Éire (Ireland)

A Tale Of Two Languages

A mass Basque nationalist demonstration in Bilbao, 2012

A mass Basque nationalist demonstration in Bilbao, 2012

Kate Fennell in the Irish Times examining the Basque Country and the successful struggle for language rights in that Iberian nation after decades of persecution.

“Basque culture and language suffered repression under Franco’s regime; the region experienced huge emigration in the 19th century, losing at least three-quarters of its population to America; the language came to be regarded as only fit for peasants; Spanish became the language of sophistication and commerce; the cause became political and violent and the language a symbol of identity and freedom. The sentiment behind the phrase tiocfaidh ár lá is still cherished by many who want full independence from Spain.

In contrast to the Gaeltachts, however, the Basque Country is a wealthy, industrialised region; it already had a wealthy merchant class in the 1500s. Its language has been supported constitutionally by the autonomous Basque government since 1978 and is required for a job in the civil service. The exams are not a pushover. Most spend months and years preparing for them.

One other very big difference is that the equivalent of our gaelscoileanna – ikastolas – have been in existence since the 1980s and have proven such a success that in a private university in San Sebastian half the degree courses are offered through Basque.

A strong government policy and a pride in culture and language have obviously helped. Even the word to describe a Basque person – Euskaldun – actually means “Basque-speaker”, so identity is intrinsically linked with their language. Indeed, the Basque language is visible and audible on a daily basis in all walks of life. The conundrum, however, is that while the percentage of people who know Basque has increased the percentage who use it with other Basque speakers in everyday life has decreased.

Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. If this is true, and I feel it may be, then there is still much work to be done to solve the riddle of how to strengthen any minority language effectively. The Basques have some of the answers, but not all of them.

We Irish, on the other hand, are in the Basque people’s bad books. The official word on the street is that “the Irish gained their territory and lost their language”, that “the Irish have no pride”. (This from the diehards of the language who have not yet done their research in Ireland as I did there.) The only way I found to counter that was to give them a good blast of the boggiest Connemara Irish I know, throw in a few almighty mallachts and send them on their way. It’s at least one way of keeping the sound of Irish alive.”

Yes but that response doesn’t answer the central accusation made by the Basques and many others: Ireland may have gained its independence but the Irish lost theirs. That is the reason why those interested in language rights view this nation as the template for what one shouldn’t do – not what one should do. And why we must seek a new Irish revolution, a cultural struggle not an armed one, for the hearts and minds of the Irish people. To reuse the well-worn cliché: not merely free but Gaelic…

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Ireland’s British Rebels

Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, an early 20th century British terrorist organisation in Ireland, jointly parade with soldiers of the British Army in Omagh, Ireland, c.1914

Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, an early 20th century British terrorist organisation in Ireland, jointly parade with soldiers of the British Army in Omagh, Ireland, c.1914

Once again it takes an Irish journalist working in a foreign newspaper to write what the Irish press would never dare write (because they don’t want their readers to stray outside their strict ideological view of history, falsifications and half-truths to the fore). Melanie McDonagh in the London Independent with a rare, rare glimmer of historical accuracy when it comes to Ireland’s troubled British history while discussing Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin Joint First Minister in the north of Ireland. She asks in the article:

“…why the militant republicanism he represents was necessary; why the constitutional options for dealing with the Irish problem took so long; why Sinn Fein trumped the Irish parliamentary party in the first place; why – in short – we got where we are now.

For the answer to that, we need to go back exactly 100 years. Well, a bit more possibly, but a century would do nicely. Because that’s when the last chance for resolving the Irish question peaceably and in a unitary fashion was stymied. It’s when the Third Home Rule bill granting self-government, excluding defence, to Ireland was passed, but leaving out Ulster, first temporarily and then permanently.

It was the last time for resolving the Irish Question by peaceful means and it was vitiated by a terrifying combination of violence and the threat of violence, not from Republicans, but from Ulster Unionists bent on ensuring that Home Rule would not apply to Ulster, or at least to the “plantation counties” – what turned into the six counties of Northern Ireland. Two previous Home Rule bills from Gladstone had already been seen off, the second by being blocked by the House of Lords.

And just when it seemed that Home Rule might finally happen, after the House of Lords lost its power of veto, British politicians gave way to the revolutionary methods adopted by Ulster Unionists – chief of which was the formation of a paramilitary army intended to resist the writ of parliament, equipped with guns and ammunitions run from Germany. In their resistance they were backed to the hilt by the British Tory party as represented by Bonar Law, a Presbyterian minister’s son. It must be said, though, that most of the British players in these events, including Churchill and Lloyd George, were influenced, like him, by an instinctive antipathy to Roman Catholicism. And without that recourse to physical force; to violence (which Britons invariably associate with Irish republicanism), the state of Northern Ireland would never have come into being. At least not the way it was constituted.

