Sunday, 27 July 2014

How exactly did Dublin Irish die out?

'Dubline' in 1610, map by John Speed. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At first, the question 'How did local Irish die out in Dublin?' seems deceptively simple: the answer of course being that, as elsewhere, its speakers stopped passing it on to their children, making a conscious decision that they grow up speaking English instead. This is the so-called 'utilitarian' explanation most often favoured by those today who have the proudest contempt for Irish. 

The reality is more complex. Firstly, the abandonment of Irish took place only once its speakers had been so disempowered, marginalised, denigrated and impoverished - collectively punished - that they in turn associated Irish (their language) with the powerlessness, stigma, and poverty of their condition, and, by contrast, English (the state's language) with empowerment, prestige, economic advancement and relief.

This is but part of the process that took place throughout Ireland during (mostly) the nineteenth century; there are other central factors - most catastrophically the Great Famine (1845-1849), which killed very many Irish speakers and induced very many to emigrate, further undermining the demographic future of the language and associating it with national trauma.

Nevertheless, the situation in Co. Dublin, due to its longstanding role as the centre of (nominally English-speaking) bureaucratic government and commerce, was a little different.

Irish in Dublin - as Irish as the Irish themselves

Irish was certainly never a stranger to Dublin, as some have gleefully claimed; it was soon spoken, probably as a native language, by the bilingual Norse of Dublin; the mediaeval English of Dublin, too, seem to have known it alongside English (and a little Norman French for occasional administrative purposes); this quite aside from the communities of native Irish who resided in the Pale, and the incomers from throughout the country, for whom Irish was likely the only language.

'Donolle obreane [Domhnall Ó Broin] the messenger' depicted speaking Irish ("Shogh" i.e. seo - '...[take] this') directly to Henry Sidney in John Derricke's The Image of Irelande (1581). There is no reason to assume that the Lord Deputy (who had been in Ireland many years) would not have understood at least some Irish. Click to zoom.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Indeed, the relationship between Irish and English in Dublin city seems to have been essentially stable until the early eighteenth century: both languages would have been omnipresent throughout the city, intermingling in its streets and lanes. Irish may have even had the upper hand in everyday discourse; we repeatedly encounter references that Irish is thriving in Dublin, and in 1657 a complaint is made that city-dwellers, not just rural blow-ins, are speaking Irish - evidently as their preferred language (Ó Cuív, 1951: p. 18). 

Between 1600 and 1700 it seems the locally-raised upper and middle classes spoke English, and likely understood Irish if not spoke it natively too (as late as the early twentieth century the gentry of Connacht often learnt Irish to communicate with the peasantry); the urban working class would have spoken Irish (being often of rural parentage) and English; outside of Fingal, where a dialect of Middle English (Fingallian) was spoken alongside Irish, countryside even close to the city would have spoken Irish exclusively, perhaps only learning a little English in adulthood. (Notably, Dublin was a convenient meeting-place for circles of native Gaelic scholars from all over Ireland during at least the eighteenth century, and probably before as well.)

1700-1800: the shift begins

Nonetheless, for reasons that remain tantalisingly unclear, sometime after 1700 this situation began to shift throughout the country, at first imperceptibly but soon inexorably, in favour of English. By 1738 an observer could write of Ireland as a whole, with clear exaggeration, that 'there is now scarce one in twenty who does not understand and speak English well' (ibid.: p. 19).

Swift's satirical A Letter to the Whole People of Ireland (1729) would have been understood by very few of them.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Certainly after 1750 a sort of bilingualism was rapidly becoming normal: literacy, where it was acquired, was predominantly in English; extrapolating back from nineteenth century census data shows that half of males born 1770 claimed that they could read and write in English (Kelly and Mac Murchaidh, 2012: p. 33).

(Of course, during the nineteenth century, it was also a norm for Irish speakers to eagerly exaggerate their skills in English - the more prestigious language - and likewise downplay their abilities in Irish. We have many examples of monoglots being returned as English-speaking - something an English-speaking state dedicated to the advance of the English language was only too happy to take at face value.)

