The intention of this article is to examine the paucity of Irish-language accounts of the shock of industrialization in the mid nineteenth century. The reasons underlying this relative silence are manifold but are primarily attributable to low levels of literacy in Irish as well as to the tendency of Irish 'manuscript men' to apply themselves to historical material rather than contemporary reflections. The result of this situation was that descriptions of Irish-speaking immigrants to industrial cities were generally given by outsiders and almost invariably in English. The lack of first-person narratives of industrialisation in Irish is essential to the identification of the Irish language with the non-urban. Although this identification with the rural and the non-urban periphery was arguably established well before the industrial revolution, it seems to have been irrevocably fixed during the industrial revolution where the Irish language came to be regarded as antithetical to the cult of progress. The seismic societal changes brought about by industrialization accentuated the gulf between the modern and the pre-modern and led to a sense of temporal alienation summarised in the Irish nationalist John Mitchel’s remark in 1847 that: “there is no name for modern enlightenment in Irish, no word corresponding with the ‘masses’ or with ‘reproductive labour’; in short, the ‘nineteenth century’ would not know itself, could not express itself in Irish.” Yet, while the Irish language seemed to be alien to the nineteenth century itself, many thousands of Irish speakers toiled in the ‘satanic mills’ of industrial cities. Nevertheless, there are very few first hand-accounts of the experience of industrialization in the Irish language. Rather, there are many second-hand accounts in English, often from a hostile and xenophobic press but more particularly, from Catholic priests who recorded a sense of spiritual anxiety from Irish immigrants who could not make their confession in English. The urban Irish increasingly occupied a liminal space in relation to industrialization and modernity itself, either denounced by the press as depraved and degenerate or enlisted by anti-urban romantics as part of the alternative to industrial society. One example of the latter is Herbert Moore Pim's description of the Belfast Irish-speaking fish seller: “There is a doubt about his origin, and there is a greater doubt about his destiny...No man can tell his age, and he is without kith and kin in the world.” Whether expressed by xenophobic caricature or romantic idealization, the image of the Irish urban immigrant and his/her language in industrial society is that of anachronistic incongruity.
|Title of host publication||Éigse Loch Lao 1: Teanga agus Litríocht na Gaeilge sa Naoú hAois Déag|
|Publication status||Published (in print/issue) - 5 Oct 2012|