“I think the DUP accept Sinn Féin’s definition of Irish…”

One of the most refreshing things about watching BBC Alba is becoming aware again of the sharp cultural consonances between island Gaelic and the Irish spoken by the older members of my own family in Donegal. So it was interesting speech translated into a blog post over at El Blogador by Pol O’Muiri, in which he notes the political impasse over the Irish Language, has required a political deadening of cultural sensibilities on both sides of the argument:

Things become even more complicated for both parties when we consider that Scots Gaelic and Welsh are both spoken in Britain and the promotion of those languages challenge the very narrow definition of what languages are and who uses them. It has certainly been an education watching the DUP oppose the promotion of Irish on the grounds that it is nothing to do with them while watching Irish speakers counter with the claim that in Britain Scots Gaelic and Welsh both enjoy measures of legislative protection.

Of course, the irony is that some of the more green-tinted Gaeilgeoirí can’t bear to use the name “Northern Ireland” and prefer to refer to the place as “the Six Counties”. Needless to say, it is not edifying but it may point to the fact that people in the North are tripping towards some understanding of Irish in the context of these islands. One often hears of areas of my home city, Belfast, as being ‘interfaces’. In truth, I think the North is one large interface – an area that has historical links with Scotland in particular due to Plantation and also more peaceful and more ancient social interaction between Irish speakers on either side of the Sea of Moyle.

If you have any stake in the issue at all (eg, for or against an Irish Language Act) go and read the whole thing from start to finish…


  • OC

    Having met Gaelic-speaking hard-core Presbyterian unionists from the Hebrides, I wonder why they have not been more utilized in promoting an ILA in NI? BTW, does this not make Gaelic, as well as Welsh, a “British” language, with roots in Britain older than English?

    In a similar vein, are Scots speakers from, well, Scotland brought in to help speakers in NI?

  • OC,

    Scottish Gaelic is most certainly a British language – it has been embedded in Scotland since it was brought there by the Irish 1500 years ago. However, at this stage it is not the same language as that spoken in Ireland. Hence you cannot rreverse the ‘complement’ and call Irish a ‘British’ language.

    The same could be said of Breton. It was brought to France (as it is now) from Britain 1500 years ago. But it is not the same language any more as Cornish, or further afield, Welsh, so you couldn’t really call Breton ‘British’.

    For better or worse, all six Celtic languages are separate languages, though related.

  • ggn


    Guests from Scotland are brought over from Scotland all the time, indeed the Pobal proposals for an ILA were drafted by a Scottish Gael if I am not very much mistaken, I doubt that Edwin Poots would have been moved by that fact however.

    I would like to know how Pól describes Sinn Féin’s definition of Irish. I would also like it backed up with facts.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>it has been embedded in Scotland since it was brought there by the Irish 1500 years ago.<

  • All of these languages need help to survive.

  • Paul

    Why is it that Irish Gaelic keeps being referred to as the ‘Irish Language’, with the ‘Gaelic’ being dropped? Was the form of Gaelic spoken in Ulster hundreds of years ago not half-way between Irish Gaelic and the Scots Gaelic? The current ‘official’ form of Irish Gaelic was only standardised after the Republic declared independence, as is mainly based on the form spoken in Munster. The ‘official’ Scots-Gaelic being based on the Bible.

    Surely, if any sort of language act is introduced, it should be a ‘Gaelic language act’. This would also perhaps remove intent to /suspicion of using a language for ulterior political/sectarian motives.

    And Irish Gaelic is indeed a British language – the word ‘British’ has as many ambiguities as the word ‘Irish’. Ireland (all of it) is culturally and geographically British, but only the north-east of it is politically British.

    Another interesting article:

    Also “Hiberno-Scottish Gaelic”:

  • a Phrionsa Eoghan,

    Gaelic would have been the language of most on the west coast from the Hebrides down to the south west of Galloway long before the Scots decided to move oer the water.

