Douglas Hyde

Douglas Hyde

In Brief

Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), known also as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (the Sweet Little Branch or Pleasant Little Branch), was an important scholar of the Irish language who played a major part in the Irish Cultural Revival. His popular Love Songs of Connacht (1893) published Irish poems that he had collected in the West, with verse and prose translations into English. Haines misses Stephen's talk in the library because he has gone to buy a copy of Hyde's book. To add injury to insult, the novel marks Stephen's failure (so far) to distinguish himself as a poet by having him shape sounds"mouth to her mouth's kiss"that clearly derive from one of Hyde's lyrics.

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In Scylla and Charybdis Mr. Best announces that "Haines is gone." The Englishman had expressed interest in hearing Stephen's talk on Shakespeare, but Best's mentions of Irish mythology and poetry have sent him off in a different direction: "He's quite enthusiastic, don't you know, about Hyde's Lovesongs of Connacht. I couldn't bring him in to hear the discussion. He's gone to Gill's to buy it." John Eglinton comments sardonically on this quest for Irish authenticity: "The peatsmoke is going to his head." But George Russell voices the ambitions of the Revival: "— People do not know how dangerous lovesongs can be, the auric egg of Russell warned occultly. The movements which work revolutions in the world are born out of the dreams and visions in a peasant's heart on the hillside." In Wandering Rocks we encounter Haines sitting at the DBC with "his newbought book."

The repetitive motif at the heart of Stephen's poetic manipulations of sound in Proteus—"mouth to her mouth's kiss. . . . Mouth to her kiss. No. Must be two of em. Glue em well. Mouth to her mouth's kiss. / His lips lipped and mouthed fleshless lips of air: mouth to her womb. Oomb, allwombing tomb"comes from the last stanza of "My Grief on the Sea," a poem in Hyde's Love Songs:

And my love came behind me
He came from the South;
His breast to my bosom,
His mouth to my mouth.

Stephen has ambitions to transform the simple verses into something grandiose and gothic"He comes, pale vampire, through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth's kiss"but he has not yet achieved even that dubious transformation of a minor lyric.

Cyclops has fun with the kind of literary recovery projects that Hyde undertook, paying serious scholarly attention to the canine verse of Garryowen: "Our greatest living phonetic expert (wild horses shall not drag it from us!) has left no stone unturned in his efforts to delucidate and compare the verse recited and has found it bears a striking resemblance (the italics are ours) to the ranns of ancient Celtic bards. We are not speaking so much of those delightful lovesongs with which the writer who conceals his identity under the graceful pseudonym of the Little Sweet Branch has familiarised the bookloving world but rather (as a contributor D. O. C. points out in an interesting communication published by an evening contemporary) of the harsher and more personal note which is found in the satirical effusions of the famous Raftery and of Donal MacConsidine to say nothing of a more modern lyrist at present very much in the public eye."

Hyde grew up in the west, in Sligo and Roscommon, and learned Irish from the quarter of the population who still spoke it in the countryside in those counties. Passionately dedicated to preventing the extinction of the native language and culture, he contributed to Yeats’s Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), published his own Besides the Fire: A Collection of Irish Gaelic Folk Stories in 1890, and, after the Love Songs in 1893, also published Religious Songs of Connacht in 1906, as well as scholarly works like The Story of Early Gaelic Literature (1895) and the Literary History of Ireland (1899). He collaborated with Yeats and others in the work of the Literary Theatre, which became the Abbey Theatre, and he exerted immense cultural influence through the Gaelic League until that group was infiltrated by Sinn Féin and became an essentially political organization. In 1938 he became the first President of the new Irish republic.

Scylla and Charybdis reproduces nearly verbatim one of Hyde's quatrains:

Bound thee forth my Booklet quick.
To greet the Polished Public.
Writ—I ween't was not my Wish—
In lean unLovely English.

The six-stanza poem that begins with these lines concludes Hyde's The Story of Early Gaelic Literature. That Stephen knows part of it by heart (characteristically, he makes the Public "callous") suggests that he has some considerable regard for Hyde's writings.

JH 2015
Photograph of Douglas Hyde, ca. 1902. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The cover of Hyde's Lovesongs of Connacht, in an edition published by the Dun Emer Press with a preface by William Butler Yeats. Source:
The Story of Early Gaelic Literature (1895). Source: