I firmly believe that an Irish language act can be in the vanguard of progress.

Linda Ervine is an Irish Language Development Officer at the East Belfast Mission 

Arlene Foster’s decision to engage with Irish language groups could have positive outcomes for both the DUP and the Irish language sector. As the largest elected party within Northern Ireland the DUP is a major policy maker. In my opinion, it can only be beneficial for the party to acquire a greater knowledge of a sector on which its decisions have so immediate an impact.

I am hopeful that Arlene Foster will take the time to visit the Turas classes here in East Belfast Mission. She would get a great welcome and meet people of all ages, backgrounds and traditions who have forged strong friendships through their love of the Irish language. When we established Turas, the only Irish language centre located within a unionist area, we were keen to avoid becoming isolated by developing links with Irish language groups in other parts of the city and further afield.

This we have achieved and now Turas plays a role in encouraging other Irish language groups to develop equal access to the language for both sides of the community. As someone from the unionist community who, like Arlene Foster, had little knowledge of the language until relatively recently, I would encourage her to meet as many groups as possible and to discover more about the Gaelic languages which are spoken in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The Gaelic world links us linguistically to other parts of the British Isles. As well as visiting Turas in East Belfast, there are many other groups which I would recommend. However, knowing that time is limited, there are three other organisations which I believe would help to demonstrate the diversity and inclusivity of the Irish language community in Belfast.

First of all, I would take Ms Foster to Cumann Chluain Árd in west Belfast. The organisation was established in 1936 and is one of the longest-standing voluntary community organisations which promotes the Irish language. Its constitution bars members of political or religious groups from holding a position on the committee and no political or religious organisations can use its premises for meetings or functions. The society jealously maintained this neutrality throughout the Troubles. Over the years Cluain Árd has provided a safe and neutral venue for people from all walks of life who wish to learn Irish. Then we could pop into Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, an Irish language events/cultural centre on the Falls Road which boasts a welcoming café and bookshop. It is named after Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich and Robert McAdam, a Presbyterian industrialist and Irish language enthusiast who was active in Belfast at the end of the 19th century. The Cultúrlann operates a strict nonpartisan policy in respect of politics and religion and its doors are open to all. Lastly, over to south Belfast to Scoil an Droichid, one of the many Irish-medium schools in Northern Ireland.

The rapid growth of Irish-medium education within the province is a testament to the world-wide success of bilingual education. The majority of Irish-medium schools are non-denominational and Scoil an Droichid is proud of its diverse community of pupils and parents. The school’s stated ethos is to ‘nuture tolerance and understanding’.

I hope that Arlene’s Foster’s enquiries will help to allay fears that the Irish language or the Irish language community is in some way a threat to unionism. The opposite can only be true. A thriving sector which could grow with greater investment and more job creation can only be good for the economy and stability of Northern Ireland. It takes little more than a cursory glance at our recent history to see that Northern Ireland is becoming a more inclusive society as deeply etched borders of division are slowly fading.

I firmly believe that an Irish language act can be in the vanguard of progress. Cross-party support for an act, something that would have been unthinkable not so long ago, would be an incredible step on this long journey.

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    well, a bit of it is

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Shall we not say “Ireland” then either?

  • ted hagan

    86pc of Danes speak English proficiently and even more Finns. You have simply underlined my point.

  • ted hagan

    I’m certainly not supporting the iniquities and crimes of British imperialism, I am merely saying that, by default, has benfited greatly from being skilled in the English and has used that skill to its benefit.

  • Erewhon888

    It seems the transantlantic trend is to determine whether a particular usage of some term is deemed a “microaggression” by some set of individuals. Should they be seen as sufficiently “triggered” to feel in need of a “safe space”, it is considered good form for individuals of a more robust constitution to adjust their language to ameliorate the cognitive dissonance or emotional turbulence. Applying this principle to your test case, there may well be, for example, individuals such as elderly Orangemen who would feel a degree of distress should “Ireland” be shouted at them in some way seen as an abuse of the principle of “free speech”. The “speech act” theories of the philosopher J. L. Austin may have relevance in determining appropriate language etiquette for varying social situations. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_act
    Of course, it’s always possible to over-analyse these matters but then what else is the famous Sluggerotoole site for?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    hopefully a measure of realism as well as large swathes of otherworldliness

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s not totally foreign though, it was spoken by many of our direct ancestors. Irish is of these islands and as Britons we shouldn’t see it as un-British necessarily – that’s just the image it currently has. If Linda’s initiative can be built on, we can reclaim Irish as one of our British languages, a language of the UK, like Welsh, Cornish, Gallic and Scots. It’s been claimed for too long as a purely Irish separatist thing and really it needn’t be.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Because Gaelic has been associated for a long time with an assertion of Irish uniqueness and associated with Irish political separatism; and very few if any native speakers would be British by nationality.
    https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/562246334704452606/
    So it’s not wholly irrational, but it is a mistake I think – “foreign” isn’t the right word.

