The Irish language belongs to us all, not just to Sinn Féin

It must be very tempting in this current highly charged atmosphere to convert any turn of events into an attack on Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams.   And God knows the party does provide the material for onslaughts.    However the recent ill-informed and ignorant ‘Curry My Yoghurt’ remarks of Gregory Campbell, and the subsequent farce of barring him from speaking in the Assembly for a day he was due to be in Westminster, doesn’t seem to me to be a candidate for such an assault on Gerry Adams and his colleagues.

According to the commentator, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Gregory’s remarks handed Sinn Féin a ‘free ticket to the moral high ground’.   Ruth falls into the trap – as did the Nolan Show last week – of believing that Sinn Féin somehow owns the Irish language as an issue.    So whenever the language is subjected to an illinformed assault as it is from time to time by mainstream unionist politicians, their first call is to the Sinn Féin Press Office.

In one way that’s fair enough though it reflects a lazy ill-informed attitude within journalism and broadcasting – the ‘reach for the Shinner’ reflex.  As an Irish speaker myself I want somebody to stand up for the language and if that’s Sinn Féin, well, it’s better than nothing.   In fact I’ll go further than that, in the dark days, when political vetting was excluding Irish language projects from access to public funding despite Irish language users contributing their taxes on the same basis as everyone else, Sinn Féin politicians such as Máirtín O Muilleoir, Pat Rice and, yes, Gerry Adams, stood up for the language when others were shamefully silent.   Nowadays people in the Irish language community are divided about Sinn Féin and its support for the Irish language – some say that they are merely using it as just one other element in their political armoury but there aren’t many who would deny that the party boasts among its members genuine and very hard working Irish language activists.

As much as I don’t doubt the genuine grá of these SF activists for An Ghaeilge, and appreciate their efforts to promote Irish in sometimes difficult circumstances,, I don’t doubt for a moment Ruth’s love for the Irish language, arising out of her mother’s interest in literature and learning.  Unfortunately, like Steven Nolan, her grá for Gaeilge turns quickly to resentment. She resents £270,000 being spent on translation of legislation at Stormont which are unread in English to Irish language versions which will be equally unread.  She thinks that if this money wasn’t spent on such ‘unnecessary translation’ it would be spent on services, hospital beds and school resources.    I too resent the misspending of such funds on unnecessary translation on redudant documents (in whichever language you care to mention) because, in my view, the money would have been more usefully spent on, for instance, funding an Irish language newspaper which was far more widely read than most translated public documents.

It’s more unfortunate again that Ruth uses her platform in the Belfast Telegraph to launch an attack on all efforts to promote Irish in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland as a ploy by Sinn Féin to ‘encourage social division’.    The following claim is both ill-informed and damaging.

They’ve also used fraud to bolster their case for financial support. Republican papers and advice centres explained that anyone who knew what “Tiocfaidh ár lá” meant was entitled to tick the Irish-speaking box on census forms.

In my experience far more evidence is required to back a sound economic case for an Irish language related project than any other type of project and certainly more than some of the pet political projects of the NI Executive.  In any application for financial support for an Irish language related project in which I’ve been involved, global figures derived from the Census regarding the speaking of Irish, writing and understanding the language, form only a small part of the process.

The reality is that far more people in Northern Ireland have a far better grasp of Irish than the ‘cúpla focal’ or ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’ which Ruth ascribes to them with apparent disdain and contempt.   Irish is a living language in in Belfast, Derry, Newry, Carntogher, Armagh, Omagh, Enniskillen, Strabane and Annalong, to name just a handful of communities throughout the north representing a far wider resurgence of Irish than Gregory Campbell, Jim Allister and others would like to acknowledge with relation to what they regard as a dead language..  For instance, what Ruth carelessly and  mistakenly describes as the ‘absurdity’ of a ‘Gaelic Quarter’ in west Belfast is actually a real live ‘Gaeltacht’ with several Irish medium schools, a thriving Cultúrlann, drama companies, a bookshop, a café, clubs and societies.    Sainsbury’s supermarket at the Kennedy Centre would put many similar shopping centres to shame with its bilingual signage.  Surely Ruth isn’t suggesting that Sainsbury’s is a front for Sinn Féin!

There are people who think Irish has a great literature and is a beautiful language and while I agree with those sentiments, I don’t go along with the implication that ordinary people, particularly those who hold political convictions aren’t agreeable, should leave Irish to the academics who can study it in a vacuous ivory tower, safe and sanitised from any possible ‘corrupting’ influence.

