquiry, has interviewed many witnesses of the most diverse groups and opinions. We have endeavoured to find out the points on which there is practically unanimous opinion, and to advise measures which are of urgent necessity, and promise useful results under conditions of sound administration and sympathetic aid. We therefore recommend the following suggestions as a basis for any scheme of financial assistance:—’

  1. The editing and publishing of important texts, both of the early and the classical periods and of modern times, considering Irish literature as forming one indivisible whole. This work would involve grants in aid of publication to competent scholars.
  2. Publication of photographic facsimiles of important Codexes by the latest scientific processes. This is most essential for purposes of study. A grant to aid in the production of such a facsimile might be given to a learned body outside Ireland—for example, to the Oxford Press for the publication of Ms. Laud 610.
  3. The dictionary of Old Irish in course of preparation by the Royal Irish Academy under the editorship of Dr. Bergin—a work of enormous labour and difficulty—should receive further aid. Its progress must be slow, as the meaning and use of old Irish words can only be determined when more texts are made available by editors and photographers


    for the work of the Dictionary. At present three workers are employed, necessarily on half-time which is as much as the excessive strain of the task will allow. The number of workers might be increased to six—all on half-time.
  4. The publication of Catalogues of MSS. is of great importance for students. Catalogues should be compiled not only for the Royal Irish Academy but for collections elsewhere, as for example, in the Franciscan Convent, and the King's Inns, the National Library, and many others in Ireland or outside. We suggest that the Dictionary workers, and others, now employed at half-time, might most profitably also serve in this task of cataloguing.
  5. Investigation of living dialects. This work is of immense importance when dialects are rapidly dying out. It has been done in patches of the Irish speaking regions, but a systematic study is in fact essential, and the work cannot be relegated to volunteers. Research should be endowed. For example, a grant to a trained phonetist would be of the utmost value, with aid in the publication of his results. It is unnecessary to add how great would be the stimulus given by such training to local workers in Gaelic-speaking regions.
  6. Folk-lore, songs and traditions cannot be neglected. The best aid would be a grant towards publication of work done, as for example, a grant to the Irish-Folk Song Society in aid of publishing work submitted by the Society and approved.
  7. The Academy has drawn attention to two other needs of a pressing character: a survey of the antiquities of the country, such as is at present being carried out by Commissions in England, Wales and Scotland. In this connection it remarks that the measurements and plans of earthworks of different types and surveys of cairns already published by the Academy would serve as a nucleus for this undertaking. The work might be very gradually carried out, district by district.

Excavations should also be conducted under scientific direction of the more important archæological sites, to determine their age, significance and historical associations.

In the view of the Committee all grants should be allocated by an


authoritative body, including trained Irish scholars, animated with the desire to encourage students by the assurance of means of publication of their work. We have, therefore, enquired into the best machinery by which these suggestions may profitably be carried out, and the body to which public funds should be entrusted.

The body which in our opinion is marked out for the development of Irish studies is the Royal Irish Academy, which has now incorporated the School of Irish Learning.

The Academy was founded to encourage learning in a wide range of Sciences in which it has earned distinction. It has also charge of linguistics and archaeology, and Irish research has long been a notable part of its business. Since it has no special funds for archaeological work, apart from occasional grants, its resources have been spent on publication. The Government grant is £1,600, and £885 comes from members' subscriptions and other sources. On a total income of £2,485 — with establishment charges of £1,050—the Academy shows an admirable record of careful administration. It must be remembered that the benefits it contributes to Irish learning include a library rich in Irish books, to which the public have admission; a valuable collection of ancient MSS.; and also the printing in its Proceedings of important Irish communications. For many years past an average of six hundred pounds—over a third of its annual income available for general publication —has been expended on Irish subjects, literature, archaeology and the like. At the moment the Leabhar na hUidhre (Book of the Dun Cow) is being published at a cost of about £1,000. The task of publishing the Irish Dictionary, now calculated at nearly £600 a year, must necessarily occupy many years, and remain a heavy charge on finances. All strictly Irish work of the Academy is delegated to an Irish Studies Committee, drawn from two older groups —the Dictionary Committee and the Irish Manuscripts Committee. It has enlisted in its service all the best Irish scholars, whose knowledge, experience, and ardour in the cause cannot be surpassed.

The School of Irish Learning was founded in 1903 by Dr. Kuno


Meyer at a time when there was no regular teaching in Dublin of an advanced nature in Old or Middle Irish. The School held summer courses by professors invited to lecture from England, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway, and students were attracted from oversea by the remarkable training thus offered. Travelling scholarships were also given by the School with excellent results. With a single exception all the professors and lecturers in Irish in the National University Colleges have been students of the School, as also have been Professors of Celtic in Great Britain and abroad. The work of the School has for some years past been limited to summer courses, the last of which, in 1923, was a remarkable course in Phonetics, and the study of a living Irish dialect by Professor Sommerfelt, of Christiania.

An important and enduring work of the School was its journal Eriu, devoted to Irish philology and literature, and recognised in the learned world as the leading review of its kind. The School also published text-books on Old and Modern Irish which are now used by scholars in every country.

It was felt desirable at this time to unite forces working for Irish scholarship, so as to avoid all overlapping of effort, all conceivable competition in publications, and all unnecessary doubling of rent and services. An amicable arrangement has, therefore, been made by which the School of Irish Learning has been incorporated in the Academy, and so far as Irish studies are concerned, Eriu remains the common Journal, the representative work of the united body.

Your Committee, therefore, after careful consideration, recommend that the authoritative financial control of any grant allotted by the Government should be placed in the Academy whose Irish Committee is fully qualified, trained in this special work, generous in outlook, and easy of access to all.

We believe that additional funds allotted to it by the Government will be spent not only with a due sense of stewardship, but with an earnest desire to advance the cause of Irish Learning, and to complete the


national work of restoring to the Irish people their inherited tradition both of ancient and of later times.

We fully realise the overwhelming claims on the Government in these times. On the other hand we feel it to be of great importance that some earnest should at once be given of its sympathy with the national desire to renew and broaden its historical tradition and faith. We, therefore, recommend that an additional annual grant be given to the Academy, and especially earmarked for the disposal of the Committee of Irish studies on the lines indicated in this Report. In the existing state of our national finances we do not name a definite sum, but we urge that as liberal a grant as possible should be given immediately, and that the Government should bear in mind that as soon as our financial position allows not less than £5,000 per annum should be devoted to Irish research.

W.B. Yeats, Cathaoirleach an Choiste (Chairman of the Committee).
Eibhlin Bean Mac Coisdealbha.
A. S. Green.
Eamon Mac Giollaiasachta.