Court of Appeal upholds Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737

As the BBC notes the Court of Appeal has rejected a legal action claiming that the Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737, which specifies that all proceedings in NI courts must be in English, was discriminatory and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

And UTV has extensive quotes from the ruling

Lord Justice Girvan ruled: “Conferring on individual litigants a right at their option to convert court forms from English into a language not understood by the vast majority of intended recipients would frustrate the interests of justices.

While it will always be the case that in a pluralist society such as Northern Ireland there will be some people who may not understand English or would prefer to speak another language this cannot entitle them to require prescribed forms and applications to the court intended to inform the court and the other parties to be translated into their own preferred language which is not readily comprehensible to the intended recipients.” [added emphasis]


Lord Justice Girvan, sitting with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Coghlin, said the Act had not been shown to be incompatible with any of Mr Cathain’s Convention rights.

Although he acknowledged the requirements did treat English speakers differently from non-English speakers, the judge held this was “manifestly necessary and proportionate in a democratic society“.

He said: “In a jurisdiction where English is the language of the overwhelming majority of the population the requirement that court documents initiating proceedings be in English as the working language of the court is a practical necessity in the interests of fairness.” [added emphasis]

Lord Justice Girvan stressed that non-English speaking witnesses in proceedings must be entitled to give evidence in their own language through a translator – otherwise their right to access to the courts would be “illusory”.

However, he emphasised the present position that English is the working language of not just the courts but nearly the entire population.

Even if Article 6 and 14 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) were engaged in this case no breach of the appellant’s Convention rights has in fact occurred,” he said.

The appellant has not demonstrated any Convention incompatibility in the 1737 Act“.

Lord Justice Girvan added: “At common law English is the working language of the court and this will remain so unless and until the matter is changed by statute“.

Any change in law would itself have to be compatible with the Convention rights of litigants.”

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  • Oracle

    This will make the Shinners look silly and weak

  • Eire32

    “1737 Act”.

    Needing some renewal i reckon, strange English laws from the distant past, they just don’t want to forget their “glorious” past.

    Snap out of the trance, slapping yourself in the face a couple of times usually works.

  • This will make the Shinners look silly and weak

    SF will be very grateful for this decision – it will enable them to continue their trick of speaking out of both sides at once – the party’s version of bilingualism. They will be able to castigate the courts service and use this decision to recruit more gullible young Irish speakers to their ‘radical’ banner while on the other hand being very happy and satisfied with ‘devolved justice’.

    Would the judges in this case be allowed to uphold the 1737 Act if they were hearing a case in Wales re the Welsh language?

  • Seymour Major

    There was never any chance that a case like this would succeed since, in reality, neither justice nor human rights were being breached.

    The case was nothing more than a political point-scoring exercise designed to highlight a campaign to make Irish an equal first language in Northern Ireland. This kind of campaigning tars the language with a sectarian brush.

    This ridiculous litigation is a setback to anybody who genuinely wants to see progress with the promotion of Irish Language speaking.

  • I think it”s right to challenge ancient legislation in the courts – there’s nothing sectarian about that and it doesn’t paint the language with a sectarian brush but it does show up the courts to be less accommodating in one part of the UK than it is in another – as far as I know this law doesn’t apply in Wales where Welsh is allowed….

    This actually shows the ‘Union’ to be weak – it’s not a ‘union of equals’. NI is less British than the rest of the Union…. So that’s a job well done by Justice Girvan and his colleagues as far as SF and other United Irelanders are concerned…..

  • Rory Carr

    If the campaign were to insist that everyone be obliged to conduct court proceedings in Irish then there might be a case for Seymour Major’s contention that, “This kind of campaigning tars the language with a sectarian brush.” But, since in fact it is those who are opposed to reform who are insisting that those who wish to preserve native Irish language and culture in their own land must instead speak the language of the colonial power, we may think that they are more worthy of being tarred with the sectarian brush.

  • The comparison between Irish and Welsh is weak – Welsh is spoken as a first language by a significant percentage of the population, around 12% or so according to a government study which I can’t find the original of. How many Irish speakers in NI have it as their first language?

  • Hibernicle

    Virtually none I’m afraid.

  • alan56

    Surely this was never the best way to promote the Irish Language. It just makes the issue more contentious and serves to alienate a section of the population who do not care that much about the language. Far better to promote the language as a vibrant and fulfilling expression of culture. Using this type of legal action is not the way.

  • lamhdearg

    Are irish and welsh really languages or just dialects of gaelic.

  • Is Andrew Gallagher really saying that there are people in Wales who are Welsh speakers but who don’t understand or speak English as well as they do Welsh….. That’s the logic used by the judge – that because everyone can understand English – the cases should be conducted in English. If that’s true in NI, surely it’s true in Wales.
    And if there’s a different law in Wales, which allows cases to be conducted in Welsh even though English is fully understood by the population there, why shouldn’t there be a law in NI [which does not date to the penal laws] which accomodates Irish speakers who as well as understanding and speaking Irish as their preferred language also speak English?

    It is this shortsighted and narrow view of unionist leaders and those in Establishment to Irish that is making Northern Ireland less a part of the UK than Wales or Scotland. If unionists want NI to be integrated fully into the UK, they should think again over their objections to Irish in public life.

    But I guess that they’d prefer to beat a tribal drum as they walk away from the Union…..

  • You could say that Irish (Gaeilge) and Scots Gaelic (Gaidhlig) are dialects of each other, but the general consensus is that they’re separate languages. There are languages that are considered separate but are largely mutually intelligible (such as Danish and Norwegian), and others which are completely unintelligible when spoken but have historically been considered mere dialects (such as the languages of China). Ultimately, it’s an argument of terminology.

    Welsh has very little to do with the Gaelic languages though – they are related, but no more so than English and German.

  • joeCanuck

    It’s sort of funny but on a number of occasions on vacation in Wales, I walked up to pub doors and heard people talking in English but as soon as I walked in, everyone started speaking Welsh.

  • No, I’m not, although I can’t say for sure either way.

    And it’s important to remember that the judge wasn’t saying there was no reason at all to have court proceedings in Irish, just that not having them in Irish wasn’t in violation of human rights.

    I fully support the Irish language and hope that attempts to broaden its appeal succeed. But this has to be done from the ground up. This court case was an irrelevance.

  • HeinzGuderian

    The language of the world is English !! 80% of the World Wide Web. Business. Finance. yadda,yadda,yadda…..

    El Beardo may wish to murder Maze Oirish Garlic ye know like,but FFS catch yerselves on !!! :O)

  • Cynic

    the point is that it isn’t ‘ native Irish language’ – very few people speak it

  • jim

    just boring creeps.imagine going into a shop on the falls rd and asking for 20 o/regaleor n a box of o/matchicins

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    How many in the republic, 89 years after ridding themselves of the ‘colonial power’ speak Irish as their first language?

  • It really doesn’t matter, Gerry, what the state of Irish is in the south – that’s a foreign country. In the north, according to the Life and Times Survey up to 17% of the population claim to speak it. A few thousand attend Gaelscoileanna – sooner or later unionists are going to have to ditch their absurd defence of this penal law…..and become unionists who actually like the union for what it should stand…..and that isn’t treating the citizens of Northern Ireland less equally than those of Wales or Scotland…

  • Ulster McNulty

    OK, so this law is still active? Putting any sectarian interest aside, its clearly an ass.

    It was originally enacted in 1734, a time when the majority of the population spoke Irish. The intention of parliament in passing it was to prevent people conducting litigation in language they understood.

    I believe a judge must have regard to the intentions of parliament when interpreting law. Can any lawyers confirm this?

    If true, he contradicts the spirit of the law where he states “In a jurisdiction where English is the language of the overwhelming majority of the population the requirement that court documents initiating proceedings be in English as the working language of the court is a practical necessity in the interests of fairness”.

    This law would not support that contention as it was designed to prevent the majority of the people carrying out official business in their own language, which subsequently lead to the decline of that language. So, even though relatively few people speak Irish now, it appears wrong for the judge to introduce arguments of “practical necessity” or “fairness” – as this law was never about those things.

