Mí: Bealtaine 2011

Imagine Ireland – Without The Irish?

The last week has seen a round of PR hullabaloo and government press spinning to publicise Imagine Ireland, a government-backed initiate from those happy folks at state quango Culture Ireland, the purpose of which is to mark a, ‘year-long celebration of Irish arts in the United States in 2011’. The project has actually been running for some months now – but apparently no one noticed (what with matters like general elections, mass emigration and IMF/EU diktats to worry ourselves about).

As kultur fests go this new one is not as objectionable as some and in general I favour this sort of thing. Every nation should celebrate its culture, and the arts can be one of the prime manifestations of national identity, both as nations see themselves and sometimes as they see others. For Ireland our most celebrated area of artistic endeavour has traditionally been seen in the written word: we have produced some of the finest writers, playwrights, songwriters and poets in Europe. Yet here is a problem, at least as far as the Imagine Ireland initiative is concerned. Looking at the project as whole one gets the impression that Irish literature is at best only some two hundred years old: and entirely in the English language. Yet, as we all know, real Irish literature is in fact some 1500 years old: and in something called the Irish language.

The (expensive looking) Imagine Ireland website is entirely monolingual. No Irish here, all is English (besides a few sentences from actor Gabriel Byrne in his statement as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador in the US: no surprise from someone who actually has a genuine commitment to his native language – a pity the rest of the Imagine Ireland folks seem to take a different view). Any press statements or publications I’ve seen are also English-only. It would seem Imagine Ireland is really about English Ireland: an Anglophone celebration of the artistic endeavours of Ireland’s Anglophone community. No matter that the 42% of the population who belong to the Irish speaking community (and the 80%+ who associate with or regard the language as their own) are paying their hard-earned taxes to support this costly jamboree.

A couple of Irish language poets and writers hidden away in an English language sea? Sorry, a bhuachaillí agus a chailiní, no place here for you. You’re not part of our Ireland.

In reality Imagine Ireland is nothing more than an unambiguous F.U. to Ireland’s large Irish speaking minority. Irish Ireland is not even in second place to English Ireland in the mindset of the Imagine Ireland team. It hardly exists at all. Of course one could argue (and no doubt they would) that since the Imagine Ireland project is aimed at the English speaking US market they would naturally cater to the language of that county – English. However I wonder would the French, for instance, be so lacking in linguistic or culturally pride to eviscerate any celebration of their culture in the United States by celebrating it entirely in a language not their own and with not a single reference to the language of the French people – French?

Of course, all this is hardly surprising since the Imagine Ireland project comes from the state-sponsored functionaries at Culture Ireland. Charged with promoting, with our tax money, Irish culture at home and abroad, this government agency seems to be similarly culturally blind (ironic, no?). Oh yes, English Ireland and the English culture of Ireland is well represented. But Irish Ireland, and the Irish culture of Ireland? Err, not so much.

Well, in fairness, there is the logo, which has the obligatory cúpla focail underneath the Culture Ireland text (Cultúr Éireann – whey for bastardised Gaelicised words when perfectly good Irish words exist in the first place). And… erm… well, to be honest that’s kind of it at least as their online presence goes. The gove.ie website for Culture Ireland is entirely in English (despite all the promises of equal parity for the two language communities making up the nation envisioned by the implementation the Official Languages Act of 2003: which most of our public bodies spend more time – and money – fighting than implementing). The press releases and documentation are all in English (bar a handful of Irish application forms).

Culture Ireland? Yes, that is true, we’re all for that now. Cultúr Éireann? No, sorry, we’re not really into that sort of thing.

One of the main reasons for the existence of the agency Culture Ireland is to exploit the ‘culture tourism’ that contributes some 1.8 billion euros to the Irish economy every year. Okey-dokey. But what, may I ask, is the point of telling all these tourists to come to Ireland to experience our culture and something completely different from what they can get at home or elsewhere in the world, when all they are experiencing is an English language culture – no different from what most of them have left behind them? They arrive at Dublin Airport, or Shannon, or Rosslare seaport, and spend a few days or weeks in a foreign country – where everyone speaks, reads and writes in English and where there is a MacDonald’s on every street corner. Foreign? These Irish speak English, write in English, and all their tourist places are, well, English.

