The Happiest of Men
In January, 1894 Douglas Hyde was the happiest of men. He was married to a charming and intelligent young woman, a friend of his sister and a favorite of his aunts, who was interested in everything that interested him and whose personal income placed no strain on his own financial resources. Their home was Ratra, a bright and spacious Georgian house overlooking Lough Gara that he had loved as long as he could remember. From its windows he could see in the distance Rathcroghan, the Sligo mountains, and the steeple of St. Nathy's cathedral in Ballaghaderreen. The meadows and bogs that he surveyed were his to shoot; the neighboring cottages were those in which he had grown up, sitting by the fire, sipping poteen, listening to stories and gossip and song. His father was failing, but along with old age and infirmity had come a milder disposition that was almost gentle at times. Sitting beside his bed, talking about Trinity, cricket, well-known sermons by well-known clergymen, and the Cork relatives—the latter, vivid memories to his father, to himself scarcely more than names—Douglas often wondered if the stormy days of his youth had really happened or were just bad dreams, the result of eating too much beef or mixing wine and whiskey.
From the day of their return home in December the Hydes were flooded with mail. Much of it was social, consisting of invitations and good wishes to which Lucy in her charming way quickly directed her attention. As soon as she could she also set about arranging the furniture, working with the seamstress who was making new curtains and
cushions, writing long lists of items that were needed to stock kitchen, pantry, and cellar, and otherwise turning this house that Hyde had always loved into their home. His large and comfortable study was conducive to work. He soon had it arranged just the way he liked it, with a semiorganized clutter of books and papers piled on the floor around his desk, where he could easily reach them. There was no problem with the housekeeping staff, no series of novae ancillae . The Mahons and Morrisroes, an extended family of old friends whom he had known since he was a boy, lived just outside the gate or in the cluster of neat little houses with pretty gardens along the road. They had taken care of Ratra, house and gardens, inside and out, for almost as long, he imagined, as it had stood there.
Mail that could not be answered by Lucy included letters from publishers and reviewers, people seeking assistance or recommendations or proposing new projects, professional friends, and fellow scholars, plus memoranda and notices from the various organizations to which Hyde belonged. Among the new books received were his Love Songs of Connacht and Contes Irlandais . Both had been published in 1893, a year that had gone by in such haste that even now, looking back on it, Hyde was astonished that he had been able to accomplish anything at all. Before him was the evidence to the contrary: reviews of Love Songs ; reports of business that had been transacted in accordance with resolutions that had passed at meetings he had attended; ongoing correspondence concerning work in progress. The earliest of the reviews he had in hand had appeared in the Speaker on July 13. It had been followed by reviews in the Spectator (August 12), the Daily Chronicle (August 21), the Belfast Irish News (August 28), the Daily News (September 1), United Ireland (September 2), the Weekly Sun (September 3), Truth (September 14), the Star (September 14), and Literary World (September 29). Others he had not yet received included some that had been published in America.
Earlier—last year, in fact—Hyde had received advance copies of Love Songs that he had sent to the usual list of friends and professional associates. Contes Irlandais , a handsome book in a gray-green wrapper, was one he had not previously seen. A French companion to (but not copy of) Beside the Fire, it contained Georges Dottin's translations of selected stories from Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta , printed together with the Irish on facing pages. A lecturer at Rennes and editor of the Annales de Bretagne who had been trained by the famous French Celticist d'Arbois de Jubainville, Dottin had first written to Hyde in 1889 or 1890,
to compliment him on both the contents and methodology of his Irish "book of storytelling" and to propose a collaboration: he would, Dottin said, translate the stories of Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta into French for publication with the original Irish texts in successive issues of the Annales, if Hyde would check his French translations and read proofs of the Irish. The first fruit of this joint endeavor had appeared in Dottin's journal in 1892, the second in 1893. Meanwhile, Hyde himself had translated half the stories into English for Beside the Fire, a bilingual edition published by David Nutt in which Irish and English were printed on facing pages. (This was the book he had had so much trouble getting a copy of when he was in Canada.) Dottin, with his usual efficiency, had had his own copy sent to him in Rennes and—even before Hyde himself had seen Beside the Fire —had written to suggest to Hyde a similar French-and-Irish edition of the remaining Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta stories. This, then, was the handsome book in the green wrappers that Hyde had just received. Glancing through the French translations of his Irish texts, Hyde was again reminded of the affinity that so often in the past—first, when he was just a boy—he had perceived between French and Irish. As the Irish stories had slipped easily into French, so his collaboration with Dottin had ripened quickly into a warm friendship.
Little had Hyde realized when he first began working on Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta how much his "book of storytelling" would bring back to him. In its way it had some characteristics of the magical tales to be found between its covers. The publication of Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta had initiated his correspondence with a number of other scholars abroad, in addition to Dottin. In 1889 it had had an unusually good beginning sale for a book of its kind. Even now, five years after publication, it was still selling steadily, although of course not so well as the newer Love Songs or the bilingual Beside the Fire . He had the facts before him in his publishers' year-end statements for 1893. He knew, moreover, that there well could be an increase in its readership in the future, if the Gaelic League developed and prospered: O'Growney already had discussed with him his concern that, to maintain emphasis on spoken Irish, the league would need texts from the oral rather than the literary tradition for its beginning Irish classes. The Reverend Edmund Hogan (the latter's book Distinguished Irishmen of the 16th Century had just been announced) had written to him some years ago, before the founding of the league, about the suitability of Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta as a text for new students of Irish. It was a subject to discuss with
O'Growney, who had been in Scotland in July 1893 when the league was founded, but whose commitment to the revival of the Irish language was so well known that he had been appointed vice-president in absentia and was now working on exactly this question of appropriate texts.
