CELT document E920001-001

Irish Manuscripts

W. B. Yeats

Irish Manuscripts

1. Irish Manuscripts


4 June 1924: Final Report of Committee on Irish Manuscripts.

Dr Yeats: “I beg to move the adoption of the final Report 1 of Committee on Irish Manuscripts as follows: —
This Committee was appointed by Resolution of the Seanad adopted on the 19th April, 1923, in the following terms: —
That a Committee of the Seanad be appointed to submit to the Government a scheme for the editing, indexing, and publishing of manuscripts in the Irish language, now lying in the Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College, and elsewhere; for the scientific investigation of the living dialects; for the compiling and publishing of an adequate dictionary of the older language. That the Committee have power to invite the assistance of persons not members of the Seanad and to take evidence on the subject; the Committee to consist of Senators W. B. Yeats, Mrs. Alice Stopford Green, Mrs. Costello, and Edward MacLysaght; two to form a quorum.”

“The Committee met in accordance with this Resolution on 26th  p.69 April, 1st May, 3rd May, 31st May and 27th June, 1923, and on the 21st of May, 1924.”

“Evidence was heard from the following witnesses:—Dr. R. L. Praegar, Dr. R. I. Best, The Rev. Dr. Lawlor, Dr. Douglas Hyde, Mr. E. J. Gwynn, F.T.C.D.; Professor O. Bergin, Professor T. O'Rahilly, Mr. R. Foley, and Professor Tomás O'Máille.”

“It was decided to make the following report to the Seanad:”

“Your Committee is gravely impressed by the responsibility now laid upon the Saorstát towards the Irish people. For the first time in many centuries our country, free and independent, is charged with the pious duty of preserving and making accessible to Irishmen the mass of learning and tradition which forms the basis of our National history—a body of manuscript tradition bequeathed to us by a noble succession of scholars and scribes throughout a thousand years of labour, and further enriched by folk-lore, folk-song and music, and the important study of topography.”

“It is well known that the British Government by its political and administrative policy through a long course of centuries did in fact make wreckage of Irish learning and language. But we are bound to remember that in our own time among the rulers there were men who did not remain deaf to claims of scholarship. We may recall the valuable services rendered from time to time by enlightened statesmen in funds allotted to such work as the Irish volumes of the Rolls Series; the Historical Manuscripts Commission; the Ancient Laws of Ireland; published by the Government under the direction of the Commissioners; the Ulster Annals, which it published under direction of the Royal Irish Academy. The Government was prepared to do the same with the Annals of Tigernach, when, unfortunately, the editor recommended died. A grant in aid to the Academy was employed, to issue the Todd Lectures, Facsimiles, etc., etc. For some years a grant was also given to the School of Irish Learning founded by Dr. Kuno Meyer, £700 in all.”

“These are a few illustrations of obligations to the country recognised  p.70 by a British administration. We claim that the Irish Nation should fare no worse under a home Government, when it depends on its own honour, its own patriotism and resources, to complete the task of research, to preserve for future generations all that has been or can be saved of older learning, and to secure to the people of Ireland their full national tradition.”

“We may observe that the present moment is usually favourable for reviving and enlarging the study of Old Irish Law and government even beyond the bounds of this country; since the important research work of Professor MacNeill is rousing amongst foremost Continental scholars a new interest not only in questions of language but of the study of Comparative Law. By judicious use of its scholars and its means Ireland may take the lead in a new historic movement.”

“Your Committee, in the course of enquiry, has interviewed many witnesses of the most diverse groups and opinions. We have endeavoured to find out the points on which there is practically unanimous opinion, and to advise measures which are of urgent necessity, and promise useful results under conditions of sound administration and sympathetic aid. We therefore recommend the following suggestions as a basis for any scheme of financial assistance:—”

