Back in 2007 I started a thread entitled: Anti-Irish quotes throughout history.
What follows is a collection of quotes (both 'pro' and 'anti') about the Irish language throughout history...in English. From the 12th to the 21st Century. There are also a few Irish quotes with translations. I had been collecting them for a couple of years. I had an easy work life. Don't ask.
If they seem mostly negative or hostile towards the language (and Irish people in general), then I can only say that it seems to reflect historical 'reality'. It's a centuries long showcase of linguistic colonialism in action. There are a few surprises, however. I've done my best to arrange them chronologically.
Feel free to add your own. Some of the rubbish in the Indo today isn't much different than writings emanating out of Dublin Castle in the 16th century! Who knew Irish would still be a controversial subject all these years later?
"All Englishmen and the Irish dwelling among them must use English surnames, speak English, and follow English customs. If any Englishman, or Irishman dwelling among the English, use Irish speech, he shall be attainted and his lands go to his lord till he undertake to adopt and use English."
- Statutes of Kilkenny, 1366"Their external characteristics of beard and dress, and internal cultivation of the mind, are so barbarous that they cannot be said to have any culture."
- Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), Topographia Hiberniae, 1188"...That no manere man, freman nor foraine, of the citie or suburbes duellers, shall enpleade nor defende in Yrish tong ayenste ony man in the court, but that all they that ony maters shall have in courte to be mynstred shall have a man that can spek English to declare his matier, excepte one party be of the countre; then every such dueller shalbe att liberte to speke Yrish."
- Law enacted for Waterford, 1492-3"All thEnglyshe folke of the said countyes [those not under English control] ben of Iryshe habyt, of Iryshe langage, and of Iryshe condytions, except the cyties and the wallyd tounes...All the comyn peoplle of the said halff countyes, that obeyeth the Kinges lawes, for the more parts ben of Iryshe byrthe, of Iryshe habyte, and of Iryshe langage."
- 'An account of the State of Ireland', 1515"There is again nothing which doth more contain and keep many of his subjects
of this his said land, in a certain savage and wild kind and manner of living,
than the diversity that is betwixt them in tongue, language, order and habit..."
- 'Act for the English Order, Habit and Language'. 1537, Henry VIII"For can the swoord teache thim to speake Englishe, to use Englishe apparell, to restrayne them from Irishe exaccions and extorcions, and to shonne all the manners & orders of the Irishe? Noe it is the rodd of justice that muste scower out those blottes...justice without the sword may suffize to call all those to her presence...to defende the Englishe from all Irishe spottes, to settel thim in the quiett estate they were in before they so degenerated..."
- Lord Chancellor Gerrard to the Privy Council, 1577"...it will be necessary to call a parliament to enact new statutes for establishing the articles ensuing:
(1) All brehons, carraghes, bards, rhymers, friars, monks, Jesuits, pardoners, nuns, and -such like, to be executed by martial law....
(13) Irish habits for men and women to be abolished, and the English tongue to be extended...."
- Sir Henry Sidney, 'A Discourse for the Reformation of Ireland', 1585"All Englishe, and the most part with delight, even in Dublin, speak Irishe."
- Lord Chancellor Gerrard, 1578"It is not in the interests of our community for Irish (which our ancestors shunned as they would rocky crags) to be spoken widely and freely."
- Dubliner Richard Stanihurt, 1587"When their posteritie became not altogither so warie in keeping, as their
ancestors were valiant in conquering, the Irish language was free dennized in
the English Pale: this canker tooke such deep root, as the bodie that before was
whole and sound, was by little and little festered, and in manner wholly
- Stanihurt on Irish in the Pale, 1587"Neighborhood bred acquaintance, acquaintance waffed in the Irish toong, the
Irish hooked with it attire, attire haled rudenesse, rudenesse ingendered
ignorance, ignorance brought contempt of lawes, the contempt of lawes bred
rebellion, rebellion raked thereto warres, and so consequentlie the utter decaie
and desolation of that worthie country."