The publishing project that required Hyde's attention at the moment, however, was The Story of Early Gaelic Literature, one of the few titles that had been salvaged from the Yeats-Duffy debacle that had ended with the decision to abandon the Irish Publishing Company proposed in 1892. The manuscript was now with Fisher Unwin; publication was scheduled for 1895. Also slated for publication by Fisher Unwin in 1895 was Hyde's translation The Three Sorrows of Storytelling : it was all that had come of the ambitious "Irish Saga series in seven or eight volumes" that he and Yeats had discussed with Garnett, Fisher Unwin's reader, at a long lunch in February 1892, when the Irish Literary Society had just been organized and everyone was optimistic about what it might accomplish.
Some of the mail Hyde had received concerned the London-based Irish Literary Society as well as the National Literary Society in Dublin and the Gaelic League. Many members of the London-based society, it seemed, reviewing the optimistic plans of 1892, were unhappy about its current lack of activity. There were problems: Duffy was still president, but he lived most of the year in Nice, and in any case he had become somewhat disaffected during the controversy over the Irish Publishing Company. T. W. Rolleston, who had been an efficient and active secretary, had moved to Dublin last summer to manage the Irish Industries Association. Rolleston had been succeeded by Alfred Perceval Graves in the post of acting secretary, but as so many council members were scattered far and wide (including Hyde himself, W. B. Yeats, and others, who were usually to be found in Ireland), Graves lacked a clear mandate to do anything of real significance on his own. Meanwhile the National Literary Society, which Hyde continued to serve as president, was apparently thriving, and he had had good news also of the first-year growth of the Gaelic League. Hyde believed that it would succeed, for as John MacNeill had said in his report of the league's first two meetings, the idea for a "more popular and practical" movement to revive Irish had "long been in the air." The emphasis on speaking Irish rather than simply talking about it, as had been the practice in the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language and even to a certain extent in the Gaelic Union, had received a good response.
So had the focus on texts from the oral rather than the literary tradition. There had not been, as some feared, a dearth of qualified people willing to present a short recitation or reading in Irish which others attending might listen to and discuss. The format adopted on August 4, 1893, provided both ample time for such discussion and—more important, perhaps—a common subject that subtly prescribed, for the benefit of beginners, the limits of vocabulary needed. The long-range plan, toward which the organizers wanted to move as soon as it was feasible, was to establish a branch wherever there were enough people to carry on a similar program, with Dublin headquarters providing whatever help was needed.
What was popular and practical about the Gaelic League was not only its modus operandi but its decision to leave the preservation of the literary tradition to others and (following the course that Hyde, MacNeill, and O'Growney had been advocating) focus on the neglected and more seriously endangered state of the oral Irish tradition of native speakers. This was an aspect of revivalism with which Hyde had been consistently concerned even as a young member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, for in the Frenchpark of his boyhood he had witnessed firsthand the last days of a dying Gaeltacht in which each year the number of Irish speakers declined dramatically, and with them the number of stories, songs, and poems that were part of their heritage. Teaching Irish grammar to English speakers in Dublin and providing them with exercises that helped them speak Irish the way it was written in books was of little use in preserving the language; it did nothing at all to save the Gaeltacht or keep ordinary Irish people in touch with their ancient and honorable cultural heritage or provide them with the sense of a nation. Whatever well-meaning antiquarians and romantics might proclaim to each other, it could not compensate for the fact that in Irish-speaking districts, everything possible was being done to make native Irish speakers ashamed of their language, ashamed of the poverty and ignorance they were told that they brought on themselves and their children by continuing to use it, ashamed of belonging to an Irish nation. By encouraging the use of Irish among people of all classes, (not as a replacement for English, for as Hyde had said over and over again, this was obviously both impossible and undesirable for practical reasons), the Gaelic League hoped to reverse the trend that otherwise was sure to lead to extinction of the language within the next generation and with it all sense of a nation, all personal experience as a member of a uniquely Irish civilization.
It was the threat of this irreversible loss that Hyde had deplored privately in his diaries and publicly in speeches and essays ever since he himself realized what had gone from the world with the death of men like Seamas Hart. Its implications had led him first to collect and then to preserve through publication the endangered stories, songs, and poems of the Irish oral tradition. Even this, of course, was an expedient, as he had explained many times. In his notes to Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta, he had described in detail the problems of translating spoken language into the language of print. In his preface to Beside the Fire (1890), he had documented the ways in which "the waves of materialism and civilization combined" were destroying oral tradition. In his preface to Love Songs of Connacht, he had lamented the "unavoidable ignorance of the modern Irish idiom" among the educated Irish that had left the transmission and interpretation of Irish culture to native speakers, who were becoming fewer every day. As a result even the "great philologists and etymologists" were now prevented, he said, from having direct contact with the tradition.