Details of language use in Co. Dublin between 1700 and 1800 are fewer still; O'Rahilly (1932: p. 6) reports 'Irish sermons being regularly preached in Dublin as late as the middle of the eighteenth century', yet by 1801 we learn from the Statistical Survey of the Royal Dublin Society that 'Very few speak Irish' in Dublin; in 1806 an observer notes only 'Scarcely any Irish speakers' in the county (quoted in Ó Cuív, 1951: p. 77). You can read these statistical surveys in full here.

It might seem likely that the English language took hold earliest in Co. Dublin (and the planted areas of the north east) and radiated outwards from there; yet, curiously, the earliest data (unfortunately at barony level, see Fitzgerald 1983) we have - extrapolated back to the 1770s - shows Irish must then have been spoken by at least up to a quarter of the population in parts of Co. Dublin* whereas the data from Wicklow and parts of Wexford, Laois, Kildare and Carlow show far lower levels of Irish-speaking.

*Fitzgerald (1983: 130) estimates that the minimum levels of Irish speaking by barony in Co. Dublin in 1771-1781 to have been: Balrothery East, five per cent; Castleknock, 12 per cent; Coolock, four per cent; Dublin, six per cent; Nethercross, four per cent; Rathdown, four per cent; Uppercross, four per cent; and City of Dublin, 10 per cent. Baronies are relatively large areas, so it is certain that in smaller areas within these baronies, quite high concentrations of Irish speaking would have been found.

Furthermore, the example of Glenasmole shows that even after 1770 there were significant if overlooked native Irish speaking communities in Co. Dublin at least until the early nineteenth century, and possibly a few isolated speakers thereafter, quite aside from the thousands of migrants speaking Irish in the city itself as well.

Can we trace how Co. Dublin Irish was lost?

It is extremely difficult to trace exactly how Irish receded in Co. Dublin, and at what rate and where, not least because we have no clear idea where exactly in the county it was strongest before its decline set in. Indeed, almost all the most detailed information I have about the decline of native Irish locally relates to the southwestern corner of Co. Dublin, and for even this I am deeply indebted to the work of three prolific local historians, Liam Ua Broin, Donn Piatt and Liam Price, writing mainly in the first half of the twentieth century.

This level of detail centred on south west Dublin is evidence itself, I think, that local Irish lasted longest and strongest there.

We learn from Ua Broin, for instance, that Irish must have been a community language in Rathcoole in Easter 1753 from a single report concerning a man about to be executed, who is ‘exhorted to’ by a Catholic priest in both Irish and English (Ua Broin, 1943: p. 25). Presumably the use of English was for the authorities present, whereas the Irish was for the crowd - drawn as we know at execution time from quite a wide local area for the spectacle - and (certainly) for the condemned man. Rathcoole, of course, is not so far north of where local Irish held out longest in Co. Dublin at Glenasmole, to which we again now turn.

Our next report, from 1837, is now quite well-known: the visit of native Irish-speaking Ordnance Survey man Eugene O'Curry to Castlekelly townland (i.e. the southernmost part of Glenasmole), where he meets 84-year old Uilliam Ó Reachtabhra [anglicised William Rafter] an elderly man 'with more activity and buoyancy of spirit than his son, a man of about 50 years of age' and his sister Úna, who both speak 'as good Irish as I ever heard spoken' (which, given that O'Curry was a Clare native speaker himself, and a folklorist intimately acquainted with Gaelic tradition, must be considered high praise indeed). They supply O'Curry with a list of names of local places and Ó Reachtabhra states:
that 40 years ago very few spoke English in this glen, except the Dublin car men, very few men of 40 years of age, even now, in the glen that don’t understand though they don’t speak the Irish. (cf: Healey, 2006, p. 11)
A copy of O'Curry's notes on his famed meeting with Ó Reachtabhra. The third line states, 'He knew many persons who read and wrote Irish, the last of whom was Andrew Smith, Aindrias Ó Gobhan [sic], who died three years ago at Glasamucky on the Glenside.' Note the extensive use of Gaelic script here. Click to zoom. (Source: Royal Irish Academy)

