[From Manx Quarterly, #14 Sep 1914]
An Irish Educationist's Opinion.
One of the foremost exponents of the literary side of the cause of Irish Nationality, Mr Seoirse Mac Niocaill, was, with his wife, resident in Douglas during last August and September. He is intimately concerned with the Celtic Revival, not only in Ireland, but in the other Celtic countries as well, and while here he gave considerable attention to the study of Manx Gaelic. Being officially associated with the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland, his remarks in reference to Manx in our schools ought to have some weight.
If it be a source of satisfaction to us to find someone in a worse plight than ourselves, it is at best a satisfaction of a mean and beggarly kind. Yet it was little more than this I had to console me.
I had finished my quest after Nationality in that part of his Britannic Majesty's dominions known to English speakers as the Isle of Man, but called by the small remnant of the Manx nation still extant by the name of Ellan Vannin, i.e., Oilean Mhanannain. There are many elements of similarity, as there are others of sharp contrast, between the conditions subsisting in that Island and in ours.
The Island is being largely exploited for the benefit of England; most of the profits of the tripper season go across to enrich the Sassenach; there are few native industries; the population is decreasing owing to emigration; while national spirit and patriotism are at a very low level indeed. A limited amount of political independence is still possessed by the Islanders, chiefly for the reason that it would not pay England to govern the country directly: just as, conversely, in our case we are left without a vestige of freedom because it has paid England well to manage our affairs for us.
Small, however, as was the measure of independence formerly enjoyed by Mannin, it was apparently too much for the Manx patriots then in power, and in 1872 the Manx Parliament; at the dictation of the Governor, one Loch, passed an act handing over the most important and sacred of its duties. viz., the control of education, to England. By this act the Manx Government proclaimed that it was unequal to the task of devising a system of education for the children whose parents had placed it in power, and that the one fit and proper body to decide what was good for the Manx child was the regiment of English officials located at Whitehall, London, and known as the Board of Education. For such a confession of incompetence and imbecility it, would be hard to find an equal in the records of public bodes. I will deal presently with some of the consequences which have followed this act of national folly.
Until some twenty years ago it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that the Manx language could or ought to live. The Manx Society, founded in 1858, did much valuable work in collecting and publishing material in Manx, but did not concern itself with the preservation or propagation of the national tongue. Indeed, it would appear as though it were the accepted certainty of the death of the language that prompted the society to issue its publications to serve hereafter as a memorial of the dead tongue.
In the early 'nineties, however the Manx Society having in the meantime predeceased the Manx language short articles dealing with the language found their way into the " Isle of Man Examiner" : then some matter in Manx began to appear the first that had been seen in the Manx press for twenty-five years. This looked like the beginning of the resurrection, and for it three men in particular were responsible William Quayle, Captain of the Parish of Lonan, since deceased; William Cubbon, the present borough librarian of Douglas; and J. J. Kneen, a Manx scholar of the first rank. Public interest was aroused, and in 1899 Yn Cheshaght Gailckagh was set on foot. This society corresponds, in its aims if not in its methods, with our Gaelic League, its first object being stated as " The preservation of Manx as the national language of the Isle of Man."
The history of this society, reflecting as it does the weakness of the national sense in the Island, makes rather mournful tiding. A good start was, however, made with an attempt to provide for the teaching of Manx in the schools; but here it was that Loch's act came in, and it as the gentlemen at Whitehall who had to be humbly approached by Yn Cheshaght with a view to having the Manx language recognised as a subject of instruction in the public elementary schools of the Island. These capable gentlemen took three years to come to a decision on the matter, and then graciously granted permission to Yn Cheshaght " to lay the question before the school boards of the Island," These three years were, we may presume, spent in ascertaining accurately the sort of stuff the school boards were made of. The result showed England had made no error of judgement: one school board was willing to allow Manx to be taught for one half-hour per week in three of its schools! The permission was shortly afterwards withdrawn !! After this defeat, Yn Cheshaght appears to have given up all hope of reaching the schools, for no mention of them appears in later reports, and today will it be believed? the Manx language is not being taught in a single school, primary or secondary, in the Island. The schools have been definitely abandoned to the English inspectors, and in many cases English teachers, are successfully crushing out whatever little national self-respect remains. The ways of these inspectors seem to be somewhat similar to those of many of our anglicised and anglicising inspectors here. A lady teacher who had the temerity to teach Manx children something of the lives of notable Manxmen, was informed by the inspector that "' that sort of thing might easily be overdone," She took the hint.
