“In order to de-Anglicize ourselves, we must at once arrest the decay of the language. We must bring pressure upon our politicians not to snuff it out by their racist discouragement merely because they do not themselves understand it. We must arouse some spark of patriotic inspiration among the peasantry who still use the language, and put an end to that shameful state of feeling — a thousand-tongued reproach to our leaders and statesmen — which makes young men and women blush and hang their heads when overheard speaking their own language.” –Douglas Hyde
The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (SPIL) was a cultural organisation in late 19th-century Ireland, which was part of the Gaelic revival of the period.
It was founded on 29 December 1876 unlike similar organisations of the time, which were antiquarian in nature, the SPIL aimed at protecting the status of the Irish language, which was threatened with extinction at the time. The society succeeded in having Irish included on the curriculum of primary and secondary schools and third-level colleges in 1878.
The membership of the SPIL included Protestant Ascendancy figures such as Lord de Vesci and Colonel W. E. A. Macdonnell. Horace Plunkett represented the Society at the 1901 Pan-Celtic Congress in Dublin. It took a conciliatory approach to the British government and civil service in pursuing its aims, in contrast to the later Gaelic League, which was anti-British in character. Douglas Hyde joined the SPIL around 1880, and between 1879 and 1884 he published more than a hundred pieces of Irish verse under the pen name “An Craoibhín Aoibhinn” (“The Pleasant Little Branch”).
The SPIL merged with the Gaelic Union in 1878 and became the chief organisation committed to promoting the language revival. That mantle was passed to the Gaelic League founded in 1893. The League spread rapidly throughout Ireland, with more than 500 branches established by 1904. It published several Irish-language periodicals and fought successfully to inaugurate a bilingual educational policy in Irish-speaking regions in 1906 and to add Irish language courses to university curriculum in 1909.
The source of inspiration behind the late-19th century language revival was rising nationalism. For Irish nationalists, nothing so symbolised a distinct and venerable Irish culture than the Irish language. The fact that so few people of Irish birth or background spoke Irish as a direct result of British colonial domination made its resurrection all the more meaningful. It represented not merely Ireland’s political independence, but its cultural independence as well.
Image: Douglas Hyde (L), Horace Plunkett (R)