From this, it might seem possible Glenasmole was practically monoglot Irish-speaking around 1800, with a smattering of practical English for those who worked for extended periods in the city. Yet forty years later the glen is well on the way to becoming predominantly English-speaking; quite simply, the young prefer to speak English, and the older generations apparently Irish. If we take Ó Reachtabhra's statement uncritically, it seems both languages are understood by both groups (though Irish perhaps not so well by the young), yet language shift is taking place, or has already taken place, by 1840.

A major note of caution is required here, however. William Nolan, in his comprehensive and exquisitely detailed overview 'Society and Settlement in the Valley of Glenasmole' in Dublin City and County: from Prehistory to Present (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1992), puts it well when he writes of the encounter between O'Curry and Ó Reachtabhra (ibid, p. 201):
Commentators have taken this single statement as definitive evidence of widespread Irish-speaking in the glen in the eighteenth century [sic: recte nineteenth]. However, other evidence does not necessarily lend support to this position. The appearance of English fieldnames in the late eighteenth century may pinpoint the period of language transition. 

Reports of Irish in Glenasmole and surroundings after 1850

Nevertheless, we have further, perhaps tendentiously romantic, reports from the area: Piatt (1933, p. 6) gives a report he had heard that Irish was still spoken in 1850 in Ballymorefinn, Glenasmole - about five kilometres north of Castlekelly. Moreover, '[w]hen the new chapel at Bohernabreena was opened in 1870, the first sermon was preached in Irish, it being the language used in the district.' (Healy, 2006: p. 12, actually drawing on Piatt's 'Seanghaeltacht Átha Cliath' article in Feasta, March 1952). Does this confirm that Irish, even as late as the 1870s, was the preferred language of the oldest generation, and that younger members of the community acquiesced to this at socially important events - or are early twentieth century language enthusiasts, and their twenty-first century audience (us), merely wishing that this had been the case?

Piatt also reports claims of a kind of residual bilingualism 'south of Rathfarnham' in 1893 of 'mixed Irish and English phrases, almost half and half'. (Piatt, 1933: p. 6) This actually suggests Anglo-Irish, i.e. English very heavily influenced indeed by Irish sounds, syntax and lexicon; that is, the type of English spoken shortly after Irish had disappeared from a place.

In the same vein Piatt (ibid.) says that in 1900 there were memories of spoken Irish in Glencree in Co. Wicklow, ten kilometres to the east of Castlekelly, though clearly fluency belonged to the previous generation (i.e. those born after 1870 could not possibly have been native speakers).

Finally and perhaps most mysteriously one elderly lady purported to be a native speaker of Dublin Irish, who had not used the language since her Dublin Mountains childhood and who only spoke it 'when her mind was wandering' is identified in 1930, again by Piatt in his 'Seanghaeltacht Átha Cliath' article in Feasta (March 1952).

(It is relevant here to emphasise that the census records for Glenasmole for 1901, which can be freely accessed here, show that no one born locally returned themselves as having Irish; or, more accurately, the language box of virtually everyone born locally and resident in Glenasmole is either crossed through as irrelevant or left blank.

Perhaps most interestingly, the census also records that there were at least 13 elderly individuals still alive who would have been old enough to remember O'Curry's visit to the glen who, if they had been interviewed in 1901, certainly could have enlightened us as to the exact nature of Irish speaking in the glen in 1837 - whether it was confined solely to Uilliam Ó Reachtabhra and his sister Úna or more widespread.)

So what happened to Irish in Glenasmole between 1800 and 1900?

