of this article was published in the Nationalist & Leinster
Times in August 1983. We now publish the full text of that
article.) Michael Purcell
Carlow's promotion of the Irish
language only recently received national recognition — through
winning the Glor na nGael trophy last year -but efforts to
promote the language and Irish culture in general stretch back
to the last century. In this article I attempt to trace those
efforts initiated by two priests. Father Murphy and Fr. Edward
O'Leary who had presided over Irish language classes in the Old
Catholic Institute many years before the formation of a Gaelic
League Branch in Carlow.
It was the aforementioned Father
Murphy (later Monsignor Murphy P.P., Kildare) who acted as
chairman of a lecture in the Town Hall on 13th March, 1898. The
lecture was entitled "The Tongue of the Gael." and was delivered
to a large public audience by Maynooth's Professor of Irish,
Father Mickey M.R.I.A. It is interesting to note in the light of
our Glor na nGael victory that during the course of this lecture
Father Mickey stated "outside of Dublin the Gaelic League has
scarcely made any impression on the province of Leinster, maybe
this meeting is a symbol of better things to come. Perhaps it is
not too much to hope that when the history of the revival
movement comes to be written Carlow will be singled out for the
proud pre-eminence of having been the cradle for the revival of
the movement in the provinces."
Following Father Mickey's lecture
Paul A. Brown Solicitor proposed four resolutions for adoption
by the meeting, the second of these resolutions was as follows —
to show our approval of the Gaelic League, we hereby establish a
branch in Carlow and promise to support the origin of the Gaelic
Mr. Brown said that anyone in the
Hall having one drop of Irish blood flowing in their veins could
not fail to feel that it was a national shame that the "cold
chain of silence" had been allowed to hang so long around their
native tongues, continuing Mr. Brown said that even now they
could see the rosy dawn of Ireland's second springtide for, like
the harp of the "Minstrel Boy," Its tones were made for the
brave and free and never flourished in slavery.
Mr. William Byrne, Solicitor and Dr.
Ryan seconded the resolutions, Mr. Byrne stated that, "as a
candidate in the recent local elections the only pledge I was
asked to sign was one undertaking to forward the interests of
the Irish language and indeed it is the only pledge I would
In reply to a vote of thanks proposed
by John Hammond M.P, Father Hickey said that the enemies of the
Irish language could be divided into two classes - the positive
and the negative. On the positive side most of the enemies were
dead except Doctors Mahaffy, Glynne and Atkinson. But the
negative enemies were not by any means dead., amongst this class
he counted the people who did not do all that they could do to
advance the interests of the Irish language, concluding Father
Hickey asked the people to subscribe to the fund which had
started to help keep the language along the Atlantic seacoast.
Just six days after this lecture the
Carlow branch of the Gaelic League held its first meeting in the
Boardroom of the Town Hall on Sunday, 19th March. The officers
elected were:-President Rev. J. Cullen ADM, Vice-President,
Father Lalor, Carlow College, Treasurer, M. Governey, Sees.,
Michael O'Hanrahan and John Doyle. Among others who attended
this meeting were W. MacNevin (Val Vousden), Thomas Little,
William Ellis, E.T. Muhall Solicitor, W. Hade, J. Cummins, W.
Subscriptions were fixed at between
one shilling and five shillings. Canvassers were appointed for
various districts. The branch immediately set about reactivating
the Irish language classes. A sub-committee was set up and held
a meeting in the Commercial Club, on this committee was M.
Hanrahan, H. Hanrahan, J. Doyle, T. Lillis, T. Coyle, J.
Brennan, E. Brennan, W. Allen and P. McDonald. Mr. J. Doyle was
elected chairman and made a vigorous speech in which he referred
in glowing terms to "the Movement, at present going on for the
revival of the Irish language."
The class nights were fixed for
Mondays and Thursdays and the hours of study from 7.30 p.m. to 9
p.m. They were to be held temporarily in the Commercial Club.
People who wished to attend were to give their names to Michael
Hanrahan, Tullow Street, Michael O'Hanrahan then concluded the
meeting with this statement: "This is a movement which deserves
the support of every Irishman and woman regardless of creed or
politics or nation should guard its language more than its
territories — tis a surer barrier and a more important frontier,
than fortress or river."
A report on those classes a few weeks
later May '99 reads - "the average attendance numbers about ten,
all boys ranging in ages from nine to fifteen years, the pupils
are advancing rapidly.
A deputation .was appointed to
interview the Christian Brothers regarding their attitude
towards the language. A vote of thanks was passed to the
Workmans Club for erecting the name of the Club in Irish over
the main entrance and also for their enthusiastic support. Fr.
Cullen, who proposed the vote of thanks, said that the Workmans
Club was among the first public buildings in the provinces to
erect their name in Irish and added "that with the workingmen of
Carlow behind us we cannot fail."
Michael O'Hanrahan presented the
meeting with £2-2-0 (two pounds, two shillings) collected from
the Workmans members, he informed the meeting that he was now a
member of the Workmans Committee and that he intended to get a
pledge of support from the Club.
This pledge was given in January,
1900 when a resolution by O'Hanrahan was passed to the effect,
"that Carlow Workmans Club would pledge them-selves by every
means in their power to forward the interests of the Gaelic
who died on December 15 1982 aged 92.
A former prison-mate
of Esther Purcell, Marie knew all the leading
figures of the War of Independence and the Civil
War, or, "Counter Revolution", as she called it.
Her book "The First Dail", is indispensible to
Following research for an article in
last year's Carloviana this pledge came to light and was renewed
by the Work-mans at a special Irish night held in the Club on
October, 29th, 1982. The Club has also undertaken to re-erect
the name "Cumann bhfear oibre Cheatharlach." over the door.
Although the Workmans was founded
only a few weeks before the Gaelic League branch was formed, no
time had been lost in getting the Club off the ground, the
Gaelic League got much support from that quarter. In later years
Club Chairman Thomas Little was league secretary.
In a written note Mr. Little provides
us with a personal insight into one of those early Irish adult
classes that he attended. "I attended the Irish classes in the
Institute on Sunday last, 19th February, 1899 and spent a very
enjoyable two hours. There was a good attendance. Johney
Kavanagh recited, "Michael Dwyer," and "The dialogue between the
Welshman and the Irishman," and then sang, "God Save Ireland,"
in Irish. Harry O'Hanrahan sang "The Croppy Boy," in English.
Michael O'Hanrahan gave some readings and finished up the night
by singing "The Memory of the Dead," in Irish. So ends Tommy
Little's note, the rest — as they say — is history.
Carloviana 1983. Vol 2. No. 31 p.6 & 7.