AN LÁ DEARG was an expression of both a growing sense of anger

This is the first of two related pieces we’re publishing today which relate to the funding and status of the Irish langauge in Northern Ireland. The first is on the Dearg le Fearg protest last weekend by campaigner Caoimhe Ní Chathail.

In the aftermath of an ‘An Lá dearg’ a pertinent question has yet to be posed, ‘Why was it that thousands of people descended upon the Gaeltacht Quarter on Saturday the 12th of April to march through Belfast festooned in red?’

The participants demonstrated their anger at the failure of the Power Sharing Executive at Stormont and the Peace process to protect Irish language rights and deliver on the commitments made in international agreements to equality for its speakers. The campaigners, who included hundreds of families, young people and school children made the clarion call for ‘Rights, Equality and Fairness’.

The demands are simple;

  • The implementation of the long-promised rights-based Irish language Act;
  • A fully resourced, comprehensive Irish-medium education system from pre-school through to university level;
  • That adequate resources be provided for the development of the Irish language community.

Although campaigners were ‘Dearg with Fearg’ (red with anger) which was a means of conveying their frustration at the lack of progress, all who attended the rally felt a unique sense of optimism and hope, where all that is inclusive, open and welcoming about our community was expressed with great colour and pride.

We were therefore disappointed that this sense of hope, and the key aims of our campaign have not been accurately represented in much media coverage of the event. While most media outlets clearly underestimated the huge numbers who attended on the day, one prominent newspaper chose to focus primarily on party political disputes and a tiny minority of loyalists who gathered at Castle Street rather than the demands of those attending this hugely successful rally.

We are deeply concerned about how the focus shifted from our campaign to a party-political spat among various political representatives. This is an unwelcome diversion and does a great disservice to the thousands who attended the rally demanding the protection and the promotion of the Irish language.

Like all struggles for human rights in the context of discrimination and marginalisation, our campaign is political. We aim to lobby all those with legal and political responsibility to fulfil their obligations and to treat the Irish language community with the respect and dignity it is entitled to.

Our rally was open to and welcoming to all and we are grateful for the support we received from everyone who took part on the day.
From the outset, our campaign has been free from party political influence from any quarter. We will not be distracted from the key rights-based issues at hand by criticising or attacking any particular political party or grouping.

We aim to hold all elected politicians to account. Despite support from many political representatives in the past, we nevertheless find ourselves being systematically discriminated against in terms of rights and resources. For the language to continue to flourish and grow this discrimination must be challenged. Ultimately, this is the responsibility of those in power.

We will therefore be lobbying Governments, elected political representatives, and statutory authorities in the weeks and months ahead to demand that they act upon their obligations and deliver a new dispensation for the Irish language community- free from hostility, discrimination and marginalisation.

In many instances, ‘Conradh na Gaeilge’ were also credited as organisers of the rally  when in fact, they were only one of a whole range groups, activists and communities from across the country who played a central role in making the ‘La Dearg’ rally such a success.

The strength of the campaign is that it is grass-roots, bottom-up, community-based, and not aligned specifically to any particular Irish language organisation. Arising out of this sense of ownership, more than twenty community organisations kindly donated money, from ever floundering resources, in support of an LÁ dearg which helped everything run smoothly on the day.

Thousands of Gaels, with no political mandate or no party political agenda, took to the streets in their droves to make their voices heard. An Lá Dearg was a means of alerting the authorities that the language community in the North will no longer be the poor relation on these islands or in Europe.

The speakers on the platform reflected the views of the Irish language community yet the issues they raised have not received proportionate media attention.

Sixteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we still have young Gaels being treated like second class citizens and being denied transport access to our schools; 8 years on from the commitment in an international agreement at St Andrews to enact an Irish language act, we are still being denied rights protection; and earlier this year our limited resources and infrastructure were put in serious danger by savage government cuts. People are clearly saying ‘enough is enough’.

We are entitled to be treated equally and won’t accept being made to feel invisible in our own country.