- Stanihurst on Ulster Planters acquiring Irish, 1587"[Protestant] ministers that can speak Irishe...[should] be gotten out of Scotland."
- Royal recommendation, 1604"Gan gáire fá ghníomhradh leinbh,
cosc ar cheol, glas ar Ghaoidheilg,"
Trans: (Tomás Ó Fiaich) "There is no laughter at children's doings,
Music is prohibited, the Irish language is in chains."
- Aindrias Mac Marcais, Talamh Bánaithe, The Deserted Land c. 1610"We may conceive an hope that the next generation will in tongue and heart and every way else become English; so as there will be no difference or distinction but the Irish sea betwixt us."
- Sir John Davies, 'A Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued', 1612"First, I have to finde fault with the abuse of language, that is, for the speaking of Irish among the English, which, as it is unnaturall that any people should love anothers language more then their owne, so it is very inconvenient, and the cause of many other evills."
"The most dangerous infections are these evill customes of fostering and marrying
with the Irish, most carefully to be restrained; for of them two, the third evill that is
custome of language, (which I spake of,) chiefly proceedeth."
"The words are the image of the minde, so as they proceeding from the minde, the minde
must needes be affected with the words. So that the speach being Irish, the heart must
needes bee Irish: for out of the abundance of the heart the tongue speaketh."
"..it hath ever beene the use of the Conquerour, to despise the language of the conquered and to force him by all meanes to learne his."
- Edmund Spenser, A View of the State of Ireland, Published 1633"Tá mo chroí-se réabtha ina míle céad cuid
's gan balsam féin ann a d'fhóirfeadh dom phian,
nuair a chluinim an Ghaeilge uilig á tréigbheáil,
is caismirt Bhéarla i mbeol gach aoin,"
Trans: (Tomás Ó Fiaich) "My heart is torn in a hundred thousand pieces,
And no remedy will soothe my pain,
When I hear Irish being abandoned
And the din of English in everyone's mouth."
- Art Mac Cubhthaigh, Armagh, 1715-1773"It would be a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language in this kingdom, so far at least as to oblige all the natives to speak only English on every occasion of business, in shops, markets, fairs, and other places of dealing: yet I am wholly deceived, if this might not be effectively done in less than half an age, and at a very trifling expense; for such I look upon a tax to be of only six thousand pounds-a-year, to accomplish so great a work. This would, in great measure, civilize the most barbrous among them, reconcile them to our customs and manner of living, and reduce great numbers to the national religion..."
- Jonathan Swift, 'Two Letters On Subjects Relative To the Improvement of Ireland' in Ireland in the days of Dean Swift, 1727"Lord Shannon’s bounties to labourers amount to 50l a year. He gives it to them by way of encouragement; but only to such as can speak English, and do something more than fill a cart"
- Arthur Young, 'Tour in Ireland', 1780"At least eight hundred thousand of our countrymen speak Irish only, and there are at least twice as many more, who speak it in preference."
- Dr. Whitley Stokes, 1799"[English is] the language of barter, or worldly occupations; taken up solely at the market, laid aside when he returns home, a very confined vocabulary."
- Christopher Anderson, 'Brief Sketch of Various Attempts which Have Been Made to Diffuse a Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures through the Medium of the Irish Language', 1818"The common Irish are naturally shrewd, but very ignorant and deficient in mental culture; from the barbarous tongue in which they converse which operates as an effectual bar to any literary attainment."
- William Shaw Mason, Royal Irish Academy, 1822"...the number of Irish who employ the ancient language of the country exclusively is not less than 500,000; and that at least a million more, although they have some understanding of English, and can employ it for the ordinary purposes of traffic, make use of their tongue on all other occasions, as the natural vehicle of their thoughts."
