How to best serve the Irish language in Northern Ireland without falling into tribalist traps?

One of my first big political rows about Northern Ireland with an ex pat NIer, was with a guy from Newry, and it was about the divisive nature of the Irish language, as he saw it. Needless to say, I didn’t agree.

Malachi O’Doherty is coming from a similar place on recent proposals to start putting Irish on council signage [Has the 80s and 90s vintage QUB students union has finally come through the system? – Ed]

Parity with the assertion of Irishness in council signage would be the use of the Union flag in council signage in predominantly British areas. But if that was introduced, Sinn Fein and the SDLP would go boogaloo (which may be an Irish word, for all I know).

The big councils now want people to be able to conduct business with them in Irish. Again, this is not because there are some Irish speakers who don’t speak English but because all Irish speakers are to have a right to assert their Irish identity in all their dealings with institutions. This is nuts.

Why are we encouraging people to amplify their sense of identity? We should be encouraging them to tone it down, to reconcile and interact rather than to draw boundaries between each other.

For me this is a tough one. The visibility of the language for Irish speakers is a small ‘p’ political matter: one of affirmation for the language they use daily. But it is also true that it is also being used in a big ‘P’ political way to underwrite and reinforce the sectarian geography (which gets on for ‘racial’ in nature) of Ulster.

I think many Irish speakers would settle for a bolstering of practical support for the language, rather than another series of signal bids which might easily have been purposefully designed to fail, both in terms of necessary equality measures, and the felt need to bring the language to communities beyond those who traditionally have embraced and spoken it..



  • barnshee

    “Perhaps silence would be his greatest weapon….but that doesnt win votes.”

    “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

    Blaise Pascal

  • barnshee

    The yard went to Korea when the dole + paid as much as standing in the rain riveting sheets of metal together and the Koreans did if for less

  • Croiteir

    You seem to be getting the point.

  • Croiteir

    I am not forcing anyone – in fact I am advocating the opposite – if people wish to sit and revel in their ignorance raising it to a point of principle I am quite content to allow them to do so. But they needn’t expect others to do likewise.

  • carl marks

    Never came across that attitude in the English about the Irish language, could you perhaps give us some proof, News reports, comments on the tourist board site, anything at all!

  • barnshee

    Yea all those Koreans etc learning gaelic so that they can er create computer applications in er gaelic cheaper than anyone else so that they can corner the market in computer applications in gaelic.
    Can we meet the demand.
    Climbs back unto seat again

  • Croiteir

    Nope – the world will move on without you and before you know it the certainties of today are gone.

  • LordSummerisle

    Hypothetical situation

    A man/woman applies for a job in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. They do not have Irish as a language.. should that individual be overlooked in favour of someone who does have Irish ?

  • Croiteir

    In that hypothetical world would Irish enable the job to be done better?

  • terence patrick hewett

    It was Christmas Day in the workhouse
    The snow white walls were black
    Along came the Workhouse Master
    With his suit cut out of a sack.

    In came the Christmas pudding
    When a voice that shattered glass
    Said: “We don’t want your Christmas pudding
    You can stick it with the rest of the unwanted

    The workhouse master then arose
    And prepared to carve the duck
    He said: “Who wants the parson’s nose?”
    And the prisoners shouted: “You have it yourself

    The vicar brought his bible
    And read out little bits
    Said one old crone at the back of the hall
    “This man gets on very well with everybody”

    The workhouse mistress then began
    To hand out Christmas parcels
    The paupers tore the wrappers off
    And began to wipe their eyes; which were full of tears.

    the master rose to make a speech
    But just before he started
    The mistress, who was fifteen stone,
    Gave three loud cheers and nearly choked herself

    And all the paupers then began
    To pull their Christmas crackers
    One pauper held his too low down
    And blew off both his paper hat; and the man’s next to him.

    A steaming bowl of white bread sauce
    Was handed round to some
    An aged gourmet called aloud
    “This bread sauce tastes like it was made by a
    continental chef”

    Mince pie with custard was the next
    And each received a bit
    One pauper said: “This mince pie’s nice
    “But the custard tastes like the bread sauce we had in
    the last verse!”

    The mistress dishing out the food
    Dropped custard down her front
    She cried: “Aren’t I a silly girl?”
    And the inmates answered: “You’re a perfect picture as
    always Ma’am!”

    “This pudding,” said the master
    “Is solid, hard and thick
    “How am I going to cut it?”
    And a man cried: “Use your penknife sir; the one with
    the pearl handle”
    The mistress asked the vicar

    To entertain his flock
    He said: “What would you like to see?”
    And they cried: “Let’s see your conjuring tricks,
    they’re always worth watching”.

    “Your reverence may I be excused?”
    Said one benign old chap
    “I don’t like conjuring tricks
    “I’d sooner have a carol or two around the fire”

    So then they all began to sing
    Which shook the workhouse walls.
    “Merry Christmas!” cried the Master
    And the inmates shouted: “Best of luck to you as well