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Including Historical Notices of all that has yet been effected in preaching to the
Natives in their vernacular tongue, and the present condition of the Country with regard to a stated Ministry in the language of the Irish people.
Reading one day an account of Ireland, of comparatively recent date and considerable value, when referring to some of the Irish gentlemen resident in certain parts, who are able to speak in Irish and converse with the people, I found the writer add, in passing, that they are thus able not only to" ascertain their wants, but to assist with their advice, and restrain by admonition.”
Any man, therefore, who, in these parts, cannot thus talk, let his profession be what it may, it seems cannot well do any thing of this sort-cannot ascertain these wantsassist with this advice-or restrain by this warning. I not only understand, but, in some degree, can confirm this remark, having, when in the country, tried the effect of only two or three words in Irish, and the response was immediate-they had reached the heart.
But then there is such a thing as the care of the soul,there are wants of greater moment than any which relate to this transitory state of being there is advice, which may prepare for a dying hour,--admonition, which may avert dangers beyond it: and if Irish is necessary for the good and the comfort of these our countrymen, as peasantry, I presume it will not be denied that it' must be much more so, when they are regarded not only as rational and intelligent, but accountable beings. But if so, to every minister of Christ, standing upon Irish ground, this is an important and serious consideration, “Not having been able to speak Irish,” must another day be regarded as a poor apology; and if there is to be such a thing hereafter as the confronting of parties, for the establishment of criminal neglect and greater condemnation,* the ability of Irishmen in higher walks to converse with their dependents on the affairs of this life may well be pondered by those whose duty it is, through the same medium, to “ rest and expatiate on a life to come.' Besides, not only by men of his own particular communion, but by all those who upon Irish ground have so long neglected a duty at once so manifest and incumbent, it should never be forgotten that a witness of no common character has gone before them
* Matt. xii. 41, 42; Ezek. xxxiii. 8.; Prov. xxiv. 11, 12
Await the archangel's call.. But for the present, sat verbum sapienti ; here at least I forbear to add more, and proceed to facts.
It is rather a singular circumstance, that at such a remote period in the history of Ireland as the fifteenth century, in the year 1483-4, we find an archbishop of Dublin petitioning parliament, and in Norman-French of course, to relieve him from the inconvenience which its outlawry of the Irish tongue had occasioned ; nay, he succeeded in obtaining a statute to be passed, which explains the inconvenience. It shows, that because the English clergy were ignorant of the Irish tongue, the cure of souls in some parts of his diocese, in the very neighbourhood of Dublin, was "piteously neglected-piteuxment neclecte;"--and it enacted, that he should have liberty to present natives to certain of his livings,-a thing which, at that time, under Richard the Third, and long before, was contrary to the statute-law.* The liberty here granted, however, was to last only for two years, which turned out to be the close of Richard's usurpation. It is true that, so far as the performances of public worship were concerned, an ability to hold conversation with the inhabitants was not requisite, as the service was conducted in Latin ; and yet it appears, from this application, that ignorance of the vernacular tongue was even then regarded as injurious to the interests of the natives ; so that the first testimony thus given, let it be observed, comes to us at a period previous to that which has been styled the Reformation.
I have spoken of this period as early, since it is three hundred and fifty years from the present day; and it will remain for the reader to notice, whether the grievance re
• Stat. 2 Rich. III. c. 10, and 5 Ed. IV. anno 1465.
ferred to has ever been redressed. But there is another point of view in which such an incident should be observed, and that is with reference to the ages which had preceded it. It was now more than three hundred years since Henry II. had invaded Ireland, yet it should seem as if the Irish language were still almost universally prevalent. Whatever scepticism may exist as to earlier ages, therefore, if the precise extent to which the Irish tongue was then spoken can be ascertained, the reader should here be apprized of it before proceeding farther. The Irish septs or clans, it is admitted, were still unconnected, and their attention confined to their local interests. Several lived peaceably in the English counties, but others maintained an independent state even in the very neighbourhood of Dublin."* Now, with respect to the language, there is a treatise or discourse in manuscript, extant in the library of Trinity College, in which the affairs of Ireland are copiously examined, the date of which cannot be later than the year 1494, and the researches of the author have been subsequently pronounced to be accurate. He recounts no less than sixty regions or districts, of different dimensions, still governed by Irish chieftains, according to their ancient laws and manners, together with a long catalogue of English, who had degenerated and renounced obedience to the English law and customs in several provinces. The Pale, as it has been called, he confines within the narrow bounds of half the counties of Uriel or Orgiel, Meath, Kildare, Dublin, and Wexford,-that is, in fact, only a narrow stripe of territory along the east coast, from about Newry to Wexford, -and yet the common people of even these districts he represents às conforming to the Irish habit and language.† The truth is, that the intercourse with the Native Irish, by fostering, marriage, and alliance, was general, the Lord Deputy himself having set the example. The remedies proposed by this author I need not specify, my only object being to glance at the extent of the Irish language more than three hundred years after Henry the Second. Many of these remedies, however, were afterwards tried, as the discourse itself is said to have been presented to the King (Henry VII.) and his council.