    And of course in Ireland’s past inside the UK and even before, there was less dissonance between what the Irish language represented (Irish culture, which at that time was not necessarily separatist) and support for a pan-British Isles political unit.

    What there has been is a severing of the link between Gaelic and the Union, as unionism became something mainly for non-Gaelic speaking Protestant parts of Ulster, and Gaelic became closely intertwined with Irish nationalist symbolism and native speakers were located almost wholly in the nationalist Free State after partition.

    What Linda is doing is making some first steps to reconnect one or two of the severed nerves between these two entities in Ireland: the British and the Gaelic. I’m guessing she won’t even see it in those terms, but in more a-political / a-national ones (Linda?). And that is of course a valid and I’m sure more comfortable approach for the language community. All power to her elbow. What I’m suggesting though is truly decoupling the language from the national label by saying people could quite self-consciously bring Britishness into the Gaelic world. I think that could really open people’s eyes to the possibility of minority language cultures to be something other than separatist politically. Wouldn’t you love to see a big union jack with ‘Northern Ireland’ in Gaelic on it? It would be such a powerful statement to challenge ‘box’ thinkers in both communities.

    That said, I think lots of unionists are never going to embrace Irish and that’s fine too, in a pluralist society. And we need to respect that too. We also should respect the fact that Gaelic is for the reasons discussed closely associated with Irish nationalism for a lot of people – and forcing it on the unionist community wholesale is not the way to change the way we relate to it. As Linda has done, plant some seeds, let them grow and be sensitive about what Irish is going to mean to a lot of people who don’t embrace it. They are not bigots for not relating to it, it is entirely an individual choice.

  • Roger

    Ahh fair enough. No one I think is arguing for a mono lingual Irish speaking society. That would obviously be a disaster. A bilingual, or even better, multilingual society would be the way to go.

  • Erewhon888

    Talking of otherworldliness here is a similar case of a term shifting in its acceptability with time and location – “Roman Catholic”.
    Apparently the nuances are sufficiently complex to justify an entire Wikipedia entry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_(term)

    Some extracts pertinent to the “British” and “Ireland” discussion.

    “the first known occurrence of “Roman Catholic” as a synonym for “Catholic Church” was in communication with the Armenian Apostolic Church in 1208, after the East–West Schism.

    Following the pejorative term “papist”, attested in English since 1534, the terms “Popish Catholic” and “Romish Catholic” came into use during the Protestant Reformation. During the 17th century, “Roman Catholic Church” was often used as a synonym for the Catholic Church, especially where Protestants and Anglicans dominated demographically. Although its usage has since changed over the centuries, the name has continued to be widely used in English-speaking countries, including the United States.

    By 1900, U.S. Catholics numbered 12 million, with a predominantly Irish clergy.

    Accordingly, they had an arguably more influential voice than the recusants in the United Kingdom, and objected to what they considered the reproachful terms “Popish” and “Romish”, preferring the term “Roman Catholic” rather than the former.”

    Note particularly: “Where it has been used by popes since then is normally within the context of ecumenical dialogue, where the dialogue partner has a reason to prefer this usage, and it is therefore a kind of irenic concession.”

    So we have a wonderful example of how to make an “irenic concession” to either use or avoid usage of an expression of significance to a “dialogue partner”. That should guide us in the whole “British Isles”/”Ireland” thing.

    Worth reading the whole Wikipedia entry for context about sensitivity and labels.

  • grumpy oul man

    Sister in law I think.

  • Trasna

    She only became interested in Irish after she discovered that her husband’s ancestors spoke Irish from the 1901/1911 census.

    Hardly a pioneer.

  • Trasna

    Terminology is important. Linda would do well to remember that.

  • Trasna

    Have a pat on the head.

  • Trasna

    Call the Irish sea anything you want. It is not a nation or a people. Ireland and the Irish deserve some respect for their nationality and country and not have another country claiming ownership of them which is what the term ‘British Isles’ does.

  • Trasna

    Being a member of the UVF is of great pedigree, do you agree with Sean’s statement?

  • Trasna

    Pearse only ever defended two people as a barrister. Both were prosecuted for having Irish written on their carts. He lost both cases. Make of that what you will.

  • Trasna

    It is not standard. The Irish government have never used it and the British government have stopped using it. Linda should follow suit and show Irish people some respect. Is that too much to ask.

  • Trasna

    Oh wow, have a pat on the head.

  • Trasna

    When she stops using that deeply insulting term, I’II revise my opinion. Until then, I ‘ll consider her a language fascist

  • Trasna

    A false equivalence.

  • Trasna

    No there isn’t as the two islands are even geographically the same.

    Even Ireland is split geology. This is basis stuff.

  • Trasna

    Wikipedia, the fountain of all knowledge.

