Daniel Corkery: Quotations



Irish National Tradition’ (Editorial, in The Leader, 22 Sept. 1917): ‘If I were asked for a definition of transcendentalist, I should be tempted to answer, That man to whom you may safely entrust facts! His work, therefore, is never of the nature of rameis. Far from it, such workers alone take account of the dignity of fact, inasmuch as facts are the rock on which they built.’ (p.155.)

 
Note: I am indebted to Patrick Walsh for all the quotations from Corkery’s editorial in The Leader which I met with in his D.Phil. dissertation on Corkery and Hewitt, successfully submitted to the University of Ulster at Coleraine in 1996.

Longer works
The Hidden Ireland (1924)
The Hounds of Banba (1920)
Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931)
What’s this about the Gaelic League? (1941)
Fortunes of the Irish Language (1954)
Shorter works
“Glimpses of the Gaeltacht”, in An Gaedhael (Dec. 1937) “The Priest” (q.d.; in Nightfall & Other Stories, 1988)

Sundry topics
The Ascendancy
Anglo-Irish Literature
Socialism in Ireland

The Leader (3 April 1909) - ‘The Gaelic Leaguer and Politics’ [Editorial]: ‘The Gaelic League has succeeded in establishing a new criterion by which to estimate the Irishism of a man; a great many people cannot fit themselves to the new conditions; they have grown tired of proclaiming that they are Irishmen even [?what] the Gaelic says; they are sinking into silence, a sort of sulky silence, and their goodwill is becoming changed to petulant hate …I discovered sometime since that if you put the question - “Are you Irish?” to a boy at the present time, he answers “yes” or “no” according as he does not know the Irish language. I have tested this over and over again. It is in a way a tribute to the Gaelic Leaguer; the Gaelic League has insisted on the impossibility of being Irish without the Irish language, and the nation sems to have learned the lesson.’ (p.160; quoted in Patrick Walsh, Daniel Corkery, D.Phil. Diss., UUC [Coleraine] 1996).

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The Leader: ‘When the Orange corner of Ulster acknowledges the overlordship of all Ireland, when Belfast mates with the Sean Bhean Bhocht then for the first time will Orangeism hav taken to itself the strength of weakness, the energy of song. And it will begin to have some understanding of many tragic histories that must now seem very dark and chaotic indeed to its earthbound song.’ (The Leader, 1 April, 1916).

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The Leader (Corkery’s leader on the eve of the 1916 Rising): ‘Situated as we are, near neighbours to a people with a peculiarly bumptious national kink, it is not to be wondered at that, nationally speaking, we have all the time to be on the defensive. / That being so, one would think that a National Party would have for its offices the handling of all munitions and supplies which are necessary to maintain the trenches intact. The trenches I speak of are in the mind of the man, in the mind of the Irish people. The munitions and supplies I speak of are those activities of the nation which would impinge on the national mind. A National party one would think would fight tooth and nail to get control of the nation’s educational systems. A National Party, one would think, would be ready to go into revolt rather than see the National language penalised. A National Party one would imagine would see that by hook or by crook the people of its choice would have preached to them the gospel of nationality day in, day out, even if the members of the party had to sit down and write the books and pamphlets themselves and scatter them from the housetops (as Shelley did his). Education, language and literature, culture - such are some of the activities of a nation which have to do with the formation of the nation’s mind.’ (‘The Kink of Nationality’, in The Leader, 18 April 1916; quoted in Patrick Walsh, “Daniel Corkery”, D.Phil. Diss., UUC [Coleraine] 1996.)

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The Leader (22 July 1916) - Editorial: ‘We might as well make up our minds to accept partition - at least for the present […] The best way to win Ulster is simply to ignore it; to go our own way as if Ulster was not.’ He goes on, ‘.. Ulster will come to loving anchorage in Ireland only when Ireland dares to be itself […] Unless Ireland goes forth on an unnatural enterprise (seeking to win other people’s souls by losing its own) there seems every reason to expect that gift from the creator - spiritual intensity - to breathe upon us, and to build itself a tabernacle on our midst. And unless we take up the burden of nationhood as all responsibilities are burdens - as true knights of the Holy Spirit, acting and living always in truth, not in make-believe, we cannot expect our time of fruition to be any nearer than before. Therefore let us dare to be ourselves. If we become a living nation, with a mind of its own, an art, many arts, as a sign-manual of that mind then it may be that Ulster will seek us, even without knowing it. If there be not a spiritual union between Ireland and “Ulster” far better there should be no union at all. Have we not had sufficient experience already of union without this spiritual union?’ (Quoted in Patrick Walsh, op. cit., p.85.)

