Protectionism gone too far..?

LORD Laird has taken up the case of a family from Northern Ireland who have been refused permission to buy a house in the Connemara Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area). It’s not because the family don’t speak Irish, but apparently don’t speak it well enough.

226 thoughts on “Protectionism gone too far..?”

  1. JMcConnell

    “So it’s possible to construct a simple sentence in modern Irish that is closer grammatically to a Semitic language like Hebrew than to any other Indo-European language. An interesting echo of events thousands of years ago”

    Interesting. Could you give an example (with translation for the hebrew at least if possible) or link?

  2. brian boru

    “when the Protestant landlords who owned almost the entire country at a time when most Catholics were little more than serfs, preferred to export the crops to Britain than to let it be used to alleviate the starvation in Ireland.”

    The irish-speakers were little more than serfs. Many of the grain exporters-and-hoarders were catholic merchants. And large numbers of protestant landlords bankrupted themselves by waiving rents during the famine years. and Ireland was – as it should have been – a net importer of grain during the famine years.

    But I’m only quibbling. And I don’t like quibbling about the famine.

    YES, the after-effects of the famine must have been a much bigger cause than the schooling I think.

  3. Connaught where 3.5 million people lived

    any source for this Biffo? I find it extremely hard to believe that the 5 counties would have an average of 700,000 people each.

    And please, not least when you’re having an argument about the decline of Irish spell it Connacht. Even the RFU would spell it that way.

  4. “The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture”
    by Jean Markale also “Woman of the Celts” by the same author.
    Tough stuff to read but he goes very much into detail and tries to trace down linguistic similarities.

  5. Ringo

    “And please, not least when you’re having an argument about the decline of Irish spell it Connacht. Even the RFU would spell it that way.”

    Wha? Am I missing something here? I don’t recall mentioning Connaght anywhere here.

  6. BM
    “My point is simply that it wasn’t just straightforward colonial policy. I agree the famine acted as a huge, if unacknowledged, influence in the background, yes. But not just emotional trauma.”

    Wasn’t just policy but that certainly had it’s part to play. Take the plantations. There were a massive upheaval of the local population which itself had a profound effect on culture and lanuage. And where did the uprooted end up? In other poorer areas. Then bring on the famine and see the result. Colonial policy played it’s part.

    “Any social factor – such as a language – that appeared to threaten the survival of the children would be shunned.”

    But you have to question why. Why would a language threated the survival of the children? Because of colonial policy perhaps?

  7. ballymichael

    “You are probably using “colonisation” to mean “the political, social, educational and most importantly economic dominance of english law, social attitudes, educational priorities and economic activity over those of the irish speaking inhabitants of ireland”, leading to the adoption by the irish-speakers of the language of the english?”

    Yes. I am surprised by the question mark. I thought I was making myself clear, maybe I wasn’t.

    Maybe I need to reconsider how I express myself in this recently acquired (relatively speaking)colonial lingo.

  8. “Why would a language threated the survival of the children? Because of colonial policy perhaps?”

    Sure. The reduction of almost all irish-speakers into smallholding poverty was a result of colonial policy. Plantations, Penal Laws requiring partible inheritance for catholics, forbidding entrance into professions and so on. I’m not defending it.

    Lack of tenant rights (therefore: incentive to maximise children rather than invest capital in land) was also colonial policy.

    A long-term small-holding population boom wasn’t policy. That was an unintended consequence of the introduction of the potato.

    The three things interacted in ways the government in London didn’t see or understand, when the blight came.

  9. ballymichael

    I’m afraid the only published reference on the subject I am aware of is a PhD thesis from UC Berkeley. I once spent a very interesting evening talking about the subject with the author at a friends party in Berkeley. I believe he is now a professor of linguistics at the Max Plank Institute in Berlin.

  10. biffo

    “colonialism” is an emotionally-laden term. It tends to be used in a judgemental way. Put together with “direct” and “simple” … it’s not simple. It’s better to spell out exactly how the terms is being used, though it makes my posts long-winded, maybe.

    In my opinion, at least. But I don’t think you were being unclear, no.

  11. Ringo, actually having researched it I now realise the actual original population of Connaught in the 1841 Census was 1,418,973. Even so that demonstrates the present population of Connaught is still 1 million lower than back then so it’s still enormous and devastating for the Irish language which was strongest here and in Donegal. Here is a link:

  12. Biffo

    I cannot see how your references back up your opinions. Taiwan (and Korea) were indeed subject to Japanese rule for a number of decades. In neither case was the local language replaced or even threatened; to say that in a couple of centuries they would have been is pure speculation. More baffling is your comment on Brazil. The country was colonised by Portuguese settlers and African slaves, their descendants are called Brazilians.

    In many parts of Europe minority languages have been persecuted but have survived. In Belgium for instance, Flemish was threatened by French encroachment for a hundred years. The government, the military, the courts, the universities were completely francophone at a time when French had the prestige of being the foremost world language, yet the Flemish/French language border did not alter by as much as a kilometre. In Prussia and Silesia organised attempts at Germanisation against the Polish language were totally unsuccessful.