  1. The editing and publishing of important texts, both of the early and the classical periods and of modern times, considering Irish literature as forming one indivisible whole. This work would involve grants in aid of publication to competent scholars.
  2. Publication of photographic facsimiles of important Codexes by the latest scientific processes. This is most essential for purposes of study. A grant to aid in the production of such a facsimile might be given to a learned body outside Ireland—for example, to the Oxford Press for the publication of Ms. Laud 610.
  3. The dictionary of Old Irish in course of preparation by the Royal Irish Academy under the editorship of Dr. Bergin—a work of enormous labour and difficulty—should receive further aid. Its progress must be slow, as the meaning and use of old Irish words can only be determined when more texts are made available by editors and photographers  p.71 for the work of the Dictionary. At present three workers are employed, necessarily on half-time which is as much as the excessive strain of the task will allow. The number of workers might be increased to six—all on half-time.
  4. The publication of Catalogues of MSS. is of great importance for students. Catalogues should be compiled not only for the Royal Irish Academy but for collections elsewhere, as for example, in the Franciscan Convent, and the King's Inns, the National Library, and many others in Ireland or outside. We suggest that the Dictionary workers, and others, now employed at half-time, might most profitably also serve in this task of cataloguing.
  5. Investigation of living dialects. This work is of immense importance when dialects are rapidly dying out. It has been done in patches of the Irish speaking regions, but a systematic study is in fact essential, and the work cannot be relegated to volunteers. Research should be endowed. For example, a grant to a trained phonetist would be of the utmost value, with aid in the publication of his results. It is unnecessary to add how great would be the stimulus given by such training to local workers in Gaelic-speaking regions.
  6. Folk-lore, songs and traditions cannot be neglected. The best aid would be a grant towards publication of work done, as for example, a grant to the Irish-Folk Song Society in aid of publishing work submitted by the Society and approved.
  7. The Academy has drawn attention to two other needs of a pressing character: a survey of the antiquities of the country, such as is at present being carried out by Commissions in England, Wales and Scotland. In this connection it remarks that the measurements and plans of earthworks of different types and surveys of cairns already published by the Academy would serve as a nucleus for this undertaking. The work might be very gradually carried out, district by district.

Excavations should also be conducted under scientific direction of the more important archæological sites, to determine their age, significance and historical associations.

In the view of the Committee all grants should be allocated by an  p.72 authoritative body, including trained Irish scholars, animated with the desire to encourage students by the assurance of means of publication of their work. We have, therefore, enquired into the best machinery by which these suggestions may profitably be carried out, and the body to which public funds should be entrusted.

The body which in our opinion is marked out for the development of Irish studies is the Royal Irish Academy, which has now incorporated the School of Irish Learning.

The Academy was founded to encourage learning in a wide range of Sciences in which it has earned distinction. It has also charge of linguistics and archaeology, and Irish research has long been a notable part of its business. Since it has no special funds for archaeological work, apart from occasional grants, its resources have been spent on publication. The Government grant is £1,600, and £885 comes from members' subscriptions and other sources. On a total income of £2,485 — with establishment charges of £1,050—the Academy shows an admirable record of careful administration. It must be remembered that the benefits it contributes to Irish learning include a library rich in Irish books, to which the public have admission; a valuable collection of ancient MSS.; and also the printing in its Proceedings of important Irish communications. For many years past an average of six hundred pounds—over a third of its annual income available for general publication —has been expended on Irish subjects, literature, archaeology and the like. At the moment the Leabhar na hUidhre (Book of the Dun Cow) is being published at a cost of about £1,000. The task of publishing the Irish Dictionary, now calculated at nearly £600 a year, must necessarily occupy many years, and remain a heavy charge on finances. All strictly Irish work of the Academy is delegated to an Irish Studies Committee, drawn from two older groups —the Dictionary Committee and the Irish Manuscripts Committee. It has enlisted in its service all the best Irish scholars, whose knowledge, experience, and ardour in the cause cannot be surpassed.

The School of Irish Learning was founded in 1903 by Dr. Kuno  p.73 Meyer at a time when there was no regular teaching in Dublin of an advanced nature in Old or Middle Irish. The School held summer courses by professors invited to lecture from England, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway, and students were attracted from oversea by the remarkable training thus offered. Travelling scholarships were also given by the School with excellent results. With a single exception all the professors and lecturers in Irish in the National University Colleges have been students of the School, as also have been Professors of Celtic in Great Britain and abroad. The work of the School has for some years past been limited to summer courses, the last of which, in 1923, was a remarkable course in Phonetics, and the study of a living Irish dialect by Professor Sommerfelt, of Christiania.

An important and enduring work of the School was its journal Eriu, devoted to Irish philology and literature, and recognised in the learned world as the leading review of its kind. The School also published text-books on Old and Modern Irish which are now used by scholars in every country.

It was felt desirable at this time to unite forces working for Irish scholarship, so as to avoid all overlapping of effort, all conceivable competition in publications, and all unnecessary doubling of rent and services. An amicable arrangement has, therefore, been made by which the School of Irish Learning has been incorporated in the Academy, and so far as Irish studies are concerned, Eriu remains the common Journal, the representative work of the united body.

Your Committee, therefore, after careful consideration, recommend that the authoritative financial control of any grant allotted by the Government should be placed in the Academy whose Irish Committee is fully qualified, trained in this special work, generous in outlook, and easy of access to all.