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The Hounds of Banba (1920): ‘You stride in here, chant your wild songs and go;/The chroniclers, with rushlights, stumble after;/And oh! see them blot the sunrise glow/Of your bright deeds and dreams, your tears and laughter.’ (Dedication; supposedly addressed to the fighters in the War of Independence; cited in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal, 1977, p.160.)

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The Hounds of Banba (1920), “Seamus - II” [being a portrait of a nationalist activist, Seamus O’Donovan of which the second part is narrated after his death by Monica O’Sullivan]: ‘After the Rising there was in Ireland, as everyone knows, a sense of spiritual exaltation that laughed at all the wisdom of the world to scorn. As Seamus put it to me: the soul of had been more deeply influenced through the hundred men who had died for her in Dublin than the soul of England through the hundreds of thousands who had died for her in France. And he would add: In the world of the spirit there is no such thing as length and breadth; it is not numbers that count, not volume. But I pointed out to him then, and he complimented me on my insight, that the deaths in Dublin ad evoked the memory of all the countless tragedies that had taken place in the long drawn-out fight between England and Ireland. Through them the past had become alive, visible to us all. The warriors of old - the O’Neills, the O’Donnells, the O’Sullivans - they rode the land again, and Tone and Emmet were speaking in every ear, and with them, the nameless dead that had fought and died in the same fight. So that volume does count (I would say), but he would answer: No,m it is intensity only that counts - intensity along can raise vision. Vision! - the land was swept with it - our lives were dazzled: we lived nobler.’ (p.95.) [See also note on Givenchy/Ginchy in Notes, infra.)]

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The Hounds of Banba (1920), “A Bye-Product” [of Nick’s father]: ‘[T]he meagre, death-like figure laid flat upon the bed, the wild creature watching by it, the gun across the huge knees, the fierce grip. And in the light of that vision the task of freeing his native land that he and others like him had taken upon their shoulders seemed suddenly to have become immensely heavier, infinitely more involved, more surely fraught through and through with living pain.’ (Hounds of Banba, p.193; quoted in Alex Gonzalez, paper at PGLIB Conference, 1998.)

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The Hounds of Banba (1920): ‘[T]he old names in those Greek stories he [Owen Roe O’Sullivan] loved. It is seldom that he invokes them without some life-giving word in his mouth. Hebe is “an reilteann og” (the young star). Helen is “riobh chailce an choimheascair thug ar na Trae [the lime-white lady of the conflict who brought destruction to Troy]” […] the Irish poets of that time read those classic tales as good, bright stories: they seem, happy folk, to have had the blessed privilege of reading them as the far-off creators of them intended - greedily rather than criticaly; with the glory that was Greece they made free, finding entrance to it through their own sagas.’ ([p.229]; cited in John Dillon, ‘Some Reflections on the Irish Classical Tradition’, in The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, 1982, pp.448-52; p.449.)

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The Hidden Ireland (1924): ‘To explore your own land for the foreigner […] is lighter work than to express it to itself …’ [q. source.] ‘The soul of the Gael is one of the more enduring features of our national life’ (The Hidden Ireland, p.7.) ‘Irish Ireland had, by the eighteenth century, become purely a peasant nation, successive swarms of land pirates who, in a phrase written by one of themselves (an Elizabeth Brown of Killarney) measured law by lust, and conscience by commodity. It the softer valleys those land pirates had built their houses and Irish Ireland withered in the alien spirit that breathed from them. Even today we come on the remains of this Gaelic Ireland only in places where there have been no such alien houses for some hundred years. Irish Ireland then, while in a state coterminous with Ireland itself, had its stronghold in sterile tracts that were worth tilling.’ (?Ibid.)

