During the English occupation of Ireland, the English made a concerted effort to wipe out the Irish culture. Certain kinds of dress were outlawed. The use of Gaelic, or Irish as it is called today, was forbidden; only the English language was allowed. For hundreds of years the English pumped their concepts of how to live, speak, worship and conduct business into the Emerald Isle.
Periodically, the Irish people would have modest attempts at uprisings, which always ended in failure. The idea of a free and independent Ireland was considered by many to be impossible. The Irish loved their heritage as much as they loved their land. If they could not be free, at least they could hold on to their culture. Everything the English outlawed and tried to drive out by educating the Irish children in school on the English way of doing things, the Irish countered in secret. The famous "hedge schools" are what helped keep the Irish language and culture alive under English rule.
The hedge schools were unofficial schools where the Irish taught Irelandís history, legends, language and ways of doing things. These schools were conducted in secret, meeting literally in the hedges throughout the Irish countryside. To be caught attending one of these schools, or worse teaching at one, could result in severe punishment. The English considered this treasonous activity.
When the Republic of Ireland achieved its independence, one of the first things the leaders sought to do was re-establish the Irish culture. Michael Collins, one of the heroes of Irelands fight for independence, pushed the idea of requiring Gaelic to be taught in the schools to all children. Even today children study the Irish-Gaelic language throughout their primary education. Ireland is truly a bi-lingual society. This push for recapturing the Irish culture has taken several generations, but the efforts are bearing fruit today.
Historically Ireland had been a land renowned for producing people who excelled in various fields such as combat, religion, music and medicine. Today that is ringing true again as Irelandís children rank near the top academically among industrialized nations. There is an economic boom taking place that has started to draw the Irish home to a land that historically is known for sowing its seed across America and Europe.
Part of the results of Ireland reclaiming its culture has been the surge of interest in everything Irish around the world. Celtic music is exploding in popularity. It is selling fast in music stores and is being used in commercials and movies whether they have anything to do with the Irish or not. Restaurants and pubs with an Irish flare are experiencing phenomenal growth in America. A virtual Celtic renaissance is happening on both sides of the Atlantic.
The South should borrow from this example and implement efforts to re-invigorate the Southern culture through our own version of "hedge schools." At least right now it isnít against the law and we wonít have to hide in the hedges. The effort should be driven at the grassroots level until the day comes when we will be able to implement this effort openly in schools and colleges across the South.
A need is calling to all Southern historians and other Southern academicians to pull together and develop a simple, basic series of short courses that can be easily taught by anyone. These courses should be made available to anyone in Dixie willing to teach them whether the classes are held in their homes, in a hotel meeting room or in rented auditoriums at schools and universities.
With courses covering history, art, music, traditions, ideas of business, government, manners and yes, even how to talk, in an effort to preserve our Southern accents from being lost in the media push for bland conformity, we will not just maintain the status quo, but rebuild our culture. The development of some sort of "Southern culture home schooling association" would be helpful in this kind of effort. Ireland is a great model of success in the effort to preserve and promote a culture and worthy of our emulation.
June 30, 1999