What the Gaelic League proposed to do—what Hyde had advocated in many of his speeches and essays—was, first, to provide the kind of opportunity for instruction and practice in spoken Irish that would result in its more natural use outside the Gaeltacht; second, to involve the people of the Gaeltacht in this project; and finally, to pressure the government into improving the quality of education in the Gaeltacht by providing instruction in Irish for Irish-speaking children. The goals of other nineteenth-century societies had focused on the printed word. Whether or not these innovative ideas would work remained to be seen.
In the first few years as league president, Hyde's principal task was to travel to communities that sought to establish a branch, address its members, meet its committees, consult with its priests, teachers, and civil servants, and talk informally with everyone involved, especially the young men and women. It was also his responsibility to identify in each community a qualified teacher of Irish who would provide weekly instruction for a moderate set fee. If no such teacher was available, Hyde had the authority to arrange for a substitute, preferably from the Gaeltacht, to come once a week to give the necessary instruction. Eugene O'Growney already had begun work on lessons in Irish for use by league members. These were being published first in the Weekly Freeman (later, in the Gaelic Journal ) and then in book form under the title Simple Lessons in Irish . The first books appeared in 1894, at about the same time as the doctors identified the cause of O'Growney's declin-
ing health as tuberculosis. In October he was sent by Maynooth to Arizona where it was hoped that the dry air and sunshine would help his recovery. He did not improve, nor was he happy in America. In September 1895, after receiving the second of two sad and discouraged letters from him, Hyde wrote asking O'Growney to come to Ratra, where he would be well looked after and would have a home as long as he wished. By then, however, the disease had gone too far to permit the long and tiring journey back to Ireland. Thus sentenced to exile, in 1896 O'Growney resigned his post at Maynooth. He tried also to resign his league vice-presidency, but the Coiste Gnótha (executive committee) refused. During the next three years league travelers to America made a point of a going to see him if they possibly could. Although their reports were distressing, O'Growney did manage to continue writing occasional articles for the Weekly Freeman . He died in Los Angeles on October 18, 1899, leaving all rights to Simple Lessons to the league. For a number of years these books, continued by John MacNeill, provided the league with a handsome source of income. Grateful Irish Americans who knew how painful his exile had been raised a subscription to return O'Growney's body to Ireland. When he was reburied at Maynooth in 1901 a mourning Hyde, publicly overcome by private sorrow, kissed O'Growney's coffin and wiped tears from his eyes. Only the deaths of Seamas Hart in 1875 and Mackey Wilson in 1887 had affected him so strongly.
In the early months of 1894, however, no one considered the consequences of losing O'Growney; concern focused on the need to respond to rapidly growing public interest in the Gaelic League. Much of the responsibility fell upon Hyde as league president. Since she enjoyed traveling and did not like to be left home alone, Lucy at first accompanied him on some of his trips around the country. But she was now no longer particularly keen on the league. During their courtship, enthusiastic about Hyde's lectures and books, she had been interested in learning Irish. But at that time she had seen herself as a woman of independent intellect and opinion, the future wife of a scholar, moving within socially and intellectually sophisticated circles. Then she began to meet members of the Gaelic League who clearly did not belong to these circles. She had difficulty feeling comfortable among them. Their familiar manner disconcerted her. She could not get used to the way in which shopkeepers, civil servants, and country people spoke to Hyde, as if he were one of them. It astonished her that he did not mind at all. For herself, she chose to go to Dublin whenever he had to be away.
But soon such travel was no longer an option, for she was expecting their first child. Isolated and unhappy, she developed a dislike of Ratra, Frenchpark, the whole of Roscommon, and especially of the Gaelic League that she never got over as long as she lived. Delighted with the prospect of parenthood, Hyde attributed Lucy's low spirits to the discomfort of pregnancy. He assured himself that when the baby was born her spirits would improve and with it her attitude toward her surroundings. Meanwhile he promised her that he would again make inquiries about a possible university appointment in Dublin, Cork, Belfast, or Galway. Nothing developed, and after Nuala was born Lucy did indeed feel better, but she remained visibly discontented in Frenchpark. Occupied with his writing and his work on behalf of the league, cheered by the happy personality of his outgoing little daughter, Hyde did not realize how deep-rooted Lucy's feelings were.
On the eleventh of February, 1896, less than four weeks after his own thirty-sixth birthday, Hyde received word of the death of his brother Oldfield. Although they had not seen much of each other in recent years, Hyde was saddened by the news. He could not help but remember Oldfield's brilliant academic record, how easily he had excelled at sports, his gentle understanding when young Arthur lay dying in Drumkilla. Three brothers they had been, and now two were gone. Of his father's five children there remained only himself and Annette. Thinking of his own children—Lucy was pregnant again, the baby was expected in June—he wondered what it must be like for his father to grow old and feeble watching his children die before him, one by one.
