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Home > Nations & Nationalism > The Strength of an Idea > On Language & the Irish Nation - Eamon de Valera
On Language & the Irish Nation - Eamon de Valera
Extract from Eamon de Valera's Speech to the Nation,
"The Ireland which we would desire of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis of a right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the soul; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and valleys would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youth, the laughter of happy maidens; whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of old age. It would, in a word, be the home of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.
For many the pursuit of the material life is a necessity. Man to express himself fully and to make the best use of the talents God has given him, needs a certain minimum of comfort and wealth. A section of our people have not yet this minimum. They rightly strive to secure it and it must be our aim and the aim of all who are just and wise to assist in that effort. But many have got more than is required and are free, if they choose, to devote themselves more completely to cultivating the things of the mind and, in particular, those that make us out as a distinct nation.
The first of these latter is the national language. It is for us what no other language can be. It is our very own. It is more than a symbol, it is an essential part of our nationhood. It has been moulded by the thought of a hundred generations of our forebearers. In it is stored the accumulated experience of a people - our people who, even before Christianity was brought to them, were already cultured and living in a well ordered society.
The Irish language spoken in Ireland today is the direct descendant without break of the language our ancestors spoke in those far off days. A vessel for three thousand years of our history, the language is for us precious beyond measure. As the bearer to us of a philosophy, of an outlook on life deeply Christian and rich in practical wisdom, the language today is worth far too much to dream of letting it go.
To part with it would be to abandon a great part of ourselves, to loose the key to our past, to cut away the roots from the tree. With the language gone we could never again aspire to being more than half a nation.
The restoration of the unity of the national territory and the restoration of the national language are the greatest of our uncompleted national tasks. Let us devote this year especially to the restoration of the language; let the year be one in which the need for this restoration will be constantly in our thoughts and the language itself as much as possible on our lips.
The physical dangers that threaten, and the need for unceasing vigilance in the matters of defence as well as unremitting attention to the serious day to day problems that the war has brought upon us should not cause us to neglect our duty to the language. Time is running against us in this matter of the language. We cannot afford to postpone our effort. For my part, I believe that this outstanding mark of our nationalism can be preserved and made forever safe by this generation. I am indeed certain of it, but I know that it cannot be saved without understanding and co-operation and effort and sacrifice.
It would be wrong to minimalise the difficulties. They are not light. The task of restoring the language as the everyday speech of the people is a task as great as any nation ever undertook. But it is a noble task. Other nations have succeeded in it, though in their case when the effort was begun, their national language was probably more widely spoken among their people than is ours with us.
As long as the language lives, however, on the lips of the people as their natural speech in any substantial part of this land we are assured of success - if we are in earnest. It is a task in which the attitude of the people is what counts most. It is upon the individual citizen, upon you who are listening to me, that the restoration of the language finally depends.
The state and public institutions can do much to assist, but if the individual has not the inclination or the will power to make the serious efforts initially required, or to persevere till reasonable fluency is attained, outside aids will be of little use.
Bail ó Dhia orraibh, agus bail go gcuire sé ar an obair atá - romhainn. Go cumhdaighe dia sinn agus guir fiú muid choiche mar náisiún na tiodhlaca a thug Pádraig chugainn. Go dtuga an tuile chumhachtach a thug slán muid go dtí seo ó' nanachain is ó' mí-adh atá ar oiread. Sín náisiún eile de bharr an chogaidh seo sgath, agus didean duinn go dtí an dire agus go neodonaighe sé gur fiú muid chion uasal a cheanamh go saol muaidh atá romhainn.