Except… Well, except of course that this is not the full, or even real, story. For there is another Ireland (the Hidden Ireland, as famously phrased). That is the real Ireland, where the Irish speak, incredible as it might seem, Irish. And where they also read and write it too, and where all those tourist places have, well, their Irish versions as well.

Ireland’s English language culture is barely (in real terms) 200 years old. Up to the Great Famine of the mid-1840s the majority of the population of the island of Ireland was Irish speaking. It is only in the last 150 years that that has changed (yet, 42% of the population remains Irish speaking – albeit behind doors or between themselves since the public opprobrium and discrimination they face from Ireland’s English speaking community is so onerous as to make even the bravest of souls take the path of least resistance – and speak the tongue of the majority). Before that time the nation was majority Irish speaking, and for most of its history entirely Irish speaking.

So 150 years of English speaking versus some 5000 years of Irish speaking? The organisation Culture Ireland in fact represents and promotes just over 3% of Ireland’s cultural heritage. Let’s say that again so that we fully understand it. Ireland’s English language culture represents 3% of Ireland’s cultural history. Ireland’s Irish language culture represents 97% of Ireland’s cultural heritage.

3% versus 97%? A bare 150 years versus some 5000 years? Yet who is the winner here? But of course, the 3% that represent the recent era of the English speaking majority on this island. Is this fair? Equitable? Or even moral?

Why am I, as an Irish speaker, as one of the 42% of the population that is Irish speaking and who for 97% of the last 5000 years was part of the majority on this island, paying for the culture of the 58% of the population who have been in the majority for 3% of that time? Why is the Irish speaking community – the historic native majority here – subsidising the English speaking community? And at our own expense?

Even more notable is the fact that over half of the English speaking community here, despite their monolingual English status, regard the Irish language as their own, as part of their heritage too. So why are they paying for the English language and culture in Ireland to supersede what they regard as ultimately their own language and culture?

Who decides these things? Who decides in government or the civil service where our monies go? Well, of course, the English speaking Anglophone establishment. It is the English-speaking Irish who favour themselves over the Irish-speaking Irish, and in an all too familiar story, try to write Irish Ireland out of the history of our country. And out of the present narrative of our country too.

For them Ireland without the Irish is no non sequitur. Imagine Ireland? Imagine an Irish Ireland.

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The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies

 

An edited version of my review of historian Alan Taylor’s ‘The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies’, an excellent account of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, is featuring now on the Wild Geese website.

Apologies for the photo!

An Traoi – Troy

If you, like me, are fascinated (obsessed?) with the ancient Greek story of many-towered Ilium represented by the epic poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey, then you’ll undoubtedly be interested in the whole history of Bronze Age Greece. The website Greek Age of Bronze provides an excellent overview of, as it states, ‘Weapons and warfare in the late Helladic time 1600-1100 BC’. The city of Troy and the famous siege comes alive here and for those of us interested in our own Heroic Age the site is a treasure trove of information with many Irish parallels. Also have a look at Barry Molloy’s excellent paper, ‘Martial arts and materiality: a combat archaeology perspective on Aegean swords of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC‘.

The Celtic Origin Revised: the Atlantic View and the Nordwestblock Blues (via Rokus Blog)

An excellent overview of the new (and increasingly popular) ‘Celtic From The West Theory’, albeit with the focus mainly on the Low Countries.

In short, the new paradigm argues that the origins of the Celtic peoples is to be found in Western Europe, along the coastal regions of the Atlantic seaboard (Spain, Portugal, Western France, Britain and Ireland) and amongst the trade-linked communities of Neolithic western Europe.

In simple terms the historical Celts emerged where the historical Celts always have been – in the coastal and island regions of western and north-western Europe. That means no Celtic invasion of Ireland, as such, since the Celts have probably always been there – and still are.

It also means that the great Henge monuments of western Europe, Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), Stonehenge, Karnag, etc. were in fact built by the Celts – or at least their immediate ancestors.

Well worth a read.

(P.S. it also means that dear old Bob Quinn – he of ‘The Atlantean’ book and TV series fame – was onto something after all, just not exactly what he thought)

The Celtic Origin Revised: the Atlantic View and the Nordwestblock Blues Important shifts in the concept of Celtic origin are taking place. A new book edited by Profs. Cunliffe and Koch is due out in June and announced by Oxbow Books thus: The Celtic from the West proposal was first presented in Barry Cunliffe’s Facing the Ocean (2001) and has subsequently found resonance amongst geneticists. It provoked controversy on the part of some linguists, though is significantly in accord with John Koch’s findings in Tartessia … Read More

via Rokus Blog

Ready For Some Culture?

Being something of a Pan-Celtic Nationalist (and Pan-Gaelic in particular) I like to keep a close eye on my fellow sea-divided Gaels. So I regularly peruse the main Scottish blogsites (I rarely bother with Scotland’s media – it’s as North British as Ireland’s is West British).

My favourites are the excellent Gerry Hassan (read it!), Pat Kane (yes, he of former pop-combo Hue an’ Cry), Joan McAlpine (great blog name: Go, Lassie, Go) and Bella Caledonia. The latter carries a good overview of the Culture Cycle of books by Scottish author Iain M. Banks (and a recent SNP convert from being a long-standing and very vocal British Labour supporter). It is well worth a read if you are unfamiliar with Banks’ wonderful Sci-Fi output. Very European, very Scottish, very, very good.

My own thoughts on the Culture series can be found here, and here.

Irish Ireland Meets English Ireland – In The Eurospar

Beware the Hibernophone, the Irish-speaking threat to Anglophone Ireland. Oh the horror, oh the humanity!

Beware the Hibernophone, the Irish-speaking threat to Anglophone Ireland. Oh the horror, oh the humanity!

As those of you who know me are aware I’m what one might call a militant Gael. I see myself as part of a community of Irish-speakers, diverse in origins, who have lived on this island (and in these islands) for the last four millennia and more. Contrary to popular myth current academic opinion holds that the Celtic-speaking peoples emerged from a network of maritime communities that lived along the Atlantic seaboard of Western Europe, from the tip of southern Spain to the northernmost point of Britain, during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The Irish Sea region was the cradle of one or more dialects that gave us the closely related Gaelic languages of Ireland, Scotland and Mann – both ancient and modern.

This sort of linguistic heritage gives one a longer view on life and history than the average Westerner in these all-too transient times. From this perspective I can see that the English language in Ireland is only a recent phenomenon. Of the last four thousand years English has been a majority language on this island nation for just one hundred and fifty, and that largely due to An Gorta Mór or the Great Famine of the mid-1800s which denuded the country of its Irish-speaking majority through death and exile. Remove in excess of two million people in the space of ten years and of course things are going to change – and change dramatically (the only comparable event in western European history for the next century-and-a-half is the dramatic social, cultural and linguistic effects of the Holocaust on the Continent’s Jewish communities).

So it’s frequently with puzzlement (not to mention bemusement) that I greet those fellow English-speaking citizens of Ireland who sometimes challenge me for publicly speaking in the Irish language. It comes in a variety of confrontations (or comments). Sometimes it is said in a jovial manner, as if I was some strange eccentric or hobbyist. ‘What, you’re into Irish? You speak it, like, really? And you have an Irish name too?’

Sometimes it is with admiration, usually of the wistful kind. ‘You speak Irish, yeah? Are you fluent? That’s so cool. I wish I could speak it but… [insert here reason why he/she is unable to speak Irish and why he/she wishes they could and would if only...].’

Sometimes it is with wariness or even trepidation, as if I stood there with an assault rifle in one hand and the Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla in the other. ‘You’re a Gaeilgeoir? Yeah, I love Irish too, wish I could speak it, really do. It’s awful that I don’t. Sorry. But really great that you do… [speak it on my behalf so I don’t have to].’