Forty years later, the wide extent, if not universal prevalence, of the Irish tongue, is manifest from the terms of a parliamentary statute. It was passed in 1537, the 28th year of Henry VIII., in which, bent only upon extending the English order, habit, and language, not the direct and real progress of knowledge, it was enacted, that “if any spiritual promotion within this land at any time become void, such as have title to nominate shall nominate to the same such a person as can speak English, and none other, unless there can be no person as can speak English will accept it; and if the patron cannot, within three months, get any such person that can speak English, then he shalí cause four proclamations to be openly made, at four several market-days, in the next market-town adjoining to the said spiritual promotion, that if any fit person that can speak English will come and take the same, he shall have it; and if none come within five weeks after the first proclamation, then the patron may present any honest, able man, albeit he cannot speak English.' This, however, was not all. By the next clause of the same act, should the patron have nominated a native who could not speak English, contrary to the form here prescribed, the nomination was void, when the king presented ; and should " the king be interrupted, he shall have a quare impedit against the disturber.” Nay, should the king present a man who could not speak English, contrary to the form, the presentation was void, and reverted to the patron. After all this, in the event of a native being the only person to be found and appointed, it was under an oath that he “ endeavour himself to learn the English tongue and language, if he may learn and attain the same by possibility ;' and another oath, that he shall, to his wit and cunning, endeavour himself to learn and teach the English tongue to all under his governance, and shall preach the word of God in English, if he can preach.” The ecclesiastic, appointing any one, contrary to this form, to forfeit, for every time, L.3:6:8, one moiety to the king, the other to the pursuer; and every incumbent, for the first offence, six shillings and eightpence; for the second, twenty shillings; and for the third, his promotion itself !
* Leland, ii. p. 68. † Pandarus, sive Salus Populi. MS. Trin. Coll. Dublin,
Such was the act passed at this period in reference to all those natural signs which this ancient people had been accustomed to employ for ages, when communicating to each other their thoughts and intentions, their purposes and desires. So strange does the instrument of speech appear, when in the hands of a human legislator! Tbe act itself
might have been passed over, had it not been so frequently referred to, in subsequent generations, to enforce the purposes of a blind and baneful expediency, and because it may serve as a contrast to the noble exertions of Bedell in the following pages.
What steps were actually taken to enforce this act, it is unnecessary to inquire,-(the parliamentary commissioners of our day have said, it is impossible to ascertain,)-but as to the state of the country, when the best of evidence was produced, only fifteen years after this, in 1552, no wonder that it was deplorable. “ Hard it is,” said Sir Thomas Cusack, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland under Edward VI.," that men should know their duties to God and the King, when they shall not hear teaching or preaching throughout the year.” At a period when England had so far burst the shackles of ignorance, and when the common people were beginning to hear gladly, then it was that this Chancellor complained of Ireland, -“ Preaching we have none, which is our lack, without which the ignorant can have no knowledge.”* Meanwhile, says an authority which, on this department of Irish history, will not be questioned,“ Even within the English pale the Irish language was become predominant;" and in those tracts of Irish territory which intersected the English settlements, no other language was at all known ; so that here the wretched flock was totally inaccessible to those strangers who had become their nominal pastors ;" while, at the same moment, such men as spoke to their countrymen in their own language were heard with attention, favour, and affection.”+ It is true, that the year before this, 1551, the 5th of Edward VI., the English Common Prayer-Book had been ordered to be read in the Irish churches ; but what could this avail in a country where the people, whether high or low, knew neither the meaning nor pronunciation of the language.
In the following reign, however, even these measures were abandoned, till the accession of Elizabeth, when they were again resumed. Two large English Bibles were then sent over in 1559, at her expense, for public perusal, and
* See Cusack's Letter to the Duke of Northumberland, dated 1552. MSS. Trin. Coll. Dublin.
| Leland, ii. p. 94.
* At the same time I am aware that King Edward, in his instructions to Sir James Croft, wished the service to be translated into Irish : but this was only the first of a class, which may be entitled, " royal orders unfulfilled.”