Judging from what O'Curry reports, it is highly tempting (cf: Nolan above) to surmise that the last generation that had Irish as its native, normative preferred language was born in Glenasmole around 1800 (and thus would have been 80 years old in 1880). It is equally tempting to propose that the generation born twenty years later (1820) - if we take a generation to be twenty years, although most at the time married at around 25 years old, and a generation may in fact have been 35 years - spoke both Irish and English with equal fluency, and can be considered truly bilingual, although in the circumstances of the time bilingual meant aiming for English. (This generation was 80 years old in 1900.) Thus the generation born twenty years later again (1840) might have had English as its native, normative language but understood Irish passively (i.e. semi-speakers as linguists call them), in order to communicate with the oldest people. (This generation was 80 years old in 1920).

According to this model, this would mean that the generation born twenty years later (1860) was the first to speak and understand only English. Nevertheless even then Irish may have been learnt by a few of that generation in exceptional circumstances (i.e. being looked after by a near-monoglot elderly relative for extended periods, often seen in 'final native speaker' scenarios, such as with Ned Maddrell on the Isle of Man in the 1970s) or to communicate with the very oldest people, who were either monoglots, who preferred to speak Irish, or who had again become monoglot with old age. (The 1860 generation would be 80 years old in 1940, thus accounting for the elderly lady in 1930) 

In other words, if we are to take the sources above at face value, local Co. Dublin Irish ceased to be passed on in any form in Glenasmole, but for exceptional individuals, around 1860. And so ended the transmission of any local Irish as a community language in Co. Dublin, although it would be a few decades until those born before 1860 passed away.

Turf cutting, Glenasmole, Co. Dublin. (Source: UCD Digital Library)

South West Co. Dublin outside of Glenasmole

To this must be added the note from Ua Broin (1942, p. 185) that Irish was used by adults in 'Clondalkin and surrounding districts' in 1870 to communicate with migrant workers (harvesters) from Meath who had no English (in order for this to be the case they would have had to have been from North Meath). This is backed up by Healey (ibid., p. 14), who writes of '[an] old man who died at Old Bawn in 1926, aged 90 years, never heard local people speaking Irish, but often heard it from farm labourers from Co. Meath harvesting in the district.' It should be pointed out that Old Bawn is about 10km north of Castlekelly. (This seems similar to the case of Ned Maddrell on the Isle of Man, who is known to have maintained his Manx fluency partly through interaction with Gaelic-speaking fishermen from Scotland and Ireland.)

Ua Broin (1871-1955) also states that his grandmother, born 1802 at Redcow near Clondalkin to a family from the Saggart-Brittas area about 10km west of Glenasmole, 'had some Irish', and would speak it as a play language to him as a child (c. 1877-1878) - though he barely remembered any of it and it was clear that English was the predominant language in the family whenever he was around.

His grandfather, a local man, did not speak Irish. Ua Broin’s parents’ generation was born c. 1837. It is unclear which of the generations described in the Glenasmole model above his grandmother might have belonged to, though given the nature of language use in his family I suspect it was at best to the first truly bilingual generation (i.e. 1820 in Glenasmole), suggesting Irish was decaying as a community language about a generation faster in Brittas-Saggart than in Glenasmole.




12 comments:

  1. Firstly thanks very much for this interesting and informative blog.

    This entry in particular is a very useful corrective for those who claim that Irish hasn't been spoken in Dublin for 800 years. As you demonstrate, Irish was regularly spoken and heard on the streets of Dublin until relatively recently (and of course, Irish is still spoken there). This idea that Dublin was some kind of "Irish free" zone even as the language was spoken widely throughout the rest of the country is nonsense, as your blog has highlighted.

    What is interesting, however, is why those Dubliners who hate the Irish language seek to justify their contempt of Irish through this false historical narrative. One would imagine that if you truly believe the utilitarian position on language (i.e. English is more useful than Irish, so let Irish die out), it should not matter one iota when Irish stopped being spoken widely in Dublin. Therefore, I think those who try to seek some kind of historical legitimacy for their opposition to Irish ("my ancestors have not spoken it for centuries" appearing commonly in many online articles about Irish), really are trying to mask, perhaps subconsciously, a sense of shame about not being able to speak it.

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    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments about the blog. I am glad you like it.

      Your points are very interesting; I think you are right about the purportedly utilitarian position often being a fig leaf for kneejerk antagonisms toward the role of Irish both now and in the past.