AN LÁ DEARG was an expression of both a growing sense of anger and appetite for change in the Irish language community. The momentum behind this demand for equality was to be heard in the voices of thousands of Gaels who deserve a better future for the next generation. It was only the beginning.

For further information on the Cearta, cothromas & Cóir (equality, rights and fairness) campaign, contact or call Caoimhe Ní Chathail 07746721428, also see & #ladearg

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

  • Politico68

    Well according to slugger it was all Sinn Feins fault ??

  • Comrade Stalin

    An Irish language act is not going to happen without agreement between the parties at Stormont. No amount of street protests or people being red with anger are going to change that. SF want devolved government – here it is.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    If you check out Caoimhe’s comments above, CS, you will see that she is pointing to the real problem, that despite undertakings having been made, and the politicians are only going to honour these as long as there is political capitol in so doing.

    The Irish Language, the medium of one of the great literatures of Europe, and a rich legacy for our entire community, has survived against all odds because it continues to enrich the lives and imaginations of individuals who relish the manner in which it swims through the unconscious mind of both communities, for “bidden or unbidden [it] is present” to misquote that master of the unconscious, Carl Jung.

    One example for non-Irish speakers. “Sean Bui”, loosely “fair John” as a phrase shows the manner in which the language informs the very essence of our unique Ulster humour. “Yellow”, fair, blonde, or “gentle” in another translation, is one way of looking at Bui. But it also means its opposite, for it is the Irish for translating the term “John Bull” and the irony must be obvious to anyone! Many Irish words mean perfectly opposite things, and you have to note how it is being used in order to translate accurately. This deep thread of irony is the very essence of our Ulster humour, through both traditions. But then I notice that those who seem most opposed to the Irish language seem to be the very ones who need to have jokes carefully explained to them.

  • zep

    As a poloyglot myself including a cúpla focal na gaeilge) I’m uncomfortable with the usage of the term ‘rights based Act’ – what ‘right’ do any of us have to use any language? Surely language is the ultimate democracy – if people find use for it, it will spread. If we are going to enshrine languages in legislation should we not also make allowances for those of the largest ethnic minorities here?

    “A fully resourced, comprehensive Irish-medium education system from pre-school through to university level” – I cannot see how, given the latest revelations of shockingly low standards amongst swathes of schoolchildren across the controlled and maintained sectors, John O’Dowd could be expected to find the money for this. Espcially when we are faced with more and more non-English speakers in mainstream schools who are equally in need of assistance.

    Irish is all around us and if it is to grow it will have to happen organically, from the bottom up; a top-down approach will not encourage people to learn the language who otherwise would not have – and surely that is the key to the survival of any language?

    BTW on the ‘non-political’ note: I noticed the ‘an lá dearg’ display on Black’s Mountain, a spot usually reserved for Republican political messages. This, while I am sure not the responsiblity of the organisers, sends out a slightly different message. Of course at the end of the day you can’t police your supporters, and everyone is entitled to show their support for a movment such as this. Just an observation.

  • zep

    “Thousands of Gaels, with no political mandate or no party political agenda, took to the streets in their droves to make their voices heard.” – How would you define a ‘gael’?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    For a post-modern imagination, zep, every identity is elective. I came across the term “Cardiacal Celt” in an academic paper some time back. ie: someone who knows within their heart that they are a Celt. Is any identity, anywhere, any different?

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    ” I cannot see how, given the latest revelations of shockingly low standards amongst swathes of schoolchildren across the controlled and maintained sectors, John O’Dowd could be expected to find the money for this”

    Interesting point.

    Even if Chris Donnelly’s post does shake this a bit (jury’s still out for me, too many stats and variations).

    So on one hand we’re seemingly opposed to any kind of integration, even just a handful of schools.

    And somehow, shock horror, there’s not enough cash in the kitty for Irish medium schools.

    It would lead one to suggest that a GCSE in accountancy might not go amiss as far as the curriculum is concerned.

