"George A. Birmingham" (who in private life is Canon Hannay), in his admirable book, An Irishman Looks at his World, tells us: "The most important educational work in Ireland during the last twenty years has been done independently of universities or schools," and in this statement I entirely agree with him. And I may add that in this work Canon Hannay himself bore no inconsiderable part. During a political campaign in Mayo in 1910 I had some delightful conversations with Canon Hannay in my hotel at Westport, and his views expressed in the volume from which I quote are only a development of those which he then outlined. Both as to the vexed questions then disturbing North and South Ireland and as to the lines along which national growth ought to take place we had much in common. We agreed that nationality means much more than mere political independence - that it is founded on the character and intellect of the people, that it lives and is expressed in its culture, customs and traditions, in its literature, its songs and its arts. We saw hope for Ireland because she was remaking and remoulding herself from within - the only sure way in which she could work out her eventual salvation, whatever political parties or combinations may come or go.

This process of regeneration took firm root when the parties were exhausting themselves in mournful internal strife. Through the whole of the nineteenth century it had been the malign purpose of England to destroy the spirit of nationality through its control of the schools. Just as in the previous century it sought to reduce Ireland to a state of servitude through the operations of the Penal Laws, so it now sought to continue its malefic purpose by a system of education "so bad that if England had wished to kill Ireland's soul when she imposed it on the Sister Isle she could not have discovered a better means of doing so" (M. Paul Dubois). And the same authority ascribes the fatalism, the lethargy, the moral inertia and intellectual passivity, the general absence of energy and character which prevailed in Ireland ten or twelve years ago to the fact that England struck at Ireland through her brain and sought to demoralise and ruin the national mind.

Thank God for it that the effort failed, but it failed mainly owing to the fact that a new generation of prophets had arisen in Ireland who saw that in the revival and reform of national education rested the best hope for the future. They recalled the gospel of Thomas Davis and the other noble minds of the Young Ireland era that we needs must educate in order that we may be free. They sought to give form and effect to the splendid ideals of the Young Irelanders. A new spirit was abroad, and not in matters educational alone. The doctrine of self-help and self-reliance was being preached and, what was better, practised.

The Gaelic League, founded in 1893 by a few enthusiastic Irish spirits, was formed to effect an Irish renascence in matters of the mind and spirit. It was non-sectarian and non-political. Its purpose was purely psychological and educational - it sought the preservation of the Irish language from a fast-threatening decay, it encouraged the study of ancient Irish literature and it promoted the cultivation of a modern literature in the Irish language. Its beginnings were modest, and its founders were practically three unknown young men whose only special equipment for leadership of a new movement were boundless enthusiasm and the possession of the scholastic temperament. Douglas Hyde, the son of a Protestant clergyman, dwelt far away in an unimportant parish in Connaught, and, while still a boy, became devoted to the study of the Irish language. Father O'Growney was a product of Maynooth culture, whose love of the Irish tongue became the best part of his nature, and John MacNeill (now so well known as a Sinn Fein leader) was born in Antrim, educated in a Belfast school and acquired his love for Irish in the Aran islands. It is marvellous to consider how the programme of the new League "caught on." Some movements make their appeal to a class or a cult - to the young, the middle-aged or the old. But the Gaelic League, perhaps because of the very simplicity and directness of its objects, made an appeal to all. It numbered its adherents in every walk of life; it drew its membership from all political parties; it gathered the sects within its folds, and the greatest tribute that can be paid it is that it taught all its disciples a new way of looking at Ireland and gave them a new pride in their country. Ireland became national and independent in a sense it had not learnt before - it realised that "the essential mark of nationhood is the intellectual, social and moral patrimony which the past bequeaths to the present, which, amplified, or at least preserved, the present must bequeath to the future, and that it is this which makes the strength and individuality of a people."

