of the heart
Thomas Russell was one of the few leaders of the United
Irishmen who tried to learn Irish.
Born in Co. Cork in 1767 and brought up in Dublin, Russell
joined the army aged 15 and served in India. He first came
to Belfast as a soldier, returning later as a penniless
Handsome and charming, Russell was popular with Belfast
radicals, and became close to the McCracken family. Dr James
MacDonnell put him up in his house, and also recommended
him for the post of librarian to the Belfast Society for
Promoting knowledge, which later became the Linen Hall Library.
Established in 1788, the Society collected a wide range
of books, including manuscripts in Irish.
Russell became librarian in February 1794, and soon found
premises for the library in Ann Street.
Here he took Irish lessons from Patrick Lynch (Pádraig
Ó Loinsigh), a well-known scholar and teacher. Lynch
had grown up speaking Irish in Loughinisland, Co.Down, where
his family ran a school.
Lynch taught Irish at the Belfast Academy, a school founded
by the towns business community, and also taught privately.
In April 1795 the Northern Star, paper of the United Irishmen,
publicised his services thus: This language recommends
itself to us, by the advantages it affords to the Students
of Irish and Eastern Antiquities, especially to those who
wish to acquire the knowledge of Druidical Theology and
Worship, as sketched by Caesar and Tacitus.
It is particularly interesting, to all who wish for the
improvement and Union of this neglected and divided Kingdom.
By our understanding and speaking it, we could more easily
and effectually communicate out sentiments and instructions
to all our Countrymen; and thus mutually improve and conciliate
each others affection.
The Merchant and Artist would reap great benefit from
the knowledge of it. They would then be qualified for carrying
on Trade and Manufacturers, in every part of their native
Such knowledge, we understand, could be easily acquired
in three of four Months by the assistance of Mr. Lynch.
In September 1795 Russell and Lynch produced the first and
only issue of a bi-lingual magazine titled Bolg an tSolair,
meaning miscellany (literally provision
bag). This was a chunky pocket-sized book printed
by the Northern Star.
Russell may have written the preface, while Lynch must have
provided the teaching material. The preface says that foreigners
would think it unnecessary to recommend their own language
to Irishmen, but seeing that the Gaelic has been not
only banished from the court, the college and the bar, but
that many tongues and pens have been employed to cry it
down, and to persuade the ignorant that it was harsh and
barbarous jargon, and that their ancestors, from whom they
derived it, were an ignorant, uncultivated people - it becomes
then necessary, to say something in reply.
The virtues of Irish are then extolled, including the
harmony of its cadence, its fitness for expressing
the feelings of the heart, its rich vocabulary
and its antiquity.
Despite all the difficulties imposed on it, even to
this day, the Irish is spoken by a great majority of the
inhabitants of the kingdom.
But literacy was declining, with serious implications: At
present, there are but few who can read, and fewer that
can write the Irish characters; and it appears,that in a
short time, there will be none found who will understand
an Irish manuscript, so as to be able to transcribe or translate
It is chiefly with a view to prevent in some way measure
the total neglect, and to diffuse the beauties of this ancient
and once-admired language, that the following compilation
is offered to the public.
The Irish vocabulary ranged from nature to government, reflecting
the turbulent times with words such as power (cumhacht),
persecution (guerleanmhuin), gallows (croich), sons of Irishmen
(clann na ngaoidhiol), dissention (eas-aontas), misery (amghar),
native county (duthchas), equality (codromacht), liberty
(saoirseacht), conspiracy (comh-run), and rebellion (athchogadh).
Useful phrases range from Do you speak Irish?
(An labhrann tu gaoileag?) to she is drunk (ta
si air misge) - her Lynch was following Muiris Ó
Two dialogues feature a farmer and a merchant haggling over
the price of sheep. A priest arrives and mediates. He asks
the farmer about the merchant:
Priest: Car ab asdon duine uasal?
(where is the gentleman from?)
Farmer: Breathnaigim gur ab as Bealfairsde dho.
(I judge he is from Belfast.)
Priest: As Bealfairsdel nach raibh se labhairt gaollig riot
a nois fein.
(From Belfast! was not he speaking Irish to you just now.)
Farmer: Labhran se gaoidhlig go hiomchuibhuidh
(he speaks Irish tolerably well.)
Priest: Is comhartha sin gur gaedhiol e.
(That is a sign he is an Irishman.)
Courtesy of the Irish Post