In March 1896 Hyde received word of still another professorship at Trinity. Keeping his promise to Lucy, he applied. He had, in fact, high hopes of succeeding, for his publication record was now much stronger than it had been in 1891, and this time the appointment was not in modern European languages and literature but in Irish. George Salmon, who had provided one of Hyde's letters of recommendation in 1891, was still provost at Trinity; Hyde fully expected that Salmon would support his candidacy. To his astonishment, again his application was not given serious consideration. This time, however, he was not left wondering why. His appointment, he learned, had been opposed by both Salmon (whom he had, he thought, no reason to distrust) and Robert Atkinson, professor of languages. Although willing to concede Hyde's scholarly qualifications, Salmon based his opposition on the fact that Hyde's chief interests were known to be political rather than philological. He had no doubt, he said, that if Hyde were appointed,
he would use his position to advance his nationalist views. Atkinson's criticism was cloaked in professionalism. He knew nothing whatever of Hyde's political position, he maintained, but the language Hyde spoke was simply "baboon Irish," not anything that could be taught in a classroom. Against them, to no avail, Hyde mounted a barrage of supporting opinion from outstanding Celticists and historians. The list included Edward Gwynn and William Lecky of Trinity, Kuno Meyer of Liverpool, Standish James O'Grady, and Georges Dottin and Joseph Loth, French scholars who had been trained in Paris by d'Arbois de Jubainville. Their letters were uniformly not merely approving but full of high praise. Evaluating Hyde's reputation in the international academic community, Meyer wrote that his appointment "would confer a great honor on Celtic research throughout the world." O'Grady declared that Hyde had the Irish language "practically and as a living tongue." When the appointment of James Murphy was announced in May, Hyde wrote wryly to Yeats: "They would not have me at any price and I fancy the worse the man was the better pleased they were, so that no attention could be drawn to Gaelic studies by him. Yet I had the most excellent letters from the great Gaelic scholars."
Stung by this rejection from what he called the "English fort in Ireland," Hyde understood at last why he had had no interested response from either the University of Chicago or Queens University in 1891. There was little doubt that Salmon had poisoned the waters before he had been given a chance. Yet he was doubly stung for the effect his defeat would have on Lucy, who, unable to conceive of Hyde's rejection, had been looking forward to a move to Dublin. At the same time Hyde could not help but be relieved that he would not have to give up Ratra. Nuala was a lovely, friendly, outgoing child. The new baby was approaching term. Soon, with the pregnancy over, Lucy would feel better. Surely it would be an advantage for the children to have a Frenchpark summer on the shores of Lough Gara.
Hyde's second daughter, Una, although quieter and shyer than her sister, was an agreeable, even-tempered child. Hyde could not have been happier. Lucy was pleased with the baby, but her disappointment with her husband's failure to secure the Trinity appointment was hard to conceal. Characteristically, Hyde himself did not dwell on the matter but concentrated on the league, on additional translation projects, and on his literary history of Ireland, the long-range project on which he had been working consistently (although at some times with more leisure than at others) for almost twenty years. Rearranging priorities after
having spent so much fruitless time on the Trinity application, he revised the welcoming speech he usually presented at the ceremonies that opened new branches and wrote hundreds of letters to organizers, priests, friends, and academic associates in Ireland, England, America, and on the Continent. In May 1897 the Gaelic League's first countrywide festival was held in Dublin. The purpose of this oireachtas was to "stimulate public interest in the Irish language movement and to encourage the cultivation of modern Irish." It was both a popular and a public-relations success. Hyde awarded Gaelic League prizes to successful competitors in seven categories, including best poem, best essay, and best recitation in Irish.
Visiting the orieachtas with her family was young Mary Butler. Soon she joined Agnes O'Farrelly, Nellie O'Brien, Molly Kennedy, and the other Gaelic League women who for most of the term of his presidency provided Hyde with a strong and dependable source of friendship and support. Fifty years later, Mary Butler recalled her first impressions of the 37-year-old Hyde and the four-year-old Gaelic League:
I heard one of the officers of the Central Branch saying to Dr. Hyde, "I should like to introduce some new members to you." . . . In a moment we were shaking hands with the President of the Gaelic League while he was saying cordially, "Welcome to Irish Ireland." . . . Strange to say, he was not very Irish looking. He had straight jet black hair and a heavy black moustache. His complexion was sallow, and he had rather high cheek bones. The eyes were the only attractive feature in his face and they made one forget all the rest! Their colour seemed to change like his expression, according to his mood. They would blaze with anger when he spoke of Ireland's wrongs, or be tender when he pleaded for the saving of her soul; a moment later they would be twinkling mischievously as he poked fun at some "West British" affectation of country people. . . . He really seemed to possess some gift of drawing people and captivating them, whatever it was.
Not all those who joined the league were captivated by Hyde. Nor were they all revivalists or nationalists. The very success of the league, like that of the bicycle and the new European theater, meant that it had a faddish attraction for hundreds of young men and women drawn to it more for its collateral social activities than for its language classes. Some dropped out early; some got caught up in its activities and remained. There were also those who joined for serious reasons and left because of minor scraps, such as the one that divided supporters of Fáinne an Lae and supporters of An Claidheamh Soluis, when the league shifted its official allegiance from one newspaper to the other. And then
there were those who, from Pa Burke of Castlerea to the poet AE (George Russell), simply could not master the language despite their genuine enthusiasm for it. AE wrote to Hyde, "I think I will join the Gaelic League and learn Irish in my old age. Why the blazes was I not taught it in my childhood? I would like to fight in its battles and write in Irish if I could learn." Pa Burke, looking back on the ninety-odd years of his life from his customary vantage point, the bridge on Main Street over the river Suck that had been built the year he was born, used to reminisce about the day Douglas Hyde rode into town on his bicycle and recruited members for a Castlerea branch of the Gaelic League. Hyde was so cheerful, said Pa Burke, and he had such a lively look in his eye, that all the young men thought the league would be great crack. And it was, partly. But the other part was hard work of a kind that, like Russell, Pa Burke could not do, so in the end, he declared, he left it to the scholars.
