Ireland has never had a large Esperanto community, probably due to the dominance of English and our remoteness from other cultures, languages and people. However, during the early days of Esperanto, no one knew whether the language would take off or just be a passing fad. There was a great deal of interest in the language and discussion in many papers. Many people wondered if it would change their lives the way so many other new inventions and discoveries had. I have come across a few articles in the Irish Times during the 1920s that I’ll share with you now.
The first example is a good example of that hopefulness from which Esperanto gets its name. Who in 1926 knew which way Esperanto would go or what it could mean for Ireland? At the time Irish foreign trade was heavily reliant on Britain (and still is today to a lesser extent) so opening other markets would certainly have been a benefit. Of course, no mention of Esperanto is complete without the obligatory claim of how easy it is.
Esperanto has always had a connection with the Labour movement (they share the idea of international solidarity) so its no surprise that the second article is related to the International Labour movement. After all, if you have people from all over the world in a room, finding a common tongue is an important issue. How can workers of the world unite if they don’t understand each other?
It’s easy to forget nowadays how novel it would have been a century ago to be in contact with cultures different to your own. The radio would have been looked on with unbelievable excitement and the bringer unimaginable new knowledge. It’s interesting that at the time Esperanto was seen in a similar way to the radio and other modern inventions, it was applying the scientific and rational method to language to make it more efficient. It seemed obvious to many that just as new inventions like railways and the radio replaced traditional methods, so too would Esperanto replace traditional languages in international communication. It was an age where it seemed that modern science could solve most problems and it was the age of bold new ideas.
The other interesting point is that most of the predictions in the articles did come true (bar the dominance of Esperanto of course, though this streak of Finavenkismo is to be expected). However, I’m not sure if federating the world is a dream or nightmare, but times were different then (after all, nothing was thought of references to the “civilised world”).
1926 was a busy year for Esperanto at least from the handful of articles I could find. I suppose it is predictable that the Irish Esperantist would begin with a traditional song like Danny Boy, which they interestingly replaced “Danny Bog” with “Karugul(o)” (“my dearest” would be my rough translation).
The subtitle is correct here, Ireland has unfortunately lagged other countries in its Esperanto activity throughout its history. The name R.J.P. Mortished keeps reappearing, from what I can gather, he was active in the Labour Party, editor of the party (unsuccessful) newspaper, before getting a job for the International Labour Organization (where perhaps he made us of his Esperanto). Like most (if not all) speeches for Esperanto this one includes the call for linguistic equality and highlights the ease in learning the language. I wasn’t aware that the United States Department of Labor used it in their official correspondence and I doubt its true (an unfortunate attribute of some Esperantists is to exaggerate its success). I also think there were just a few individual Esperantist police officiers rather than the whole force as the headline “Esperanto Speaking Police” implies. I also cannot comment on how widespread Esperanto radio broadcasting was, though several countries certainly did. The article is certainly right in the value of Esperanto in introducing people to other cultures and helping mutual understanding. Interestingly, two other speakers felt comfortable enough to address the audience in Esperanto to give thanks to Mortished.
This is by far the most Irish spin on Esperanto. Not only is it the Catholic Esperanto Society but a Gaeilge branch too (It’s surprising that the word Gaelic is used as that’s usually what foreigners call the language, Irish people say Irish or Gaeilge, though the Irish Times was a Unionist paper). Considering Ireland’s population was almost entirely Catholic at the time, I’m not sure what a Catholic club would do that a regular Irish club wouldn’t (more prayers?). Nor I am certain if Esperanto would have any particular appeal for Ireland’s Gaelthact communities, most of whom could speak English and lived on the West coast, far from Dublin. Mind you, trying to convince people of Connemara to learn Esperanto has all the makings of a great story. Unfortunately, I can find no records of how it got on.
Unfortunately, after that burst of articles in the mid 20s, Esperanto dropped off the radar. I found only two articles in the 30s with a long silence until the 70s. Now my research was hardly thorough, but it seems to indicate that the novelty worse off. I suppose it would have been unrealistic to expect Esperanto to develop in such a conservative, agricultural and inward looking society as Ireland was then. None the less it is interesting all the same and I’m sure more digging will dig up a lot of other interesting articles.