Daniel Corkery, who wrote the following article in 1909, is a well known writer, poet, artist and playwright. He is best known for his work 'The Hidden Ireland'. He was Professor of English Literature at U.C.C. He frequently visited Uibh Laoire and learned his Irish in Ballingeary, while staying in Túirín Dubh. A Summer School in his honour is held in Inchigeela.
Contact Joe Creedon, Creedons Hotel, Inchigeela, Co. Cork, Ireland.
THE SPIRIT OF BALLINGEARY
(Leader July 31, 1909, p. 582-3)
An old man from Kildorrery, a cynical old man, a good speaker of the Gaelic, once warned me against the study of Irish. 'Twill lave you with a head fit for nothing else', he said, and gave me the back of his hand. If the Gaelic should hypnotise me, it might hypnotise anyone, for my mind is unfortunately of the bee type, ranging from sweet to sweet and over many fields. Yet the old man's remark had a much of the truth in it; he, too, had seen what he had seen.
In the Gaelic League it is a common experience with us who have desperately worked the cause to rediscover many whom we thought of as lost sheep, to rediscover them and find that they have been working all the time in a timid and back-garret sort of way, in a bookish and studious manner, seemingly without reward and always without reason, for a language is to be mastered only by violence. And this common experience, more than anything else, explains how strangely and continuously hopeful we go about among men, abiding their would-be punitive question: 'Isn't the Gaelic League in a poor way these times?' We know that even in places where the Gaelic League has seemingly died out, these lamp-lit solitary readers are to be found; we know how eventually they get together, and once more kindle unitedly a parochial or a village fire; and we believe that the process will continue, will widen and increase until all the land is light. Why should we not believe it?
Why should I not believe it, sitting here high on Leacabhán, surrounded by a hundred hill-tops, every one of them crested as with fire? Cúmdorcha has ridges of red fire upon it, Carrigbawn is clothed with it, and Maoilinn is lost in the intensity of straight-shot rays, and Laghar-na-Gaoithe, which is a rock-built amphitheatre never emptied of defeated winds, is golden within curtains of purple and gold intangible to rain and winds. Glorious! and the more so that rocks and shingle and gorse are lighted by thoughts and fancies as well as by the evening sun. Right from where I sit, but far beneath me, an irregular rock-hewn, almost treeless valley, basin linked to basin, goes forward in its curvings; and along the valley runs (its) tyrant child, the Bunsidhelinne river, an impish, sure-footed, bright-glancing rogue, merry-voiced, teasing the rocks and useless fields to forget that winter will come again, coaxing them to love. Into the valley sink my thoughts and jump forward with the little river from reach to reach and from rock to rock, until they settle on Ballingeary, where the vale is lost in a wider valley, and the Bunsidhlinne is lost in the Lee. And I settle to my own satisfaction wherefrom my thoughts had risen and whereto they flow.
I began again to understand why the old man's remark came once again up out of memory's store-house, for in Ballingeary I had seen evidence, the most palpable and sufficient, of the wonderful glamour of the language. Students from Ulster, from Dublin, students from Cork, from Limerick, Kerry, and one at least from Ara na Naomh. Teachers, who had been working all the year, were here working harder than ever. Students, who had been studying up to mid-summer for the University examinations, were here studying with a more vivid force - (the news of their successes arrived the other day, and there was a half-holiday on the river for many as a consequence).
Cailíní, fresh from boarding schools, were here instead of at the seaside. Many of the students had told me how it was their third year at the college. Some such as these I had often met in other places, and wondered what charm drew them year after year to Ballingeary; now, I wonder no more. And I recall how last night I saw buachaillí and cailíní studying 'Seadna' at midnight in order to be ready for to-day's work in the summer school or college. They had been tramping the hills or sitting in the houses with the peasants, were tired and weary-brained, but there is no shirking work in Ballingeary. 'Seadna' had to be prepared.
'If you weren't here where would you be?' I say to one little cailín. 'Crosshaven', I get as answer. 'And wouldn't you prefer to be by the sea now?' I ask. 'Oh, no; isn't this place lovely?' and her arms spread out to enclose Ballingeary and all the hills, to embrace the College, the Summer School, the staff, and all the students, to gather in the peasants and their homesteads, to touch and make her own the whole living Irish movement.
'The speech that wakes the fire in withered faces', was Lionel Johnson's fine description of the Irish language - yes, true, as everyone of us knows, but the language is doing more than that. It is not only momentarily fanning ancient fires to brightness; it is setting fires.
I prefer to ascribe the charm to the language itself rather than to Ballingeary, the place and the people. Anyhow if the charm be in Ballingeary itself, it is there only because the language is there. The kindliness, the wealth of traditional lore, the gentleness and courtesy - all that is in Ballingeary because the language is there. The greatest thing I can say about the people of Ballingeary is that I like to speak Irish with them - even such Irish as I have. Therefore I give Ballingeary my thanks. It is a wonderful thing, in my estimation, at any rate, to discover a place where one does really learn to talk Irish.
But the outward and visible fire of sunset has burned itself out; the evening grows chilly, and a wind comes over from Mangerton and the Reeks. It is time to descend from Leacabhán. Going down the winding hill-path I catch a glimpse of the road to Ballyvourney. Up that road toiled Donall O'Sullivan with his thousand people on the very first evening of his retreat, and over there, at Aharas they say he pitched his tents. All that is three hundred years ago; but tonight, in Carrignadoura, not far from Aharas, I'll sit by the turf fire of another Donall O'Sullivan, there hoping to salvage some fragments of the treasures the Prince of Beara and Bantry was forced to abandon in the agony of his retreat.
Lee (Daniel Corkery).