Bernard Dunne

Ireland – A Western Province Of The British Isles

In the Irish Times a Danish woman living in Ireland pens a passionate letter on behalf of the Irish language and the Irish-speaking communities of Ireland. As she so rightly asks: are we to be an Irish Ireland or an English Ireland?

“Last week I was watching Bernard Dunne’s ‘Brod Club’ — where he launched his ‘Speak Irish’ campaign — with interest and not a few giggles. Brilliant idea, may it live long and prosper!

Thus it was dispiriting to hear Kevin Myers on the same show discarding the Irish language as “a redundancy” in the modern world, and that Mr Dunne was, in his opinion, flogging a dead capall.

Being Danish born and bred I have very little Irish, but I’m a member of another linguistic minority, about six million worldwide, a fact that forces our kind to learn foreign languages.

So far I have — with a varying degree of success — spoken, written or read Swedish; Norwegian; Middle and Modern English; Old, Middle and Modern German and French; Provencal; Dutch; Italian; Latin; and classic Greek; none of which did me any harm but opened me up to other cultures.

Danish, however, will always remain my first language and a part of my identity, even though I live and intend to stay in Ireland.

That is why it puzzles me, as a linguistically challenged foreigner, that the Irish language is not widely used, but hidden away like some sort of embarrassment, something to be almost ashamed of. It’s the very thing that makes you uniquely Irish and not just some western province of the British Isles.

Iceland — a place rarely in the news unless its banks or volcanoes blow up — has a small Icelandic-speaking population, most of whom also speak other languages.

Does that make Icelandic — the closest living descendant of the Old Norse of the Vikings — redundant?

Some may find the Irish language on the brink of extinction and say goodbye and good riddance, a linguistic equivalent of the white rhino or the snow leopard.

But a lot of people work hard to save the snow leopard in the wild, not just relegating it to a curiosity in a cage in a zoo, because a world without the snow leopard is a smaller world.

It’s the same with the Irish language…

The only way to keep any language alive and well is by speaking it, which doesn’t even cost you anything.

The day the last Irish speaker is shut up, the living tradition of one of the oldest languages in Western Europe will be lost forever (and the English, by the way, will have won).”

In a similar vein, Irish Times journalist Pól Ó Muirí challenges the insidious lie spread by the militant minority of Anglophones in Ireland that Irish speakers are somehow stubborn, anti-pluralists because they continue to speak their own language: and not the English language (is that a definition of pluralism? Only speaking in English?).

“As one letter writer to The Irish Times wrote last week, Irish speakers often also speak another language (in addition to English) and have a great interest in languages in general.

In my experience, Irish speakers are usually very open-minded when it comes to learning (and respecting) other languages. Many of the Irish speakers I know also speak French, German, Italian and quite a few know Welsh and Scots Gaelic – languages which offer other views of what it means to be British.”

Perhaps that’s the problem. The only view of being British the Angloban extreme in Ireland want is one that forces the people of Ireland to speak English. In order to become…?

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The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

We’re in the middle of Seachtain na Gaeilge, the celebration of culture and identity that is the 109-year old Irish Language Week, and two very different views of the current state of our native tongue have emerged. In the Irish Times the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin correctly points out that the geographical spread of Irish speakers on the island of Ireland is wider now than at any time since An Gorta Mór or the Great Famine of the mid-1800s.

“IRISH IS being spoken in some areas of the country for the first time since the Famine, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed in the Dáil during a debate on the language for Seachtain na Gaeilge.

Mr Martin acknowledged the ambition of the 20-year strategy to increase the number of people speaking Irish on a daily basis from 83,000 to 250,000, but he said children were now speaking Irish in towns and cities around the country and he claimed the previous government had made great progress in Irish.

He warned, however, that the Government was “about to make a terrible decision in regard to small rural and Gaeltacht schools”, and the move would endanger Gaeltacht areas.

Opening the debate, which took place through Irish, Mr Kenny said the Gaeltacht Bill would start the process of linguistic planning in Gaeltacht areas based on the 20-year strategy.”

However a newly published study by Conchúr Ó Giollagáin reflects the growing concern that the revival in the number of Irish speakers in urban areas is masking trouble elsewhere, as examined in a separate article for the Irish Times:

“BILINGUALISM IN Gaeltacht areas is “destroying the Irish language from the inside out”, according to a leading NUI Galway academic.