      At times it seems hatred of the Irish language is a norm of modern Irish life; certainly anyone involved with the language (whether as a speaker, a learner or a researcher of it) can tell of the unprovoked hostility they frequently experience online and in person from those who simply must vent, at any opportunity no matter how slight, a pathological contempt for Irish.

      Yet the reality is that studies show very strong support among the Irish people for the Irish language. The most recent I have (Mac Gréil 2009) shows fully 93 per cent of the population are supportive of Irish. Only 6.6 per cent wish for Irish to be "discarded and forgotten" (p. 6). You can download this survey in full here by clicking on the following link:

      http://www.mayococo.ie/en/Services/OifignaGaeilge/Publications/PDFFile,15645,en.pdf)

      Therefore, whenever you hear people express a hatred for Irish - whether in Dublin or elsewhere - bear in mind that while they may shout loudly and often and seem to have a great deal of influence, they are in fact very few, and their anger is perhaps in part motivated by their powerlessness.

      Enjoy the blog!

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    2. Thank you very much for the link to the survey.

      I do think that many people in Ireland are supportive of the language, but I also think there is an awful lot of ambiguity in the minds of people about what an Irish "revival" would look like. I think if you sought a deeper answer from people, you would find that their ideal linguistic situation would be to speak English most of the time (as they already currently do), but being able to speak and understand Irish fluently whenever it suits them. The problem, of course, is that this is not necessarily how language works. So even if Irish was taught perfectly and everyone who left school attained fluency by the age of 18, I don't think we would see a marked increase in the daily use of Irish. In order for Irish to be revived, it would need to have a social function (so the language used at home, or the language of commerce, or government, etc). In short, Irish does have a lot of good will toward it, but people seem to have little idea of what could be done, or should be done, to revive it.

      As for the Irish haters, well I do think they are a minority, but it is a pity that they are so vocal - it seems a disproportionate number are journalists, who think they are edgy or original in criticizing the government & its policy toward Irish. Of course, any half-independent thinker can see that the government has, for the most part, never given a toss about Irish. But many journalists aren't interested in thinking deeply about an issue, instead being happy to spout off half-baked opinions and present them as a real analysis of a situation.

      Anyway, I do think the national attitude to Irish is a complex one. I will share a brief anecdote that I think might offer some insight into the negativity of some toward Irish. I met a Welshman in the US a few years ago. Early in our first conversation, I asked him if he spoke Welsh. He replied that Welsh was a dead language, a waste of time, etc., in short, all the usual hostile soundbites we hear some direct toward Irish. Anyway, we became friends and about a year later, we had another conversation in which the Welsh language came up. I asked him if it was taught in Welsh schools, and he said it was, and that he had learned it for a while, etc., and then, at the end of the conversation, he looked wistfully out of the window and said "I wish I had learned it better. I would love to be fluent in Welsh." I was astonished that he could have shown such different attitudes toward the language. I got the impression that, rather than having a change of heart about Welsh, he genuinely had mixed emotions about it that could veer toward hatred, or interest, depending on the circumstances. So whenever I read some of the bile directed toward Irish, I wonder how many of the same people, in different settings, have expressed a wish to be able to speak Irish and shown a softer side toward it.

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    3. Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. Anyone involved with Irish would certainly have similar experiences to yours in that anecdote!

      You are exactly right about the mixed feelings Irish people have toward Irish. Again I would urge anyone interested to take a close look at the 2009 survey posted above as it goes into forensic detail about attitudes to Irish broken down by dozens of demographic variables. Its conclusion is essentially the same as in your first paragraph: there is a great deal of abstract goodwill toward Irish, and significant practical goodwill, but in general people support English-dominant bilingualism (with an improved situation for Irish in that context):

      "The level of support for the native language is very impressive at 93%. A little over half the sample agrees that the Irish language should be preserved for its cultural value and spoken in the Gaeltacht. Forty per cent of respondents would wish to see the language revived throughout Irish society. Bilingualism with English as the prinicipal language is the preference of four-fifths of those in favour of revival throughout the population. Of course, bilingualism in society can take many forms." (p. 7)

      Interestingly, the survey also shows that Dublin has a consistently higher proportion of respondents belonging to the "discard and forget" (effectively anti-Irish) respondent group: 15 per cent in 1972-73 falling slightly to 13 per cent in 2007-08. This is about double this response is elsewhere. Given that the main media are based for the most part in Dublin, you are probably correct that they in turn reflect, at least to some degree, Dublin biases against Irish. I would like to see further study done on this, however.