Up to the present, it must be admitted, Yn Cheshaght has not met with much success in any direction: it is alive, but it is showing few signs of life, either in the way of teaching or by active propagandist work. Whatever is being done, is being done by a few individual members rather than by the corporate body. A short time ago, when the Douglas Town Council affixed the nickname " Kursaal " to some buildings and grounds which cost the ratepayers £80,000, the official Cheshaght made no protest. A few members, however, made an unsuccessful attempt to have Manx names substituted a course which; had it been adopted, would have at once given distinction to the place, and served to announce to all visitors that they were really in Manxland, and not in a piece of Lancashire which had gone adrift.
The causes of the sterility of Yn Cheshaght are not very far to seek: they may be worth considering lest any of us should ever be tempted to sin in a similar way. First and foremost is Patronage. In the report of the society for 1902 we read: " It is a matter of encouragement to us also that, when his Majesty King Edward was in the Island he expressed a desire to hear the language, etc." Again, in the 1908 report: "Her Majesty the Queen has expressed her interest in Manx music." Neither of their aforesaid Majesties has ever expressed a desire to hear the Irish language nor an interest in Irish music. and, truth to tell, I don't think we are any the worse for the omission. Our follow Gaels in Mann are allowing their backbones to be patronised into jelly. The wife of the present Governor our national dailies would, I suppose, by analogy call her the " Governess " evidently concerned lest there should still be a little vitality left, in the Nationalists of Mann, for she has recently announced that she "has a hankering after the Manx language." Lord Raglan himself. however, is neither so astute nor so discreet a few weeks ago, in a speech delivered at the opening of a new department of the borough library at Douglas, he referred in teams of insolent buffoonery to the native tongue.
Another cause of failure is the society's neglect of the native speaker, who in Ellan Vannin as in Eirinn, must save the language if it ever is to be saved. Yn Cheshaght Gailckagh commits a fatal error in making Douglas the most hopelessly Anglicised spot on the Island its headquarters, and in confining all its meetings to this town. It is busy seeking the support of the " daoine mora " while the native speaker is fast disappearing. The number of native speakers of Manx is now alarmingly small something about 250 and if Manxmen do not quickly awaken to a sense of their national responsibilities and do something effective, the next generation will see the last of the Manx nation.
Another mistake consists in the cessation of the struggle for Manx in the schools. It is difficult to find an excuse for this. The sins of a former generation, who yielded up the educational freedom of the Island and made it in this matter a plaything of English officialdom, have produced a state of affairs that must make this struggle an exceptional and arduous one; but they do not constitute a sufficient reason for its abandonment. In fact, no reason could ever be deemed sufficient for that.
On the whole, then, national affairs are in a bad way in Mann; but bad and all as they are, there are some hopeful signs. There are already many Manxmen who are beginning to feel uncomfortable and to suspect that, after all, things are not quite right in the Island. This may be the beginning of the resurrection.
There are others who are, in their despair, looking across to us for help and counsel. One of these latter writes: "It is to your country we look for inspiration. We had missions from Erin in the early centuries: our ancient Keeils tell the story of them. Why not a modern mission?" Why not? It might be more useful than missions to America, and certainly would be if it helped Ellan Vannin to take her proper place in a greater Gaelic Union. In the meantime our friends in Mann must understand that, though they may get inspiration from us, the saving of their national souls must be done entirely by themselves. If them abandon the " daoine mora " and foreign patronage, and go to the people; let them work for the repeal of the Act of 1872, and get control of the schools; above all, let each and everyone of them learn and speak the national tongue, in season and out of season, everywhere and to everyone. These point the way to success.