Linguistic Shenanigans: who politicised the Irish language in Ireland? by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair


Céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).

I was struck by a debate on BBC Talkback on 12th May 2017, with Mark Carruthers interviewing the News Letter’s Editor, Ben Lowry about Acht na Gaeilge… the supremacist and fear-based outpourings during this radio show prompted me to revisit my thoughts on the wider topic of the language.
The whole island of Ireland is the native homeland of the Irish nation. Our rich ancient indigenous language, culture and heritage identify us as the unique and distinguishable settled nation we’ve been since long before the English language existed or even a Union of British nation(s) existed.
British Unionists must cease framing debates on promotion of Irish identity, language and culture as if such were not inalienable native peoples rights but rather privileges to be granted by their colonial masters. In a supposed “UK of equals” the Scots and Welsh nations have a unique Act to protect their indigenous language. Why therefore are British Unionists even asking native Irish citizens to justify insisting on a similar right – the fact they seek to treat Irish differently is what requires robust probing.
We all agreed in our 1998 peace deal to build ‘parity of esteem ‘ between both traditions here. However, British Unionist politicians have since refused to fully implement this way forward. As this new process began to take shape within our anglicised environment, British Unionist politicians seemed to fear that genuine equality and parity was highlighting the stark difference between Irish and English: Irish is the naturally occurring indigenous language of the island of Ireland and English is a non-native language imposed upon us by a foreign colonial state. In Germany, China, Russia, France, Spain, Italy and Poland etc, all their name places, roads and streets are in their indigenous language. Moreover, their children are educated in the language indigenous to their native homeland and such nurtures in children a unique sense of self and belonging. This is what most terrifies insecure British Unionist/Colonialist politicians who reject their birthright Irish identity, which increasing numbers of their constituents children are embracing: Tá an tír lena dteanga féin tír a anam féin – a country with its own language is a country with its own soul.
Like every Irish Nationalist child who attended a Catholic school, I was taught Irish at school but struggled to ever use it in a public sphere controlled by a British Unionist orange supremacist state. Importantly, in those dark repressive days, the UUP and DUP were overtly hostile to all aspects of Irish identity and culture and Sinn Féin were the only party that bothered to promote them in the public sphere. Thankfully, we Irish have arisen off our knees and stand proudly and resolutely with this goal in mind: we will ensure that a brighter and more enriched future awaits all of our children. I repeat: all of our children.
The overwhelming majority of Irish speakers consistently elect Sinn Féin and the Socialist Democratic Labour Party to represent their interests. Prior to the last election, the DUP insisted it would ‘never’ agree a new Irish language Act and rejected representations on this by Sinn Féin and the SDLP. This was despite the fact that an Act formed part of the Saint Andrew’s Agreement the DUP signed. In March 2017, Sinn Féin came within one seat of being the largest party at the Stormont regional election. Alarmed by this, the DUP leader hastily attended an Irish school in Armagh (the constituency of Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady and Megan Fearon MLA who is the party’s spokesperson for children) in what the DUP portrayed as some supposed act of outreach to Irish speakers. In reality, this visit to a bunscoil was more a case of the DUP acting as the supremacist Gatekeeper showing its own voters that the DUP would decide who it deemed entitled to represent Irish speakers.
A blind man could detect that we Irish remain the victims of a centuries old ongoing cultural war. Today, that war is fought by the offspring of English and Scottish Colonists planted on stolen Irish land to aid and abet British state efforts to eradicate what’s Irish in Ireland and supplant it with what’s English/British. It’s time the media obliged British Unionists politicians to concede, politicisation of what’s Irish in Ireland was perpetrated by the British state aka non-Irish foreign state in Ireland: see its 1367 Statute of Kilkenny; 1695 Foreign Education Act; the 1831 National Education Act outworkings of a Tally Stick/Bata Scoir used to beat school children who spoke Irish; and the 1921 exclusion of the Irish language, uniquely Irish sports and Irish history from the new NI statelet’s curriculum to ensure state schools were ‘safe for [British Unionist] Protestant children’.
