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16 Sep

Transition State

There are (thank God!) four hundred thousand Irish children in the National Schools. A few years, and they will be the People of Ireland—the farmers of its lands, the conductors of its traffic, the adepts in its arts. How utterly unlike that Ireland will be to the Ireland of the Penal Laws, of the Volunteers, of the Union, or of the Emancipation?

Well may Carleton say that we are in a transition state. The knowledge, the customs, the superstitions, the hopes of the People are entirely changing. There is neither use nor reason in lamenting what we must infallibly lose. […]
Much may be saved—the Gaelic language and the music of the past may be handed uncorrupted to the future; but whatever may be the substitutes, the Fairies and the Banshees, the Poor Scholar and the Ribbonman, the Orange Lodge, the Illicit Still, and the Faction Fight, are vanishing into history, and unless this generation paints them no other will know what they were.

The Irish Peasantry by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation 12 July, 1845 (online at UCC Celt)

This review of the work of William Carleton is positive, despite Carleton’s opposition to Davis’ politics. The piece displays Davis’ belief in education as a force for positive change, his focus on recording history and past culture and his desire to save what could be saved of that culture. This is of a piece with the new nationalism he espoused, influenced by Herder and German romanticism, which was cultural rather than constitutional. Language was central: “A people without a language of its own is only half a nation” (Davis, Our National Language).

It also shows Davis’ shortcomings as a prophet. Though his idea of nationality was inclusive, open to all that wanted to identify with it, his romantic nationalism arguably increased faction fighting rather than mitigating it.

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