THE INTERMOUNTAIN CATHOLIC 15TH JUNE, 1907 P6
Well worth seeing and well worth remembering, dear old Galway; Galway of the stalwart gray houses that have stood for centuries the storms and buffets and driving rains of the Atlantic; Galway of the narrow, winding quiet streets; Galway of the beautiful bay, where of an evening the sinking sun touches with its dying splendor the quaint-colored sails of the fishing boats rocking at anchor.
Pleasant Galway it is, where the people are erect, and sturdy, and kindly, and the children – real, rosy country children – smile at you out of deep blue eyes as you pass; where you are awakened in the early morning by the complaining, musical cry of the shawled and barefoot fishwives.
“Fresh herring! Fresh herring!” they chant, as they trudge, baskets on hip, along the cobbled street. Oh, a quaint, old-world town is Galway, and a good old-world people are they that live there.
It chanced late last summer that a wanderer, weary of the noise and stress of modern life, strayed into the old town, and instantly felt the rest and quiet comfort of the atmosphere, and, going forth to stroll among the streets, found a throng wending their way on some great purpose bent, and so, following, came to an old arched gateway, in a strange little nook, under which these people disappeared. The curious one, going in, was received with prompt and courteous hospitality by the members of the Gaelic League, and was made a free and delighted spectator of the proceedings.
It was the “Feis Connacht,” the great annual gathering of the local country people, who were assembled to hear the old tongue spoken, the old songs sung, and the old stories told, not, as so familiarly known to them, around the cabin fires or on the breezy hillsides, but in the great “town”, in a hall, where judges would listen to their efforts and award prizes and honors to those they liked best.
So it was in the old, long, low-ceiled, whitewashed hall they met, and they thronged from far and near, young and old, the ancient village favorite, white headed and frieze-clad, who was received with shouts of applause, the worthy matron, conscious of her dignity, the young earnest farmer lad, with deep, ever burning hope of Ireland’s freedom in his deep and earnest eyes, and the troops of sunny-faced children, fresh and sweet material these, for the work of keeping the old tongue alive. The old people knew it; they would pass, but it was these tiny ones whose little lispings were listened to with greatest attention by the judges – for within their curled palms lies the future of the Irish language.
They sang, these children with their clear fresh voices, in the soft accents of the old tongue, the ancient songs of their race, and while they sang, one read in their bright eyes and fair, Greuze-like faces, the hopes of the land for the future. Oh, the sweet old songs, “Kathleen-ni-Houlihan,” solemn and mysterious, “Paistin Fionn,” with its wailing refrain, and the slow, stately strains of the “Coolin.”
Even the wild, gypsy-like children of the famous Claddagh were there sturdily chanting and (yet more to their taste) answering back, in the “conversation contest,” with a free, brisk promptness, the questions put by the judges. It was a Claddagh lassie, with a great shawl drawn about her, like unto her elders, who seated herself with much composure, and begun a long story in Gaelic, which convulsed her hearers with merriment that found its origin in the twinkle of her shrewd gray eye.
And it was a Galway matron who, also draped in her shawl, danced with dignity and decorum, the many and difficult steps of the old Irish jig, to the lively strains of an ancient piper, upon a platform, laid for the occasion, upon the stage.
How independent they were, those Connacht people! No sign of shyness or mauvais honte. They stepped up and recited, sung, danced, whatever it might be, with earnestness, and industry. How fine was that old orator, who had his tale to tell, and his say to say (concerning the legitimate freedom of ireland) and who would say it, ignoring the tinkle of the judge’s bell (intimating that his time limit had expired), and indeed, upbraiding those with upraised hands and nodding heard, as he perforced abandoned the rostrum and descended to his place among his fellows.
Good humor and appreciation are ever the order of the day. One and all, fisher and farmer and kirtled housewife, “old men and maidens, young men and children,” and the “quality” mingle in perfect democratic unison on the common ground of “land and language”.
The very remoteness of this region from the hustle and distraction of the world, would seem to militate strongly in favor as an educational field. There is time here, “all the time there is,” to be given to the study of and development of the language, and there is the earnestness, intelligence and independence of a people whose life is spent in the open air, brightened by God’s sunshine and inspired by God’s free winds, and the ever-sweet, salt breath of the ocean, here in the old historic town, whose every stone, every time-worn arch and buttress, and strange, old gray building is a reminder of ancient glories and sorrows.
GERALDINE M. HAVERTY