      (It is important to point out, however, that Dublin also shows far higher than average "pro-Irish" responses in the survey - fully 18 per cent of the Dublin sample in 1972-73, and 14 per cent of the Dublin sample in 2007-08, would like Irish to be the dominant language in the country, compared to nine per cent of the general sample in 2007-08. So language attitudes in Dublin are best described as significantly more polarised than elsewhere. Again: more research is needed.)

      However, as an aside to this, in a social media age, the role of traditional media biases against (or for) Irish may be becoming slowly obsolete. Twitter in particular is overflowing with Irish - and it is quite common to see people who would not use Irish elsewhere use it on Twitter.

      Of course, I should point out that this blog is not primarily focused on attitudes toward Irish in the present day, although I agree it would be a very rewarding field for further research.

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    4. Thanks once more for the reply. The strong polarization of attitudes in Dublin toward Irish is extremely interesting to read about. I always felt that there seemed to be more of the negative attitude toward Irish there, but it is fascinating to see that a general revival of Irish also receives more support there than anywhere else.

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  2. (1)
    The overwhelming tone of O'Curry's correspondence to the Ordnance Survey from the Dublin mountains and his notes on the Parish Namebooks is that Liam Ó Reachtúra and his sister—in their mid-80s in 1837—were exceptional in speaking Irish in the area. They are the only Irish speakers O'Curry himself specifically refers to and no other local Irish-speaking sources are mentioned in any of the Ordnance Survey material for the rest of the parish.

    A more realistic interpretation of the comments about Irish-speaking in the letter is that very few *adults* spoke English up until about 40 years before O'Curry's visit; that nobody under 40 (born after 1797) could understand Irish in the glen in 1837; that none of the over-40s (born before 1797) could speak it, although most could understand it. Irish had long ceased to be the community language in the glen by 1837, in other words.

    Therefore it is very unlikely that there was a local Irish-speaking congregation in Bohernabreena Chapel in 1870. Malachi Horan, who was born in 1847 and was brought up directly across the mouth of the glen from Bohernabreena, was quite adamant that there were no native Irish speakers in the area in his youth. Horan cannot, I think, be accused of any special antipathy towards the Irish language or of a lack of observational skills. Healy is quoting Piatt in Gaelic Dialects of Leinster and I would love to see Piatt's original source, especially in view of the fact that in the same publication he brazenly twists the words of O'Curry's Glenasmole letter to make it appear as if everybody over 40 spoke Irish in 1837.

    He also says that in about 1900 "Giolla Chríost Ó Broin found people in the hills near Glencree knowing a little Irish, prayers, snatches of songs, etc., but not fluent". This second-hand evidence is possibly accurate but again, as an indication of Irish-speaking in the area sixty or seventy years beforehand, it must be balanced against the fact that O'Curry, who would talk Irish to anybody, anywhere, any time (see his daughter's testimony to that effect at page 185 here: http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/054%20vol%202.6%20Eugene%20O'Curry%20cont.pdf), makes no references to Irish speakers in Glencree or in the whole parish of Powerscourt in 1839; indeed, for his work collecting the local pronunciation of the Irish placenames of the area, he had to rely on an English-speaking informant in his late eighties whose pronunciation of the names retained some of the Irish sound (Francis Buckley of Glaskenny).