We believe that additional funds allotted to it by the Government will be spent not only with a due sense of stewardship, but with an earnest desire to advance the cause of Irish Learning, and to complete the  p.74 national work of restoring to the Irish people their inherited tradition both of ancient and of later times.

We fully realise the overwhelming claims on the Government in these times. On the other hand we feel it to be of great importance that some earnest should at once be given of its sympathy with the national desire to renew and broaden its historical tradition and faith. We, therefore, recommend that an additional annual grant be given to the Academy, and especially earmarked for the disposal of the Committee of Irish studies on the lines indicated in this Report. In the existing state of our national finances we do not name a definite sum, but we urge that as liberal a grant as possible should be given immediately, and that the Government should bear in mind that as soon as our financial position allows not less than £5,000 per annum should be devoted to Irish research.

(Sighnithe), W.B. Yeats, <term lang="ga" TEIform="term">Cathaoirleach an Choiste</term> (Chairman of the Committee). Eibhlin Bean Mac Coisdealbha. A. S. Green. Eamon Mac Giollaiasachta.


I hope and indeed I have no doubt that the Seanad will accept this report. I would like, however, to draw the special attention of one section in the Seanad to the nature of the report. Certain members of the Seanad have. I think, a great dislike to pray in a language they do not understand. There are other members of the Seanad who dislike having our Acts of Parliament expensively printed in two languages. That may be right or wrong; but this is an entirely different question. We are asking the Seanad to urge upon the Government to do a work for learning, a work for literature and a work for history which any Government in the world would consider its duty and its privilege. This country possesses a great mass of old mediaeval literature in the Irish language. There are great collections of manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy,  p.75 in the Library of Trinity College, at Maynooth, and in the Franciscan library. There are very large collections of manuscripts in other countries. There is a great collection in the British Museum, in the Bodleian, and in the Louvain. These manuscripts are a historical trust to this nation, but they should be interpreted, edited, indexed, and catalogued.

Much work has been done on them in the past — much by Irishmen, much by Germans, and to some extent we may say that the centre of Irish scholarship has in recent years been in Germany. But the German interest is only primarily a philological interest. If we are to exhaust the value of these manuscripts for literature and history we must do that work ourselves. They possess first of all their value to this country; then they possess their value to the world. They consist of stories, annals, and poetry. I think that all the famous stories have been translated and have been edited. We will learn nothing new of importance about Finn and Cuchulain and other old Irish heroes or Kings of the legendary period. The annals have to a great extent been edited and translated, but I understand, they have been badly edited and translated in many cases, and if they are to be of historical value that work has to be done over again. In the case of poetry there is probably still a large quantity of untranslated and of even unread poetry.

That poetry would be of two kinds: First of all, what is called the official poetry, not of great literary value but of great historical value — the work of the official Bards. But there is also much poetry which is personal expression — that kind of poetry which Dr. Kuno Meyer has translated in recent years. If we can judge the unread and unedited by the read and edited, they will be of supreme value. I should say that we had evidence given before us, that great scholars might work for 100 years on the old Irish manuscripts now in the possession of the Nation, and in the possession of other nations without having exhausted the subject. We are anxious that provision should be made for that work and that the work should be carried out. Already the traditional imagination in these old books has had a powerful effect upon the life, and  p.76 I may say upon the politics, of Ireland. People forget that the twenties, forties and fifties of the last century was the forming period of Irish nationality, and that the work was begun by O'Donovan, Petrie and men steeped in this old literature.

We owe it also to learning and the scholarship of the world that we should provide means for the doing of this great work. Twenty years ago, in Paris, I knew slightly the great French scholar, D'Arbois de Jubainville, who devoted his life to the study of our literature because he believed that only through that literature could he find light on the most important secular event in human history. Going back 1,000 or 1,200 years before Christ we find Dorian tribes descending on the Mediterranean civilization. They destroyed much and wandered much, and it has been held that we owe to their destruction, the story, of the Fall of Troy, and to their wandering, the Story of Odyssey. D'Arbois de Jubainville considered that only through Irish literature can you rediscover the civilization of these tribes before they entered the Mediterranean. That does not mean than our people were the Greeks or that our literature is as old as 1,200 years before Christ, but our legends and our books have preserved and gathered together the old literature and much of the history of a similar period. We ask you to urge upon the Government that they, shall place in the hands of the Royal Irish Academy sufficient funds. We heard much evidence and we came to the conclusion that the Royal Irish Academy itself contains within its limits practically all the great Irish scholars and that it is the proper body to carry out this work in a spirit of scholarship. The danger is that it may be carried out in some other spirit. It is most important that nothing should be taken into consideration except the interest of scholarship alone.