- Commissioners on Education, 1825"I am sufficiently utilitarian not to regret its gradual abandonment. A diversity of languages is no benefit; it was first imposed on mankind as a curse, at the building of Babel. It would be of vast advantage to mankind if all the inhabitants spoke the same language. Therefore, although the Irish language is connected with many recollections that twine around the hearts of Irishmen, yet the superior utility of the English tongue, as the medium of modern communication, is so great, that I can witness without sigh the gradual disuse of the Irish."
- Daniel O'Connell, 1833"English is the language of his commerce —
the Irish the language of his heart."
- Thomas De Vere Coneys, 1842"An Irish prayer-book is a thing which the poor [Catholic] Irish peasant has never seen. Not only has he not been taught the language which he speaks, but his clergy have never encouraged, and have sometimes forbidden him to learn it. This objection arose chiefly, I believe, from the impudent intermeddling of Bible Societies with the religion of the people. By their patronage of the Irish language, they had desecrated it in the eyes of the Irish themselves."
"I have seen an Irish bishop, with mitre on head and crozier in hand, delivering an elaborate English discourse to an Irish congregation, while a priest stood in the pulpit interpreting it sentence by sentence. This prelate was the son of an Irish peasant, born and reared in one of the most Irish districts in Ireland. Many of his audience might have been, and probably were his playmates in childhood and boyhood, and must have heard him speak the language of his father and mother; but he had never learned it, and was now too distinguished a dignitary of the church, to remember anything of the language of the vulgar herd he had left below him."
- Conor McSweeny, 'Songs of the Irish', 1843"The middle classes think it a sign of vulgarity to speak Irish."
"A people without a language of its own is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories, 'tis a surer barrier and a more important frontier than mountain or river."
"To impose another language on such a people is to send their history adrift among the accidents of translation--'tis to tear their identity from all places--'tis to substitute arbitrary signs for picturesque and suggestive names--'tis to cut off the entail of feeling, and separate the people from their forefathers by a deep gulf--'tis to corrupt their very organs, and abridge their power of expression."
- Thomas Davis, Young Ireland, 1845As to the Irish language, toleration and patronage have come too late. It cannot be saved alive by any human power. It is at present confined to about one-third of the peasantry, and those the most ignorant and uncivilised. As a spoken language, it can hardly survive the present generation. The fathers and mothers will retain it till their death, but by the children it will be neglected and forgotten. The time for educating them in the native language has gone by for ever. It is not the language of business, of modern civilisation, and it will not enable a man to get on in the world. However we may regret that any language, especially one so primitive, so expressive, so powerful as the Gaelic should cease to live, its doom is inevitable."
- Anonymous author, c. 1850"It is natural to inquire how this strong passion for education could have possessed a people who are themselves utterly illiterate… Their passion may be traced to one predominant desire — the desire to speak English."
"Whilst they may love the cadences, and mellowness, and homeliness of the
language which their fathers gave them, they yet see that obscurity and poverty
distinguish their lot from the English-speaking people; and accordingly, no
matter what the sacrifice to their feelings, they long for the acquisition of the
‘new tongue’, with all its prizes and social privileges. The keystone of fortune
is the power of speaking English, and to possess this power there is a burning
longing in their breasts that never varies, never moderates… The knowledge
which they thirst for in the school is, therefore, confined to a speaking use of
the English Language."
"The master adopts a novel mode of procedure to propagate the ‘new language’.
He makes it a cause of punishment to speak Irish in the school, and he has
instituted a sort of police among the parents to see that in their intercourse with
one another the children speak nothing but English at home. The parents are so
eager for the English, they exhibit no reluctance to inform the master of every
detected breach of the school law; and, by this coercive process, the poor
children in the course of time become pretty fluent in speaking very incorrect
- P.J. Keenan, ‘Twenty-third Report of the Commissioners of National
Education in Ireland’, 1857-58"I do not for a moment advocate making Irish the language of the country
at large or of the National Parliament...What I want to see is Irish
established as a living language for all time among the million or
half-million who still speak it along the west coast, and to ensure that the
language will hold a favourable place in teaching institutions and government
- Douglas Hyde, Cumann Gaelach, The Irish American, 27 June 1891"By Anglicising ourselves we have thrown away with a light heart the best claim we have upon the world's recognition of us as a seperate nationality...the notes of nationality, our language and customs."
