What is it about the Irish language that so many unionists hate? Well, the fact that it was a baffling language spoken in prison by republicans is one reason. Another is that Gerry Adams has a habit of breaking into Irish when he’s speaking publicly, and a number of Sinn Fein people often open their speeches with a few words of Irish. Then there’s the fact that Irish has traditionally been the language of the native, an identifier which marks them off from the planter.
All of these are reasons but none of them is a good reason. Republicans also had a reputation for studying a range of political thinkers during their time in prison, but most unionists don’t hate political philosophy. The occasional words in Irish by Sinn Fein people are always inoffensive and often welcoming, which makes those who get annoyed by them look churlish and even stupid. And if Irish as part of Irish culture is rejected because it’s part of Irish culture, that tells us more about the rejectionists than anything else.
And yet the hatred lives on. There was talk at one point that Chris McGimpsey, a good unionist, could speak Irish, but he hurried to disabuse people of any such notion. Not a single Protestant/State school in the north of Ireland offers Irish as a subject or even as an extra-curricular activitiy. And now unionists are furious that £20 million has been secured from the British for the development of the Irish language. Nelson McCausland is quickly on TV, emphasizing that there’s also money for the development of Ulster-Scots, and won’t that be great. The TUV leader Jim Allister accuses the DUP of having promised that nothing would be delivered from Hillsborough for the Irish language and having failed unionism by allowing a £20 million ‘side-deal’ to go through. Republicans/nationalists might point out that this £20 million is a stop-gap to cover the non-appearance of the Irish Language Act promised at St Andrews.
Cut it which way you like, there’s no disguising the vigour of the loathing for Irish that thrashes around in the entrails of unionism. A parallel might be that of a thirsty man refusing to accept a beautifully-chilled beer because he’s noticed an opponent enjoying the same brand ten minutes earlier.
It’s true what they say: the most terrible wounds are those which are self-inflicted.