Irish is a language, a means of communication.  There’s no august body which has the authority to disallow a particular political party from speaking or using the language.    The fact that it’s being spoken widely throughout Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, should be welcomed and encouraged by all those who celebrate British values of tolerance and respect for cultural diversity in other areas.    People like Linda Ervine have seen this and are reclaiming the Irish language as part of their British and Irish identity.  They see that British and Irish identity aren’t mutually exclusive.  Gregory Campbell doesn’t see this and, it seems, despite her protestations of love for the language, Ruth Dudley Edwards also has a blind spot when it comes to An Ghaeilge.


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  • Concubhar O Liathain

    You were at it yourself with your red biro posting at poor NMS above. However I’m not prepared to dance around with you anymore. Say what you’ve been trying to avoid saying….

  • Malus Ultor

    Bhain NMS slat a scúir a droim fhéin nuair a duirt sí / sé

    “Tá caighdeán Gaeilge na dTeachta atá acu sa Dáil níos measa ná aon Pairtí eile”

    “Ní feidir liom seasamh an teangan”

    It was simply a case of people in glasshouses tossing stones about the place, that needed highlighting.

    Whereas you are going around correcting spelling in posts, there is quite the difference.

    I see a position in school teaching for you in the future, drawing large swaths in red biro’s across young children’s jotters. Oh to wield the power of the red pen. Wrong, wrong, wrong—do again!

    Quite the power trip, i’d imagine.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Sílim go bhfuil tú thar a bheith droch mhúinte. Agus tá do chuid trachtaireachta anseo iomlán gan dealramh agus ad hominem.
    Imir an liathróid! Play the ball!

  • Reader

    The plantation was 80 years before the battle of the Boyne, so the Ulster men recruited by William were descended from several generations born in Ireland. Not your sort of Irishmen perhaps, since they were Prods, but Irishmen nonetheless.
    Some, but possibly not most, would have spoken at least some Irish, but unlikely it was their first language.
    They knew about enough to manage the lyrics to Lillibullero (which are mostly in English, after all), but not necessarily any more.

  • Malus Ultor

    Ag glanadh mó chuid tráchtaireact anois?

    Dí mhúinte!

    Ní bheadh mise i bhfad ag tabhairt fregra duit a chuireadh i do thost tú da mó bhariul gur chór domh é.

    Tá tú ag caint ar Ad hominem

    Ad hominem tu quoque a mhic.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    So “The Holy Hills of Ireland” worked! Flushed you out, Son of Strongbow………….

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    A few things but I’ll try not to regurgitate toooooo much of my previous rants:

    First of all, I thought Tmitch had a valid point, so I’ll re-post it:

    “My memory of politicized Irish is of watching an anti-Orange parade protest on the Lower Ormeau in 1998 and seeing signs ostensibly directed towards the marchers in Irish. Why have signs directed towards people in a language that they can’t read? They might as well have been in Russian or Arabic.”

    Yes, they the RIGHT to do so but even a moron could see how that builds an association between republicanism and the language.

    That is where we are now people, in the eyes of many there is an association and as long as SF are so overt in their use of it publicly e.g. having banners, signs and slogans in Irish it will be ever thus.

    We all know this which is why no one ever denies this, instead people just revert to the “it’s their right to do so” argument as opposed to seeing the practical fall out.

    Could I recommend instead that the discussion views the Protestant/Unionist bloc as a spectrum of various opinions and attitudes with Linda Ervine and Skainos at one end of the spectrum and people like Bryson, Campbell and the ever vigilant Bushmills lingua-patrol at the other end?

    At present most arguments seem to digitally label people as one or the other and give no thought to the various positions and attitudes in between which include some of the following factions:

    Those who are utterly ignorant of everything Gaelic (I’m not sure how many Protestants know of the W Belfast Gaeltacht or what percentage of them would think it to be a SF bastion)

    * Those who have no interest nor animosity whatsoever

    * Those who would be curious after hearing evidence that it’s NOT a republican thing

    *Those who are actually interested in Gaelic culture but too ‘ashamed’.

    * Those who are too weak willed to be interested for fear of being seen as ‘republican’.

    * Those who have had their attitude ‘adjusted’ after witnessing the use of the Gaelic language in Scotland

    * Those who would be every interested but don’t really have the opportunity in their Protestant area (a vacuum that Linda Ervine is filling)

    And many other shades besides.

    The sticking point with this spectrum view is that it

    a/ Shows that more Protestants than unionist politicans would like to admit are (potentially)interested in the language (read “bad for unionist politicians who thricve on division)

    b/ Shows that the perceived link between republicanism and the language is an actual problem which would call for unpalatable action from republicans. (read: bad for SF)

    Some of these groups (I believe) are key to breaking the political deadlock and foul attitude and as such i believe they should be if not ‘courted’ then at the very least given consideration (or more consideration).

