RSS Feed

A Potted History.

Posted on

History of the Irish Language
See for complete article and more facts and stories on Ireland.

Irish and her sister languages, Welsh and Breton, are among the oldest living languages in Europe. Written records go back to the early Christian period when Latin was often the usual written medium. Irish scribes would sometimes ‘gloss’ or annotate in the margins of their manuscripts, and it is from these glosses that much of our knowledge of ‘Old Irish’ has come. Another form of early writing was ‘Ogham’, consisting of a code of strokes and dots representing the letters, and usually incribed on the edges of upright stones. Hundreds of these ‘Ogham Stones’ still survive and they usually contain the name of a person, probably as a memorial. They were sometimes erected in honour of dead chieftains or warriors.

Irish developed from one of the Celtic dialects brought to bronze age Ireland and Britain by the iron age Celts, who inhabited Central Europe some three thousand years ago. Ireland was invaded many times and factual evidence is sometimes difficult to obtain. The oral tradition, however, refers consistently to specific events such as ‘The Great Plague’ and ‘The Great Flood’ etc. in very factual terms, along-side obviously mythological events. Quite often the claims of ‘folk history’ are corroborated by documentary and other evidence. The invaders of the pre-Celtic period such as Parthalon, Tuatha De Danann, Fir Bolg, Milesians, Picts (or Cruithni) are all considered as being ancient inhabitants of Ireland. It can be assumed that when the Celts eventually succeeded in conquering the country that it was a land of many diverse languages, cultures and peoples, even though the population must have been small, and these pre-Celtic languages are thought to have had some influence on what we now call Irish.

Irish was first called ‘Gaelic’ or ‘Goidelic’ (‘Gaeilge‘ is the Irish word for the language) by the Welsh. Gaelic mythology and folklore abounds in typically Celtic themes and motifs, such as ‘dicheannu’ (beheading one’s slain enemy) or the ‘curadhmhir‘ (the champion’s portion at the feast), as well as many others. Some months of the year are named after pagan Celtic deities ‘Lunasa’, the month of August, after the god Lugh, as is the town of Lyons in France. There are, of course, hundreds of Irish place-names with Celtic/pagan origins.

The Viking invasions between the eighth and tenth centuries left lasting traces on the culture and language of the population, and many typically Scandinavian words are found in modern Irish, in particular those relating to ships and navigation. The next settlers, the Normans in the twelfth century, brought about a strong French influence, in particular on the literature of the period. Some of the southern dialects of Irish are still detectably influenced by Norman French, and contain several typically French words like ‘garsun‘ (boy).

In the seventeenth century, under English rule, many Irish chieftains and teachers were forced either to emigrate or go into hiding, and for many people education continued only in the illegal ‘hedge schools’, in fields, barns and sheds. This led to the curious situation where a landlord would address a tenant in English, only to be answered in Greek or Latin. When the first ordnance survey team arrived in Ireland in the early nineteenth century to map the country it enlisted the help of local people, and this team established the anglicised versions of place-names which are in use to-day.

It was also at the beginning of the nineteenth century that scholars, notably Germans, began to unravel the mysteries of ‘Old Irish’ and Irish studies became a recognized scholarly pursuit. Towards the end of the century the Irish cultural revolution, or ‘renaissance’, began. Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) was founded in 1893 with the principle aim of reviving the Irish language, which was showing signs of decline. There are branches of the Conradh in most towns and these provide excellent classes in Irish at all levels. It is possible that it was only constant pressure from and per severance of this group that prevented the complete loss of Irish in both the Gaeltacht and in the country as a whole. One of the successes of Conradh na Gaeilge has been the re-establishment of Irish writing as an artistic medium. For about a century Irish writing has been on the increase and the short story has emerged as the medium par excellence of this literature. There is also a wide selection of journals, newspapers and magazines available and these are of considerable benefit to learners of the language as well as being a useful vehicle for writers of all types.


Valentine Greatrakes of Affan, Cappoquin, Co Waterford.

Ireland’s Greatest Faith Healer.

Organisation : Waterford County Museum
Article Title : Valentine Greatrakes – ‘The Stroker’
Page Title : Valentine Greatrakes – ‘The Stroker’
Page Number : 1
Publication Date : 26 July 2001
Expiry Date : Never Expires
Category : Historical Articles

Valentine Greatrakes - 'The Stroker'On the 3rd of May 2001 the play ‘Blackwater Angel’ opens in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (the National Theatre of Ireland). The play was written by Jim Nolan and tells the story of a famous 17th century healer Valentine Greatrakes, known as ‘The Stroker’, who was born in Affane, near Dungarvan. Willie Fraher (the curator of Waterford County Museum) has written the following foreword for the play’s programme. For more details on the play visit the Abbey Theatre’s web site.Valentine Greatrakes was born on 14 February 1628 at the family home at Norrisland, New Affane, County Waterford. His parents were William Greatrakes and Mary Harris, daughter of Sir Edward Harris, 2nd Justice of the Kings Bench in Ireland and Chief Justice of Munster. After the Munster Plantation Valentine’s grandfather had settled in County Waterford from Derbyshire. At the outbreak of the Munster Rebellion in 1641, his mother decided to move the family to England to live with her brother Edward in Devon. In 1647 Valentine returned to Ireland: ‘I returned to my native country which at that time was in a most miserable and deplorable state, for then it was not as formerly, a National Quarrel, Irish against English, Protestants against Papists, but there were high and strange divisions …English against English, Irish against Irish, and Protestants and Papists joining hands in one Province against Protestants of another’. He lived at Cappoquin Castle for a year in ‘contemplation’.