The Hidden Ireland (1924): ‘For Irish Ireland had, by the eighteenth century, become purley a peasant nation.’ (The Hidden Ireland, p.7; quoted in Russell Alspach, Irish Poetry from the English Invasion to 1798, Penn. UP, 1959, p.8; and there confirmed as accurate on the strength of a letter from The Gentleman’s Magazine (Oct. 1751; p.466), affirming that ‘the lower rank have as yet received scarce any tincture of the manners, habits, customs, or language of Britain.’ (Alspach, p.9.)

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931): ‘Colonial literature, written to explain the quaintness of the humankind of this land, especially the native humankind, to another humankind that was not quaint, that was standard’ (p.2.) ‘A national literature is primarily written for its own people, every new book in it - no matter what its theme, foreign or native - is referable to their life, and its literary traits to the traits already established in the literature. The nation’s own critical opinion of it is the warrant of life or death for it. Can Anglo-Irish, then, be a distinctive literature if it is not a national literature? And if it has not primarily been written for Ireland, if it be impossible to refer to Irish life for its elucidation, if its continued existence or non-existence be independent of Irish opinion - can it be a national literature? (p.2); ‘Expatriation is the badge of all the tribe of Anglo-Irish literary men; and in nearly all cases it is a life sentence.’ The danger of expatriatism, according to Corkery, was that the expatriate ‘once again becomes a free agent; once again begins unduly to reflect movements and fashions in literature which do not take their rise in this country, which have nothing to do with the mental life of this country. […] [Anglo-Irish literature] is therefore not normal, for a normal literature while welcoming the criticism of outsiders neither lives nor dies by such criticism. It abides the judgement of its own people, and by that judgement lives or dies. If this literature then be not a normal literature it is not a national literature, for normal and national are synonymous in literary criticism.’ (Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, 1931; rep. edn. NY 1965, p.3.) ‘The difficulty is not alone a want of native moulds; it is rather the want of a foundation upon which to establish them.’ (?p.4.) [Cont.]

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931) - cont: ‘The three great forces which, working for long in the Irish national being, have made it so different from the English national being are, [1] The Religious Consciousness of the People; [2] Irish Nationalism; and [3] The Land’ (p.19.) The Irishman looks in the face of his own people, hears them utter themselves with intimacy […] knows finally, in some queer way, his own consciousness […] aware of himself thus advantaged, as with the reasons that the intellect knows not of, the Irishman feels it in his bones that Ireland has not yet learned how to express its own life through the medium of the English language. (Ibid., p.12.) ‘It does not therefore focus the mind of his own people, teaching him the better to look about him, to understand both himself and his surroundings. It focuses instead the life of another people. Instead of sharpening his gaze on his own neighbourhood, his reading distracts from it, for he cannot find in these surroundings what his reading has taught him is the matter worth coming upon. His surroundings begin to seem unvital […] At the least his education sets up a dispute between his intellect and his emotions. […] What happens in the neighbourhood of an Irish boy’s home - the fair, the hurling match, the land grabbing, the priesting, the mission, the Mass - he never comes on in literature, that is in such literature as he is told to repsect and learn […] In his riper years he may come to see the crassness of his own upbringing […] but of course the damage is done …’. [Cont.]

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931) - cont: ‘Everywhere in the mentality of Irish people are flux and uncertainty. Our national consciousness may be described, in a native phrase, as a quaking sod. It gives no footing. It is not English, nor Irish, nor Anglo-Irish; as will be understood if one think a while on the thwarting it undergoes in each individual child of the race as he grows to manhood […] For practically all that he reads is English; what he reads in Irish is not yet worth taking account of.’; ‘His education, instead of buttressing and refining his emotional nature, teaches him rather to despise it, inasmuch as it teaches him not to see the surroundings out of which he is sprung, as they are in themselves, but as compared with alien surroundings, his education provides him with an alien medium through which he is henceforth to look at his native land.’ (Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature, 1931, p.14; quoted in Mercier, The Irish Comic Tradition, 1962, and cited Luke Gibbon, “Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival, in Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1997, p.13; also in Thomas Kinsella, ‘The Irish Writer’, 1966; David Lloyd, ‘The Colonial Subject’, in The Irish Review, 1988, an essay expanded as ‘Writing in the Shit, Beckett, Nationalism and the Colonial Subject’, in Studies Vol 35, No. 1, Spring 1898; J. W. Foster, Colonial Consequences, 1991 [remarking his analogous experience of the British educational system in N. Ireland]; Conor Carville, ‘Becoming Minor: Daniel Corkery and the Expatriated Nation’, in Irish Studies Review, August 1988, pp.139-48, p.142.)