In response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers and their successful shipments of guns and ammunition from Germany, the government decided to undertake a show of military force. But it ran into the flat refusal of British Army officers based in the Curragh to move against the Unionists, with whom they very much identified. The response of ministers was to capitulate. (The Army’s reaction was very different when Irish nationalists began their own gunrunning in response, on a much smaller scale: soldiers sent to deal with it fired on a crowed of Dublin civilians, killing four people.)

The lessons of all this were not lost on Irish nationalists. The inevitable result of the success of Ulster Unionist tactics, and the capitulation of British ministers to the threat of force, was that the position of the constitutional nationalist leader, John Redmond, was terminally undermined. His Irish Parliamentary Party, which had held the balance of power in Westminster, was discredited even before the 1916 Easter Rising.”

Nominally British troops of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) move into Dublin to support the British Occupation Forces during the latter stages of the Easter Rising of 1916. The presence of the despised UVF added to anger in the capital following the actions of the British forces during the week of fighting

Nominally British troops of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) move into Dublin to support the British Occupation Forces during the latter stages of the Easter Rising of 1916. The presence of the despised UVF added to anger in the capital following the actions of the British forces during the week of fighting

Five Thousand March For Irish Rights In Belfast

Dearg Le Fearg

Dearg Le Fearg

Last Saturday up to five thousand people took part in An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, a march through the city of Belfast in support of Irish language rights in the north-east of Ireland. Despite the disruptive presence of a small crowd of protesters from the British Unionist community (who waved British flags while making Nazi salutes, oblivious to the history of the nation they were supposedly expressing loyalty to) the demonstrators generally received a warm welcome. Following on from the ten thousand who attended a similar rally in Dublin, and with numbers again far exceeding the organisers expectations, it shows the level of demand for full equality between Irish-speaking and English-speaking citizens in Ireland, north and south. All political parties on this island nation need to acknowledge the failures of the past in relation to their language policies, policies that have fostered a system of institutionalised discrimination within the public services and government as a whole. Following on from nine centuries of violent ethnocide the nine decades of mealy-mouthed hypocrisy have simply added more damage to the cultural and social standing of Hibernophones in Ireland and encouraged a virulent form of Anglophone supremacism. As more than one observer has pointed out this expression of hatred towards all things indigenous in Ireland is simply a continuation of the anti-Irish racism that existed during the era of British colonial rule, a poisonous legacy of that disastrous period in our nation’s history that all right-minded people should oppose.

New times require new thinking. None of the political parties in Ireland have any substantive policies in relation to Irish language rights or the restoration of the Irish language as the spoken vernacular of our island nation. Even Sinn Féin, the most progressive organisation in this area, is still a long way behind international contemporaries like Plaid Cymru in Wales or the Parti Québecois in Québec. Indeed it is countries like Québec, Catalonia, the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium, and many others that provide the templates that Ireland needs to follow. We could start with the Constitution of Ireland and the anomaly of Article 8.3 which permits the government to effectively dodge the constitutional primacy of the Irish language as the national and first official language of the state in favour of the English language. Article 8 presently reads as follows:

“8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

8.3 Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof.”

Clause 8.3 above is the reason we have the Official Languages Act of 2003 (a legal mechanism to curtail the primacy of Irish language rights) and why the Supreme Court could rule that Irish-speaking citizens are not entitled to a trial entirely through the medium of the Irish language (in contrast to English-speaking citizens who do have such a right). We need a constitutional amendment along the following lines:

“8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

8.3 Exclusive use shall be made of the national language for all official purposes throughout the State. However, where suitable and excluding recognised Irish-speaking communities, simultaneous use may be made of both official languages for any official purposes by the State though the primacy of the national language and the State’s requirement to implement its exclusive use must be demonstrated at all times.”

I’m sure others could arrive at better formulae than the above but it gives one an idea of what is needed if the first steps are to be taken in building true equality, equality that no government can ignore or downplay.

Generation Shame

 

Generation Shame. How some Irish people view their own Irishness

Generation Shame. How some Irish people view their own Irishness

One of the great puzzles of modern Ireland, and certainly an endless source of fascination for foreign observers of our island nation, is the great shame – embarrassment even – felt by some members of an older generation of Irish people when it comes to their own Irishness. Like some bizarre mark of Cain numerous men and women in their late forties and upwards seem to squirm and shy away from any sign of actually being Irish. Our language, our culture, our history causes them so much mental angst that they must, perforce, look elsewhere – anywhere – for some ersatz identity of their own. I’ve talked before about post-colonial theory, a national Stockholm Syndrome and even Malcolm X’s much quoted speech on “House Negros” and “Field Negros”. All are applicable. Yet the inferiority complex of some Irish people goes far beyond the bounds of rational analyses. It is a form of ideology – political, social and cultural – that they adhere to with the blind fanaticism of true believers. Can we really call such types “Neo-Unionists”? The Scientologists of Irish politics? Reading this opinion piece by David Quinn in the Irish Independent newspaper, filled with historical inaccuracies and utterly fallacious arguments, you have to wonder. Are these people quite sane?

