!25 years ago today Conradh na Gaelige or the Gaelic League was founded by Douglas Hyde, Fr. Eugene O’Growney and others. It was set up to prevent the dying out of the Irish language completely as it was in danger of happening at the time.
The organization grew at rapid rate and had branches springing up all over the country. Emily Weddall was an early member and was once part of the Cead mile failte committee at a fair in Kingstown, modern day Dun Laoghaire.
Over the years Emily was a regular correspondent, with An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light), Conradh na Gaeilge’s weekly newspaper, was published between 1899 and 1932.
Dublin Daily Express 21 August 1893
In 1911 Emily Weddall commissioned a hall to be built in Dooagh for the use of the local people, particularly for Gaelic League events. At the time she did not know that it would be the centre of what would become one of the shortest but most renowned summer school of its age.
“Latest on the list of these colleges is Scoil Acla founded this year on Achill Island. It owes its origin to Mrs. Weddall, who in the spring built a village hall in Dooagh. The hall was to be used for Gaelic League classes, for ceidhlidhe, for plays, for concerts. But it was the beginning of May, and the summer months with their enforced emigration were to follow. Was the new building to remain closed until October or November brought back to life when the young men and women returned from the harvest fields of Scotland? It seamed a pity. Suddenly an idea come. Wy not have a course of language classes for students who might like to spend a few weeks in Achill? The idea developed and the scheme was formed of organising a summer school for the month of August. It was to have no pretensions, but simplicity itself. It was to give no certificates and the lessons were to suit students who came to learn chiefly for their own pleasure. On Sunday, August 7th, Scoil Acla was formally opened. Some Some seventeen students had found their hither from different places. There was three fro England, two from Dublin, fiver from Leinster, one fro the Aran Island, and there rest from Co. Mayo. Though different in their stages of knowledge, the students united in equal enthusiasm. soon the classes were vigorously at work.”
That was how the first Scoil Acla came to pass.
Evening Telegraph. Saturday, June 8 1912
In 1899 a decade before Scoil Acla was formed a branch of the Gaelic League was set up on Achill. It was set up by the local parish Priest, Fr. Connolly and the Curate, Fr. White, they were supported by one of the local teachers, Mr. Lavelle. This small group, along with local support put Achill in league with other small communities all over Ireland setting up their own branch of the Gaelic League. The organization was in it’s first decade and was growing at a great rat all over the country.
A new society is formed
In an attempt to stem the ever rising tide of Anglicisation of Ireland a group of enthusiasts gathered together to form a society that would redress the situation. The group, whilst mainly nationalist in outlook, was non-partisan and non-sectarian and was to attract many members of the Unionist community.
At the inaugural meeting in Dublin on 13th July 1893 the aims of the society was put forward as
The preservation of Irish as the national language of Ireland and the extension of its use as a spoken language.
The study and publication of existing Gaelic literature, and the cultivation of a modern literature in Irish.
The founding members of the Society were Douglas Hyde, LLD. (1st President of the League) Charles Percy Bushe, James M. Cogan, Rev William Hayden S.J, Martin Kelly, John McNeill, Patrick O’ Brien, T.O. Russell and Patrick J. Hogan.
Freeman’s Journal 12 December 1899
A week or so after the event, Emily went to England to marry Captain Weddall in London. One year later she was living on Achill. She quickly joined the local Gaelic League and became part of the fabric of the Island. Two years later her husband died, leaving her alone in the world but independently wealthy.
As she had no children or had to work for her living, Emily used her time and resources to augment the Gaelic League on Achill. Her enthusiasm and generosity made her popular with the locals and new arrivals to the island, who were more than happy to help with her ventures. By 1910 the idea for an Irish language and culture summer school was realised and by the following year it was a reality.
Countess Markieviez had also returned to Island as a married woman and set up home in Dublin. She also became involved Gaelic revival. She was in good company as her childhood friend, W. B. Yates was already established in Dublin and had just set up the Abbey Theatre with Lady Gregory, where she acted. Both she and her husband were artists exhibiting frequently. One such exhibition in 1913 was attended by Emily, their paths crossing again. In the same year the Countess lent support financially and physically to the families of the workers during the lockout.
“Madame Markievicz in a big overall, with sleeves rolled up, presiding over a cauldron of stew, surrounded by a crowd of gaunt women and children carrying bowls and cans”.
Over the winter of 1912/13 Emily was involved in another socially unjust situation- the Land Wars. Emily along with her friend, Anita McMahon sat through the court case that finally ended in victory for the tenants. Read more: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4497767/4344557/4497807?ChapterID=4497767
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0086, Page 318 Tonatanvally, Co. Mayo
The Mayo News, April 12 1913
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 15 April 1916
Emily Weddall and Constance Markieviez were born six months apart. Emily in September 1867 and Constance the following February. In early life their paths were unlikely to cross, as one was born into the aristocracy the other a clergyman’s daughter. One lead a comfortable existence in a grand house in Co. Sligo the other moved around frequently depending on the fortunes of her father. Constance Gore Booth was presented at court, Emily trained as a nurse.
Emily went on to enjoy an adventurous life when she qualified as a nurse, traveling to France, Germany and on to Russia. It was in the latter that she developed a strong social conscience, when she witness a group of prisoners, shackled together one night as they were being transported to Siberia, for minor crimes. Constance Gore Booth had that innately, taking side with the tenants on her father’s estate and organising sufferage meetings with her sister at Lissadell when she was quite young. Read more: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-aristocrat-who-became-an-irish-revolutionary-1.3451474
After coming out the Countess traveled to Paris to study art. Emily found herself in France too, possibly employed as a nurse, but it was a lucky trip for her as she first met the man who would become her husband. Incidentally, Constance Gore Booth met hers in France too. Emily married a retired sea captain Constance a count.
Their paths may have crossed earlier but in 1905 they were documented at the Seachtaine na Ghaelige parade in March 1905, part of the same Gaelic League branch, Craogh na Gluig Gluigi.
The Rosary in Irish.
Ní Dheirg, Íosold. Emily M. Weddall: Bunaitheoir Scoil Acla. Baile Atha Cliath: Coisceim, 1995
23 July 1927 – Ballymena Weekly Telegraph – Ballymena, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Irish Independent 13 March 1905