    The judge goes on to say “At common law English is the working language of the court and this will remain so unless and until the matter is changed by statute”

    LOL! Legalese and legislation speak, it’s so full of French dialect and obscure and archaic words which only judges and lawyers understand.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ‘Doesn’t matter’ as in it’s too embaressing to say, or ‘doesn’t matter’ as in you yourself regard the republic as a foreign country?

    I’m genuinely surprised to learn that 17% of people in NI speak Irish as their first language. Why do you suppose there should be such a disparity between the two parts of Ireland?

  • Danny

    There are people in NI who speak Irish as their first language. To say “virtually none do” is incorrect. You’d find some in Belfast and Carn Tóchair in south Derry, for example. The numbers are small, no doubt about that, but not ‘zero’.

    In the Republic first language speakers seem to make up about 1% of the population, with approximately 5-8% fluent.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Thanks for the figures Danny — broadly in line with what I expected.

    Given almost 90 years of independence and Irish a compulsory school subject, are these figures not, to say the least, extremely disappointing? Why for instance should the number of fluent Welsh speakers greatly outnumber the Irish?

  • OldSod

    Personally, I think it’s a bit of a waste of time and money, insisting that everybody else accommodate you by insisting they conduct court proceedings in another language, when you are perfectly able to speak the language of the court.
    Seriously folks, why add to another layer of unnecessary expense and time in an already overburdened justice system?
    Why create more work and expense?

    If you genuinely wish to make this law obsolete, then go and make more Irish speakers first. Make sure that fluent Irish speakers make up a very large percentage of the population (because at the moment they don’t), then make your case for proceedings to be conducted in Irish, it would still be a waste of time and money when you are perfectly able to speak English, but at least it would you could successfully argue that you are entitled to proceedings in Irish.

    Sometimes I think this is all just a conspiracy to create civil service jobs for the few who do speak Irish at a professional level…. 😉

  • Just a few points of clarification, Gerry.

    I never said that the 17% mentioned in the LIfe and Times speak Irish as a first language, they speak it is all they’re claiming. Whether they speak it as a first language or daily is another question.

    On top of that I don’t regard the Republic as a foreign country – it’s a statement of fact as it currently stands. I have my own republican/united Ireland aspirations but that’s beside the point.

    The argument I was trying to make is that it’s a particular situation which is distinctly different from that which obtains in the North.

    I don’t think that it would open the floodgates to allow proceedings in Irish – it’s not that Irish speakers are in the majority amongst lawbreakers. It seems to me that the resistance to this is of the ‘last stand’ variety while I think if the legislation were repealed, it would just be the removal of an anachronistic law. In the south where there is no such law, there’s no rush to the courts by Irish speakers. So what the judges are doing here is Sinn Féin, a party which misses no opportunity to wrap the ‘Irish language’ flag around them, a stick with which to beat the justice system.

    Personally I think the emphasis on providing an Irish language bureaucracy in the south via the Official Languages Act and official status for Irish in the EU is wrong and is doing no more than creating ‘jobs’ for professional Irish speakers. Not that Irish speakers shouldn’t be employed but I would prefer if they were employed for producing books and other material that people actually want to read. When I have criticised this in public in articles of mine published in newspapers such as the Sunday Indo, I have been accused of letting the cat out of the bag and endangering jobs…..

    I am an Irish language activist who would like to get services as Gaeilge, of course, but my priority is not bureaucracy. I think retaining the 1737 act in the north is wrong headed and counterproductive – if it were to be repealed nothing dramatic would change but it send out a signal that the North isn’t a cold house for its Irish speakers….

  • Driftwood

    Spend your time more productively checking out your ancestors on the 1901 census of Ireland, which has just been released online today…

  • bigchiefally

    Everyone here speaks English. Very very few people speak fluent enough Irish to go to a court hearing and understand it, certainly not the 17% figure claimed.

    If we had a situation where the Judge, plaintiffs, defendants, jury, court officials, cops, witnesses, lawyers and everyone else was a fluent Irish speaker I dont think I would have a problem with the case proceeding in Irish.

    Till that day comes how does it make any sense to switch from a language that everyone understands to one that next to no one will be able to follow, regardless of whether or not Irish was the language of the land 500 years ago?

  • Nordie Northsider

    It really doesn’t matter, Gerry, what the state of Irish is in the south – that’s a foreign country.