It should not be allowed to become a means by which some man will make a living until he gets some other occupation; the money should be used to help a man whose life-work is study and scholarship. It has been contended that the Royal Irish Academy is not a democratic body and that therefore we should not ask the Government to endow it in  p.77 this way. I have heard it contended that it is not a democratic body because by its rules it can only elect seven new members every year. Twenty years ago I should not have been able to invite you, with the same confidence, to ask the Royal Irish Academy to undertake this work, because twenty years ago it had not that rule. It could elect any person who professed himself interested in the subjects with which it dealt. That rule of electing only seven members a year was instituted in order to raise the position of the Academy by making it necessary to elect those only who were eminent in the studies of the Academy, and not merely interested in those studies. I think I am right in saying that since that rule was passed the Academy has risen more and more in the estimation of the learned, and in helping it to do its work we are helping a body which has advanced the learning of this country. I beg to move the adoption of the Report.


2 Mrs. STOPFORD GREEN: I beg to second. I would like to make two or three explanations about the matter. There, is, I think, a certain fear amongst some people that a learned body like the Academy will be contemptuous of modern Irish or at least neglectful of it. I do not think that there is the slightest fear of that. We have marked plainly that the language is one and indivisible from beginning to end. I remember one of the greatest scholars of the last generation saying to me: “There are three ages of Irish language; there is the language up to 1000, which is worthy of study and an honourable language; there is a language from 1000 to about 1600, which is an inferior and common language, not worth much interest, but which must be read, because it occasionally contains a word of the old language, or expressions which help one to understand it. There is a third language, from 1600 to the present day, and with that no sensible person has anything to do.”

I believe my friend was fast abandoning that theory, but I am quite sure that you will find no scholar whatever in Ireland who would have any sympathy with such a statement as that, and I do not in the slightest degree fear that modern Irish will be neglected. That is consoling, but I wish to give a warning also that the difficulty of editing a modern Irish text is as great as the difficulty of editing an ancient one. The work requires the same aptitude, the same scholarship and the same laborious toil. With regard to the preparing of the materials for scholars to work on, that is a most essential part of the work to begin immediately. The first thing is the preparation of the material for the coming scholars. In the first place it is of the greatest importance to have facsimiles made of the old manuscripts which exist in a single copy, which are far away from Ireland in many cases, and which must be here for the scholars to work on. Facsimiles are extremely difficult to make. With ordinary photography the manuscript comes up black and cannot be read. The most difficult and delicate process now is by the use of reflecting glasses, which is scientific and skilled work, and it is also very costly. But that for the preservation of the manuscript and for the work of scholars is absolutely necessary, however costly it may be. There is also a quantity of preparatory work to be done. Dictionaries, I believe, ought to be done, though not on such a great scale as in the case of that which is now being carried out. The transcribing of certain documents and the cataloguing of them so that scholars, when they come on, may know where to get what has already been printed and the catalogue it is to be found in. With regard to publication we hope that new workers, earnestly interested in Irish, will be encouraged by the hope of publication and the esteem and regard which they would get in bringing out new work. In one respect we have gone beyond our terms of reference, that is, in urging that work of survey and archæological research should be kept constantly going. Its importance cannot be exaggerated. The general history of Ireland depends on local history and local history depends on the examination and knowledge of the various sites. A single illustration will show what can be done. A few years ago three members of the Royal Academy visited Carrowkeel in Sligo, a site omitted by the old Ordnance Survey. They there discovered what had been missed by every Ordnance Survey officer; a very important site, the site of the most ancient village in Western Europe and in connection with it, burial mounds as important as Brugh-na-Boinne, a very important discovery that shows what can still be done.

With regard to the cost of this, we are asking for a considerable sum, and this is a kind of rough allocation which is not authoritative in any way, but which indicates what may be done. No less than £1,500 is required for photographing facsimiles for the reasons that I have given. The Dictionary is matter which goes on continually. A sum of £250 should be given for the publication of catalogues of manuscripts to guide the scholar. There should be an investigation into living dialects. £500 would not be too much to spend on that important issue. Folk-lore and songs would take £150. This is a perfectly rough calculation, but it gives some idea of the sum now. For the publishing and editing of the texts, £750, perhaps, is required. Further, that will lie with the great authority to whom we all bow, the Ministry. As for the general importance of the subject of this work, there will be, no doubt, considerable difference in this assembly. I might suggest a reason very briefly. There are probably many more reasons, but there is no need to weary you, if the first three are not sufficient. I would ask you to suppose that, as an Irish nation, it would be seemly for us to have a history which somebody in the country could read with pleasure. We know that the present situation is that up to 1150 there is no history written at all. From that time, all we know comes from the tomes and volumes that lie on our shelves. We have, I know, a mighty series of solid volumes by laborious, conscientious and patient writers, whom we read with esteem, but may I say, with all respect, not with corresponding exhilaration.