    Piatt's words on Ballymorefin are: " 'Letters from Harold's Cross' (Joly Pamphlet, National Library), refers to Irish being spoken by Séamas Byrne of Ballymorefinn, Dublin Mountains, showing the traditions of Irish still alive in 1850." Once again, I would love to see the exact wording in the original source. No James Byrne is listed in Ballymorefin in Griffith's Valuation; it is possible that the letter was written by the James Byrne who lived in Rathmines Road, Harold's Cross East, at the time. If so, it may be a reminiscence of Ballymorefin and may not in fact describe Irish-speaking in Ballymorefin in 1850 (note the phrase "traditions of Irish still alive in 1850").

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  3. (2)
    O'Curry's encounter with Liam Ó Reachtúra is one of the more fascinating episodes in the history of this topic and any right-thinking person would sell their own granny for the tiniest scrap of paper in O'Curry's hand with more details of the conversation and the dialect. And it is indeed important to remind the too-numerous enemies of the language that Irish was spoken "within sight of the smoke of the city" far more recently than is usually granted. However, this piece is probably too optimistic in its extrapolations from the scant references, in particular about an Irish-speaking community in Glenasmole surviving into the late nineteenth century.

    Overall the impression given by the reliable evidence as it stands is that the Rafters were "mar mac Rónáin d'éis na bhFian", as John O'Donovan said in reference to Laurence Byrne, the last (educated) Irish speaker in east Co. Laois, whom he met same year O'Curry was in Glenasmole. R.A. Breatnach used the same phrase "Oisín tar éis na bhFian" to describe Pádraig Paor, the last recorded speaker of Kilkenny Irish, 100 years later. The simplest explanation of the lack of definite references to specific Irish speakers or general Irish-speaking in Glenasmole after O'Curry's letter is that this brother and sister were among the very, very last of their kind and that South Dublin Irish died with their generation. The alternative is to imagine that there was an Irish-speaking community that survived invisibly through the 1850s, 1860s, 1870s and 1880s, in this area so famed in Irish legend and so frequently visited by the romantic middle classes of Dublin, a community which was never mentioned in any surviving correspondence, journalistic reports or diaries of the many Dubliners extremely favourable to the language, and furthermore never invoked retrospectively in the speeches of the movers and shakers of language movement at the end of that century (though they did often mention O'Curry's 1837 letter).

    There is a further piece of negative evidence. Miss Grierson from the big house in Glenasmole—a stone's throw from Liam Ó Reachtúra's old house in the townland of Castlekelly—wrote a letter to O'Curry in 1851 asking him to translate a number of basic patriotic mottos from English to Irish, as he had done for her a year before: http://digital.ucd.ie/get/ivrla:5348/pdf. She comes across as a very pleasant, romantic-souled young lady and is difficult to imagine that she would have resorted to O'Curry if she was surrounded by Irish speakers in the heart of the Glenasmole Gaeltacht.

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  4. Thank you very much for your well-researched comments, Anonymous.

    As you clearly have so much information, I would very much appreciate it if you could get in touch with me directly so we can discuss this matter further (possibly with a view to amending or deleting the blog). Please use the contact form on the right.

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  5. Déanta, cuir r-phost chugham. Is iontach an blag é seo, is fiú go mór é.

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  6. Two things that have struck me over the years concerning Irish spoken in Dublin. Dean Swift was called "the Dane". This is not how an English speaking Dubliner would pronounce it - they would (and still do!) say "DEE-an". "Dane" on the other hand is how the word was (an is) pronounced in Irish.

    Secondly, on Rocque's map, Fumbally Lane is shown as "Bumbailiff's Lane". Fumbally is correct - it's a family name. But an Irish speaker not aware of this might well see "Lána Fumbally" as being "Lána Bhumbáille", and translate it in the form used by Rocque.

    Mostly I don't know!

    It's a good Blog.

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  7. I think you are wrong about the "Dane". Indeed, in medieval English the "ea" diphthong was pronounced "ae". For example, "beat" was pronounced "bate", as it is today! Indeed the Irish for dean is déin, but that just reflects the fact that the word entered Irish through English, and in fact that is how the word was pronounced back then.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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