Volume 9, 2018
Fionntán de Brún
Escaping the ‘Shower of Folly’
The Irish Language, Revivalism, and the History of Ideas
The Irish language represents a material link ensuring continuity between the past and present of the Irish experience, but as that link has gradually been obscured, the language has become a form of alterity, indicated in the notion of Gaelic Ireland going ‘underground’. The choice between maintaining the continuity of the Irish literary tradition and abandoning it was characterized by Franciscan theologian and philosopher Froinsias Ó Maolmhuaidh (Francis O’Molloy) as the choice between keeping one’s reason and embracing folly. Thus, his envoi to the first printed Irish grammar in 1677 exhorts the people of Ireland to engage in a revival of literacy in the Irish language so as to transform their future by keeping faith with the past. Yet the desire to revive past knowledge or values is problematic. Is it possible, as the Irish revivalist Douglas Hyde desired, to ‘render the present a rational continuation of the past’? Or is it the case that revivals are attempts at a renewal of tradition, involving a dialectical transition similar to Hegel’s notion of Aufhebung? This inaugural lecture considers this question and the wider implications of revival by situating the Irish tradition of Revivalism within the broader history of ideas.