Knowing my own weakness, I challenge any member of the Seanad to tell us whether he ever got through those tomes of monotonous detail, those volumes of mediæval history, whether he has been able to see the wood from the trees, whether he has got any clear comprehension of Irish history at the end, and whether he does not think Ireland the most God-forsaken country in the civilised world. I do not blame the writers. It was their material that went wrong. It is very well to have piled up stacks of English State Papers, but some kind of an intermixture is needed if you want to read Irish State history. Where are what we call the Irish State Papers, the writing of our own people? They have been neglected, burned, buried, drowned, torn in pieces as badly as ever the Danes had done. They do not come at all into reckoning with the writers of history. The result is that Ireland has history that is no history at all. We cannot be a self-respecting nation until we have the Irish State Papers — in other words, until Irish writings are expounded and gathered together.

A scholar told me two days ago that he had discovered 30 important works by an important person which had been turned over and neglected. Therefore, what we absolutely need is a full aid to the Irish language in the editing, reading and bringing out of all those masses of Irish material so that we shall have the new story of her history. Professor MacNeill has been the first pioneer to point out the real road by giving us for the first time a true translation of the old Irish laws. The whole of Irish history will have to be re-written. The early part will not have to be re-written because it has not been written at all; it is only alluded to. I urge, therefore, that if we wish to encourage the self-respect of the Irish nation and the respect of other people for this nation there must be the most generous effort made to give us our history, and to give it to us on lines of full and adequate knowledge.

My second reason for urging the encouragement of the Irish language is one of simple pride. There was no country in mediæval Europe which was so intensely and passionately beloved by its people. The people of Ireland were not made one people by race. They were made one people by the land they loved. It was to them as a living being. They always called it by the name of a woman. Every rock, ruin and mound, every spot of it was known to them and beloved for its beauty, its homeliness in the homeland, and its heroic memories. That affection lasted long. Over one hundred years ago, when the Ordnance Survey was opened in Derry, the people were so impassioned by having their old boundaries, landmarks, fields and memorials of their ancestors known, that the Government thought it better to stop the whole work to the lasting loss of history. When, a few years ago, there were papers written in Arthur Griffith's journals about Irish sites of any importance it was the most touching sight I have seen to witness the quiet groups of local pilgrims visiting the long-forsaken memorials of their own people. I do not know if I should be trespassing too much to tell of a touching incident of the other day. There was an old woman of over 100 years. No one knew how much over 100 she was. She gave the slip to her friends one day and disappeared. She was lost for some time, but she finally returned with the story that she had been to Ireland. She went first from London to Dublin. Then she went to Galway and walked about 20 miles to her own home. She was picked up by a kindly farmer and sheltered for the night. When she returned she said: “I heard they were murdering each other in Ireland. I went over to see. Do not you people believe a word of it. I did not see a single murder when I was there.” That good old woman had the honour of Ireland at heart.

Last, I plead for ourselves now alive. We owe it to ourselves. We now see the result in this country of the breaking of a great tradition. We are now divided into several parties, and groups contending with each other, and not one of them has reached a decent age. The most elderly, founded by foreign arms, boasts of a venerable antiquity going back to 1685. The younger groups go back about 100 years and later than that. About three or four of them were founded in the last part of the 18th century. All of them are with foreign ideas, having foreign arms to back them, foreign hopes and the old traditions that gathered and united the people together are broken. What we want is to restore to them that ancient tradition and that honourable faith, so that they may become a real nation.

Mr. McLYSAGHT: “Lasmuich desna paidreacha nách doigh le Seanadóir Yeats, is fada nár labhaireadh aon Gaedhilig annso? Déarfainn gur ocáid oireamhnach í seo chun í labhairt.”

“Bhíos ag coinne go mbéidir go bhfuighmíd buidhean níos fearr nó níos oireamhnaighe ná an Royal Irish Academy d'fhaghailt le h-aghaidh na h-oibre seo; ach ní dóigh liom go bhfuil leigheas air mura gceapfaidhe cumann fé leith, pé'r domhan é de'n chuid is mó des na scoláirí Gaedhilge ar an Royal Irish Academy, agus is beag liom san.”