Sometimes, and more often than it used to be, it is with downright hostility – hostility bordering on violence.

It was an encounter of the latter kind that I had this morning while getting phone credit in my local shop. After being served by an impossibly tall Polish shop assistant and handing over my twenty euro note, I took my credit slip with a cheery ‘Go raibh maith agat’, as I sometimes do, receiving a pleasant nod in return from behind the counter (my experience of foreigners domiciled in Ireland is that they are frequently more tolerant of our native language than many of the alleged natives) and turning away I was stopped in my tracks by a accusatory, ‘Do you speak Irish then?

This was not from the assistant, or his colleague, but by another customer who stepped out in front of me. Irish, medium height, late twenties.

So? Do ya?’

Throwing caution to the wind, and succumbing to the belligerent Gael inside, I answered in the positive – and waited for his reaction.

I didn’t have to wait for long.

Soon I was learning that this unhappy bunny hated the Irish language with a passion bordering on a mania, that it is was a complete waste of money: a dead language spoken by a dead people. A veritable monologue of bitter complaints followed leading up to a potentially perilous question. ‘So, I suppose you think you’re more Irish than me because you speak your Irish, then?’

I was going to point out that it was everyone’s Irish, not just mine, but rather than act the meek, mild-mannered Irish-speaker – as is socially expected in these situations – I gave a half-honest, screw you response.

‘Well… yes.’

Oh dear. Having frequently come across the literary metaphor of someone turning red with rage, but never having actually seen it in real life, I can now say I have done so – and then some. Bulging blood vessels, eye-popping snarls, bared teeth, here it was in all its 3D glory.

Over the next five minutes I was called everything from a ‘Provo bastard’ to a ‘murderer’ to a ‘fascist’ to a ‘Nazi’. I was told to fuck off to somewhere where they spoke Irish (I thought that was Ireland but maybe he meant Newfoundland?) and take my ‘dead language’ with me (I was going to ask if speaking Irish made me a Zombie then, but he didn’t look like the type for philosophical musings). I was loudly informed that he was more Irish than me and that Ireland was an English country (I think he meant English-speaking but maybe that was a Freudian slip – and since he was spitting in saliva-heavy outrage I thought it perhaps unwise to correct him).

Among the many pearls of wisdom he imparted to me was that Irish was a language no one nowhere in the world spoke. It was dead: a dead language that no one spoke. This made his next few statements somewhat incongruous. Irish was the language of the culchies (bumpkin country folk – he was a Dubliner like me) that they only spoke ‘in the west’ and ‘out there’ (not sure where out there is, but my impression is he certainly didn’t view as being anywhere near Dublin city). Irish wouldn’t get anyone a job or keep ‘da ‘conomy’ going and was a colossal waste of resources.

This was then followed by the ‘fact’ that only ‘snobs’ like me spoke it anyway, that we sent our kids to the ‘rich Irish schools’ in our ‘fuckin’ mercs and beamers’ and that we ‘look after each other’ and kept ourselves ‘in jobs’ and that there was plenty of jobs for people like us.

Then came the news that he was sick of hearing the Irish language, the way ‘yous’ had young people’s heads twisted into thinking it was their language and they are ‘all’ speaking it now (the living young people, I presume – not the dead young people – who are, you know, dead).

Finally his tirade was topped by another I dare you question, ‘Go on say it again, say that that you’re more Irish than me. What makes you think that you’re more Irish than me?’

‘I speak Irish?’

Ooops…

Finally the intervention of the shop assistants (both of whom were clearly nonplussed by the whole affair) brought the man to an infuriated halt whereupon he turned heel and stormed from the shop, littering the air behind him with a few choice, and entirely Anglo-Saxon, swearwords.

The Polish dude from behind the counter (all 7ft of him) shook his head and laughed. ‘You Irish are crazy. You have your own language like us but you don’t speak it and when one of you do speak it another one attacks him. Crazy Irish’

Indeed. Crazy Irish.

Crazy English-speaking Irish.

If Irish Is Good Enough For Presidents And Queens?