    …I don’t regard the Republic as a foreign country – it’s a statement of fact as it currently stands.

    Arú, a Chonchubhair, tá meon an Indo ag dul i bhfeidhm ort. Is mór an gar go bhfuil deireadh le ‘Lá’ – bhuailfeadh taom croí na léitheoirí bochta dá bhfeicfeadh siad a leithéid sin.

  • Aldamir

    The 1737 Act was not a penal law. The preamble gives this away:

    “WHEREAS many and great mischiefs do frequently happen to the subjects of this kingdom from the proceedings in courts of justice being in an unknown language; those who are summoned and impleaded having no knowledge or understanding of what is alledged for or against them in the pleadings of their lawyers and attorneys, who use a character not legible to any but persons practising the law…”

    The law was intended to abolish the use of “law French” a bizarre Franglais dialect which was used by lawyers in courts and pleadings, the source of the French dialect expressions still used in the law today.

    The statue continues:

    “To remedy those great mischiefs…… all proceedings whatsoever in any courts of justice within this kingdom, and which concern the law and administration of justice, shall be in the English tongue and language, and not in Latin or French, or any other tongue or language whatsoever”.

    The statue was to abolish Law French – I haven’t researched the situation, but I doubt that Irish had been used in the courts since the time of Strongbow.

  • Nordie Northsider – tá’s agam go bhfuil sé deacair do dhaoine idirdhealú a dhéanamh idir an staid mar atá agus an staid mar ar mhaith leo é bheith.
    Teastaíonn uaim go mbeadh an tír aontaithe – agus bím ag gníomhú sa treo sin. Ach nílim sásta bheith luaite le breagadóirí agus fealltóírí SF atá ag déanamh gach rud chun a chinntiú nach dtarlóidh sin go brách.

    Maidir le Lá agus deireadh a bheith leis, b’iad na fealltóirí/bréagadóirí céanna ar bhórd an Fhorais, bórd trasteorainn teanga (nach ionann sin agus aitheantas go bhfuil dhá dlínse sa tír?, a chur lámh i bhás an nuachtáin sin agus ba é an Indo, dá olc é agus dá naimhdí é don teanga a thug Foinse ar ais ón mbás.

  • Cynic

    500 years ago the English spoke a different version of English but why would they want to go back to that?

  • mcclafferty

    Instead of worrying about what language is spoken in the courts of Northern Ireland for now, I would think SF would want to spend more time trying to get rid of the Diplock court system in NI and “clean house” of the biased and anti-Irish republican judges and PSNI officials that appear to control the “justice system” in NI.

    It is now well over three years since Gerry McGeough was arrested as a political candidate outside a count center on charges going back 35 years. The notorious Diplock-system trial that began on March 8, 2010 has been in suspension since March 10th and no-one seems to have a clue as to when proceedings will resume, if at all?

    In the meantime Gerry McGeough must live his life in a legal limbo. His passport remains confiscated, he cannot travel to the neighboring county of Monaghan, just a few miles from his home, without permission from the RUC/PSNI and he cannot resume his teaching career and livelihood while these “Troubles” related charges from decades ago continue to hang over him.

    No other legal system in the Western world would tolerate this nonsense for a moment, and anywhere else this charade would have been thrown out of court years ago. This, however, is the North of Ireland where British “justice”, or what passes for justice, prevails and under the Diplock system anything goes.

    However, Sinn Féin, the party that could bring an end to this nightmare in a matter of days still refuses to speak out in protest, yet they are concerned about what language is allowed in NI court? Why is this party, with all its power, wealth and privilege, so reluctant to speak out against the gross injustices being perpetrated against a fellow republican?

  • Nordie Northsider

    A Chonchubhair – rud amháin a rá go bhfuil dhá stát sa tír (tá, agus beidh go ceann tamaill eile) agus rud eile ar fad a rá gur dhá thír iad atá coimhthíoch dá chéile. Tá aithne agam ar dhílseoirí nach rachadh chomh fada leis sin.

    Agus cad é a chuir i do cheann gur Sinn Féiní atá ionam?

  • kevin moran

    The Irish language should be in the courts, arraigned for the crime of exceeding the use of letters in even the simplest of words, not to mention environmental crimes associated with squandering ink and page/screen space.

    As for names don’t even go there! A guy who worked for me changed his slave name to an Irish version. It was three times the length and managed to use every vowel at least twice, most decorated with little fadas.

  • Nordie Northsider

    A guy who worked for me changed his slave name to an Irish version.

    Brillant, Kevin.

  • Rory Carr

    If we Gaelicise Moran how would it appear?

    As Mórán perhaps ?

    And how should we then pronounce it ?

    As moron (in English) perhaps ?

  • georgie leigh

    erm No Rory. Your point though, remains hilarious.

    In 1737 Irish was spoken by a significant section of the population; one of the reasons the Act was passed was to suppress Irish.

    And now m’luds tell us that because of the success of the Act, and other Acts, in suppressing the Irish language in Ireland, Irish remains forbidden.

    One way or another, they are not going to get away with this shite for much longer.

    1737-2010. We haven’t gone away.
    Tiocfaidh ár lá.

  • kevin moran

    Quick get on your rothar their casting for a new film about the oppression of Irish in the ‘Norte’. Couple of working titles so far; ‘The Words That Shake The Planter’ and ‘In The Name of The Fada’.

    The part is for Chief Moper, you’ve got to be in with a shout.

  • Nordie Northsider

    If we Gaelicise Moran how would it appear? As Mórán perhaps ?

    I think he should be known as Kevin X, in keeping with his and Malcolm’s distain for slave names. Or maybe Kevin Y, although that could be ambigious.

  • georgie leigh

    “their” casting are they?

    So you don’t do English either, eh, funny man?

  • joeCanuck

    I don’t know the number, Gerry, but if you visit the Gaeltach areas on the west coast you will hear locals conversing and doing business speaking Irish.

  • socaire

    Who won the football back in 1966?

  • socaire

    You’re trolling ……..

  • joeCanuck

    C’mon folks, don’t be silly. It is mishcievous for anyone to demand that they be heard in Irish. Either in the north or south of the island unless they are one of a very few, if any, who don’t understand English. Such a person would undoubtedly be allowed the services of an interpreter.

  • Nordie Northsider

    It is mishcievous…

    Shurely shome mishtake

  • Ulster McNulty

    Picture the scene in a Northern Ireland court…

    Judge Girvan

    “In a jurisdiction where English is the language of the overwhelming majority of the population the requirement that court documents initiating proceedings be in English as the working language of the court is a practical necessity in the interests of fairness.”

    Counsel for the appellant:

    “Objection your honour, this law was enacted in 1734, when the overwhelming majority spoke Irish. Therefore, the purpose of this law is to make legal proceedings impractical and unfair.

    Judge Girvan:

    “But this is now the 21st Century, not 1734”

    Counsel for the appellant:

    “So why are we wearing these stupid looking wigs, should we not be wearing beanies?”

  • joeCanuck

    hehehehe; good one.

  • Danny

    An Irish speaking Ireland was never in the interests of the British. The indigenous language was identified as a threat as early as the 13th century and was initially directed at the so-called Old English who had acquired Irish. Some went on to drop the English altogether.

    The language shift which was engineered in Ireland is one of the great ‘successes’ (from that POV) of the British project.

    From 4 million native speakers to 40,000 in less than two centuries…

  • Danny

    *efforts to curb the use of Irish were initially directed at the Old English only….is what I meant to write.

  • bigchiefally

    Danny – is an Irish speaking Ireland in the interests of the Irish? I doubt it.

    You really think Ireland would be better off if we all still spoke Irish? Regardless of how it occurred English is one legacy of British involvement in Ireland that has been very beneficial to the country.

  • Glencoppagagh

    “The language shift which was engineered in Ireland…”

    ….was hugely successful because the Irish actually preferred English?

  • Isn’t it great that so many people are so interested in the cause of the Irish language and language politics.

    However the focus should be on the issue at hand – why is the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive (including SF) happy to allow a situation to pertain in which citizens of the UK in Northern Ireland are less than equal with citizens of the UK in Scotland and Wales?

    Are they really worried that there will be a sudden flood of Irish speakers litigating in the courts should the 1737 penal legislation be repealed? Or is it just that they have a particular mental block regarding Irish?

    What does the new Justice Minister, David Forde, think about a penal law, which discriminates against Northern Irish people, being still on the statute books here – and not in other parts of the UK?

    Why aren’t the unionist parties up in arms over this this diminution of the union? In fact they seem to be in support of it – some unionists!

  • OldSod

    Well for starters, there are a certain bunch of people who very much enjoy participating in terrorism etc. We call them the dissidents. These same people are finding themselves in court more and more often. Terrorism cases (ie: murder and explosives etc) are very technical when it comes to the forensic and legal end of things.
    I for one would expect that these are the kind of people who would insist on creating as much expense and effort as possible for the state when taking these prosecutions. They would insist on trials in Irish.

    There are plenty of other people, ordinary criminals who would insist on Irish simply as a stalling tactic, or just to be obstructive.

    I would like someone to explain to me, how it serves the cause of justice, to make complicated legal proceeding, even more complicated (and legally hazardous) and expensive by insisting that the proceedings be held in a language that is not the primary language of ANYBODY in that court-room?

    It makes no sense. The only reason anybody at this time would want Irish used in a courtroom, is to obfuscate matters, to stall, to delay, to make a political point, to place more financial burden on the state, to exclude non-Irish speakers (and we all know what section of society that will be) and to create divisions.

    If you really want Irish to become the everyday language of the people, then the court is not the place to start. Start with the people first, schools, public places, menus, place names, public signs etc. Teach people Irish, make it attractive, don’t shove it down their throats.

    I would be open to the idea that someone could have their case in court heard in Irish, if they were prepared to foot the bill themselves.

  • Danny


    I never said Ireland would be better off or not. But an Irish speaking Ireland seems quite natural and reasonable to me. How many European countries are predominantly English speaking? Ireland is the exception, rather than the rule. Like I said, an Irish speaking Ireland was never in the interests of the British, and they did language shift like no other.

    Yes, English has been very beneficial to Ireland as a country. Why, look at how successful Ireland has been over the last century or two. Very little poverty, low emigration rates, successful economy, no civil wars etc. Imagine if it had remained largely Irish speaking. Horrors! Thank God for English. One only has to look at countries like Sweden or Finland or the Netherlands which never made the switch to English (it’s more useful, ya know) to see what hellish conditions would have awaited the Irish had they not adopted the language of their rulers in London and Dublin. And what use is Polish? Why won’t those pesky Poles just switch to Russian or English? They are most useful, after all.


    Idiotic statement. English was the language of advancement because there was no alternative. To remain an Irish monoglot after 1700 or so was to remain shut out from most opportunities for advancement in your own country. It wasn’t a matter of people ‘preferring English’. It was about survival and getting on. People typically don’t abandon their native tongue, especially when they are in the majority. But that’s what happened. When the choice was between retaining Irish and putting food on the table, becoming literate, gaining a better job etc, the language almost always came second, and rightly so. The language shift happened and there’s no going back, but let’s not try and portray it as ‘free choice’. For most, it wasn’t. The National Schools system established in 1831 (even in overwhelmingly Irish speaking districts) was also very effective.

  • Danny

    “For can the swoord teache thim to speake Englishe, to use Englishe apparell, to restrayne them from Irishe exaccions and extorcions, and to shonne all the manners & orders of the Irishe? Noe it is the rodd of justice that muste scower out those blottes…justice without the sword may suffize to call all those to her presence…to defende the Englishe from all Irishe spottes, to settel thim in the quiett estate they were in before they so degenerated…”

    – Lord Chancellor Gerrard to the Privy Council, 1577

    “It is not in the interests of our community for Irish (which our ancestors shunned as they would rocky crags) to be spoken widely and freely.”

    – Dubliner Richard Stanihurst, 1587

    “We may conceive and hope that the next generation will in tongue and heart and every way else become English; so as there will be no difference or distinction but the Irish sea betwixt us.”

    – Sir John Davies, ‘A Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued’, 1612

    “ hath ever beene the use of the Conquerour, to despise the language of the conquered and to force him by all meanes to learne his.”

    – Edmund Spenser, A View of the State of Ireland, Published 1633

    “It would be a noble achievement to abolish the Irish language in this kingdom, so far at least as to oblige all the natives to speak only English on every occasion of business, in shops, markets, fairs, and other places of dealing…”

    – Jonathan Swift, ‘Two Letters On Subjects Relative To the Improvement of Ireland’ in Ireland in the days of Dean Swift, 1727

    “The common Irish are naturally shrewd, but very ignorant and deficient in mental culture; from the barbarous tongue in which they converse which operates as an effectual bar to any literary attainment.”

    – William Shaw Mason, Royal Irish Academy, 1822

    Tá mo chroí-se réabtha ina míle céad cuid
    ‘s gan balsam féin ann a d’fhóirfeadh dom phian,
    nuair a chluinim an Ghaeilge uilig á tréigbheáil,
    is caismirt Bhéarla i mbeol gach aoin,”


    “My heart is torn in a hundred thousand pieces,
    And no remedy will soothe my pain,
    When I hear Irish being abandoned
    And the din of English in everyone’s mouth.”

    – Art Mac Cubhthaigh, Armagh, 1715-1773

  • In the south, where you can be tried in Irish, with no less inconvenience to the judges etc, there is no evidence that dissidents have tried that trick, Old Sod. So it seems to me that you’re making a petty sectarian point with no evidence to back it up except your own narrow prejudices.

  • bigchiefally

    Danny – you are honestly saying that having an English speaking workforce isnt an advantage in the modern world?

    The Dutch and Scandanavians are successful, no doubt, but they all put a huge amount of effort into their English education too, which we essentially get for free.

    Was there a language here before Irish speakers arrived? If so should we all go back to this language?

    What about the language one before that one?

    Should the English go back to what they were speaking before the Norman invasion?

    Where does it stop?

    Keep alive old languages for cultural benefit if you wish, thats great, but the world moves on and linguistically we just happen to be speaking what is almost the common language of the world. I really dont see how this is not a good thing.

  • OldSod

    I hardly think it would be the same “Political point” in the REPUBLIC.
    For the record, I’m Irish and I think you owe me an apology for calling me sectarian when you insist on calling a sovereign state “the south” as opposed to its proper name.
    Just because someone does not agree with you and your motivations, does not equate them to being sectarian.
    Especially when I suggest that Irish should be promoted in many other ways FIRST.

    Tell me, just how many trials are heard in Irish in the republic? I doubt it would be many and if so, then it’s hardly going to be much of a burden on the state, especially a state that has Irish as the primary language in it’s constitution and which has the civil service and bureaucracy to support the use of Irish in an official capacity.
    Northern Ireland would be a very different matter, as it would be a political statement for many. People will resent it as much as others will use it for their own “point scoring”.
    Northern Ireland does not have a bureaucracy or civil service that can work with Irish,…. maybe that will change in 20 years through natural change, but to accommodate it now, today, would mean much change, much spending and resistance.

    At this time, the legal/ official use of Irish in courtrooms, is unnecessary and divisive.

  • Danny


    Would you stop putting words in my mouth! I never said having an English speaking workforce wouldn’t be an advantage. My primary point is that

    a) the language shift was engineered and resulted largely from coercion. It was not a ‘free choice’ or because English was ‘better’. English used to be the poor relation in Ireland. It was confined to a handful of areas. The roles eventually reversed.

    b) Ireland could have succeeded had it remained largely Irish speaking. Just as the bulk of the population in modern day Sweden has remained Swedish speaking, for example. Ireland didn’t need English to ‘succeed’. It’s a moot point now but I’m looking at the time before the language shift occurred. What caused the language to decline from a high of 4 million native speakers to about 40,000 in just a few generations? That’s not natural. There were many more Irish speakers in the country than English speakers at the time, yet it still happened. Why? Historically speaking, it’s a fascinating question IMHO.

    I’m still not entirely sure what great benefits have come to Ireland because it’s mainly English speaking. What benefits have come to Ireland for being English speaking that haven’t come to Sweden or Germany, where they speak languages other than English? Having English as a home language isn’t a prerequisite for success, is what I’m saying. Having English didn’t stop most of Ireland from being poverty stricken, with massive emigration, for example. I suppose having English allowed those hundreds of thousands of Irish to integrate better in England, the US, Canada and Australia.

  • This isn’t or shouldn’t be a debate about whether or not Irish language policy has been a success in the south/Republic if old sod insists. It’s about whether or not the British Government wants to treat one part of the UK differently to other parts. It’s about whether the NI Executive and other local parties are prepared to accept this if it’s the case, as I argue.

  • Danny

    Northern Ireland is clearly a place apart.

    The arguments being used in favour of the Act today….”In a jurisdiction where English is the language of the overwhelming majority of the population…” obviously didn’t come into it in the 1730s. As another user said, it was about suppressing Irish and extending English. Large swathes of Ulster in the 18th century were strongly Irish speaking.

  • OldSod

    Okay,.. I’ll bite. This should not be a matter of the British government treating one constituent country different than another,… it’s a matter for the Northern Ireland assembly to decide now that policing and justice is devolved.
    There are many different laws between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland,…. Scotland operates under a different legal system to the rest of the UK,… does that mean it should be compelled to change to make sure there is parity throughout the state?
    Personally, I think thats a matter for the Scots and their government.
    As for using Irish in Northern Irish courts,… well I firmly believe that’s a matter for Northern Ireland government/ people, not central government.

    You are saying we should not be discussing the republic’s Irish language policy? Well it’s only natural to look as part of comparison of policies (like you are doing with Wales) and practicalities. You can’t have it both ways.

    Still waiting for that apology.

  • mcclafferty


    You are 100% correct on your history of the Irish language. There is no reason why the Irish language cannot be recognized again. It’s still all about controlling the Irish.

  • bigchiefally

    Danny – you may not have explicitly stated that English was not good for Ireland but you did have a whole paragraph where you started off saying English was the root of all success in Ireland, then going on to list pretty much every bad thing that has happened here under those successes.

    Is it that much of a reach to suggest someone that says this doesnt think English has been good for Ireland?

    On your point a) I honestly dont know, but you are probably right.

    Concubhar – dont different regions get treated differently all the time within the UK?

  • Apologise for what Old Sod? Calling the Republic the south? Why should I apologise to you for that shorthand? Have you been elected President or something?

    I don’t care who takes the question on board re the 1737 act – the UK Government or the NI Executive but given that it’s a statute which is on the UK statute book, it should start there. The different legal systems in the UK, apart from NI, all allow people who speak a minority language to plead in that language before the courts, Welsh in Wales, Scots Gaelic in Scotland. So why is Irish in Ni courts different?

    And I’ve heard the “Irish is divisive’ argument before – it’s a joke. It’s an excuse to do nothing. Everything progressive is divisive in NI because change is resisted by one side or the other always.

  • OldSod

    You called me a bigot. The fact that I have to point it out for you 3 times says everything. Clearly you are not mature enough to address your childish name calling, so why should I bother addressing you or engaging in debate with you again?

  • OldSod

    “you’re making a petty sectarian point with no evidence to back it up except your own narrow prejudices.” Your words.

  • Glencoppagagh

    But they still didn’t have to abandon Irish in the home. Knowing English and using it for economic reasons does not exclude retention of the native tongue as migrant groups across the world frequently demonstrate. For example, the Hispanic population in the US.
    Was bilingualism simply beyond the Irish?

  • It’s clear that the vast majority in the UK and Ireland find bilingualism too difficult – I like to think that it’s one of the things we got from the British. In other countries people have no problem with being bilingual or multilingual….

    it’s not specifically an Irish thing…. My own belief is that English being such a dominant language has a very strong negative influence against bilingualism….

  • Danny

    I’m still not sure what ‘benefits’ have come to Ireland that wouldn’t have come if it had remained largely Irish speaking.

  • Battle of the Bogside

    Explain your argument in terms of Scots Gaelic as the same applies in Scotland as does in Wales.

  • Battle of the Bogside

    Welsh is an Indo Celtic language whereas Scots or Irish is more Western European. They are both languages, which are about longer than modern English, but are not related.

    They are not dialects, unlike so called Ulster Scots.

  • Battle of the Bogside

    “that’s a foreign country”

    No it’s not!

  • Battle of the Bogside

    Galway 1-10 Meath 0-07