    For example, Magherafelt (a village with FIVE secondary schools).

    Due to the ‘themuns get everythin’ mentality, St Pius gets improved, this causes whinging so the high school (100m down the same street) gets a BRAND NEW school.

    In the meantime an integrated school is built.

    Millions spent.

    Surely, in the interests of saving money and helping inter community mingling they could merge all three of the above schools? (with options for Irish and Gaelic sports).

    (Also, Castledawson doesn’t need two separate primary schools)

    Anyone who wants a purely faith based education can still send their kids to nearby St Mary’s, St Pat’s, St Paul’s or St Colum’s.

    They could then flog off surplus ground to developers.

    Now there is some money in the kitty.

    There is also the recently vacated Maghera High School lying empty.

    It would (I think) make an excellent location for an Irish medium secondary school.
    It’s just off the the turn-off for the A6 which means one can get to the nearby towns of Dungiven, Toome, Castledawson, Draperstown and Magherafelt (not to mention Bellaghy, Swatragh, Clady, Portglenone and Kilrea) quite quickly.

    So, (optimistically), a bit of chopping, changing and ‘integrating (yuck!) could potentially lead to the following scenario for South Derry:

    1/ A smaller expenditure on schools

    2/ Retention of its excellent Catholic Grammar schools

    3/ The addition of an Irish medium secondary school

    4/ A greater degree of community interaction

    But no.

    It’s not enough, we must have religiously separate schools AND medium schools?!

    And this in an area that wishes to kiss goodbye to the Union (and it’s hefty injection of billions every year)?

    Time for people work out what they really want.

  • Coll Ciotach

    People have worked out what they want and there is cash in the kitty for it.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I must have heard the Maghera High School idea a while ago.

    Here it is:

    (I am surprised that they estimate there’d only be 20 pupils though, I thought there was more demand)

    “Now, if only we could find the money to pay for it…”

    Mergers anyone?

    Thought not….

    (Hint hint, there’s two (segregated) primary schools in Desertmartin, two (seg.) in Castledawson, two (seg) in Bellaghy, Draperstown & Tobermore have 3 between them, Toome area has 3 and there’s the X amount of schools in Magherafelt. Not sure how oversubscribed they all are but surely it’s worth investigating…?)

  • Son of Strongbow

    A rather odd idea to propose to restrict the option of faith-based segregated education to financially facilitate language-based segregated education.

    Here’s a novel concept: no segregation, the State provides secular education for all, with an agreed curriculum (and all types of sport).

    Anyone who is not keen on the State educational offer can, as my own parents did, send their offspring to a fee-paying school of their choice.

  • SeaanUiNeill


    “Anyone who is not keen on the State educational offer can, as my own parents did, send their offspring to a fee-paying school of their choice.”

    Its well worth looking at the history of Irish Medium Education before generalising. Colaiste Feirste for one thing was supported by its non-privilidged community for many years before the first few coppers came in from the DoE. The history of Irish Medium Education has been a history of money, time and effort poured into something that people love, and want their children to experience. Thinking bi-lingually has ever been recognised as one of the key ways that a child’s mind can be expanded. from my own experience, the money spent on Irish Medium Education has been probably the best spent money the DoE has laid out in recently.

    I’ve also noticed that the Irish classes in integrated schools are hardly the preserve of one faith or tradition. Far, far from it! The language has never been a one tradition issue, no matter what the politicos would have us think! have a look at Roger Blaney’s excellent twenty year old “Presbyterians and the Irish language” for starters.

  • Son of Strongbow

    As much as it appears that to cry ‘discrimination’ is the default setting for many in the Irish Language Lobby I return to my original point.

    If a parent wants their child educated in the Irish Medium then go for it! Have them follow the lead you say was pursued by Colaiste Feirste and put their hands in their own pockets.

    And please!!! I can do without the condescension. I’m well aware that Irish is not the preserve of one community (no matter how much ‘that’ community tries to imply Irish speaker = Irish nationalist).