Today, British Unionists aren’t using draconian penal laws to attack Irish identity, language and culture. Instead, they reject the creation of Irish schools, engage in discriminatory funding of existing cultural projects and conjure bogus ‘costs and economy’ excuses to mask their discriminatory actions and attitude. For instance, they falsely suggest the unit cost the state allocates to educating one child in a Irish bunscoil isn’t precisely the same as allocated to a school teaching the state curriculum in English. They further stupidly contend, teaching the curriculum in non-English is detrimental to building a successful economy in modern day Europe. However, this conniving nonsense ignores that not least German industry was built on its indigenous language and it remains thee most successful economy on this our European continent.
Since the undemocratic creation of the N Ireland statelet in 1921, the majority of British Unionists either raged at, shunned, marginalised, mocked and demonised displays of Irish identity, language, culture and history. Consequently, it’s unsurprising that during the 1980s it was once said at a Sinn Féin event: ‘Every word of Irish spoken is like another bullet being fired in the struggle for Irish freedom.’ To this day, British Unionists perversely cite this one-off remark as the cause of the politicisation of the Irish language. This utterly depraved British Unionist tactic of inverting Irish grievance issues to portray themselves as the aggrieved is not uncommon but no less a gross act of political chicanery.
The most scandalously blind British Unionist deflection nonsense I’ve heard in answer to the above is being told in English: you Irish should stop complaining we occupied your country and be thankful we British defeated the Nazis or you would now be speaking German.
British Unionist politicians deny they have a fear-based hatred of the Irish language and Irish culture, and are quick to contend: sure Ireland’s Presbyterian community helped preserve the language. That, however, is pure sophistry. It’s true that a few self-identifying Irish Presbyterians belatedly helped save Irish culture from the near death throes of destruction efforts by the British state. However, here’s the rub. The vast majority of Presbyterians were no less hostile to the Irish language and culture than the vast majority of their British Unionist counterparts in the Anglican, Methodist and other sects of Protestantism and to suggest otherwise is devious myth-making.
As British Unionist Protestant Professor John Brewer observed: Unionists can more readily tell you what they oppose than what they represent. If truth be told, British Unionists in Ireland dread their colonial sense of identity becoming eclipsed if they ceased proactively sustaining their forefathers suppression and opposition toward native Irish identity and culture. In addition to Ben Lowry’s ‘alarm’ and ‘suspicious’ remarks on the BBC Talkback radio programme a further striking example of what truly motivates Unionists’ conduct was provided during a 19th February 2015 televised Stephen Nolan show whereon the Irish language was being discussed: DUP politician and Orangeman Nelson McCausland oozed insecurity when he alleged that the Irish nation were promoting our indigenous language in order to, supposedly, cause the ‘cultural humiliation of [British] Unionists’, adding he was ‘absolutely… absolutely’ serious.
When you invite British Unionists born in Ireland to describe their ‘British’ sense of identity most struggle. Many refer to their incessant flag waving and militaristic parading. Others seek to claim sole ownership over universal values common across western societies. To-date, none have convincingly rebutted the central point made by wise Welsh politician Gwynor Evans who opined: ‘What is Britishness… it is another word for Englishness… which extends Englishness over the lives of the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish. If one asks, what the difference is between English culture and British culture ones realises that there is no difference.’
In closing, I leave British Unionist readers in particular with this doubly telling remark from their English former master Winston Churchill who at least understood the spirit of we Irish would never be crushed:
‘We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English’ a.k.a British.
Oscail an doras go saol eile, léigh leabhar Gaeilge – Open the door to another world, read an Irish language book!