- Douglas Hyde, 1892"The priests are more to blame for the decay of Irish than any
other class of the population… The priests are to blame as a body for their attitudes
- Donnchadh Ruadh, ‘Irish in County Wexford' in An Claidheamh Soluis, 1899
"There can be no greater delusion than to imagine that a language can be
kept alive alone by teaching. A language can have no real life unless it lives
in the lives of the people."
- Eoin Mac Neill, 1900
"If the Gaelic League made it its business to enable the Gael to live in the Gaeltacht and prosper there, and dropped all its other work, the language would be saved. If the League continues to do everything else but this, the language will be lost."
- Séamas Ó hAodha, Sinn Féin Newspaper, February 1914"It was politics which brought about that change: which enabled the English
Government to establish and maintain in Ireland conditions which gave the
Irish-speaking Irishman the choice of learning English, and using English, or of
being shut out from every public function of life in his own country. There was
no Irish leader from 1793, when the peril began, sufficiently clear-headed to see
what was happening, and so a refusal to work the machine, the one thing which
could have stopped it, was not forthcoming, and Irish gradually faded..."
- P.S. Ó hEigceartaigh, 'Politics and The Language' in Samhain, 1918"They look on it more or less as the badge of slaves."
- Dr. Bartley O'Beirne, County Galway, Submission to Gaeltacht Commission, 1925
"We recognise also that the future of the Irish language and its part in the future of the Irish nation depend, more than anything else, on its continuing in an unbroken tradition as the language of Irish homes. This tradition is the living root from which alone organic growth is possible."
- W.T. Cosgrave, Taoiseach, 1925"In prestige, the position of the language in the Gaeltacht is low. The influence of a hostile government was thrown against it in the past; it was denied as a vehicle of education; it was ignored and repressed in administration. Generally, public representatives, businessmen, Church authorities, ignored it. The educated were ignorant of it; and they protected their position by affecting to despise it, or often despising it with conviction. Those who spoke it traditionally saw no avenue for advancement open to them or their children without English. Thus, it came to be accepted that the language was destined to pass."
- Coimisiún na Gaeltachta, 1926"...it would be the veriest mockery to say to those people – 'Don't speak English,
or emigrate: speak Irish, stay at home and starve, cry out yearly for doles, and
send your children picking winkles instead of being at school, and earn the
contemptuous pity of the world' ."
- Patrick Conroy, múinteoir scoile, An Cladach Dubh, An Clochán, Co. na Gaillimhe, 29.06.1925 (Coimisiún na Gaeltachta, 1926)"It should be shown that as long as we are confined to English as our sole vernacular, we can have no hope of ever building up a healthy, virile Irish nation. England will remain our intellectual and cultural centre, and we shall be simply the backwash of English civilisation. Our tastes, ideas and outlook on life will inevitably be fashioned in England. Without some spiritual bond and visible symbol of national solidarity, such as a common Irish language would afford, it is difficult to conceive, with our proximity and inevitable close intercourse with England, how we can develop a consciousness of real independent nationality."
- Father Kelleher, Coláiste Naomh Eoin, Co. Waterford, 1925 (Coimisiún na Gaeltachta, 1926)"Outside the Gaeltacht the progress in the use of Irish as a medium of
instruction is slow...children are not speaking Irish and I regret to say that
I see no signs that we will witness a reverse of the situation unless we
approach the issue with a different frame of mind. Good work was done in
the early years but there is a decline in recent years."
- Report by the Dept. of Education, 1929"When a language surrenders itself to a foreign idiom, and when all its speakers become bilingual, the penalty is death"
- T.F. O'Rahilly, on Manx, 1932"Shall it be said of the language of the Goidels, of the Irish missionaries who evangelised Europe in the Middle Ages , of the countless Irishmen who preserved it in spite of hatred, oppression, and conquest, that it died in our time or in our children's time in a free Ireland?"
