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History shifts languages; languages shape history — a deep-rooted, dynamic process manifest in Victorian Ireland. Continental influences predating the Penal Laws were reinvigorated in the wake of the French Revolution. An influx of foreign teachers and religious orders created institutions for an emerging élite.

University education expanded, while civil service reforms opened careers across the Empire to graduates of all religions. Trinity College Dublin had led the way in modern languages; now, Ireland’s Victorian colleges embraced language study — ancient and modern, Irish and European — more eagerly than their British counterparts. An adaptive, fast-changing academic landscape laid the groundwork for today’s Ireland, culturally confident, open to Europe and the world, while the dramatic rise of the Gaelic League forged a bond between language, education and politics with pervasive effects on Irish identities in the twentieth century.

None of that was plain sailing. Profiles of individual professors reveal intriguing patterns: pioneering scholarship, precarious careers, sudden scandals, denunciations and dismissals linked to local conflicts and foreign wars. On the positive side, the advance of women’s education cleared the path for a cohort of notable female professors across modern languages.

This wide-ranging, detailed study draws on multiple sources to cast a fresh light on aspects of Irish history, viewed through the complex lens of language education.

Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 1 May 2024
Pages: 250

Foreign Tongues : Victorian Language Learning and Modern Ireland


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