With the success of the Gaelic League and on Achill coupled with the widely attended St Partrick’s Day celebrations and Feis Acla, it was only a matter of time before Emily Weddall and the other Achill Gaelic League members were to expand their endeavors to a bigger and far reaching cultural event. At that time there was a growing number of Irish Language festivals, classes and schools throughout the country. The Gaelic League head an annual event called the Oireachtais, where members from the four corners of Ireland could attend.
The event enabled native speakers and learners of Irish to meet and interact in a social, festive environment, resulting in many long standing friendships and even the occasional romance!
Emily possibly attended the Oireachtais from 1908 onwards. Taking inspiration from it, she and the other Gaelic League members got ideas for their own festivals. The seed of the idea for Scoil Acla evolved from there.
The exact date of the first Scoil Acla is unclear. The Centenery was celebrated in 2010, rounding it up a little, but it may have been 1911 that the first officially named Scoil Acla took place. The seeds of the first summer school were sown as far back as 1910, where an auspicious event took place on Achill. There was a big breakthrough when Irish, as a subject was to be introduced at university level in Ireland. This was a monumental achievement for the Gaelic League at the time. Emily’s letter to the Claidheamh Soluis certainly expresses her elation at the news. She and a small group including two young Gaels form Munster, Giallabride O’Caithain, and Cormac O’Cadhlaigh, who were staying in her house in Keel, had celebrated in their unique way!
How the News Came to Achill
On the evening of Sunday, June 26th they insisted in carrying the great news to the top of Croughan Mountain. There on the highest summit we planted the official announcement of the victory while the skirl of O’Cathain’s pipes we built an air over it and before coming down we lit a beacon light that could be seen away in Galway or northward in Donegal…
She wrote this letter in June of 1910, by March 1911 the Hall, which would hold the original Scoil Acla summer school and was underway. The building would be finished just in time for the Feis Acla of 1911, a few months later. In the letter she alluded to the future Scoil Acla;
…Now we are building a Gaelic Hall. There is no limit to our ambition. Nothing will satisfy us now but an Irish summer school of our own, not a college. We have faithfully promised Partry and Spiddal that they may exist at least another summer. A hedge school will satisfy us. The country is full of Irish, the scenery is glorious, the accommodation is ample; Teacht Gaedhilge will be finished; one of the best teachers in the Gaelic League will be available, our own muinteoir will help him if necessary. We will be able to offer our visitors lectures on old and middle Irish as well. If twenty students are forthcoming the thing can be done. May I call on the friends of Gaelic to come down and help us to over run the land. Pipers, fiddlers, dancers, singers will of course, be very welcome, but we want above all the earnest students of Irish, the enthusiasts to come to our assistance.
Thanks to: Gearoid O’Brien at Aidan Heavy Library, Athlone.
An Cliamheadh Soluis; March 4th 1911. P 4
An Cliamheadh Soluis; 16th July 1910. P3