Hugh, considering himself the most literarily knowledgeable member of the Hedge School community, speaks in continuous riddles, shifting from Gaelic to Latin to English and back to Gaelic again without end throughout the whole play. From his very first lines, we can already see what kind of a man Hugh is, showing off his knowledge of Latin and speaking like a Lord.
"Adsum, Doalty, adsum... Vesperal salutations to you all. " The only other character who communicates with him in Latin is Jimmy, with whom he has a close friendship and shares a passion for the Classics.It becomes evident later in the play that the only reason he so commonly talks in such a pretentious manner is that he doesn't have much of interest to say, and likes to be ruler of the roost, so to speak.
Hugh's pretensions and tendency to contradict himself are seen when he mentions Captain Lancey of the Royal Engineers. "...
he voiced some surprise that we did not speak his language. I explained that a few of us did... usually for the purposes of commerce..
. (shouts) and a slice of soda bread... We see that Hugh doesn't think much of the English or their language from this damning account of talking to the 'verecund' Lancey.
He places English far below Gaelic or the Classics, for just reason, as it is the English who want to 'standardise' his country, but he contradicts himself terribly in stating that English is a basic, 'plebeian' language only used for commerce and that Gaelic is rich, after discussing basic school fees with Bridget. Also, it's rather ironic that Hugh unwittingly shouts for some soda bread in the middle of glorifying his language's richness.Here we see a desperate old man's struggle against oppression, and reality, but Hugh carries himself with such bravado and flair that the other characters fail to realise these faults. However, sometimes his attitude and image break. For instance, when Maire challenges Hugh, saying that they should all be learning English.
"The old language is a barrier to modern progress. " After Maire finishes speaking, all Hugh can do is take another swig from his flask of whisky and ignore her, probably knowing that what she said made sense.Hugh is intent on living in the past, and not giving in to change and new beginnings. What he is reluctant to accept is that, like it or not, change will come and yesterdays will be replaced with tomorrows.
There is no 'always' in life or language. A recurring habit of Hugh's is to categorise his topics of conversation into items A, B and C, however he rarely (if ever) gets to item C, and needs Doalty to remind him. Hugh's abundance of 'indeed's and item numbers do little but accentuate the fact that he has little of interest to say, and affects an organised, official leader role, without much success.Upon meeting Lieutenant Yolland, Hugh acts coldly and talks to him as an inferior because of his language. However he is pompous to such an extent that he makes himself out to be a bit of an idiot at times, for instance when George mentions William Wordsworth, and Hugh cockily replies, "..
. we're not familiar with your literature...
We tend to overlook your island. " It is true that the Irish may have felt closer to Southern Europe due to existing trading links, but to speak about a great empire and also a great poet as if they were far inferior to him just proves his stupidity and total ignorance.When Yolland comments on the richness of Latin, Hugh attempt to embarrass him by showing off his knowledge of the English language. "..
. certain cultures expend on their vocabularies and syntax acquisitive energies and ostentations entirely lacking in their material lives. " Again, Hugh manages to embarrass and contradict himself in the eyes of the reader when trying to show off. First of all, he uses far more rich and informative language when speaking English than he often does in his beloved mother tongue of Gaelic.
However the real irony lies in the fact that all the polysyllabic words used in English are direct derivatives of Latin, whereas the Gaelic language has hardly any Latin influence. For this reason, it is unwise for Hugh to continue bragging about Latin, when Gaelic shares hardly anything with it. However Hugh, being Hugh, and being drunk, doesn't realise this at all, and is promptly shut up by Owen.Owen then proceeds to embarrass and patronise him by reading out all the standardised English place names and rhetorically asking him "Will you be able to find your way? To which Hugh, being beaten, systematically takes another swig from his whisky flask and ignores him completely. However Hugh doesn't do the intelligent thing and stop, but continues his ignorant past fantasy, claiming that Gaelic is 'opulent with tomorrows', which any smart man would know is obviously not the case. Notice how, again, after speaking in such rich English, Hugh contradicts himself by pragmatically asking Owen for a loan with simple Gaelic.
Hugh now says something that completely contradicts his entire mentality and opinion on language. "...
words are... ot immortal.And it can happen..
. that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of... fact. " This is one of the rare times when Hugh regains some intelligence, and quite astutely realises what's going on.
He is basically, surprisingly saying that Yolland had better not get too comfortable and involved with the Gaelic language because its end is sure to come. It seems that Hugh is not as ignorant as he normally seems, but that his non-stop drinking helps to take his mind off the fact that the past cannot live on forever.Because of his gradual realisation, at the end of the play Hugh completely gives up his uphill struggle of retaining the past, and realises that he must teach and become accustomed to all the new English place names if he is to have an identity at all. "We must learn where we live.
We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home. " In conclusion, Hugh never learned to live with changes and new beginnings until it was too late.