    However that being said it would be, at best, disingenuous not to recognise that playing partisan politics by some of the language’s ‘champions’, something many if not all in the Irish language community has been pretty quite about, has not helped a genuine apolitical development of Irish.

  • It’s worth pointing out that the parents of children who go to Irish Medium Education also pay taxes and the results of Coláiste Feirste amply justify the belated investment of the State in the sector. All parties signed up to the GFA and therefore there is an obligation to provide Irish Medium Education for those who wish it.
    As for the politicisation of the language, this is mainly down to unionist politicians with their ignorant statements re Irish – e.g. Sammy Wilson describing Irish as a leprechaun language – in the past and in the current era. This drove many Irish speakers who otherwise would have no truck with SF into the arms of that party. SF have been no slouches in politicising the language – which was very evident last weekend – but they have received their fair share of criticism too from Irish speakers who have a very dim view of the party’s role in denying travel to Coláiste Feirste pupils on the same basis as pupils going to other Belfast schools from outlying areas as well as the funding debacle engineered by Foras na Gaeilge. Much like the every utterance of a Tory politician in London on Scotland drives Scottish voters into the Yes camp, however, the prehistoric attitude of most unionist politicians to Gaeilge drives Irish speakers to support Sinn Féin. .
    Unionist politicians are in the main way behind the likes of Linda Ervine who are showing real leadership.

  • Son of Strongbow

    We all pay taxes. I live in hope that every self-interest group will not be indulged merely because its membership “pay taxes”.

    Given the challenges facing the local education sector I see many, many priorities that are in line in front of Irish Medium.

    So again, anyone who wants to embrace an Irish education for their children, or any other educational minority interest, then let them pay for that lifestyle choice.

    On politics: the recent ‘red’ march from West Belfast to the city centre proclaimed overtly political demands; and on that it is those “prehistoric” unionist politicians who will need to be convinced on advancing those demands.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I find your articles very insightful as it allows me to peer into a world that I am very detached from. A sort of anglo-muggle peering into the world of a Gaelic Hogwarts if you will.

    However, I was disappointed by your conclusion that the politicisation of Irish is simply down to unionist politicians.

    Whenever some one mentions the perceived association between republicanism and the Irish language there is a predictable volley of feeble counter arguments, such as:

    a/ SF worked hard to preserve the language and offered shelter

    b/ The unionists are hostile to the language regardless

    c/ Intransigent unionist politicians compounding matters

    None of these arguments puncture the original accusation, they merely deflect it.

    If a rational outsider were to take all the factors into consideration they would be quite likely to combine all the above factors and present them as a case as to why Protestants are a bit iffy with the language.

    The republican association would be considered key a key element, not one that is magically absolved because unionists are so narrow minded.

    SoS has pointed out that unionist cooperation (for the time being anyway) is necessary.

    With that in mind it could be worth exploring what it takes to lower the paranoid guard of unionists.

    If they say that the link between republicans and the language is a problem then this is surely worthy of examination as opposed to just rolling one’s eyes and firing off the usual suspects of counterpoints?

    You have an objective (one which I support incidentally)

    You are being made aware that the association between republicanism and Irish is a major stumbling block.

    Do you (and your colleagues) then

    a/ Ignore this stumbling block and continue to grind away?

    b/ Accept that this might be an issue after all and give it the consideration and contemplation that all obstacles receive when people are trying to fulfill their objectives?

    To use your own parlance:

    “Much like the every utterance of a Tory politician in London on Scotland drives Scottish voters into the Yes camp, the association of republicanism to Gaeilge drives potential Protestant-Irish speakers to support harder line unionist views on the language”

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    BTW, this Gaelic Hogwarts that I spoke of only applies to Irish Gaelic, not Scottish Gaelic.

    I (slovenly and occasionally) study Scottish Gaelic, it’s not bogged down with the points I’ve highlighted.

    It was from mixing with Scottish Gaels that I (eventually) dropped my hostility towards Irish Gaelic.

    Just giving you some perspective.