There is another point I want to make. I saw a serious criticism of the report of this body. It was written in English, I suppose naturally, seeing that our Report also is in English. It suggested that we ought to have made some provision for the National University whereby they would be enabled to publish the theses of students which are written there in Irish. That seems to indicate a lack of understanding as to the exact scope of our inquiry. Our Terms of Reference really prevented us from going outside the question of the manuscripts which are lying in the Royal Irish Academy and other places. On the other hand, people ought not to think that we are only dealing with ancient manuscripts. Senator Mrs. Green has pointed out that in our Report we deal with modern Irish. I am not sure that the ordinary man can realise what modern Irish is. When the Senator spoke of modern Irish she was really referring more to literature which started about 1600 or later on. Senators are aware that there was a prolific output of Irish up to the Union.

I suppose it was not until the Famine that the Irish language really began to decay. Personally, I was a little afraid that a learned body like the Royal Irish Academy would look a little coldly on the more modern Irish literature, but my objections have been largely removed by Senator Mrs. Green's argument. I am not an authority on Irish manuscripts, but I know of one in the Royal Irish Academy of which the date is as late as 1830. I hope such manuscripts will not be overlooked. This particular manuscript, only a few pages of which have been published, is one of the greatest possible interest. It is a document of human interest, and throws a light on the social life of Ireland about that time, from the point of view of Irish-speaking men, which no other document I have ever seen does. I mention that just to show that this is not what you might call a dry-as-dust subject. When this Motion is passed I hope the Government will not pigeon-hole it, but make this a small part of that general policy for the re-Gaelicising of the country which has been foreshadowed by the isolated action of individual Departments. I, for one, await hopefully evidence that the Government as a whole is actuated by the same spirit as one or two of their Departments.

Sir THOMAS ESMONDE: I think the Report of our Committee is an admirable document, and I would like to congratulate them upon it. They have dealt with a number of aspects of this most interesting question in a very practical way. I welcome the Report because I think it is the beginning of what we should have had in this country for many years—an Irish Record Commission; some official body that would take steps to translate and bring to our notice all the wealth of Irish literature and history that is isolated and scattered practically all over Europe. This is a very admirable beginning, and I cordially support the appeal for assistance from the public purse. Every self-respecting country has an interest in its own history and records, and in this country, with the assistance of the Government, we should have every possible light and information that is to be had in connection with our ancient history and language, and also with the various stages of civilisation through which the country has passed in the course of its long history.

I am particularly pleased with the recommendation that modern Irish as well as ancient Irish should be studied and, if possible, developed, because we know perfectly well that the difficulty of understanding much of the meaning of the very ancient Irish may be, to a certain extent, lessened by the study of modern Irish. Modern Irish is naturally the development of ancient Irish and it will teach us very much indeed. I am also glad that our Committee has gone beyond its terms of reference in its suggestions with regard to the excavation and investigation of our national monuments and antiquities. I have always been glad to express my appreciation of the latter-day policy of the Irish Board of Works and of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Both these institutions have given immense service in the cause of Irish archæology, and the latest sheets of the Ordnance Survey have reminded us of very many of our antiquities that we were in danger of forgetting. I am glad that our Committee has suggested that examination into our national monuments should be done scientifically. There is ever so much to be learned of the habits and customs of the people and their progress by the proper examination of these historical monuments. The strata, the different layers of soil and ashes, etc., which repose one on top of the other, may give us very great information as to what manner of people lived in these ancient habitations. I think the most valuable part of their report is that entrusting this portion of the work to the Royal Irish Academy. Personally, I do not think it could be entrusted to better hands. It is a very scientific body and has done an enormous service to Irish archæology and is capable of doing much greater service in the future. I cordially support that part of the report and congratulate the Committee on their work, particularly where they travelled outside the terms of reference.