Despite this flux and reflux the league continued to prosper beyond anyone's hopes or expectations. By 1897 it was attacting attention abroad as well as at home, partly as a result of its own achievements, partly because of Hyde's scholarly reputation, especially in Celtic studies circles. Links developed between the league and similar organizations in Wales and Scotland. Fraternal delegations were exchanged with the Welsh Eisteddfod and An Mod in Scotland. In France the prospect of an Irish-led pan-Celtic movement appealed to Breton language revivalists who had modeled their own new organization, L'Union Regionaliste Breton, on the Gaelic League. (An interesting irony is the fact that there is evidence to suggest that the structure and goals of the league had been loosely modeled on the Félibrige that Mistral had founded in midcentury in Provence). In October 1898 Anatole Le Braz, Dottin's colleague at Rennes and another of Hyde's correspondents, was elected its director. Meanwhile the league's treasurer, Stephen Barrett, had had letters from two young Breton nationalist students who confirmed having received requested copies of O'Growney's Simple Lessons in Irish . What they now needed, they explained, were an inexpensive Irish dictionary and grammar and copies of the league's newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis . "Like yourselves in Ireland, we have great pains and difficulties in the struggle for our land and our tongue," wrote François Jaffrenou, who shortly after became editor of the weekly Breton nationalist journal Le Resistance . The contribution of his co-worker, François Vallee, was La Langue bretonne en 40 leçons, an adaptation of O'Growney's Simple Lessons in Irish .
International cooperation was the goal of the Pan-Celtic Association, whose major project in 1898–1899 was to plan a Pan-Celtic Congress to be held in Dublin in 1900. All organizations concerned about the future of any one of the Celtic languages were invited to send a representative. Douglas Hyde was urged particularly to attend. The situation, as he knew, was delicate: some members of the Pan-Celtic Association were old friends of such leaders of the Gaelic League as himself, MacNeill, and Patrick Pearse; others had enemies on the Coiste Gnótha. Proceeding with a caution that some say only invited the complications that followed, Hyde asked the Coiste Gnótha for permission to accept the invitation he had received, on the grounds that it was the province of the executive committee to name league delegates, not the privilege of the president to assume that he was one of them. Blown out of proportion, the question became a matter of debate which ended with the Coiste Gnótha refusing to dispatch any official representative but permitting Hyde's attendance if he would establish clearly that he was present only as a private person. Expressing an attitude that was to continue to plague the league and often cause divisions from within, the executive committee issued a statement that it "would be sorry that any of their members should give time or money to an enterprise that could not help the Irish language." Determined to avoid internal dissension, Hyde reluctantly refused the invitation to the 1900 Pan-Celtic Congress but privately maintained close scholarly relations with as many of the participants as he could.
For some time before he became embroiled in the controversy over the Pan-Celtic Congress, Hyde had been quietly searching for the work of a blind Connacht poet, Anthony Raftery, who died in 1835, leaving the story of his life and the fate of most of his compositions to the oral tradition. This research was partly a recreational activity, as it gave Hyde the opportunity to cycle the scenic roads of Galway in the area of Gort. There he learned that some of Raftery's work had been written down by Raftery's admirers. Often Hyde was put on the trail of a notebook said to contain a number of poems and songs only to have it end at the edge of the Atlantic, the notebook having sailed with its latest owner to America. Then in 1897 Hyde met Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory of Coole Park, who shared his interest in Raftery and successfully traced one of the notebooks to the home of a stonecutter not far from her estate near Gort. Meanwhile, Hyde's own sleuthing in the Royal Irish Academy library rewarded him with an unindexed and therefore previ-
ously unnoticed sheaf of poems. He and Lady Gregory obtained still other poems and songs viva voce from storytellers who included them in their repertoire and from ordinary people who enjoyed reciting and singing them. One result of their efforts was Hyde's Songs Ascribed to Raftery (1903), a bilingual edition of Raftery's compositions, with translations by Hyde, that included an account of Raftery's life. More important perhaps were the friendships, collaborations, and working relationships that developed as a result of Hyde's and Lady Gregory's search, with their far-reaching implications for both the Gaelic Revival and the Irish Literary Renaissance.