6 Responses to Linguistic Shenanigans: who politicised the Irish language in Ireland? by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair

  1. Ruaidri Ua Conchobair May 14, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    Further to my above ‘Gatekeeper’ point, here’s a link to a recent Irish News article demonstrating just how the DUP’s Arlene Foster seeks to police those entitled to represent Irish speakers https://twitter.com/casualgardener1/status/863319025312464897

  2. Ruaidri Ua Conchobair May 14, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

    Another example of the linguistic shenanigans of British Unionist politicians is this fact: they ran campaigns in 1921 onwards offering redundant servicemen and other Southern Protestants jobs and houses to move to NI to bolster it. Thereafter, they’ve distorted this into mendacious ‘ethnic cleansing’ allegations against the South https://twitter.com/Irish_Ulster/status/863768408193732612

  3. Eddie Finnegan May 14, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

    Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair’s righteous indignation has led him into trying to prove far too much and to blind himself to even the remote possibility that a smidgeon of honesty and sincerity might be emerging from someone like Arlene Foster.
    I’ll leave the bulk of his arguments for someone who has more time and patience to tangle with them, but could Ruaidrí at least get his facts right on Arlene’s recent move towards outreach as opposed to outrage.

    Ms Foster did not visit a ‘bunscoil’ – there’s nothing ‘bun’ at all about Our Lady’s Grammar School in Newry. The invitation from the girls and their teachers was no doubt issued as a bit of a challenge, but they knew they had something worth sharing with her or with Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair for that matter. I find myself much more convinced by Arlene’s conclusion at (#1 below) than by Ruaidrí’s (#2):

    (#1): “One of the very strong things that came across was the passion that the girls had for the language and it is really good to strip away all the politics out of this issue and just to listen in a very clear way as to how the Irish language has helped in the study of other languages and to give them a head start in relation to job opportunities as well.”

    (#2): “In reality, this visit to a bunscoil (sic) was more a case of the DUP acting as the supremacist Gatekeeper showing its own voters that the DUP would decide who it deemed entitled to represent Irish speakers.”

    Arlene’s cúpla focal of thanks to Our Lady’s Principal and Senior Teachers as she left was much more fluent than anything Gregory Campbell could manage but, ironically, it was also much more grammatical than Ruaidrí’s spake above: “Tá an tír lena dteanga féin tír a anam féin.” If in doubt over na briathra ‘is’ agus ‘tá’, stick to the verbless “Tír gan teanga tír gan anam.” It was good enough for Pearse – it’s good enough for me.

    And, incidentally, Arlene found no crocodiles in Newry Canal or the Clanrye River.

    • Ceannaire May 14, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

      “Ms Foster did not visit a ‘bunscoil’ – there’s nothing ‘bun’ at all about Our Lady’s Grammar School in Newry. ”

      Indeed, she visited a school where Irish is one subject of many. Truly reaching out would have entailed a visit to the bunscoil.

      “the remote possibility that a smidgeon of honesty and sincerity might be emerging from someone like Arlene Foster.”

      Well, it’s difficult to see Arlene’s honesty and sincerity when Pobal and Conradh na Gaeilge have contradicted her conclusions as a result of this ‘outreach’. Well, they haven’t just contradicted her – they’ve called her conclusions “nonsense” and “entirely incorrect”.

      Thus the result of Arlene’s “outreach” has been to falsely minimise the demand for an Act. This is what the recipients of this “outreach” have been saying.

    • Ruaidri Ua Conchobair May 14, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

      Eddie,
      Stop digging. And before you further Comment, do read this Irish News article citing comments made by Arlene Foster beyond those she tendered in the glare of her self-serving photo-op on the day of the visit.
      Those who represent Irish speakers say Arlene’s latter remarks were ‘nonsense’, and I say they amount to verifying my initial ‘Gatekeeper’ observation. http://www.irishnews.com/news/politicalnews/2017/05/13/news/arlene-foster-s-claim-of-lack-of-community-support-for-irish-language-act-branded-nonsense–1025233

  4. Muiris ó Súilleabháin May 17, 2017 at 8:18 am #

    Cónaímse san Astráil agus labhraim Gaeilge an t-am go léir le mo dhá ghadhar agus mo chat.