Its branches spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and the movement was taken up abroad with equal enthusiasm. Irish language classes were organised, Irish history of the native - as distinct from the British - brand was taught. Lessons in dancing and singing were given and the old national airs were revived and became the popular music of the day. It would take too much of my space to recount all the varied activities of the League, all that it did to preserve ancient Irish culture, to make the past live again in the lives of the people, to foster national sports and recreations, to organise Gaelic festivals of the kind that flourished in Ireland's artistic past, to create an Irish Ireland and to arrest the decadence of manners and the Anglicisation which had almost eaten into the souls of the people and destroyed their true Celtic character. Mr P.H. Pearse truly said of it: "The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that ever came into Ireland." It saved the soul of Ireland when it was in imminent danger of being lost, and its triumph was in great measure due to the fact that it held rigidly aloof from the professedly political parties, although it may be said for it that it undoubtedly laid the foundations of that school of thought which made all the later developments of nationality possible. And the amazing thing is that the priest and the parson, the gentry and the middle classes, equally with the peasantry, vied with each other in extending the influence and power of the movement. One of its strongest supporters was a leader of the Belfast Orangemen, the late Dr Kane, who observed that though he was a Unionist and a Protestant he did not forget that he had sprung from the Clan O'Cahan. The stimulation given to national thought and purpose spread in many directions. A new race of Irish priests was being educated on more thoroughly Irish lines, and they went forth to their duties with the inspiration, as it were, of a new call. A crusade was started against emigration, which was fast draining the country of its reserves of brain, brawn and beauty. The dullness of the country-side, an important factor in forcing the young and adventurous abroad, was relieved by the new enthusiasm for Irish games and pastimes and recreations - for the seanchus, the sgoruidheacht, the ceilidhe and the Feiseanna.

In giving to the young especially a new pride in their country and in their own, great and distinctive national heritage, it did a great deal to strengthen the national character and to make it more independent and self-reliant. It started the great work of rooting out the slavery which centuries of dependency and subjection had bred into the marrow of the race. Mr Arthur Griffith has admitted that the present generation could never have effected this work had not Parnell and his generation done their brave labour before them, but considered in themselves the achievements of the Gaelic League can only be described as mighty both in the actual revolution it wrought in the moral, intellectual and spiritual sphere, in the reaction it created against the coarser materialism of imported modes and manners, and in the new spirit which it breathed into the entire people.

Coincident with the foundation of the Gaelic League, other regenerative influences were also at work. These aimed at the economic reconstruction and the industrial development of the country by the inculcation of the principles of self-help, self-reliance and co-operation, and by the wider dissemination of technical instruction and agricultural education. Ireland, by reason, I suppose, of its condition, its arrested development and its psychology, is a country much given to "new movements," most of which have a very brief existence. They are born but to breathe and then expire. In the ease, however, of the Gaelic League, and the movements for co-operation amongst the farmers, and for technical instruction in the arts and crafts most suitable to the country, these movements were conceived and created strongly to endure. And to the credit of their authors and, be it said also, of the country for whose upliftment and betterment they were intended, they have endured greatly, and greatly fulfilled their purpose.

It is conceded by all who have any knowledge of the subject that the economic decadence of Ireland is not due to any lack of natural resources; neither is it due to insufficiency of capital or absence of workers. It is due to want of initiative, want of enterprise, want of business method, want of confidence, and want of education on the right lines. The education which should have been fashioned to fit the youth of Ireland for a life of work and industry and usefulness in their own land was invented with the express object of making of them "happy English children." There are possibly a few hundred millions sterling of Irish money, belonging in the main to the farmers and well-to-do shopkeepers, lying idle in Irish banks, and the irony of it is that these savings of the Irish are invested in British enterprises. They help to enrich the British plutocrat and to provide employment for the British worker, whilst the vast natural resources of Ireland remain undeveloped and the cream of Ireland's productive power, in the shape of its workers, betake themselves to other lands to assist in strengthening the structure and stability of other nations, when they should be engaged in raising the fabric of a prosperous commonwealth at home.

Those, however, who would blame Ireland for its present position of industrial stagnation forget that it was not always thus - they do not bear it in mind that Ireland had a great commercial past, that it had its own mercantile marine doing direct trade with foreign countries, that it had flourishing industries and factories and mills all over the country, but that all these were killed and destroyed and driven out of existence by the cruel trade policy of England, which decreed the death of every Irish industry or manufacture which stood in the way of its own industrial progress.