Lady Gregory of Coole Park was the widow of Sir William Gregory, a former colonial governor of Ceylon whom she had married when she was twenty-eight and he was sixty-three. Widowed at forty, she had during her short marriage lived a life of privilege and plenty in the highest circles of society, politics, and art. Although in appearance a rather plain and properly Victorian gentlewoman, as her recent biographer, Mary Lou Kohfeldt, reveals, Lady Gregory was in fact something of a bohemian well before she achieved world recognition as founding mother of the modern Irish theater, the "Presence" of the famous Green Room of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, a successful writer of short plays and significant books, and in many other respects, as Kohfeldt calls her, "the woman behind the Irish Renaissance." There had been at least one discreetly conducted yet wildly romantic love affair, with the poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt, during her short marriage; there would soon be another, with John Quinn. She was already Yeats's patroness, a reader well acquainted with Irish writing in English, and an admirer of Hyde's Beside the Fire and Love Songs of Connacht when they met. Her preference was clearly for masterful, charismatic, and energetic men. Her politics reflected the conservative convictions of her late husband, except when she was confronted directly by their implications, as often happened when she visited the tenants on her estate. When, as a young woman, she had listened to Gladstone's views on women's emancipation, and, more recently, when she had heard Balfour on the Irish Question, her conservatism had asserted itself. But she had come to accept if not approve the idea of Home Rule, and she embraced cultural nationalism wholeheartedly, having developed in her teens a rebellious taste for the poems of Young Ireland. Twice in the years before she met Hyde, on two different and widely separated occasions, she had tried to learn Irish and had given up. With Hyde to encourage and assist her and
O'Growney's Simple Lessons to guide her, she finally succeeded to the point of publishing her own English translations and adaptations of Irish literature.
Not since his courtship of Lucy had Hyde enjoyed such a correspondent as Lady Gregory. Her letters had the same sparkle, the same playful, teasing quality. "Now don't you think I deserve credit as a detective?" she wrote on October 23, 1897, describing how she had tracked down a shopkeeper who owned a manuscript in which Hyde had expressed an interest. Describing a visit to Spiddal, she told him how much she had regretted her ignorance of Irish when she had to enlist the help of two Irish-speaking schoolmasters to obtain stories for him. One of the schoolmasters had told her that he was assembling material for a collection of songs that he hoped to publish. She had sent him a copy of Hyde's Love Songs of Connacht to use as a model. To encourage her reading in Irish, Hyde sent her a copy of his recently published second volume of An Sgeuluidhe Gaodhealach, which contained five Irish stories—"very simple, and at the same time in good classical Galway Irish, so that if you are really thinking of learning to read the language you will probably find this as easy a stepping stone to it as you could have." He also promised to help find subscribers for the "Celtic theatre" that she and Yeats were trying to establish.
In late December 1898, at Lady Gregory's invitation, Hyde and Norma Borthwick (who was then tutoring Lady Gregory in Irish and giving classes to local people in Lady Gregory's Coole Park gatehouse every afternoon) presented an Irish-language Punch-and-Judy show at a Christmas party for workhouse children. Hyde triumphed in scenes in which he scolded the baby in Irish, for many of his young listeners had often heard the very same words used in the scoldings they themselves had received. In early January of 1899 Lady Gregory sent a brace of cock to Ratra, to which Hyde replied, "Your kindness pursues me even when out of sight and out of reach." On January 9 at the Kiltartan School, with Father Fahey, the Irish-speaking priest from Gort, in the chair, the Kiltartan branch of the Gaelic League held its first meeting. Hyde addressed the new branch in Irish and English in his capacity as league president. Although she listened carefully, Lady Gregory admitted that she had not been able to understand his Irish. However, when he said in English, "Let English go their road and let us go ours, and God forbid their road should ever be ours," she heard only too well and was in fact a bit shocked, as she had been assured that the league was nationalist but nonpolitical in its sympathies. If her response
seemed naive, Hyde knew that it was also self-protective, as nationalist but nonpolitical was how she described her proposed Irish theater.
Hyde encouraged Lady Gregory to keep up her study of Irish, to avoid losing the progress she had made, even when she was in London for extended visits. His letters to her in the spring of 1899 were well punctuated with Gaelic words and phrases which (like Lucy, during their courtship) she then picked up and made use of in her letters to him. In an eight-page letter of January 1899, he sent her a long anecdote, completely in Irish, about a peasant woman who lay in fear on her deathbed lest her soul be taken in charge by an English-speaking priest. She understood what he was doing and why it was successful: getting through the amusing story had been a bit of a struggle, but this kind of learning was pleasure, not drudgery.
Wherever she went Lady Gregory became an ambassador for the Gaelic League. In London with W. B. Yeats in 1897 she wore the Gaelic League badge that she had received from O'Growney. Taking Hyde's advice she had brought Simple Lessons with her to work on in her spare moments, and she also had a copybook, inscribed "Agusta Gregore," her name in Irish, in which she faithfully wrote out her Irish exercises. When in 1899 the league's newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis, began sniping at the Irish Literary Theatre for staging Irish drama written in English, Hyde wrote a stern note dated May 7 to John MacNeill, the paper's editor: "I beseech you please to say nothing in Claidheamh against the Literary Theatre. Many of our friends, especially Lady Gregory, are on the Executive Committee, so don't go against them. . . . They are not enemies to us. They are a half-way house." As proof of this statement he pointed out that they had also planned Oisín and Pádraig for the same time, in the same theater. MacNeill complied with Hyde's request, but it was not the last time Hyde had to act as arbirator between adherents of the Irish Literary Renaissance and those committed to the Gaelic Revival. Belonging to both, seeing each as a support for the other, Hyde not only deplored but feared their rivalry. It was one reason why he had undertaken his long and serious study, nearly twenty years in work, of the literary history of Ireland. In this book he hoped to present evidence that all Ireland, city and country, Big House and cottage, Gael and Gall, had cause to identify itself with Irish culture and history.