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has announced nearly €800,000 in radio funding grants: €702,900 to English language programming, €16,000 to Irish language programming (€77,500 to bilingual). Apparently foreign presidents and foreign monarchs speaking our native language hasn’t had much influence on the concept of the parity of esteem between our English and Irish speaking communities as far as the institutions of the Irish state are concerned. Ah well, after all the excitement of the last two weeks, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

More here

Self-Defence Is No Offence…

As a sizeable part of the Irish people continues to mull over the recent speech by the British head of state in Dublin Castle, where she is widely regarded as having all but apologised for Britain’s unwelcome presence in Ireland over the last several centuries, it is sobering to see how Irish and British perceptions of the same event can be very different indeed.

While Ireland’s (thoroughly anglicised) journalistic classes have issued squeals of delight over the words of ‘the Queen’, the words of many British journalists make for far more sobering reading. In contrast to the celebrations of some in Ireland at this latest chapter in the ‘end game’, in Britain the speech has been presented (with some notable exceptions) as a fair apportioning of blame to all sides. Yes, goes this particular British narrative, we did some things wrong – but so did you.

While of course a formal apology from the British head of state was nigh impossible (for all sorts of British etiquette and constitutional reasons, the head of state allegedly being above national or international politics and so not permitted to make such utterances – somewhat untrue of course, since there have been many exceptions to the rule, particularly when trade or finance was involved) some expression of remorse was fully expected and widely flagged by Irish Government sources. The dampening of these heavy expectations in the hours before the speech itself, when it became clear no such official mea culpa by Britain was to be forthcoming, added to the air of the British having played a masterly diplomatic stroke and of the Irish falling for it hook, line and sinker (leaving Gerry Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership, who had similarly been given the nod and wink of what was expected to emerge, swinging in the wind – hence the contradictory messages coming from the boys in green).

Establishment Ireland, desperate for any sign of sorrow or contrition on behalf of the British, seized upon the little enough that was in the speech and ran with it, exaggerating the words out of all proportion from what was actually said – or even interpreted as saying (yet again illustrating how the Irish political establishment so frequently craves British validation in one of the more bizarre of our post-colonial neuroses).

A simple expression of sympathy for mutual and shared suffering and wrongdoing became an apparent rapprochement of ‘historic’ (or histrionic) proportions that has been played out across Ireland’s national media. However in Britain that self same speech, and self same words, have been cast in some quarters as having a very different meaning indeed. Far from an apology, they say, the speech represented an apportioning of blame to all sides: an equal loading of the heavy burden of history.

The Irish, so say the British in this latest bout of counter-history, are equally to blame for the conflict of the last 800 years (presumably by not being British – or surrendering and becoming British). This piece from the British newspaper, The Independent, a traditional liberal and centre-left publication, reflects a slightly more considered way of putting it:

‘In a powerful and moving address in Dublin Castle last night, in front of 172 guests, the Queen spoke of the need to remember all those whose lives had been affected by centuries of strife. She said the relationship had not always been straightforward but stopped short of delivering an apology for Britain’s actions in Ireland, saying that looking back, both nations could have acted differently.’

Really? So how do the British believe the people of Ireland could have acted differently to the invasion, occupation and annexation of their nation? Or to the attempted extinguishing of their very identity as a race? Held a flower show? Sold some raffle tickets? A strongly worded letter to the London Times newspaper, perhaps?

In another piece the Daily Mail, a right-wing British populist newspaper, makes it even clear – albeit with some more soft soap:

‘While not apologising for Britain’s role in the ‘troubled past’, in her speech the Queen made clear that mistakes had been made on both sides and voiced her ‘deep sympathy’ for all those who had lost loved ones.’