Dr. SIGERSON: It seems somewhat strange to me that the Seanad should be asked to concur in the formation of a catalogue of manuscripts. Every learned society has a catalogue of its manuscripts. The Royal Irish Academy has one. Trinity College has one which was compiled by O'Reilly, author of the great dictionary. The British Museum has one which was compiled by Standish Hayes O'Grady, which is a model catalogue. In the library in Brussels there is also a catalogue of Irish manuscripts open to visitors. I read several Irish poems there. It does not seem as if this is a matter of great urgency. No doubt, a catalogue, complete and comprehensive, would be an admirable work, and would be useful to scholars at home and abroad, but as a rule, these scholars have knowledge of where manuscripts are deposited and of their contents. Would it not be better to produce something of wider and more general interest, something which lies unpublished, the work of authors who were assembled together in that great undertaking, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland? There you have men like Petrie, O'Donovan, O'Curry and some others. Their work was intense, meticulous and exact. They worked at it for years and you will find their recorded work in the bound but unwritten volumes of the Ordnance Survey stored in the Royal Irish Academy. When you open these you will find not mere catalogues of names or of descriptions but the intensive work of scholars who, in dealing with localities, sought for references amongst the living and in the records of the dead. You will find there, not merely transcripts of ancient Irish manuscripts but transcripts of Latin manuscripts, transcripts of historical references and maps referring to all localities. These are very valuable, to a certain extent invaluable, manuscripts which are left lying there unnoticed, except when some rare scholar comes, perhaps from the Continent, to examine them. I have known some of my friends to come and publish their researches in Continental places. What were the works of these men intended for? Formerly county histories of Ireland were published. Some of these are of great historical, value. It was intended that this Ordnance Survey would produce not only a survey of each county, but a complete record of its place in history. When the work was begun the one county selected was the County Derry. That history was printed but the intellectual generosity of the Government at that time dried up suddenly and no more histories were published. All the rest were placed under lock and key and await the research of foreigners. I would suggest that it is the more urgent work because you have already a summary of many great and intense works. That is a subject which will interest, not only the few distinguished scholars, but also the people at large by, for the first time, placing in their hands in each county, a record of their position in Irish history. If you desire the people to take an intelligent interest in history you cannot do anything better than give them an account of the proceedings of their forefathers, and, if possible, also supply some aids to the cultivation of music, and the popular lore of their country.

That looks after itself to some extent, but this great literary work requires the assistance of the State. Otherwise it might lie locked up for another score or two score, or even four score of years, as it has done since its origin.

Mrs. COSTELLO: I would like to point out that however important it is that the papers of the Ordnance Survey should be published, it is well to remember that they are all written in English. Therefore, they are all outside the terms of our reference.

Question: “That the Report be adopted”—put and agreed to.

Document details

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Irish Manuscripts

Author: W. B. Yeats

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber and Rebecca Daly

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft

Extent: 7895 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2014

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E920001-001

Availability: The works by W. B. Yeats are in the public domain. This electronic text is available for purposes of private or academic research and teaching.

Notes statement

From 11 December 1922 to 28 November 1928, William Butler Yeats was an independent member of the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann, and 'one of three Senators appointed to advise the government on matters concerning education, literature, and the arts' (Pearce, 11). Yeats delivered a number of speeches. All these are available online on a website of the Irish Government (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/) — and not only his speeches, but those of all Seanad members are available there. A list, taken from Donald R. Pearce, 'The Senate speeches of W.B. Yeats', is given below with the dates and titles of his other speeches, and hyperlinks to where the full text may be found.

Source description


  • The Senate speeches of W.B. Yeats, edited by Donald R. Pearce. (London: Faber and Faber, 1960) 68–77.