In 1649 he became lieutenant in the Cromwellian army in the Earl of Orrery’s regiment. On leaving the army in 1654 he returned to the family home: ‘I betook myself to a Country Life…and got by my industry a livelihood out of the Earth and daily employed many poor people’. He was appointed Clerk of the Peace for Co. Cork and Register of Transplantation. In 1661 he was involved in a noted witchcraft trial in Youghal Co. Cork. Florence Newton of Youghal was accused of ‘bewitching’ one Mary Langdon. Greatrakes and other officials carried out a series of gruesome tests (lancing her skin and sticking awls into her body) to prove she was a witch.

In 1663 at the age of 34, Valentine “had an impulse or strange persuasion….which did very frequently suggest to me that there was bestowed on me a gift of curing the Kings Evil (a disfiguring skin disease known as Scrofula). Valentine’s first patient was a young boy, William Maher of Salterbridge, Cappoquin who suffered from Scrofula. ‘I laid my hands on the place affected, and prayed to God for Jesus sake to heal him and within a month … was perfectly healed, and so continues God be praised’. For three years he concentrated on curing Scrofula. In 1665 he had a further experience leading him to believe that he could cure many other diseases. His fame as a healer spread quickly and he was inundated with people visiting his home. He was forced to move to Youghal ‘where great multitudes resorted to me, not only of the inhabitants, but also out of England’. One of these English visitors was John Flamstead (The astronomer?) who travelled from England for a cure for an unspecified illness. He met Greatrakes at his home and described him thus: ‘He had a kind of majestical yet affable presence, a lusty body and composed carriage’.

Greatrakes was summoned before the Bishop’s Court in Lismore to explain about his activities. He was ordered to cease his healing sessions, but after a few days he decided to ignore their advice. Greatrakes was popularly known as ‘The Stroker’ because of his method of stroking his patients with his hands.

In 1666 Edward Conway of Ragley Hall in Warwickshire learned about the Irish healer who was creating a sensation with his remarkable cures. Conway’s wife Lady Anne had suffered for many years with severe headaches and could not find relief. Lord Conway contacted Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Dublin and asked him to use his influence to persuade Greatrakes to visit Ragley. Greatrakes agreed with reluctance and arrived at Ragley Hall on 27 January 1665. The Conways counted amongst their friends some of the most noted physicians, philosophers, scientists and spiritualists in England. A distinguished group gathered at Ragley to witness Greatrakes attempt to cure Lady Anne Conway. He was unsuccessful with Lady Conway but he was asked to stay at Ragley for a month and is said to have cured many. While there he was invited to Worcester to visit Charles II at Whitehall. He attracted huge crowds in London and Robert Boyle witnessed many of his healing sessions. His supporters and detractors published several pamphlets and ballads concerning his healing. Greatrakes wrote to Lord Conway in May 1666: ‘The Virtuosi have been daily with me… and God has been pleased to do wonderful things in their sight. Sir Heneage Finch says that I have made the greatest faction and disturbance between clergy and laymen that anyone has these 1000 years’.

In 1666 Greatrakes published an account of his life and cures titled ‘A Brief Account of Mr. Valentine Greatrakes and Divers of the Strange Cures by him lately performed. Written by himself in a letter Addressed to the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq.,’ This publication gives us a valuable insight into Greatrakes life and healing methods. It includes an etching of Greatrakes curing William Maher of Salterbridge.

Greatrakes returned to England for further visits but it is not known when he stopped his healing sessions.

His funeral entry at the Herald’s Office, Dublin recorded that he died on 28 November 1682 at Affane, Co. Waterford and was buried in Lismore Church. However, the Rev. Samuel Hayman writing in the 1860’s stated that he is buried in the aisle of the old Affane Church near to his father.

© Waterford County Museum 2003. All rights reserved. Please read our Terms of Use.

About pfiddle

Fiddle teacher - mostly Irish trad. Fiddle, mandolin and concertina. Eco-warrior, won E.U. Green Flower Award for Eco Accommodation. Also Irish (Gold) GHA. Green Hospitality Award. Mad keen on self-build - especially straw-bale and cob. 55 with a full head of (slightly) graying hair. No tattoos or piercings. Fond of animals - but legally so. Fond of food - I eat nothing else. Vegetarian by choice, Irish by the grace of birth, Munster by force of (rugby) arms.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: