In praise of ….Gerry Adams and Fainne…

Right, hold on to your Frosties, because I’m going in to bat for a Mr G Adams, and his casual but regular use of the Irish language. Gerry may not have the best Irish ever to have emerged from the ‘Jailtacht’, but he does use as much as he has as well as he can.

He also wears a Fainne. A big old fashioned one presumably so that the cameras can pick up. Now, there’s an argument made by some that Gerry’s public love of the language makes it problematic for others to similarly use the Fainne to flag up not simple that we are Irish speakers but would welcome a conversation or three as Gaeilge.

It only makes problematic because too few of us do wear our Fainnes these days. I try to make a point of wearing it (at least when I’m all jacketed up), regardless of where I happen to be at the time (with the possible exception of the lower Shankill).

It’s not rewarded that often, but I still think we need some of form of public marker or signal that allows even the slightest of human commerce to take place between strangers as Gaeilge…

I’m not sure remonstrating with possibly the best sketch parliamentary sketch writer on these islands was best advised, Ms Lord bashes pretty evenly and thoroughly where any politicians gives in to their weaker instincts.

Of course there is a party political edge to this, as in almost everything that Mr Adams does and says, but he has a point worth taking note of…

In my modest way I use Irish whenever I can. With my Sinn Féin colleagues and other Oireachtas members. In my everyday life. With my family and friends. That is what language is for.[emphasis added]

Agus leis an chlásal sin caite go bhfuil sé sin é go direach. Caith le bród é, agus le ionchas…

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  • Nordie Northsider

    Very good. The vast majority of Irish speakers have had to learn the language – it’s not as if we can emerge as fully-fledged Peigeanna or Mící Sheáin Néills.

    I’ve always thought that Miriam Lord’s sniping on the issue was a bit off – and it begs the question – what is bad use of language? Enda Kenny has a nice accent and speaks Irish with great facility. Most times though, he doesn’t actually say anything. It’s just a string of idioms and clichés: ‘Sa lá atá inniu ann, ní mór dúinn seasamh le chéile agus aghaidh a thabhairt ar an am atá le teacht’ and so on. Gerry might sound bad, but there is some meaning lurking in those strangled syllables.

  • Mick Fealty

    Few us can claim access to mother tongue Irish (my father had, but then never spoke it with us at home). And we ought to make public signals that using it is better than not.

    Gerry’s a pol, and Miriam sketches. That’s the trade. But I thought it worthwhile pulling the importance of individual actions out of the bonfire before it goes up with the virtual flue with all the rest of the vanities.

  • BarneyT

    ah the Fainne! I wanted one of those so badly…but being sent to the only state secondary school in Newry, there was not much scope to obtain one…but…my Ma had a very big sewing box…and a collection of press-studs. I made my own and donned it for many months.

    Did I earn it? Damn right! My 12 year old fists were barely able to clasp the pliers and the lapel was unforgiving.

    I dont think Gerry or anyone should be derided for their cupla focal. How else are you going to learn it if you dont use it…and use it to express yourself and communicate.

    Perhaps the PUPs will go down the same route and rightly sieze joint ownership of the language.

  • andnowwhat

    I apply the reclaim the George Cross campaign that happened in England a decade ago or so. It was a fantastic exercise in mobilising the public to correct a perception, real or not.

    Our wee girl started an integrated secondary school this year and we were surprised to find out that it is compulsory for all the pupils to study Irish in the first two years.

  • Few politicians have ever really helped the Irish Language (I prefer to call it Gaelic simply because there are two “Irish” languages and we make distinctions between Béarla/Sassenach and Gaelige/Éireannach).

    I think in my own lifetime the language has been associated with different attitudes. Certainly in the 1960s, I would recall that it had more to do with the “artsy” crowd around the ArdScoil, a very down at heel shanty at Castle Street/Divis Street…..rather than overtly “republican”.
    There was a group of houses specifically built on the Shaws Road.
    My first son attended a nursery and yes while waiting outside for him, I did exchange a cupla focal with a parent. Apologising for my poor skills, he volunteered the information that “ta jailic agam” which circa 1987/1988 was just a little uncomfortable.
    Of course Action produces Reaction. The guide for Tuismitheori/Parents I left too carelessly in a drawer and a colleague remarked that he didnt think I “was like that”.

    I think things have changed. Going to an Cultúrlann was an uncomfortable reminder that the speakers were not the old ArdScoil types…..yet possibly because time moves on, the effect of gaelic language schools, the artsy crowd seems dominant again.

    So I think in my lifetime the movement has actually been cutural…political……and cultural again.
    Im not particuarly impressed by an Líofa to which I have signed up.
    s regards an Fáinne, I would not have the confidence to wear a silver one. I read it much better.
    But some twenty years ago there were lapel badges available which simply said “Cupla Focal”. It was very under-used.

  • “That is what language is for”

    Was it an abuse of language for Enda to, apparently, use it fluently to embarrass Gerry? Or was it just politics?

    Enda replied, giving his answer completely in Irish. He went on and on, as smiles grew broader on all sides of the house and Gerry attempted to keep up. But he had Mary Lou on one side of him and no sign of the likes of native speaker Pearse Doherty to whisper a running translation.

    Few of us would be a match for Miriam in any language but, apparently, she misunderstood Gerry’s gripe [opening thread link]

    For the record I did not ask her to encourage me. I put it to her in a perfectly reasonable way that she should be encouraging the use of Irish in the Dáil.

    A Donegal Gaeltacht acquaintance of mine from early Corrymeela days was left with a very red face in the Dáil where she once provided instant translations for the benefit of members. An elderly TD from Mayo got to his feet as ‘not that old goat again’ echoed round the chamber; she’d forgotten to switch her mike off.

    And it was not very clever of Gerry to present Miriam with an open goal:

    We should be “encouraging” him, was Gerry’s view. It’s “lazy journalism”, he sulked. [my IT link]

    I think this riposte from Miriam was unnecessarily cruel:

    For all we know Micheal Noonan might be learning the clarinet but he doesn’t bring it in and give us all a blast during Finance questions.

    Gerry isn’t practising Irish; he’s using it and that should be encouraged.

  • Banjaxed

    I have always had reservations about wearing a Fainne. Partly as an overt (but mistaken) statement on the religion of the wearer but, in a related way, it always seemed to appear on the same lapel as a Pioneer pin which was unquestionably an in-your-face declaration of membership of an RC temperance association.

    After the age of 16, neither of the latter associations appealed to me having been introduced to Arthur’s black gold by this stage (!) and was an apprentice agnostic to boot – and furthermore despite the fact that I was quite a fluent speaker of Gaelic at that time and for several years after.

    Regrettably, my fluency has declined through lack of practice although a fair smattering is still there yet, again to my regret or embarrassment , I wince at Mr Adams’s strangled syntax. In fairness though, he DOES make the effort which I do not. So I wish him well in his attempts to raise the profile of the language.

    Anyhow, there’s an apocryphal story about Samuel Beckett in Paris and when approached by a few tourists who asked him in halting French for directions and which he answered in English. One of the tourists asked how he knew they spoke English to which Beckett responded, ‘I saw your Fainne’.

    Caithfidh tu bheith curamac cibe ait a mbionn tu!

  • Nordie Northsider

    Re Gerry Adams and the Irish language – by a strange co-incidence I’m reading Tarlach Ó hUid’s ‘Faoi Ghlas’ at the moment – a memoir of four years of internment in Crumlin & Derry jails during the 2nd World War.

    Ó hUid (born in England of Ulster Protestant stock) remained loyal to the party line (i.e. he didn’t ‘sign out’) but throughout the book he repeats again and again his frustration at the dogma, the wishful thinking and self-defeating purism of the Republican movement at its absolute nadir. Increasingly he becomes convinced that teaching and encouraging his fellow internees to join the prison’s Cumann Gaelach is the only meaningful thing left to him. He writes (I translate):

    Looking at the membership list of An Cumann Gaelach I see surnames that would re-appear in 1970s and 1980s reporting on the IRA: Mac Ádaim (remove the beard and glasses from Paddy Adams and you have Gerry’s mirror image)…

    So Gerry didn’t get it from nowhere.

    The book is a very thoughtful, insightful account of physical force Republicanism. Shame it’s not available in English too.

  • “pulling the importance of individual actions out of the bonfire”

    It seems Gerry was standing a tad too close to the flames during Leaders Questions:

    An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Shane Ross.

    Deputy Gerry Adams: What about the criteria applied?

    The Taoiseach: Thug mé freagra ar sin as Gaeilge. Níl mé chun athrá a dhéanamh air.

    Deputy Gerry Adams: Níor thug tú.

    An Ceann Comhairle: I have called Deputy Shane Ross. As far as I am aware, there is only one Deputy Ross in the House.

    Deputy Shane Ross: When I grow a beard, the Ceann Comhairle will be entitled to mistake me for Deputy Gerry Adams, otherwise there is not much of a similarity.

    In cricketing parlance, Gerry changed from bowling over the stumps to bowling round and got stroked to the boundary.

  • JR

    I would wear a sliver fainne to weddings or other occasions where I wear a jacket (except work). I like the fainne though it has been mistaken for a pioneer pin more than once. I have my grandmothers old Gold fainne but the pin is missing from the back so I couldn’t wear it.

    I think I could pull off a Gold fainne because my spoken Irish is quite good, I have had long phone conversations with native speakers from Kerry, Connemara and Donegal without having to resort to English and I listen to Raidió na Gaeltachta every day without trouble but I would feel strange going in and buying one. Rather like buying a trophy or medal.

    What ever criticisms I would have about Gerry Adams, I couldn’t fault his use of Irish. I think that Gerry has quite good Irish and all of the criticism I have heard has come from people with little or no Irish themselves. Gerry’s voice is less than musical though in English or Irish

  • Mick Fealty


    This is a really interesting point:

    “I would feel strange going in and buying one. Rather like buying a trophy or medal.”

    I’d admit to this too. I went in to buy a silver Fainne, but the woman I spoke with insisted I took a Gold one (which I then lost after several years, and now only have ceann airgead).

    It suggests to me that we’ve not been doing some very simple things well.

    The marketing of the Fainne has been based on an assumption of ‘finding out’ what you *don’t know* rather than *encouraging you to increase the amount you do*.

    It’s also wrapped up in a sense of ‘not being good enough’, that is long overdue a functional defenestration.

  • I got the silver fáinne in 1966 thru School……was shuffled in and out of an Ard Scoil on a Saturday morning. Although technically there was a “test”, the reality was that everybody who actually turned up got one.
    Rarely wore it after I left school….but found it among my mothers stuff after she died and that was pleasant surprise.
    Im a bit surprised at the notion of buying one of those new “discrete” (silver) fáinne as it had always been my assumption that Id have to re-test……more thoroughly than in 1966.

  • Mick Fealty

    1966, when there was a few dozen speakers (including my da) who barely if ever used it in public…

    In my own parochial experience you got to be enthusiastic about the language and used it for reasons other than the teaching/testing method.

  • For us ignoramouses, any chance of a link to a picture of a Fainne?

  • Mick Fealty

    There’s always Google Dave?

  • GEF

    A born and bred Dublin lady was sitting on a bus, and behind her were two west of Ireland women talking away in Irish. The Dublin lady turned to the two other women and said ” Why don’t you two immigrants go away back to your own country if you cannot speak our language here in Ireland”

  • Absolutely right on enthusiasm.
    Mr Newman …wikipedia has a pretty good article (I just looked it up myself).
    Gobsmacked to discover that Gaelport, the language organisation actually sells “an fáinne” and there is no test at proficiency.
    I think that means its all aspirational or even a fashion statement rather than about proficiency or enthusiasm.
    Times change….probably a good thing.

  • galloglaigh


    when there was a few dozen speakers

    Is that accurate? Derry (in the ’60s) alone had a few dozen families who all spoke, and still do speak Irish at home. There was a head Master in the Waterside, whose family all spoke (and still speak) Irish. All but one of his children now teach Irish in the North West.

    To put my own families perspective on it, my mother is an Irish teacher. She also teaches Spanish, and taught French for a while. She also knows some BSL. As for me and my siblings, we don’t speak Irish. We were taught as children, but were more interested in other things, and lost it over time. That is something I deeply regret, and will overturn in time.

    Becoming fluent in our nation’s language is an ambition I will achieve in time, but for now, I’ll have to tell lies on my census forms!

  • son of sam

    Pardon my curiosity,but the post above from Galloglaigh seems innocuous enough.Does it merit a yellow card or has there been editing?

  • galloglaigh


    My card was given yesterday for a comment on another thread.

  • galloglaigh

    Thanks anyway 🙂

  • Nordie Northsider

    GEF, that’s urban myth, I’m afraid. I’ve heard that one in many different guises.

  • Reader

    davenewman: For us ignoramouses, any chance of a link to a picture of a Fainne?
    It’s apparently ring shaped. I haven’t had a lot of luck with Google, either using the proper name or Brendan Behan’s term “Erse Hole”. I strongly advise you not to use the second search term in Google.

  • socaire

    Following on from ‘bí cúramach’….. I was waiting in a queue in one of Turkey’s airports for quite a while many years ago behind two very desirable young females who spent the time regaling each other with their amorous adventures of the past fortnight …………. as Gaeilge. I listened impassively until one of them dropped some item which I picked up. I tapped her on the shoulder and said “Gabh mo leithscéal, ach an leatsa an rud seo?” I can see the red faces yet. Keep it up Gerry and encourage your fellow party members to join you.

  • socaire
  • galloglaigh


    That reminds me of a stag weekend in Prague. Two of the lads were walking through a busy street. A ‘cracker’ was walking in front of them. One told the other she was gorgeous and for some bizarre reason threw a coin in front of her (still don’t get that part). She turned around and said she was also from Omagh 🙂

    She spent the day drinking with us, and the two lads fought over her all day. They both ended up pisses, and another fella ‘got the goods’!

  • socaire

    Probably the Omagh ones had to kick the coin to Cookstown before it was safe to bend down and lift it. 🙂

  • andnowwhat

    Buying the Fainne reminds me of Homer Simpson’s shortcut to appearing smart; sew a couple of leather patches on the elbow of a corduroy jacket. I imagine a striped scarf helps too.

    Unionists think they have bad associations with Gaelic? They should try mine, Brother Bosaign ( pretty sure that’s the wrong spelling). Everybody who could, dropped the language as soon as they had the choice because of him.

  • socaire

    Beausang. Funny I had the greatest b*st*rd unhung for an Irish teacher but it didn’t put me off.

  • Old Mortality

    The most bizarre part of that story is that a girl from Omagh could pass as a ‘cracker’ on the streets of Prague of all places.

  • galloglaigh


    Prague has the most beautiful women in the World. And this wee cuddy was as good looking as the others on the streets. Hard to fathom, but there ye go. At least Omagh has one cracker, and as far as I remember, she worked in an Irish pub there.

    Omagh’s loss!

  • JR

    On the front page of the Newry democrat today i see there is a young polish guy wearing a silver fainne. He came first in NI in Gcse Irish.

  • antamadan

    I always found Gerry’s Irish understandable. I was never brave enough to wear a fáinne though, but maybe there should be a new campaign to encourage us shrinking violets. Thirty years’ ago you would bump into Gaeltacht people who when speaking English -say looking for directions- would be clearly identifiable as native Irish speakers; so you could answer them ‘as gailge’, but now you wouldn’t know they were from the Gaeltacht.

  • Thats true….and you have to be prepared to make a mistake and laugh about it.
    Like the time I thought I was ordering a side order of “beans” and Id actually asked for “nostrils”.

  • Mick Fealty


    “Gobsmacked to discover that Gaelport, the language organisation actually sells “an fáinne” and there is no test at proficiency.”

    I think this indicates a slide into meaninglessness, which may account for why some members of Gerry’s party front bench don’t wear them even though they have much better Irish than him.

    The fact that the jacket is no longer as ubiquitous as it once was may be another contributing factor.

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: I think this indicates a slide into meaninglessness, which may account for why some members of Gerry’s party front bench don’t wear them even though they have much better Irish than him.
    Surely it can’t slide into meaninglessness? An Irish speaking wearer leaves themselves open to a load of positive interactions, whereas a bluffer faces a series of embarrassments.So it’s self policing.
    antamadan’s remark illustrates that, and gives another clue – that people who know the language but maybe don’t get enough practice are losing confidence that they can match up to the products of the Gaeltacht and the Gaelscoil?
    As for politicians, maybe it’s just that the Fainne is going the way of the top hat and the old school tie – not what you want to wear these days when you are looking for votes from joe public.

  • Mr Fealty,
    It certainly surprises me. I had always assumed that an Fáinne was a sign of competence rather than a gesture of support for the language.
    Certainly in relation to the “pioneer” pin, referred to above it is not simply a matter of buying another to replace one that has been “lost”. Usually some evidence is required that the person obtaining a replacement can wear one.
    Admiitedly this might only be my experience and might only apply when no longer living in the home parish where a person would be better known.

    Visiting the Gaeloport site, I see that they do stock the Cupla Focal badge to which I referred in an earlier post. About ten years ago I bought about ten of these.

    Meaningless?……actually I was tempted to agree but a more accurate way to look at it it is “change of meaning”. And probably it depends on whether its gold or silver.
    I can certainly understand if people of my generation looked on simply buying a silver fáinne as a “cheat”.
    But on the other hand …it seems that there are a lot of people I know who lack the confidence to wear one “on ability” but who would be happy to wear one as a gesture of “support”.
    And frankly that does not explain why so few people wear it.

  • son of sam

    It would be interesting to find out how many Sinn Fein Assembly members are proficient in Irish(ie more than the usual cupla focail).While the party is ever keen to assert its Irish Language credentials,the last Presidential election laid bare the D F M ‘s lack of competence in this area.Is the long awaited Irish Language Act a dead duck,given the D U P opposition ?Answers please!

  • Red Lion

    I can’t see how someone as divisive and with such a history as Gerry Adams is good for the Irish Language.

    Its usage by him keeps the language politicised and divisive. Surely this is the opposite of whats needed for the language to grow into new arenas?

  • Trapattoni

    A qoute from the Former Lord Mayor of Belfast while attending a dinner honouring his alma matter Colaiste Feirste.

    “An píosa óir is tábhachtaí a chaithim ná an Fáinne, chan an slabhra” – Niall Ó Donnghaile.

  • Seimi

    ‘I can’t see how someone as divisive and with such a history as Gerry Adams is good for the Irish Language.

    Its usage by him keeps the language politicised and divisive. Surely this is the opposite of whats needed for the language to grow into new arenas?’

    I tend to disagree with that. Are you saying that Adams shouldn’t speak Irish?

    That would be like a Nationalist/Republican saying that Linda Ervine shouldn’t speak Irish, because it doesn’t belong to her ‘side’, which is absolute rubbish.

    Adams doesn’t use the language to make a political point. He uses it in everyday life. He’s been learning for years, and has always stated his love for the language.

    Perhaps it would be better to ask why someone like Nelson McCausland is so in favour of Ulster Scots, yet doesn’t speak it.

  • BarneyT

    Without wanting to bring up the language debate again, as Ulster-Scots is English with a dialect, you surely would have had to have been exposed to absorb the dialect…as you would a language. Maybe he is aware of the fact that it would be interpreted as English laced with colloquialisms.
    I imagine it would be easier to learn a formally recognised language with his rules and well established conjugations that it would a strong English-based dialect
    Ok, I said I didn’t want to open the language debate….but I find myself drifted.
    Dia Duit, Bonjour, Hello….are well established greetings. Although not Ulster-Scots, “bout ye mucker” does not fall into the same category.

  • Seimi

    But Ulster Scots isn’t just English with a dialect.

    It’s based on Scots, which is a mixture of Anglish (from the Angles), Anglo-Saxon (a different dialect to Anglish), some Scots Gadhlaig, and a bit of Scandinavian (words like ‘stour’ for dust, for example).

    It IS a dialect, but it’s innacurate to call it a dialect of English.

    Scots was the language spoken by James IV of Scotland when he became king of England. He moved parliament to Edinburgh and the language of court was Scots. It was only when parliament was returned to Westminster that English took over as the first language again.

    The version spoken here is quite close to Lallan, or Lowland Scots, making it a dialect of a dialect of a language.

    I share a lot of the doubt regarding US as a language. I don’t believe it even deserves its standing under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, as it hasn’t been standardised since the 1600s, so there’s no agreed spellings or grammar, therefore can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be taught in schools as a language.

    Most initiatives regarding US are, rightly, culture-based. I think that, until such a time that it is standardised, this should remain the case. I think the Ulster Scots movement would benefit much more from this than trying to convince people that its a living, vibrant language anywhere outside its traditional strongholds of north Antrim and south Derry.

    The reason I singled out Mccausland before was that, around 12 years ago, he was the man who said that Ulster Scots was the only language in Europe not ‘polluted’ by the Irish language, which only goes to show how little of either language he understands.

  • Reader

    BarneyT: Although not Ulster-Scots, “bout ye mucker” does not fall into the same category.
    “mucker” is from Irish of course; or perhaps Gadhlaig?
    Professional linguists are at odds about what constitutes a dialect or language, and haven’t devolved the decision to you.
    My own position is that all but the smallest or most formalised languages contain multiple dialects, in which case *every* branch is a dialect. Some of them may have some extra social status or stigma, but if Scouse or Geordie are English dialects, so too are “Queen’s English with Received Pronunciation” and “Estuary English”.

  • Desmond Trellace

    “I can’t see how someone as divisive and with such a history as Gerry Adams is good for the Irish Language.”

    I have actually cut down big time on my use of the English language because Gerry insists on speaking it most of the time.

  • ““mucker” is from Irish of course”

    Not necessarily, Reader, it might be the compaction of a two worded greeting of the course variety.

  • IrelandNorth

    Michéal! Your point about Gearoíd’s sean fainne is aposite. I qualified for a newer (and smaller) fainne daite some years ago – ie one for learner drivers. A aesthetic blue rimmed one which was my prized possession whlst working in a certain Anglo-centric university on this island. Also, witty jailteacht. Should that not be Gaoltacht? Of course, Gearoíd uses the Ulster dialect in Dáil Éireann, which causes no end of complications for the Connemara dialecters of the men of the west. Beidir go bhfuil canúint aontaith ár tiocfaidh?

  • Covenanter

    I’ve always thought it likely that ‘mucker’ derives from the Indian name Muckherjee and was brought here through army slang.

  • It’s obvious to me that Mucker (common in Derry for friend) is an anglicising of the Irish Mo Cara – my friend.