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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A Gaelic Experiment

Book Review


Nathan Dowds • 17 October 2006

On 14th October 2006, A Gaelic Experiment: The preparatory system 1926 – 1961 and Coláiste Moibhí, a fascinating book on the contested issue of Irish-medium education, was launched. Concentrating on the role played by language revivalists within Irish political life during the early 20th century, A Gaelic Experiment provides an intimate account of the gaelicisation policy which permeated through the learning establishments of independent Ireland. In particular, it focuses upon Colaiste Moibhi which was, up until it was given a decent burial on 23rd June 1995, the only Irish-medium College under Church of Ireland control in independent Ireland.

Formerly the Royal Hibernian Military School, Colaiste Moibhi was part of the State’s blueprint to make the national language a prominent feature in the Protestant classroom. Turning the clock back a generation or two ago, the government preferred all Anglicans who wished to pursue national school teaching to be Gaelgeoir extraordinaires! Colaiste Moibhi attempted to make this ambition a feasible one, and during its 69 year history there were no shortage of Anglicans who followed the muezzin-type call for a Gaelic-enriched Ireland, a late relative of mine included.

A fee-paying albeit State-sponsored boarding school, the college attracted some renowned students and principals. The Dublin and Glendalough Diocesian website introduces an interesting collection, personalities such as Lillian Duncan and John Kyle. However, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Former students include Frances Condell (the ex Mayor of Limerick) and Bibi Baskin (the ex RTE broadcaster).

At its embryonic stages, the College was managed by Dr Gregg, the then Archbishop of Dublin. The Archbishop was initially sceptical about the Gaelicisation policy of making Irish compulsory for prospective national school teachers. He also disliked the policy of educating children through the medium of Irish but his pragmatism shone through and Gregg accepted Eamon De Valera’s offer of employment at Colaiste Moibhi. By doing so, Dr Gregg played an instrumental role in assisting Dublin Protestants to identify with the emerging ethos of the New Republican Order, and to be beneficiaries of it too.

Colaiste Moibhi was perceived to be one of the most shining jewels in the Church of Ireland crown, for a multiplicity of reasons. Firstly, it provided Leaving Cert students who were fluent in Irish for the Church of Ireland College of Education. Without its existence, the Church of Ireland may not have been able to maintain its separatist system of national schools. Secondly, as an Irish language institution it received whopping amounts of State funding, in contrast with other Church of Ireland schools nationally, which were struggling to modernise with the times. Indeed, to the envy of other State schools under Protestant management in Dublin, Colaiste Moibhi in the 1930s had top-of-the-range facilities, including a heated swimming pool, a fully fitted gym and gymnasium, tennis courts and Gaelic pitches! And lastly, Colaiste Moibhi had an exemplary record of academic excellence, not only in Irish but Musicianship also. Indeed, by the early 1990s, over 25 per cent of those sitting the honours Leaving Cert paper in Irish, were getting A Grades, and its music department were performing liturgical services every Christmas over Radio na Gaeltachta, for the benefit of the nation.

In spite of its academic and musical excellence, Colaiste Moibhi was a blatant anachronism, dating back to the Douglas Hyde era when Gaelic revivalism was perceived to be trendy. It was surprising that it survived for as long as it did because by the early 1960s, with a gradual reduction in emphasis on the national language and a higher standard of Irish language teaching in State secondary schools, the Minister for Education consigned to the dustbin of history, all those Roman Catholic Irish-medium Colleges which had opened its doors in the 1920s. Colaiste Moibhi was left unexamined, however, when it came to assessing the worth of the preparatory colleges. Its unique ability in churning out the finest of teacher trainees, who would then, with the zeal of a convert, encourage their pupils to be extra-conscious of Irish cultural heritage, probably motivated the Department to resist the closure on that occasion. In the early 1990s, however, the purse strings were tightening and the Department of Education could resist no more. First, it closed down the Colaiste Moibhi music department, as a preliminary, it was feared, to shutting down the college down altogether. Then in 1995, an act of philistinism was committed and the College shut up shop in the centenary year of Conradh na Gaeilge. Nevertheless, the College had fulfilled its duties. It had produced remarkable teachers who were able to transform vast elements of the community from a state of cultural autism into confident members of the Irish State who could embrace aspects of their Irishness, in the most unselfconscious manner.

In conclusion, Colaiste Moibhi has proved instrumental in the history of independent Ireland. In addition to giving its pupils a fluency in Irish, it made them more appreciative of Gaelic culture and tradition. Risteard O Glaisne, who is also a primary authority on the history of Colaiste Moibhi believed that the establishment of Colaiste Moibhi was a vital pre-requisite in the cultural integration of southern Protestants. Rather than reaching for the endangered species card, O Glaisne urged his co-religionists to fully immerse themselves in the life of the Irish nation, writing:

"We shall have to find ourselves in spiritual sympathy with Irish aspirations if we are to live fully in the future Ireland - if we do, we can make a significant contribution to the Irish nation and indeed see Protestantism growing here…and if we do not, Protestantism in Ireland will wilt."





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Index: Current Articles

25 October 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

From Up the Ra to Up the Rozzers
Anthony McIntyre

Just Say No
Martin Galvin

Whither Irish Republicanism
Mick Hall

The Three Stooges
John Kennedy

Jockeying For Position
Dr John Coulter

An Irish Agreement
Liam O Comain

Up the Garden Path
John Kennedy

A Gaelic Experiement
Nathan Dowds

Preventing Prejudice
Anthony McIntyre

16 October 2006

Friday the 13th — The Most Terrifying Deal Ever Done!
Tom Luby

Black Friday
Anthony McIntyre

When No Means Yes
Dr John Coulter

Blowin' In The Wind
John Kennedy

Time to Conclude NI Process
David Adams

Once Bitten
Anthony McIntyre

Dysfunctional Family Values
Mick Hall

Racism: The Social Uniter?
Dr John Coulter

Nobody Home
John Kennedy

'The Revolution is the People'
Jane Horgan-Jones



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