“Delayed bilingualism”, whereby there is greater focus on raising young children solely through Irish, may counteract the threat to the language’s survival, Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin has said.

He is joint editor of a book published during Seachtain na Gaeilge this week on the impact of the “pervasive” majority language in Irish-speaking communities.

The book, An Chonair Chaoch: An Mionteangachas sa Dátheangachas , in which work debated at NUIG’s Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge is collated, cites research to back its key argument.

Dr Ó Giollagáin argued young speakers of Irish were “under-users” of the language, reflecting the fact that social bilingualism was “actually undermining linguistic diversity rather than supporting minority languages”.

“The intrusion of English in the remaining Irish-speaking Gaeltacht communities is being endured as a linguistically colonial experience,” he said.”

Meanwhile some of the “colonial experience” that pressurises young, native Irish speakers into speaking English continues to be reflected in our national news media. In the Herald newspaper television reviewer Pat Stacey shows the kneejerk tendency of the anglophone extreme to any type of challenge to their linguistic hegemony.

“Bernard [Dunne, former Irish boxing champion] is also a pretty good television presenter, vibrant, immensely likeable and blessed with natural on-screen charisma. But you get the distinct feeling from the opening part of Bernard Dunne’s Brod Club that he’s fighting a losing battle.

I confess I had to ask our youngest daughter, who’s in her last year at primary school, what “brod” meant. When it comes to the Irish language, I’m a willing ignoramus, and I suspect I’m far from alone.”

I could just leave it at a “willing ignoramus”, since its sums up so much of the indolent attitudes of a minority of English speakers in Ireland, but there is more.

“For the record, “brod” translates as “proud”. So Bernard — whose love of Irish was rekindled while he was in America, of all places — is on a six-week mission to restore people’s pride in the language and get them to re-engage with it.

Bernard’s not out to single-handedly revive a dying (dead?) language, nor does he expect anyone to be able to speak it fluently. His aim with Brod Club is to recruit “100,000 reborn users of Gaeilge”, who’ll use whatever focail they have in their daily lives.”

The ridiculous claim that Irish is a dying or indeed a dead language shows the complete inability of the English-speaking extreme in this country to deal with the facts before them. What language is Bernard Dunne speaking if Irish is a “dead language”? How can a dead language be spoken?

“To this end, he’s roped in what he called “a pretty motley bunch of personalities”, including, among others, Brendan Courtney, Paul McGrath, Jennifer Maguire, Ray Foley, Kamal Ibrahim (aka Mr Ireland) and Fiona Looney, who offered the following wisdom: “Just because not a lot of people speak it doesn’t mean it has no value.” Looney also coined the Brod Club’s T-shirt slogan, “Get back on the capall”.

Apparently, 1,602 people had signed up for Brod Club by last Sunday. Kevin Myers, however, the lone dissenting voice here, is not one of them. Describing the Irish language as “redundant to Irishness”, Myers said it was “false and deluded” to suggest people are somehow “more Irish because they speak Irish”.

…I’m in Myers’s corner on this one.“

Indeed? And is that out of genuine agreement and belief? Or perhaps because you recognise an unpalatable truth when you see one?

Try Again 2012!

Talking of the Irish language online there is certainly a lot of speculation at the moment about the new website “Try Again 2012” and the associated high-profile advertising campaign around the country (not to mention on social networks like YouTube and at Twitter under the hashtag #tryagain). The Herald seems to have got to the truth behind the rumours:

“I’M actually bi, says The Voice’s Brian Kennedy. Brendan Courtney “lost it at 16″ and and it made Paul McGrath feel “inadequate”.

But what on earth are they talking about?

A suggestive new campaign has tongues wagging in the city but the “bi” claims by singer Brian Kennedy are a lot more innocent than they might first appear.

A host of big-name celebrities have put their names behind a new campaign to get people dusting off their Irish – and speaking the language again.

It’s being spearheaded by former champion boxer Bernard Dunne. Other well-known participants include Lucy Kennedy, Ben Dunne, Baz Ashmawy, and Jennifer Maguire speaking about their own experiences of the subject matter.”

The new television-related campaign will be unveiled on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show on February 25th.