    I don’t think that there is much evidence of that; In fact, AFAIK the area from the Clyde southwards was inhabited by Brittonic-speakers (i.e. a Welsh-like language)

  • … and,

    It is questionable whether the ‘Q’ celts were even in Ireland much before 50 BC. It is likely that 2000 years go we were all ‘P’ celts (or Priteni), in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. The Q celts came from Gaul, so I imagine that they were mostly Q celts there before they were romanised.

    Ptolemaeus may have been correct (tho he based his map on information that was old even in his time); subsequent invasion by the non-Pretanic Q celts made Ireland non-Pretanic, and made the calling of these islands ‘Pretanic’ obsolete. Don’t worry, congal claen, you’re only 1800 years out of date!

  • Prionsa Eoghan


    You are quite correct that a form of Welsh was the language of the Britons around the south of the Forth-Clyde line before Gaelic and ultimately Scots gained pre-eminance. What must be remembered though was the all important aspects of travel. It was a million times easier to travel from say the Galloway coast to the east coast of Ireland and the isle of Man by boat. Than to travel even a quarter of the distance inland. The Mull of Kintyre and Rathlin are spitting distance apart, and that is the key to accessing the Hebrides. To travel far inland you must navigate great forests, bogs, hills, impassable land, beligerent or even warlike neighbours. And that is not to mention expensive horse/mule flesh. Actually having easier contacts with others is a great barometer in discussing how they must have interacted, and ultimately what language(s) they may have used.

    A dead giveaway is in the name Galloway, although it is contentious it at least points to being of the Gaels. A favourite saying of mine is that the waterways were like the highways of today. Due to this the language undoubtedly favoured if not spoken solely on much of the western seaboard of Scotland must have been Gaelic.

    Many factors back this up. Like how easily it was for the Scots to move virtually en-masse and settle. There is not much evidence of warring with any Picts or Britons, indeed the Scots seemed to have settled in with the Picts pretty easily. This lends the theory that the coasts were pretty much considered the realm of the sea going Scots.

  • OC

    Is Manx a British language?

    Is English a British language?

    Is English an Irish language?

  • ggn


    There are Gaelic place-names all over Scotland and it is generally accepted that Gaelic at its height was spoken, at least by the upper classes all over Scotland.

    Gaelic survived in Galloway to around 1800 and native speaker were to be found everywhere above the Highland line 40 years ago, in fact forty years ago you could have found Gaelic twenty miles from Glasgow.

    ‘Q-Celts’ did not come from Gaul.

  • ggn

    “The current ‘official’ form of Irish Gaelic was only standardised after the Republic declared independence, as is mainly based on the form spoken in Munster.”

    This is of course a complete myth, but it is a myth which will take a very long time to die out.

    Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Manx, Classical Irish etc. etc., all labels that English speakers trouble themselves which.

    The languages themselves have no such troubles nor ambiguities.

  • ggn,

    ‘Q-Celts’ did not come from Gaul.

    Hey, don’t argue with me. Take it up with my source: TF O’Rahilly. What’s your counter-evidence?

  • ggn


    Give me a page reference and I will get back to you.

    Most linguists believe that the Q-Celtic element in Irish came form Iberia.

  • ggn,

    “The current ‘official’ form of Irish Gaelic was only standardised after the Republic declared independence, as is mainly based on the form spoken in Munster.”

    On standardisation, do you not think he’s right vis-a-vis the Caighdeán Oifigiúil?

    My father, who learned Irish before the introduction of the Caighdeán cannot make head or tail of it now (admittedly he doesn’t try too hard, tho).

    However, the Caighdeán is certainly not based too closely on Munster Irish (awful tongue) – personally, as a chauvinist for Connacht Irish, I find the Caighdeán rather favourable.

  • ggn,

    … Give me a page reference ..

    pp 15-17

  • ggn


    I agree.

    I think that Mayo is propably the closest to standard Irish.