    When I raised the fact that the political and religious leadership in Ireland was a force for Anglicisation you answered that this was for pragmatic reasons. Similarly the decision of the bulk of the Irish-speaking population to encourage their children to speak English was pragmatic. Knowledge of English was a liberating factor which gave the children opportunities which would have been denied them had they spoken only Irish.

    Probably the most telling argument against you is that these attitudes have continued in the Gaeltacht since 1922 when, presumably, colonisation could not be used as an excuse.

  13. Biffo,

    What is it McEvoy is saying that you consider jumping the gun? If you liked CS’s book then you’ll probably also enjoy Steve Olsen’s “Mapping Human History”.

    The research author doesn’t say anywhere that the Irish are or are not Celtic. The word “seems” appears which means he hasn’t proved anything – but he’s got an impression.

    All he is actually saying is that the Irish are definitely descended from paleolithic hunter gatherer’s of 9,000 years ago.

    The genetic data finds that the population of Ireland has as its closest relatives the Basques in Spain and not to the populations in central and western continental Europe. These latter populations are those we consider descended from the Celts. If all that is correct then you can infer that the population of Ireland and the Celtic populations today do not share a common ancestor. We additionally know that the Basques are the remnants of the peoples living in Europe based on their language and genetic divergence from all the peoples living around them. As they are our closest genetic relatives then we too must also be from the same “old” European population as the Basques. Given that information it is perfectly correct to deduce that the Irish population does not descend from the Celtic population.

    This difference between us seems to be semantic – how do we know that the population we call Celtic today is really the celtic population? I think you agree completely with the line of reasoning I advanced – you just don’t agree that the populations in Central/Western Europe are definitively Celtic. Thing is we’ve been calling those populations Celtic for thousands of years, so they ARE the Celts for all intents and purposes and the Irish are not related to them.

    But you have to accept that since pre-historic times the Irish have spoken a Celtic language. There’s Celtic involvement somewhere.

    Which is, for me, one of the most fascinating aspect of the pop gen work. It was entirely surprising to find that the Irish population shares a close cultural and linguistic heritage with central/western european cultures but not a genetic one. How did that happen?


    Language acquisition in children happens in the pre-school years. At about 5 years old the facility to learn languages by “osmosis” declines rapidly. This seems to be due to a difference in brain function. That’s why along linguistic borders, bilingualism passes on from one generation to another.

    That notion has been dispelled by the last decade or so of research. Adults are less successful at learning a new language for reasons such as lack of time or discipline, rather than the loss of the ability to learn.

  14. Robert
    “It was entirely surprising to find that the Irish population shares a close cultural and linguistic heritage with central/western european cultures but not a genetic one. How did that happen?”

    Isn’t it a similar thing in Cornwall? They took the Cornish language but genetically they are no different from their neighbours? Or so I read somewhere.

    “Adults are less successful at learning a new language for reasons such as lack of time or discipline, rather than the loss of the ability to learn.”

    I’ve read that beyond the age of 12-14 you no longer have the ability to acquire a language as a native speaker. But there’s nothing stopping someone learning a language perfectly fluently right through adulthood … unless you’re me … crap at all languages even English.

  15. robertKeogh

    “Adults are less successful at learning a new language for reasons such as lack of time or discipline, rather than the loss of the ability to learn.”

    Well, that isn’t my understanding of the modern research, nor does it tally with my experience. How many adults, given motivation and time and need to learn a foreign language, will become indistinguishable from a native speaker?

    Almost none. How many children, given social contact with children with other native languages? A very large proportion.

    I’ve checked the dates of the books I based my understanding on (principally David Crystal, “Listen to your Child”) and they are older than 10 years. Care to give me a reference to this research, or some search terms?

  16. Maca,

    I guess that by the age of 12 – 14 the speech and the intellectual understanding of their mother tongue has developed fully therefore learning a new language at a later stage is more complicated because you have to get your head around to say things differently although they still have the same or very similar meaning.
    Just a guess but an educated by experience one.

  17. BM
    “How many adults, … will become indistinguishable from a native speaker?
    “How many children, given social contact with children with other native languages?”

    Now, that’s a bit different from what you stated earlier. Adults can still successfully learn and become totally fluent in a language given the motivation and time. But to develop language skills indistinguishable from a native speaker is a very differet matter. And that’s not to say it’s not possible, but certainly it’s more difficult.

    Betty Boo
    “the speech and the intellectual understanding of their mother tongue has developed fully”

    That may well be the case. It requires some Googling, cya later.

  18. maca

    agreed the distinction is a very big one. And that distinction is the best argument I know, for why language acquisition in pre-school age children must be a different method and type of learning than that done by older schoolchildren and adults.

    Actually, maybe that’s what the Gaeltachtai should be doing – only allowing people with young children to move there!

  19. Robert

    An excellent summary of the current state of opinion regarding DNA evidence. It does seem that the first post-ice age settlement was from northern Spain. In historic times we know that immigrants to Ireland were from Britain and Scandinavia, but we do not know where settlers came from in the 7000 years or so between the initial settlement and the Viking incursions. Nor do we know the nature or number of these settlements though clearly they did not result in wholesale displacement of the native population since there is substantial genetic continuity since Paleolithic times.