“Every country that wanted to gain its independence from Britain has gained that independence. Sometimes it was won only after a fight. Scotland might well vote for full independence later this year. No bloodshed needed.

Most countries when they gain their independence from Britain go through a period of intense anti-British feeling. In our case, it lasted for decades. Nothing good could be said about Britain until fairly recently.

Relations between Britain and Ireland simply could not be normalised until the IRA stopped fighting and a peace agreement was arrived at.

If the IRA had not taken up the gun again during the Troubles and had instead gone down the same peaceful path as the SDLP we might have been able to spare ourselves another blood-stained chapter in the history of these two islands and relations could possibly have been normalised years ago.

In fact, watching Scotland get ready for its referendum on whether it should remain part of the United Kingdom or not, you wonder again whether 1916 was worth it. Home Rule, which had been promised and was interrupted by World War I, would have come.

In time, if we wanted it, we could have got full independence. Peacefully. There would have been no War of Independence, probably no Civil War and violent republicanism might have spiked its guns much sooner than it did.

Partition would have happened but it probably would have happened in a way that would have avoided a civil war south of the border.

There probably would not have been a debilitating trade war with Britain. Our economy would have been much stronger as a result.

Without the War of Independence, anti-British feeling would not have become as strong as it did.

If we had opted for Home Rule, bit by bit we would have been ceded more autonomy and probably we’d have gained full independence sometime after World War II. By then, Britain wouldn’t have been in the mood to fight us.

Can we imagine any circumstances under which we could find ourselves in a union again with Britain?

But if the euro were to collapse and if the EU were to fall to pieces and we found ourselves looking for the nearest thing to a safe haven in such a chaotic world, an economic union of some kind with Britain would become very imaginable. History is full of such strange and unexpected twists and turns.”

And so are the minds of the modern day Neo-Unionists. Strange and twisted thoughts fill their worldview, thoughts quite beyond the comprehension of most rational folk. No one argues that being Irish is any more meaningful or virtuous than being French or German or British. There is nothing inherently superior about it nor is there anything inherently inferior. It is merely an accident of birth, a happenstance to be acknowledged or not as one pleases. No manifest destiny or god’s chosen people here. Yet there are those who act as if being Irish rendered one, by virtue of one’s nationality, language and culture, a lesser kind of human. They see their own Irishness through someone else’s historic prism and think the image true. There is more of this delusional existentialism on display from another member of Generation Shame, this time in the Caledonian Mercury:

“The first state visit to Britain by an Irish president this week has caused me to wonder what all the fuss and suffering over the “Irish Question” was all about. And I say this reluctantly, as a former Irishman myself.

Growing up in Dublin in the 1950s, with all those proud tri-colours flying from every flagpole, was a wonderfully revolutionary experience. There was something exciting and daring about being against the British ruling class, about being different. We had a culture of our own, Irish football, hurling (I still have the scars), the Irish language taught in every school, the poetry of WB Yeats, the plays of Bernard Shaw.

But actually, all of this could have been achieved under Home Rule. What I am fondly remembering is culture not politics. And, looking back on the last 100 years, I can’t help feeling it’s the politics that has let us down. If Gladstone’s policy of “home rule all round” had been adopted in the British Isles back in the 1880s, we would all have been better off.

Instead we had a rebellion in Dublin in 1916, just what we didn’t want in the middle of the First World War. We had a civil war in Ireland which cost over 3,000 lives and left a legacy we are still dealing with. The two main political parties to this day, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are derived from the two opposing sides in the civil war and their leaders and individual members can trace their families back to the tribal divisions of those dark days.

Then in the 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, we had what we call “The Troubles” – a typically Irish euphemism for marches, demonstrations, knee-cappings, bombings and shootings which left another 3,000 dead and thousands wounded. And there is still an uneasy truce and power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland.

And yet it could have been so different if Ireland had remained a united nation, within the union of the four nations on the British Isles. The visit of President Higgins ( his name sounds a little less Shavian in Gaelic, Michael O’huiginn) is a gesture which says “Let bygones be bygones.” His father fought for Irish independence but now has he himself put it: “We all wholehearted welcome the considerable achievement of today’s reality – the mutual respect, friendship and co-operation which exists between our two countries.” Three years ago the Queen went to Dublin to say much the same thing.