A work of permanent value that would do most to establish Hyde's reputation as an outstanding scholar but that had proved most difficult for him to bring to a close, A Literary History of Ireland was published
in 1899. As he reviewed the manuscript he was about to deliver to the publisher in April 1898, it seemed to him, as he complained to his friend Alice Milligan, that he was undermining all his long years of research and preparation in the haste with which he was now rushing toward publication. Confessing both his impatience and his ambivalence, he declared that on the one hand he hoped that he might finish putting the manuscript in final form by the end of the month, on the other hand he feared that fault would be found. In that case, he said, the book would just have to make up in volume what it lacked in quality. It was evident that Hyde was beginning to feel the burden of work and emotional strain that he had been carrying since his annus mirabilis, 1893.
Hyde need not have worried about the literary history. Within a year of publication over nineteen favorable reviews had appeared in French, English, Irish, and American newspapers and magazines. One of the earliest, in the New Ireland Review for July 1899, congratulated him on the "imperial manner" with which he had placed his work before the public, so that it could make its own judgment. His verse translations were praised as "uniformly excellent." Public judgment was swift: purchased, read, borrowed; quoted by hundreds of bank clerks, schoolteachers, priests, nuns, and civil servants; hyperbolically described by Patrick Pearse and others as the equal in effect of Uncle Tom's Cabin, it was a book for its time. Its central thesis, adapted from d'Arbois de Jubainville, was (a) that cultural influence conquers, and (b) that the imposition of a language on a people obliterates both heritage and history, for it governs the very "form of thought during every instant . . . of existence." Hyde sent copies to O'Conor Don, Maud Gonne, members of the Young Ireland group that had met in Dublin in the 1880s, and a host of others who showered him with further words of praise for his achievement. A few close friends and neighbors recognized its personal stamp. They noted the names of ancestors of O'Conor Don scattered throughout as well as allusions to places near his boyhood home, as in: "There is never a camping-ground of Maeve's army on their march . . . from Rathcroghan in Roscommon to the plain of Mochruime in Louth, and never a skirmish fought by them that has not given its name to some plain, or camping-ground or ford." Later, in her published memoir, Maud Gonne recalled the Literary History as an "inspiration" that supplied "the intellectual background of revolt." Reviewed again after republication, it has been described in recent years as "still unsurpassed."
Although the period of its gestation began long before the founding of the Gaelic League, Hyde dedicated A Literary History to the organization that was for him "the only body in Ireland which appears to realize that Ireland has a past, has a history, has a literature, and the only body in Ireland which seeks to render the present a rational continuation of the past." The book itself he called "an attempt at a review of that literature which despite its present neglected position" is felt and known to be "a true possession of national importance."
The restrained tone and note of sadness evident in the dedication of A Literary History no doubt reflected Hyde's anger and frustration with another battle in which, during 1899, he and the league were engaged. This time the field was education. The government had raised no great objection to the league's program of evening classes that by 1899 had put O'Growney's Simple Lessons in the hands of roughly 40,000 members. But Hyde, MacNeill, and O'Growney had agreed that until access to Irish was guaranteed in the national schools, only a fraction of the population would have the opportunity to learn it—and meanwhile, with English still the medium of instruction and that instruction provided by teachers who spoke only English, education in the Gaeltacht was effectively no education at all for children who knew no language but Irish. "Hence it became," as Tomás Ó Fíaich noted in The Gaelic League Idea, "a primary objective of the League to ensure that the teaching of Irish would find a place in the normal educational system of the country, at both primary and secondary level, and if possible at university level as well."
There had been no progress with this problem at the intermediate level since 1878, when the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language had successfully petitioned the Board of Intermediate Education to include "Celtic" as a subject (along with classical and modern languages) in which students could present themselves for examination. Although the decision itself had seemed a triumph at the time, "Celtic" was allotted fewer points than classical and modern languages, and fewer teachers of Irish were qualified to prepare students for examination. Ó Fíaich estimates that as a consequence rarely did more than five percent of students presenting themselves in any given year choose to be examined in Irish. The situation in primary schools was far worse. Although (again, largely thanks to SPIL) it had been established in 1879 that Irish could be taught as an extra subject outside of regular school hours, in practical terms so few schools offered this option that little more could be said for it than that Irish had been put on the books.
In 1899, in response to pressure from the league, the government named a royal commission to conduct an investigation and make recommendations for change.