    I think it’s a question of priorities, which is more important:

    1/ The future of the language?

    2/ Playing ‘the game’ and refusing to do anything about this perceived link because one can argue about rights and the ever-present foul attitude of political unionism?

    For what it’s worth here is my hope and 2 cents:

    I would like to see a day where everyone in NI (or whatever that area will be in future) will be bi-lingual in English and Gaelic or at the very least has the opportunity to do so without any one raising any eye brows or having their nose put out of place.

    This is a borderline fantasy goal and will certainly remain so as long as we are stuck on our current path.

    Break the link/perception, free the language and start afresh.

    Clinging to the ‘right to do so’, back slapping each other for past achievements and refusing to believe what is glaringly obvious will only serve to hinder its development

    PS If you’re somehow still not bored, here’s some prefabricated answers to the ‘usual’ arguments & strawmen that are frequently rolled out on this topic

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Am Ghobsmacht for “I would like to see a day where everyone in NI (or whatever that area will be in future) will be bi-lingual in English and Gaelic or at the very least has the opportunity to do so without any one raising any eye brows or having their nose put out of place.” (Oh, and the rest!)

    What you are hoping for was the norm before 1914, when ANYONE learning Irish was unremarkable. So back to the future……

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “What you are hoping for was the norm before 1914, when ANYONE learning Irish was unremarkable. So back to the future……”

    I find that’s the case for so many of my rants, we’re a century behind ourselves culturally speaking methinks….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    For a hundred years everyone in the Wee Six has been thinking that Politics are the same thing as culture.

    As AE said in 1923 about this misuse of the cultural by the political (and violent):

    “The champions of physical force have, I am sure, without intent, poisoned the soul of Ireland. All that was exquisite and lovable is dying. they have squandered a spirit created by poets, scholars, and patriots of a different order, spending the treasure lavishly as militarists in all lands do, thinking little of what they squander save that it gives a transitory gilding to their propaganda.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    From “DUP to fight for flag, animal welfare and working with others..?” Slugger, 16th May 2014.
    Posted by “Son of Strongbow”

    “I confess Seaan that you are my guilty pleasure here on Slugger. The arrogant condescension and overweening self regard that is weaved throughout your posts make entrancing reading. At one time I imagined them as part of some sort of performance artwork.”

    I have it framed……..

    And I’m genuinely sorry to disappoint about the performance take, BE25, but it’s all pretty much gospel……..but then I suppose claiming to be “no ones dog in the fight” must seem just a wee bit “Walter Mitty” in the context of our increasingly polarised post GFA Norn Iron. But credit where credit is due, congratulations on your excellent re-hash of Pat O’Shea’s prophetic vision………..

  • Tacapall

    Well Reader lets see the evidence of what you claim but anyhow you are agreeing with my point Im just confused about when they became – not Irish.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Ní mise atá ag cur do trachtaireachtaí ar fionraí ach riarthóir an tsuímh mar gurb é a bhreithiúnas go bhfuil tú i mbun trachtaireachtaí ad hominem. Aontaím leis. Tá an ceann is déanaí uait bagarthach le cois – má tá rud éigean le rá agat a bhaineann le h-ábhar, ábair é.

    It’s not me who’s deleting your comments as I do not have that power. It’s being done by the administrator who agrees with me that they are ad homimem. The latest comment from you is threatening in its tone and, also, has no place in a civilised discussion. If you have something that’s relevant to say, say it.

  • barnshee

    ” Im just confused about when they became – not Irish.”

    Try circa 1797 –Scullabogue and the Battle of Antrim sort of set the scene (and 1640`s had hardly helped)
    Repeat and continue at intervals for 400 years

  • Malus Ultor

    “The latest comment from you is threatening in its tone

    Really? Please indulge me as to where a threat has been levelled.

    Ad hominem you say, i do believe it was you who fired the first salvo in my direction, i merely retorted to your uncouth address.

    I have already made my points in my first post.

    Points you still refuse to address.

    A job in RTE would suit you down to the ground, failing that, mail your CV to the Independent, you seem to have all the credentials required.

    Good luck, and with that, over and out.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    If you can point me to a point relevant to the topic which you made I’ll gladly respond. Also point out how I addressed you uncouthly in a way which.would have justified your subsequent threats and personalised attacks.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The Red Hand Commandos have used Irish political phrases,

    as have the Royal Irish Regiment

    and even the Orange Order,

    as has the Queen, of course

    Pretty much any one group who Irish republicanism opposed, except the DUP of course.