    The last pre-historic settlement was by Celts which is generally agreed to have been around 2300 years ago but there is no certainty whether this was from Britain or from NW Spain. However since data show that the DNA variations in Ireland are between east and west the probability is that most post-Paleolithic settlement has been from Britain.

    J McConnell

    I had not heard of the possibility that the language or languages of pre-Celtic Ireland were of Hamito-Semitic origin. I presume this conclusion is based on structural studies. As Hiberno-English betrays the Irish-speaking background of its users so, by analogy, the syntax of Irish dialects may help in discovering at least the type of language spoken in pre-Celtic times. In may even be that a study of Scottish Gaelic and Manx would be useful since these could retain archaic features which have now disappeared from Irish. All fascinating stuff!

  20. DavidD: “This is not even mostly true. Irish declined because Irish-speaking parents saw the economic advantages of speaking English and were not inclined to pass on the language to their children.”

    Sophistry, since you ignore the fact that English colonialism was what created the economic advantage of speaking English.

  21. Too many people here seem to have not progressed beyond the cultural nationalism folk tale that is the founding myth of the Irish language revival movement – that we were all happily chatting away in Irish before those dastardly Brits oppressed us all in recent times into speaking their heathen Sassanach tongue…

    Well, here is how the language displacement mechanism of submersion works.

    For simplicity sake lets divide Ireland into three equal parts of 10K sq miles, one part upland, mostly cleared; one part lowland, mostly uncleared, one part waste. At the start of the High Middle Ages population revival in Western Europe the indigenous population of Ireland was mostly upland pastoralist, the lowland population seems to have collapsed in the previous few hundred years. So lets say a upland population density of around 10 people per sq mile, and a lowland population of around 3 people per sq mile. Total population of the island around 150K.

    Over the next few hundred years tens of thousands of migrants arrive first from Scandinavian and later from Wales, Scotland, England and the northern coast of Europe, clearing and resettling the lowland areas of Ireland, and founding the first towns and cities. With the very favorable climate and hence bumper harvests of the High Middle Ages the new lowland arable agricultural populations expand very quickly, clearing most of the suitable lowland areas and within not too many generations the lowland population reaches the carrying capacity of lowland arable agricultural, say 40 person per sq mile.

    So by the end of the High Middle Ages (early 14’th century) you have a situation where the two cultures inhabit approximately the same land area in Ireland, say 10K sq miles, and each is in the overwhelming majority in its own area, the Middle Irish speaking pastoralists in the upland areas, and the Middle English speaking arable farmers in the lowlands, but because of ability of arable agriculture and the urban based trading to support much higher population densities the total population of the island is now over 500K. And around 70% of the population of the island now speaks English.

    No mass oppression, displacement, or conversion needed to make Ireland majority English speaking in a relatively short period of time. Just differential carrying capacity and natural population increase.

    This sets the scene for the next great population shock, the natural disasters of the late Middle Ages. The benign climate of Northern Europe turns nasty, a long succession of bad harvests turn to famine, and then the final coup de grace, the Black Death. The lowland population is disproportionately effected by these turn of events and does not really recover until Tudor times. But apart from this period of population retreat, and the population explosion in the late 18’th early / early 19’the century, I strongly suspect that English has been the majority language for most of the last 700 plus years.

    With an established English speaking majority in place this now set the scene for the other language displacement mechanism to kick in, diffusion. Negative feed back from the political, legal and educational institutions towards Irish would account for the rise of bilingualism among Irish speakers, especially during the 19’th century, but not account for the catastrophic collapse during the 20’th century in its daily use as a language of public discourse, which happened after all institutional sanctions had been removed. Or account for the situation today where the population is de-facto 90%+ monolingual English speaking.

  22. J Mc C,

    if your scenario were correct, why would laws forbidding English settlers to speak Irish have been required? (e.g. Statutes of Kilkenny, 1367)

    Some of the Sean Ghall (Normans and their descendants) were very Irish speaking, beocming famous poets (Gearóid Iarla, Piaras Feiritéir) and historians (Seathrún Ceitinn – Geoffrey Keating).

    I agree that the view of English invasion being the sole reason for the current state of the language, partciularly after 80 years of independence for the state which contains most remaining Gaeltachtaí is simplistic.

    It is also irrelevant. However we got here, we have a situation where there are communities speaking Irish, which require sensible levels of protection to preserve cultural diversity – since cultural diversity is as beneficial as bio diversity.

    There is plenty of evidence that bilingualism is economically of advantage to both society and individuals.

    Eight families were tested, one failed. The only evidence we have is a letter of complaint – in English – by that family protesting that they want to integrate into the Gaeltacht.

    They have the option of retaking the test.

    And it applies only to large scale housing developments, since there is evidence that a large community of speakers of the dominant language can turn around the language of the entire community in a short space of time. As has happened to Bearna, just down the road from an Spidéail. The number of irish speakers there has not declined, but the percentage has, and the language has dissappeared from public view.

    These regulations are quite mild compared to similar regulations on, say, the Aland islands.

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