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931) - cont: ‘For instance, who can name a novel dealing adequately with their [the Thurles hurling crowd] religious consciousness? Yet this religious consciousness is so vast, so deep, so dramatic, even so terrible a thing, occasionally creating wreckage in its path, tumbling the weak things over, that when one begins to know it, one wonders if it is impossible for a writer to deal with any phase whatever of Irish life without trenching on it. To adapt the convention of Anglo-Irish Literature, that is either to leave it out, or to substitute for it the wraith-like wisps of vanished beliefs that still float in the minds of a tiny percentage of the people, is to cut out the heart of the mystery.’ (Ibid., p.19-20). ‘Every new book written by an Englishman in English is written primarily fork his own people; English life and English letters as a whole lie behind it; the English cosmos is the tree from which the book, like a ripe fruit has dropped; and English opinion decrees life or death for its portion.’ (p.43). [Cont.]

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931) - cont: ‘[W]hat scores of books have been written in which an Englishman is brought to Ireland and is taken round while a current of comment is poured in his ear, not that he may really understand what he sees, but that he may know that what he sees is only the scum of the milk: he may be a bit of a fool, this Englishman, but still he is normal; he is not one of a lesser breed; and it is really his unsuspecting normality that makes it necessary for the guide to hint that things even more strange lurk unknown to him in the background. In this way the writer can also prove his own intimate acquaintanceship with the life of a strange land and a stranger people.’ (p.8.) [Cont.]

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931) - cont: ‘Of that better sort of novel, which is little else than an impassioned study of the reactions of individual souls to their social environment, scarcely a single example is to be had. […] How could it be otherwise, if, more than any other form in literature, the novel, for its writing requires a thorough intimacy with not only the scene itself and the people themselves but with all that gives one little world a distinctive vitality? The whole topsy-turvy scheme of Irish life makes against this. If we take up the first Anglo-Irish story to hand we can find no Irish homeliness in it: we may discover an attempt at the idyllic - watery gruel! Homeliness being beyond the knowledge rather than the power of the writers, they take refuge in the freakish, the fanciful, the perverse.’ (ibid., pp.17-18; the foregoing all quoted in Claire Connolly, ‘Uncanny Castle Rackrent’, in Transactions of Monaco Conference 1998.)

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Synge & Anglo-Irish Literature (1931) - cont: ‘This colonial literature was written to explain the quaintness of the humankind of this land, especially the native humankind, to another humankind that was not quaint, that was standard, normal […]. The same note is found everywhere in Kipling’s Indian books.’ (Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, 1931, pp.7-8; cited in Vivian Mercier, ‘Irish Literary Revival’, in W. E. Vaughan, ed., A New History of Ireland: Ireland under the Union II, 1870-1921, Vol. VI , Clarendon Press 1996 [Chap. XIII], p.366.) Note also remarks on ‘the Ireland that counts’ in connection with Thomas MacGreevy. Further, ‘only a national literature can be considered literature at all, since only such a literature is representative’ (Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, 1931 [q.p.]; quoted in David Lloyd, Anomalous States, 1993, p.44; cited in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000, p.47.) [For longer extracts, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics” > Anglo-Irish, infra.)

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What’s This About the Gaelic League? (Dublin: Connradh na Gaedhilge 1941): ‘The English language, great as it is, can no more throw up an Irish literature than it can an Indian literature. Neither can Irish nationality have its say in both English and Irish.’ (Quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Writers in Quarantine?: The Case for Irish Studies’, in Crane Bag, III, 1 (1979), pp.9-21 rep. in Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies (1982), pp.341-53; p.348.