    You do know that the Romans never set foot in Ireland, don’t you? Besides, the Romans referred to the inhabitants of Ireland as Scott

    The Irish for Wales is An Bhreatain Bheag. Little Britain. Enough said.

  • grumpy oul man

    The name for the Island group is the British Isles,the fact that what makes up the Islands came from different sides of the planet millions of years ago is in material.
    Got that Atlas yet.

  • johnny lately

    An Island within The North Atlantic Archipelago.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Do you ever feel a need to get out more?

  • Trasna

    I’m out a lot, and you?

  • file

    No it does not make any claim to ownership. It is a geographical term, like the Irish Sea is (which equally makes no claim to ownership).

  • Trasna

    Yawn, you need to join the 21st century.

  • Erewhon888

    Well, much more has been said. See http://www.electricscotland.com/history/early6-1.htm It seems that all names such as Scotti, Hibernia, Erin, and what those names refer to is contested.There is also evidence of Roman settlement of some type near Dublin. This is being interpreted as sufficient Roman connection without any reason for invasion and subjugation. It seems that Scots are offended by theories that the Scotti expanded from whatever their home in “Ireland” was called into an uninhabited place now called Scotland. Who knows what is true?

  • grumpy oul man

    Ok, produce your evidence.
    You have already proved you don’t know the difference between geology and geography.
    But give me a link to any officially reconised source that does not call the Island group the British Isles,
    Is their any body out there that supports your claim.
    Google doesn’t seem to have anything

  • Skibo

    Trasna British Isles is a geographical title. It will not change your culture or your Irishness. Don’t panic.

  • Skibo

    A language Fascist? not a title I would use. I Loyalist, yes but she is entitled to her views. This is what the Proclamation is all about.

  • Skibo

    Oh please Trasna, her actions are ground breaking in the present day. Protestantism was at one stage an important defender of the use of the Irish Language.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    There’s an amount of stuff of course the funding of which affects other big ticket items. A £5m refurbishment for Hillsborough Castle at the same time as library services are being cut back to save…er £5m. Ordering a nuclear deterrent system for billions also seems excessive when there are waiting lists to access health services. However to Governments that expenditure is reasonable and we should all focus on the comparatively miniscule amounts being proposed to be spent on the Irish language.

  • Trasna

    Rubbish. Protestants destroyed the language by nearly destroying the Irish people. Millions spoke the language in 1845, most of whom were starved to death or forced into emigration during the following decades.

    That’s the reality.

  • Skibo

    Rubbish Trasna and shows your lack of knowledge of history. The Irish language was sidelined by the English kings and queens and successive governments. The Presbyterian religion was penalised just as the Catholic religion was. Do not use such a blaza process of blaming all Protestants .

  • Trasna

    Your responses just highlights the mental gymnastics required to ignore the reality of what devastated the Irish language. It was devastated by the genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the poorest people who were the Irish language speakers. Millions of them. Yes millions.

    The subsequent mental trauma by the survivors led them away from the language because if you spoke it, you meant you were poor and you died.

    That and the introduction of the primary education system where the language was forbidden.

    Successive monarchs and governments were what religion exactly?

  • Skibo

    As a republican, I can feel your anger at what happened in Ireland but such anger will only corrupt you to hating everything that is not Irish.
    That is where staunch Unionism stands but on the other side of the line.
    There are those who recognise that the Irish language and our customs are theirs as mush as they are ours.
    The only way for a language to survive is through use and to prevent anyone using it is to strangle it’s growth.
    The South tried to force the nation to relearn Irish. It doesn’t work. Ask the English what it is like to force the Irish to do anything. What the English did was a subliminal sidelining of the Irish Language. All major business was done in English and schooling also. They didn’t actually ban the Irish language, merely made it useless to converse in if you wanted to do business or get an education.
    The only way to escape the poverty that comes with English colonialism is to emigrate but all the countries were English speaking other than when the Flight of Earls fled to Europe but that is another story of deceit and deflection.
    In the end what you have to realise is for Ireland, her customs and her language to flourish you have to embrace anyone who has a love of any part.
    I think those who want to preserve the language realise now it is not with force or demand that people will learn the language but by love of it, by immersing children in it from as young an age as possible and make it fashionable.
    The number of children in naiscoil, bunscoil and meanscoil shows the language is alive and growing. What we need to introduce now is acceptance of using the Irish language in every day life.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    But why do you think she is being deliberately disrespectful by using the non-standard?

    Do you get annoyed when people say Malvinas instead of Falklands?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    And apparently there’s a scene in Zulu with a guy wearing a wrist watch.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I can’t agree with what I don’t know, likewise I won’t make up mind based on what I don’t know.

  • Trasna

    And?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Zigactly, not relevant…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    If an Irish person is using the term then it suggests that not all Irish people are insulted by it.

  • Gary Da;ze;;

    Perhaps it was the “chucky a la” from IRA men after they had been sentenced for some dreadful sectarian murder that put PULs off Irish