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Owen Lloyd and the De-Anglicization of the Irish Harp

From: Éire-Ireland
Volume 48, Issue 3&4, Fall/Winter 2013
pp. 155-175 | 10.1353/eir.2013.0019

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I would earnestly appeal to every one, whether unionist or nationalist, who wishes to see the Irish nation produce its best—and surely whatever our politics are, we all wish that—to set his face against this constant running to England for our books, literature, music, games, fashions, and ideas. I appeal to every one, whatever his politics—for this is no political matter—to do his best to help the Irish race to develop in future upon Irish lines, even at the risk of encouraging national aspirations, because upon Irish lines alone can the Irish race once more become what it was of yore—one of the most original, artistic, literary, and charming peoples of Europe.

The concluding section of Douglas Hyde’s lecture “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland,” delivered at a meeting of the National Literary Society on 25 November 1892, articulated the philosophy that inspired the formation of numerous cultural, social, and political movements in Ireland in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Concerted, intensive campaigns for land reform and Home Rule contributed to a revival in activism among large sections of the Irish population, and in the increasingly charged atmosphere of the late nineteenth century the palpable disaffection with British governance was channelled, not through a violent rebellion against British forces, but through an ideological rebellion against all aspects of British society and culture. Improved transportation and the rapid growth in industrialization in Britain throughout the nineteenth century had transformed the trading relationship between Ireland and Britain. The increased importation of British goods and cultural commodities and the resulting cultural dilution constituted the price paid for enjoying “the material benefits of the neighbouring civilization.” The closing decades of the century were marked by the formation of various groups, including the Gaelic Athletic Association (1884), the National Literary Society (1892), the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (1894), the Feis Ceoil (1896), the United Irish League (1898), and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (1900). P. J. Matthews has referred to some of the organizations founded in this period as “self-help movements” and maintained that “central to the endeavour was the realization that the Irish had accepted London as the centre of culture and civilization for too long, and that the time had come for the Irish people to regenerate their own intellectual terms of reference and narratives of cultural meaning.” Each movement propounded its own ideas of what constituted “Irishness” or Irish culture, but all these groups shared the belief that a renewal of national spirit would encourage greater cultural and material prosperity and would ultimately result in a stronger, autonomous nation.

The Irish language became a powerful symbol of Irish cultural distinctiveness in this period, and a concerted campaign by the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) to promote the language at home, school, and work and in social gatherings resulted in the creation of a potent linguistic network throughout the country. The Gaelic League, formed in 1893, replaced the stereotypical perception of the Irish language as a tongue associated with the indigent and illiterate, and promoted it instead as a potent, dynamic spoken language. At the first meeting of the Gaelic League on 31 July 1893, the primary objectives were outlined as “the preservation of Irish as the national language of Ireland and the extension of its use as a spoken tongue,” along with “the study and publication of existing Irish literature and the cultivation of a modern literature in Irish.” At the national level the League was comprised of an executive committee and several subcommittees dealing with publications, the press, and an t-Oireachtas. At the regional and local level the League consisted of craobhacha (branches) throughout the country at which members and a number of full-time timirí (facilitators) organized language classes and lectures on Irish history, folklore, and music. Feiseanna (competitions), both regional and national, and aeraíochtaí (concerts) completed the fabric of the League’s cultural network. Matthews has argued that the objective of the League was “to put a rival cultural infrastructure in place.” This “cultural infrastructure” was a crucial medium for the revival of various Gaelic customs and practices, such as dancing, piping, and Irish harp performance.

Although the Irish...

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