To those who had been campaigning against Irish, chiefly on the grounds that enrollment figures proved that the public did not want such instruction and in any case the program clearly was not cost-effective, the appointment of a commission provided an opportunity to eliminate Irish from the curriculum. The assault was led by Hyde's old enemy, John Pentland Mahaffy, now professor of ancient history at Trinity. Mahaffy testified that teaching Irish was an impractical waste of time supported only by foolish sentimentalists and wild-eyed separatists anachronistically committed to repeal of the Act of Union. He concluded with a statement for which, Hyde surmised, Robert Atkinson had been his source: "I am told by a much better authority than any of them in Irish that it is almost impossible to get hold of a text in Irish which is not religious or which is not silly or indecent." Hyde counterattacked by sending press reports of Mahaffy's testimony to an imposing list of Celtic scholars in England and on the Continent, inviting their rebuttals. Disbelief and outrage were expressed by, among others, Owen Edwards and York Powell at Oxford; E. C. Stern and Ernst Windisch in Germany; Georges Dottin at Rennes, and Holger Pedersen in Copenhagen. From the University of Liverpool Kuno Meyer wrote that to refrain from teaching Irish to Irish youths who talk it as their mother tongue must be regarded as "a grotesque educational blunder." York Powell at Oxford concurred: "It is a good subject, a useful subject, and a subject that far from being discouraged, should be encouraged by any who really care for Education in the true sense in Ireland." Armed with these and similar carefully measured opinions from reputable scholars who all attested to the educational value of Irish, Hyde appeared before the commission, attacked Mahaffy's allegations, and questioned the qualifications of his unnamed expert. Thus drawn into the fray, Atkinson came before the committee, giving a new turn to Trinity's campaign with his assertion that Irish must be considered deficient as it lacked standardization of its spelling and grammar. He also renewed Mahaffy's charge that early Irish literature was indecent and that Hyde's collected folklore was "low" since "all folk-lore is at bottom abominable." The fracas spilled over onto the pages of the Freeman's Journal and the Daily Express . In the league's paper, An Claidheamh Soluis, Father Peter O'Leary wrote a series of articles in which he found Atkinson woefully ignorant of Irish grammar, particu-
larly the verb is (to be). To Atkinson's embarrassment, excerpts from his earlier published works were used to counter his own testimony before the commission.
In the midst of the fray, Hyde confessed that he was afraid that Trinity's attack would "wipe out the language all together," but as the tide began to turn he wrote Lady Gregory in February 1899 that "the intermediate battle has been fought, and I think won." He was correct in his estimate, but at least two of his Trinity foes remained defiant in defeat. George Fitzgerald, professor of philosophy and a former commissioner of education, wrote Hyde: "I will use all my influence as in the past, to ensure that Irish as a spoken language shall die out as quickly as possible, for I consider the Gaelic League in their endeavor to preserve Irish as a spoken language are enemies of their country whose mischievous sentimentality should be denounced by all friends of Ireland." Mahaffy fired his last shot in an essay in the August 1899 number of the Nineteenth Century entitled "The Recent Fuss about the Irish Language," in which he attacked "genuine enthusiasts"; politicians and "political ladies" who want to humor the people to whom they refused Home Rule; professional Welsh nationalists; "misguided Prelates"; and "self-developed enthusiasts" who teach Irish because they hope to earn their living and achieve fame by leading the new movement. The opposition press also had its several diehards, notably Irish Figaro, which on April 21, 1900, declared that Irish was "worthless" and that the victory had gone to professors and students of Gaelic who were greedy for jobs and remuneration: "Away with sentiment and puerile nonsense," it advised, "and leave the mouthing of Irish to the Douglas Hydes and George Moores of the day or hour or minute."
With Irish secured in the curriculum by the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Amendment Act of 1900, the numbers of students presenting Irish at examinations more than trebled between 1899 and 1902. By 1908 roughly half the secondary school students of the country were taking Irish as an examination subject. Never again would Irish education be the same. The implications of the league's victory over the Trinity dons extended into other areas as well. Aided by the nationalist fervor ignited by celebrations commemorating the rising of 1798, the agitation of such nationalist newspapers as Griffith's United Irishman and Moran's Leader, and a widespread yearning for some cause that could heal the rift occasioned by the fall of Parnell, public opinion had mobilized behind the language. Victory had its effects on the league's lean treasury. From Patrick Ford in New York came a bank draft for
£300 in reader donations collected through his paper, the Irish World, to further the league's work. Hyde seized the day in a widely quoted speech in which he declared, "The cry of the next ten years must be 'nationalise Irish education.' If our education is national, our nationality is safe and sound, if it is un-national, nationality is lost." Few who listened to him doubted that his next goal—whatever it was—would be won. Usually cautious and mild-mannered, Edward Martyn wrote Hyde that he had worried lest he had been too "violent" in his own letter to the press regarding the education bill, but he had now decided that he believed in violence when dealing with the British government. "Unless we shake up our rulers, they never attend to us . . . the only argument with such people is fear."
With the literary history off his hands and Irish safely established in the schools, Hyde turned back to Raftery. Lady Gregory had identified the exact spot where he lay buried in a small cemetery near Craughwell; she also had located some additional poems. "What an extraordinary energetic scholar you are to find Raftery's grave and to lay hold of those manuscripts," Hyde wrote to her. He invited her to compose a preface for the collected songs of Raftery, now planned as the fifth volume of his continuing Songs of Connacht series, to appear after periodical publication in the Weekly Freeman . When she declined, he dedicated the book to her and described her contribution to the collection in the preface that he wrote himself. Another publishing task before him was the manuscript of Ubhla de'n Chraoibh (Apples from the branch), a collection of thirty-three of his own poems in Irish that had appeared in weekly newspapers. In the preface to these poems he wrote in Irish, "I would like better to make even one good verse in the language in which I am now writing, than to make a whole book of verse in English. For should any good be found in my English verses, it would not go to the credit of my mother Ireland but my stepmother, England." The year had ended well, even if the themes of his little book were emigration, exile, defeat, and death.