Page 6, 29th March 1974

29th March 1974
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Page 6, 29th March 1974 — The crusading diarist who saved the Irish language
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The crusading diarist who saved the Irish language

The Young Douglas Hyde, Dominic Daly. OSA, (Irish University Press £3.95).

The tangle of weeds and briars covering the grave of Douglas Hyde from 1949 until very recently is a symbol of that public neglect which also makes Fr Daly's book the first serious attempt at an assessment of a man universally acknowledged to have been one of the pillars of modern Ireland. The present work, a PhD thesis, does much to repair this neglect.

Son of the Rev Arthur Hyde. Rector of Tibohine, Frenchpark. County Roscommon, Hyde inheriied in good measure the virtues and the limitations of Anglo-Ireland. We come to know him largely through the copious extracts from his voluminous diaries for 1874 to 1912, published here for the first time.

His largely tempestuous. at times acidulous, relationship with his father comes out clearly but one must do justice to the patience this lather showed towards a son who, having taken degrees in Divinity, Law and Literature. seemed set fair for a life of dilettante scholarship.

It was only by being fused in a determination to save the Irish Language from extinction that his considerable mental gifts were secured against dissipation. Hyde saved the Irish language, hut in a sense the Irish language saved him.

The diaries are mostly a heaping-up of detail, sparsely and drily recorded. As such, they are of great value to the historian (as here), but would largely he the despair of a biographer in quest of the man within the crusader.

How often, for instance. we find him recording that he had some highly interesting conversations, without the addition of a single word about the subject or his reactions to it. However, they do supply lavish material concerning the genesis and growth of Hyde the writer. and Fr Daly makes such admirable use of this that we are deeply in his debt.

Of course, the diaries have their high moments. Katherine Tynan has "a frightful brogue", and when he was showing her and her sister_ around Trinity College, Dublin: "I was terribly embarrassed lest anyone should see me talking to them". The ascendency-gap between him and "the mere Irish" remained to the end, and is concentrated in this little scene.

He seemed to be a bit jealoua of Yeats: "Visit to Dowden for a few hours. Yeats was there; I was bored to death with his blather." The future biographer will welcome moments like these.

There are also close-ups of considerable interest, as for instance the following of Maynooth Seminary in the•eighteen nineties: "There were about MX) students in the place. They have three lectures a day, and study for 54 hours ... They all speak I..atin very well. Shakespeare and Milton is read among them, and especially Macaulay . .

"The annual income of the college is about £15,000, but they buy only £20 worth of books in the year. Three sheep are killed every day, and the students are well fed."

But Fr Daly's sub-title "The Dawn ol the Irish Revolution and Renaissance: 18741893" — shows clearly the terms of reference he has chosen. The book is rich in derails of that dawn.

When Hyde was first fired with enthusiasm to learn Irish and to save it. the language was under a fresh acceleration of decay and disgrace towards extinction. His reaction to all this led Hyde to he the co-founder of the Gaelic League and its first president. "I have said again and again", proclaimed Pearse in 1914, "that when the Gaelic League

was founded in 1893 the Irish Revolution began." Pearsc Was

here not only stating an historical fact. but pointing in effect to the paradox at the heart of the present study.

Hyde insisted that his movement should be non-political, but in the circumstances of the time this was like expecting a flame to burn obediently and alone in the middle of a powder keg.

The exaltation of the Irish language could not fail to fuse with the new nationalism which was sweeping forward to the Irish Revolution and the new Ireland. When the Dundalk Convention of the Gaelic League made this fusion explicit. Hyde resigned and went into temporary obscurity.

My space allowed me to point to a few only of the merits of this book. It is a primary and im portant source-hook for the historian of modern Ireland, and a source of deep satisfaction for lovers of the Irish language. One hopes that Fr Daly has already a further volume in mind.

Malachy Carroll




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