Those who sought the economic reconstruction of the country had accordingly to contend against a very evil inheritance. The commercial spirit had been destroyed; it should be educated anew. The desire to foster home products and manufactures had ceased to exist; it should be re-born and a patriotic preference for home manufactures instilled into the people. Pride in one's labour - the very essence of efficiency - had gone out of the country. It should be aroused again. Economic reform should proceed first on educational lines before it could be hoped to establish new industries with any hope of success. The pioneer in this work was the Hon. (now Sir) Horace Plunkett who returned to Ireland after some ranching experiences in the United States and set himself the task of effecting the economic regeneration of rural Ireland by preaching the gospel of self-help and co-operation. It is no part of my purpose to inquire into the secret motives of Sir Horace Plunkett, if he ever had any, or to allege, as a certain writer (M. Paul Dubois) has done, that Sir Horace promoted the movement for economic reform in the hope of reconciling Ireland to the Union and to Imperialism. I may lament it, as I do, that Sir Horace, who now believes himself to be the discoverer of Dominion Home Rule, did not raise his voice either for the Agrarian Settlement or for Home Rule during all the years while he was a real power in the country. I am not however going to allow my views on these questions to deflect my judgment from the real merit of the work performed by Sir Horace and his associates in the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, which in the teeth of considerable difficulties and obstacles succeeded in propagating through Ireland the principles of self-help and co-operation.

From the first, the Society had many and powerful enemies, most of the opposition springing from interested and malevolent parties. But there is, perhaps, no man in all the world so quick to see what is really for his advantage as the Irish farmer, and so the movement gradually found favour, and co-operative associations began to be formed in all parts of Ireland. The agricultural labourer has all along regarded the Creamery side of co-operation with absolute dislike. He declares that it is fast denuding the land of labour, that it tends to decrease tillage, and is one of the most active causes of emigration. They say, and there is ocular evidence of the fact, that a donkey and a little boy or girl to drive him to the Creamery now do the work of dairymaids and farm hands. But, whilst this is a criticism justified by existing conditions, it does not mean that co-operation is a thing bad in itself, or that there is anything inherently vicious in it to cause or create the employment of less labour. What it does mean is that the education of the farmer is still far from complete, that he does not yet know how to make the best use of his land, and that he does not till and cultivate it as he ought to make it really fruitful. Besides the Creamery system there are other forms of co-operation which have exercised a most beneficent influence amongst the peasantry. These include agricultural societies for the improvement of the breed of cattle, a number of country banks, mostly of the Raiffeisen type, co-operative associations of rural industries, principally lace, and societies for the sale of eggs and fowls, the dressing of flax, and general agriculture.

A direct outcome of the Co-operative Movement was the creation by Act of Parliament in 1899 of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland - a Department which, though it possesses many faults of administration and of policy, has nevertheless had a distinctly wholesome influence on Irish life. In relation to the Co-operative Movement the judgment of Mr Dillon was once again signally at fault. He gave it vehement opposition at every point and threw the whole weight of his personal following into the effort to arrest its growth and expansion. Happily, however, the practical good sense of the people saved them from becoming the dupes of parties who had axes of their own, political or personal, to grind, and thus co-operation and self-help have won, in spite of all obstacles and objections, a very fair measure of success.

Meanwhile a remarkable development was taking place in the matter of bringing popular and educative literature within reach of the masses. Public and parish libraries and village halls were widely established. These were supplementary to the greater movements to which reference has been made, but they were indicative of the steady bent of the national mind towards enlightenment and education, and of a desire in all things appertaining to the national life for more and better instruction. Another important movement there was to which little reference is made in publications dealing with the period - namely, the organisation of the town and country labourers for their political and social improvement. It was first known as the Irish Democratic Trade and Labour Federation, but this went to pieces in the general confusion of the Split. It was resurrected subsequently under the title of the Irish Land and Labour Association. I mention it here as an additional instance of the regenerative agencies that were at work in every domain of Irish life, and among all classes, at a time when the politicians were tearing themselves to pieces and providing a Roman holiday for their Saxon friends.