The Fortunes of the Irish Language (1954): ‘The tradition of the Irish people is to be understood and experiences with intimacy only in the Irish language. It would be impossible that it could be so come upon in the English language […]. To say tradition is to say language - and while this is true of every national tradition it is overwhelmingly true of ours […] Soil: Literature - where else, in Europe, do these words go almost inseparably hand in hand as they do in our tradition down the centuries? (pp.13-14; quoted in Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, London: Pluto Press 1998, p.186.)

 

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Glimpses of the Gaeltacht”, in An Gaedhael (Dec. 1937): ‘Perhaps I should say that very few people native-born here were born so far from the Gaelteacht as myself. My people had been for so long pent up in a handful of a city that no relative of ours remained in any part of the countryside. For us all connection with the green fields, with farming, with any phase whatever of country life, had been severed so long before that even if we had every though of re-establishing it we wouldn’t have known to what countryside we should address ourselve. My native land was therefore a handful of a city that had not been Irish for seven hundred years. […] so it happened that it was in the heart of Dublin town that I got my first glimpse of the Gaoltacht [sic]. What I realised as having come upon was a thrilling little play. Indeed that that thrilling little play may have been a golden key which opened that lovely land to me struck me for the first time only the other night as I looked into the face of An Craoibín [Douglas Hyde], that face beloved of the Gael.’ ( p.6.)

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The Priest” (in Nightfall & Other Stories, sel. & ed. ed. Francis Doherty, 1988): ‘That terrible promiscuity of rock, the little stony fields that only centuries of labour had salvaged from thme, the unremitting toil they demanded, the poor return, the niggard scheme of living; and then the ancient face on the pillow, the gathering of greedy descendants - he had known it all before; for years the knowledge of how much of a piece it all was had kept his mind uneasy.’ (Quoted in Blackstaff Catalogue, 1988).

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Sundry topics
The Ascendancy: ‘[I]n the case of writers from the Ascendancy their emotional nature differs from that of the Irish people (differs also of course from that of the English people) and such as it is, is also doubtless thrown out of gear by the educational mauling it undergoes. They are therefore doubly disadvantaged. To become natural interpreters of the nation they need to share in the people’s emotional background […] The ingrained prejudices of the Ascendancy mind are so hard, so self-centred, so alien to the genius of Ireland, that no Ascendancy writer has ever succeeded in handling in literature the raw material of Irish life.’ (Synge and the Anglo-Irish, Mercier 1966, p.38; cited in Robert F. Garratt, Modern Irish Poetry, Tradition and Continuity from Yeats to Heaney, 1986.)

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Anglo-Irish Literature: ‘[…] literature written in English by Irishmen is now known among us as Anglo-Irish literature, while by Irish literature we mean the literature written in the Irish language and that alone, to have outsiders become familiar with the distinction is simply a matter of time.’ (Quoting Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, 1931; 1947 edn., p.1; cited in Seán Lucy, Irish Poets in English, Mercier 1972, p.13.) See also Loreto Todd, The Language of Irish Literature (London: Macmillan 1989):‘The inaugural meeting of IASAIL [later IASIL] in 1970 accepted Corkery’s working definition, if not the attendant evaluation […]’ (193pp.)

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Socialism in Ireland: ‘How will socialism affect Ireland? The rooted in the soil men will not have it; the only place to deal with it is the city. There are so few large town in Ireland that socialism does not count. It is then an interestig fact; what will Ireland do and think while it sees socialism going more and more ahead in England.’ Corkery continues in expressing the hope that the shift to urban politics would occur in Ireland as in England after 1688. ‘an individual opinion! How editors would have to ship and the bishops and the priests wake up - the teachers also and the various boards.’ (MS of 1907; Cork Archive). ALSO, Corkery’s Europeanism as an antidote to ‘the provincialism of England, the provincialism of its literature as well as of its life, of its scholarship as well as of its politics.’ (‘Europe Ahoy’, unpub. article in Cork Archive, UCC; quoted in Patrick Walsh, UUC PhD, 1996).

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