"If we expect this language spoken by thirty or forty thousand persons to fight for its existence against English, which is well spoken by over 200 million persons, while we withhhold our full support in the struggle, then we deserve to see it die."
- Brian Ó Cuív, Schools of Celtic Studies lecture, Dublin, 1949"Níor mhór an Béarla a ruaigeadh as saol na hÉireann agus an Ghaeilge a chur i réim ina áit."
Translation: (A.J. Hughes) "English
must be driven out of Irish life and Irish must be instated in its stead."
- Éamon de Valera feis speech, Limerick, 1956"We are not dealing with a language spoken over a wide area but rather with the ruins of a language. We compare our work with the archeologist's task of reconstructing an old building from a heap of stones, lying here and there in the place where the original building stood."
- Heinrich Wagner, 'Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects', 1958
"Policy for about two decades has clearly been to let the language die by stealth."
- J.J. Lee, 'Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society', Cambridge University Press, 1990"The loss of such a language is awful to contemplate. In the spoken language of the people, Irish syntax gets full scope. There, it is off the stilts of prose writers and free from the fetters of poetry, and the people revel in its subtlety, variety and beauty. These characteristics of it, together with its long, continued use, give to spoken Irish an exactness, a vigour, a combined strength and litheness, unknown in English speech."
- Peadar Ua Laoghaire, Gaeltacht Mhúscraí, 1839-1920"Irish exists in a state of bilingualism without diglossia, a state which is acknowledged to be a precarious one for the disadvantaged language."
- Máirtín Ó Murchú, Aspects of the Societal Status of Modern Irish in 'The Celtic Languages', 1993"A language which was nothing more than an ornament to a race never survived and never will survive."
- Pádraic Ó Conaire, Galway, 1882-1928"It is important that the proposal should be seen as a positive step in favour of the language and not as a first step on the road to its abandonment as those opposed to Irish and, equally but for different reasons, those committed to it, may be tempted to infer."
- Liam Cosgrave, Taoiseach
"The final act of language change is always the result of a long series of blows and thumps and softenings-up. We got it in the neck so often that the words fell out of our throats. We presumed that the job of getting them back would be quite easy."
- Alan Titley"The sound of Irish seems to be locked in the subconscious mind of our people."
- Kate Fennell"Every person who speaks Irish bears witness to the failure of centuries of cultural cleansing by the establishment in Ireland."
- Pádraig Ó Mianáin"Losing Irish would not merely involve the severing of a link with our cultural past, but would also limit the possibilities for new kinds of cultural fusion in the future."
- Máirín Nic Eoin"Even lovers of the language do not always agree about what is best for it [Irish], but one thing that cannot be questioned is the belief that all these writers share: that there is an intrinsic worth in preserving the Irish language for ourselves, for our children and for generations still to come - and that is the greatest challenge of all."
- Ciarán Mac Murchaidh, Preface to 'Who Needs Irish? Reflections on the Importance of the Irish Language Today', Veritas, Dublin, 2004"How can a language which needs its own official Act and its own Language Commissioner to protect it from the government of the State in which it is the first official language, not be doomed to die?"
- Dr. Feargal Ó Béarra, NUI Galway, 2007Sin é."If the productive use of Irish cannot be established on a broader basis than within certain family and limited neighbourhood networks, and if the Gaeltacht education system is unable to establish an Irish language-centred socialisation process within its schools, this study will have unfortunately documented the dynamics presaging the final stages in the lifecycle of the Gaeltacht as an Irish-speaking community."
- COMPREHENSIVE LINGUISTIC STUDY OF THE USE OF IRISH IN THE GAELTACHT, Conchúr Ó Giollagáin & Seosamh Mac Donnacha, Acadamh Na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, NUI Galway, 2007