List of Yeats' Seanad speeches

  1. Election of Senate Chairman, 12 Dec 1922 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1922121200006?opendocument)
  2. Standing Committees, 10 Jan 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923011000009?opendocument)
  3. Indemnities to British, 24 Jan 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923012400008?opendocument)
  4. Law Enforcement, 8 Feb 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923020800006?opendocument)
  5. Arthur Griffith, 14 Mar 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923031400011?opendocument)
  6. Location of Parliament, 15 Mar 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923031500005?opendocument)
  7. Voting Cards, 22 Mar 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923032200007?opendocument)
  8. Damage to Property, 28 Mar 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923032800012?opendocument)
  9. Personal Injuries, 18 Apr 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923041800005?opendocument)
  10. League of Nations, 19 Apr 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923041900006?opendocument)
  11. Irish Manuscripts, 19 Apr 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923041900009?opendocument)
  12. The Lane Pictures, 9 May 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923050900013?opendocument)
  13. Payment of Senators, 6 Jun 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923060600006?opendocument)
  14. Censorship of Films, 7 Jun 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923060700007?opendocument)
  15. National Health Insurance, 25 Jun 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923062500003?opendocument)
  16. Location of Parliament, 11 Jul 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923071100003?opendocument)
  17. Inspection of Prisons, 26 Jul 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923072600006?opendocument)
  18. Ancient Monuments, 3 August 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923080300007?opendocument)
  19. Sir Horace Plunkett, 14 November 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923111400005?opendocument)
  20. The Irish Language, 14 November 1923 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1923111400009?opendocument)
  21. Civil Service, 15 Jan 1924 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924011500006?opendocument)
  22. British Empire Exhibition, 15 Jan 1924 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924011500007?opendocument)
  23. Inspection of Prisons, 23 Jan 1924 (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924012300006?opendocument)
  24. Independence of Judges (6 February 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924020600008?opendocument)
  25. The National Gallery (19 March 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924031900005?opendocument)
  26. Questioning the Government (19 March 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924031900005?opendocument)
  27. National Gallery and Art School (3 April 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924040300013?opendocument)
  28. Location of Parliament (1 May 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924050100016?opendocument)
  29. Against overhasty Legislation (21 May 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924052100009?opendocument)
  30. The National Museum (4 June 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924060400015?opendocument)
  31. Irish Manuscripts (4 June 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924060400010#N2).
  32. The National Museum (19 June 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924061900005?opendocument)
  33. The Irish Language (2 July 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924070200007?opendocument)
  34. The Stained Glass Industry (3 July 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924070300013?opendocument)
  35. The National Museum (16 July 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924071600021?opendocument)
  36. The National Museum (16 July 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924071600022?opendocument)
  37. Northern Ireland (17 October 1924) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924101700005?opendocument)
  38. Historic Monuments (10 June 1925 ) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1925061000010?opendocument)
  39. Debate on Divorce (11 June 1925) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1925061100010?opendocument)
  40. Women in Civil Service (17 December 1925) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1925121700007?opendocument)
  41. Design of Coinage (3 March 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926030300004?opendocument)
  42. Condition of Schools (24 March 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926032400003?opendocument)
  43. Condition of Schools (30 March 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926033000004?opendocument)
  44. Condition of Schools (28 April 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926042800008?opendocument)
  45. Senate Membership (15 June 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926061500003?opendocument)
  46. The Lane Pictures (14 July 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926071400007?opendocument)
  47. Judges' Costumes (22 July 1926) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1926072200003?opendocument)
  48. Copyright Protection (24 February 1927) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1927022400005?opendocument)
  49. Merrion Square, Dublin (9 March 1927) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1927030900004?opendocument)
  50. Copyright Protection (11 March 1927) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1927031100004?opendocument)
  51. Merrion Square, Dublin (7 April 1927) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1927040700004?opendocument)
  52. Copyright Protection (4 May 1927) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1927050400007?opendocument)
  53. Copyright Protection (4 May 1927 -- resumed) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1927050400007?opendocument)
  54. Senate Membership (18 July 1928) (http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1928071800008?opendocument)


  • A general bibliography is available online at the official web site of the Nobel Prize. See: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1923/yeats-bibl.html

The edition used in the digital edition

Pearce, Donald R., ed. (1960). The Senate speeches of W.B. Yeats‍. 1st ed. 183 pp: 6 Preface; 7–9 Contents; 11–26 Introduction; 29–102 Speeches during first triennial period 1922–25; 103–152 Speeches during second triennial period 1925–1928; 153–180 Appendices on (1) The Nobel Prize congratulations, (2) Divorce: an undelivered Speech; (3) Irish Coinage; (4) The child and the state (168) (5) The Irish Censorship; 181–183: Index. London: Faber and Faber.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  title 	 = {The Senate speeches of W.B. Yeats},
  editor 	 = {Donald R. Pearce},
  edition 	 = {1},
  note 	 = {183 pp: 6 Preface; 7–9 Contents; 11–26 Introduction; 29–102 Speeches during first triennial period 1922–25; 103–152 Speeches during second triennial period 1925–1928; 153–180 Appendices on (1) The Nobel Prize congratulations, (2) Divorce: an undelivered Speech; (3) Irish Coinage; (4) The child and the state (168) (5) The Irish Censorship; 181–183: Index.},
  publisher 	 = {Faber and Faber },
  address 	 = {London},
  date 	 = {1960}


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Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

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The electronic text covers pages 68–77; and additional unpaginated material from the website http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/, containing the speeches of Mrs Stopford Green, Mr Mac Lysaght, Mr Sigerson, Sir Thomas Esmonde, and Mrs Costello.

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Profile description

Creation: By W. B. Yeats (1852–1913)

Date: June 1924

Language usage

  • The text is in English. (en)
  • A few words are in Latin. (la)
  • Some words and two paragraphs are in Irish. (ga)

Keywords: W. B. Yeats; Alice Stopford Green; speech; Seanad Eireann; Senate report; Committee on Irish Manuscripts; Irish Manuscripts; 20c

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  1. 2014-12-06: Minor update, encoding of names refined; new word count made. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-03-27: File parsed and validated; SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2014-03-26: Hyperlinks inserted in TEI header. (ed. Rebecca Daly)
  4. 2014-03-04: Provisional TEI header created; text proofed (1); structural and basic content mark-up added. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  5. 2014-03-03: Text captured. (file capture Beatrix Färber)

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  1. This report was written by Yeats and Mrs. Stopford Green🢀

  2. This section of the text is not part of printed edition but sourced from the website http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad1924060400010#N2. [BF] 🢀


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