By Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh


On St. Patrick’s Day 1943, the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera made a radio broadcast which the historian Diarmaid Ferriter has called “the most famous broadcast by any Irish politician of the twentieth century”. The title of the broadcast was “On Language and the Irish Nation”, but it’s more often known as “the comely maidens speech”.

De Valera had made a practice of addressing the nation through the airwaves on St. Patrick’s Day. In 1943, he decided to dedicate his speech to the revival of the Irish language.

The substance of the speech, however, has almost been forgotten, overshadowed by the opening lines in which he set forth his vision of an ideal Ireland: “The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.”

De Valera didn’t actually use the term “comely maidens” in the broadcast. But the phrase had been used in the script which he was reading from, and this was the text which was supplied to the newspapers. Although de Valera changed the wording to “happy maidens” in the studio, the legend of the “comely maidens” had been born.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own