Éire Ghaelach – Éire Shaor
In an article to mark the start of Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) on Monday the Irish Times has asked ten people to describe their lives as Irish speakers. They include journalists and students drawn from places as far away as Ethiopia and Holland. The most interesting, and in a way the most honest, contribution is from the television presenter Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh who gives an insight into the experiences of a speaker of the indigenous Irish language in contemporary Ireland:
“I came to Dublin when I was 15 from a small Gaeltacht in Meath, and the Irish language wasn’t cool at all. Then, crazy as it may sound, the Hothouse Flowers came on the scene, and it became cool – and then became uncool again when I was 18.
When I was a teenager the reaction was, and still can be, “Stupid language: what’s the point?” Then the adult versions: “It was beaten into me”; “you’re all mad ’RA-heads”; and my favourite, “You get a grant for everything.”
My response is: I am so sorry, and that is all terrible, but guess what – I am the minority here, and, however difficult it was for you, it has been and still is a struggle just to respond to all of you. At times it’s racist. Nobody ever calls it that, but no other culture would tolerate it. There has been a huge demise in the promotion of our language and Gaeltacht existence. I heard Paul McGrath during the week on radio, talking about the Irish language, and he was inspirational. Yet I would be scared to ask the people of Ireland [if they were] for or against the language. I fear it would be against. But, hey, I will battle on and wait for the next wave.”
The irony that in modern independent Ireland the racism and discrimination that was once applied by our former English (and English-speaking) colonial masters to the Irish people as a whole is now applied by the English-speaking Irish against those they perceive as being Irish-speaking Irish.
Speak English, read English, write English – and apparently think English too…