One mistake presumably being the Irish people’s refusal to do the right thing by the British and simply lie down and die. Perhaps the Daily Mail, famous for its censorious ‘flog ‘em and hang ‘em’ attitudes to law and order and the rights of victims to defend themselves by all means necessary, is less taken with rebellious Micks standing up for their rights than WWII veterans and OAPs. As George Orwell put it: ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

Far from an apology for past crimes and misdemeanours what we have now is a new version of Irish and British history where the victim is to blame for their victimhood. Or rather, the victim has become an aggressor too. How extraordinary. How would the British press react, say, to a speech by a German head of state in Israel, where sorrow was expressed at the historical events around the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, but where the intent was to say: it was your fault too!

Or how about a visiting German dignitary to British soil saying to the British: ‘World War II? Well, we regret that it happened, and wish that it hadn’t, and sympathise with all who suffered, but you know, you guys were in the wrong too.’

Such an attitude would receive short shrift in the British media, from right or left, and correctly so.

The simple fact is that the people of Ireland were not the aggressors in the history of the British presence in our country. We were not equally culpable in the history of violence that has blighted the relations between our two island nations. A double-meaning speech, and the back-room briefings of the Downing Street spin-doctors to favoured journalists and editors, should not go unchallenged. Let us accept the British head of state’s speech as we believe it to be: an apology on behalf of the British nation for centuries of shame, or as close as they can bring themselves to it. It was elegant, genuinely said, and with real impact.

Let us not, after the fact, allow the British to rewrite the narrative so that it becomes an Irish nation accepting the role of aggressor, another player in an equal, almost legitimate, struggle between nations and peoples. It was not equal, it was not legitimate. The British were the invader, we the defenders. The British the colonisers, we the colonised (and how well did that part of President Mary McAleese’s speech go down with the British media gallery?). Our history is replete with Irish men and women who tried the peaceful route to freedom – and were denied or met with violent force at every juncture.

Our freedom was hard won. But won was the only way it could be. It was neither granted, nor bestowed, but retaken through bloody contest and struggle. In embracing the new totality of relationships between ourselves and our nearest neighbour, in moving on and evolving those relationships to new and more harmonious ones, let us not rewrite our history so that the narrative of the oppressor becomes the narrative of the oppressed.

Peace and truth are not mutually exclusive concepts. It is only by embracing both that we can truly move forward.

As the old saying goes: the Irish remember their history because the British keep forgetting it.

Even Queens…

The British Head Of State Honours Ireland’s Fenian Dead…

Queen Elizabeth II, the British head of state, bows her head to honour Ireland's Irish Republican revolutionaries, the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, 2011

Queen Elizabeth II, the British head of state, bows her head to honour Ireland’s Irish Republican revolutionaries, the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, 2011

Whatever else may happen, surely the main image to emerge from the controversy of the last few days is that of the British Head of State laying a wreath and bowing her head to honour the memory of all those who fought and died in the cause of Irish Freedom. From the Native Irish lords and kings who formed the leadership of Medieval Ireland to the revolutionaries who formed the leadership of the Irish Republican Army and Republican Ireland, all are commemorated at the Garden of Remembrance.

By this act not only does the British nation as a whole recognise the legitimacy of those who fought in the cause of Irish Freedom and Independence, they recognise also the legitimacy of the cause itself and the actions used in the pursuit of that cause. While we recognise the full implications of that, I wonder do the British?

Queen Elizabeth II, the British head of state, honours Ireland's Irish Republican dead, the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, 2011

Queen Elizabeth II, the British head of state, honours Ireland’s Irish Republican dead, the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, 2011

No Flag Here…

Has the Irish Government made it a Public Order Offence under Section 21 to carry or publicly display the National Flag for the duration of the visit of the British head of state? Watch this video.

The DUP Becomes An All-Ireland Party… Err, Sort Of!

It had to happen eventually, a chairde. More here: http://www.dup.ie/

Just don’t ask about Question (6)!

‘6)  Did’nt the British cause our problems in the first place by conquering Ireland and eventual partition?’

Slice Of Sci-Fi

This weekend the Books section of the British Guardian newspaper is devoted to all things Science-Fiction, so pop over for a look. An introduction by Iain M. Banks, reviews of the works of Gene Wolfe, China Miéville, some author favourites and much more.

Follow the link tohttp://www.guardian.co.uk/books/science-fiction