Both sides have much to apologise for. The kings of England (and Scotland for that matter) regularly trampled across Ireland in their quest for power. They imposed a class of uncaring landlords. Westminster used Ireland as a useful “rotten burgh” to swell majorities in parliament. The Black and Tans did some pretty nasty things during the 1920s. On the other hand, the Irish leaders twice deserted their neighbours in their hours of need – in the First World War and the Second.

But for all that, we are part of the same British-Isles culture. We share the same language (Gaelic is spoken by just 90,000 Irish people). We share much the same music, from pop to folk. Whole swathes of people have gone back and forward across the Irish Channel. Humble farmers like my forebears moved from Scotland to County Antrim. The Anglo-Irish elite like the Churchills ( Winston spent his early childhood in Dublin) have left their mark in the form of grand houses and estates. And coming the other way, we’ve had everybody from navies to broadcasters flocking to seek their fortune on mainland Britain.

That’s why I find it bizaare that Michael Higgins should be singled out for a full blown state visit – as if he were the president of Peru. This small elderly academic looks more like the Mayor of Galway (which in fact he was). And like most Irish folk, he’s no stranger to mainland Britain. He’s a graduate of Manchester University after all and has been here 13 times since he was elected president in 2011.

In short, Ireland is no more different from England than Wales is or Scotland. I’ve got to ask: was the political turmoil of the last 100 years worth it ? The honest answer is No.”

Rather than going forward those who espouse such anachronistic views wish to pull us back, back to a past that in truth never existed except in the minds of a self-deluding few, the Vichy Irish as it were. Ireland under British rule was a nation oppressed, impoverished and exploited. Freedom was what others enjoyed. When one ponders the manner in which our island nation, a sovereign and independent state, was effectively sold to the highest bidders by its own political establishment views like the above suddenly speak of a far deeper split in Irish society. For those who promulgate them are of the same generation as many of those who sit around the cabinet table in Government Buildings and in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are truly prisoners of our past – but not in the way they would have you believe.

An Lá Dearg I mBéal Feirste

An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, the Red Day in support of Irish language rights, gathering at 2pm outside Cultúrlann Mc Adam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road, Belfast, Ireland, 12th of April 2014

An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, the Red Day in support of Irish language rights, gathering at 2pm outside Cultúrlann Mc Adam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road, Belfast, Ireland, 12th of April 2014

Following on from the mass demonstration held in Dublin eight weeks ago during which 10,000 people marched across the capital in support of Irish language rights another demonstration is planned for Belfast this Saturday, the 12th of April 2014. Gathering at 2pm outside Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiach, the Falls Road, in the west of the city the protesters will proceed to Custom House Square where they will be addressed by a number of guest speakers. Several hundred people are expected to attend but the more the better as the campaign to enact full equality between Irish-speaking and English-speaking citizens in Ireland (north and south) steps up a gear. So please participate in the day of action if you can or if you can’t please distribute the details to your family and friends on all your social networks. Remember, red is the colour of Irish language protests for Lá Dearg.

Arrested For Speaking Irish In Europe’s Darkest Corner

No blacks, no dogs, no Irish

No blacks, no dogs, no Irish

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is on an official state visit to Britain, the first by an Irish head of state in some nine decades of independence. This follows the first official visit by Britain’s head of state, Elizabeth II, to Ireland and is yet another step in the ongoing choreography of the “Peace Process”, a process that continues to dominate the news headlines at home and abroad (even if most of the British media prefer to ignore it, unable to come to terms with peace in Ireland when war without end seemed so much more easier to digest). However just how far has this process actually progressed? The Irish Nationalist community in the north-east of our island nation continues to suffer levels of discrimination in employment and the provision of public services far above its Unionist rival. Despite the perception that the Nationalists have the “upper hand” politically they still struggle to gain equality socially and culturally. The language they speak, and even they very clothes they wear, makes them objects of suspicion and persecution.

On Sunday the 6th of April 2014 Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais, the national treasurer of Sinn Féin Poblachtach (a minor Irish republican party and off-shoot of SF), was arrested and charged under counter-terrorism laws in the city of Derry by members of the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north of Ireland. And the laws he broke? He answered in Irish to a question put to him in English. Yes, you read that right. An Irish citizen in Ireland was asked a question in English, he answered in the national language of Ireland, and for that he was arrested, charged and brought to court in Belfast under Britain’s counter-insurgency laws in our country. From the Belfast Telegraph:

“A man who gave his name and address in Irish when he was stopped by police has appeared at Londonderry Magistrates Court charged under anti-terrorism legislation.

Dermot Douglas (49) [ASF: that is Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais], of Mellows Park in Dublin, was charged with not giving his details to the best of his ability under the Justice and Security Act on March 6.

Defence solicitor Brian Stelfox told the court his client had come out of a house in the Creggan area of the city and had been stopped by police, and when asked for identification gave his details in Irish.

District judge Barney McElholm asked: “Was the sum total of this case — that he gave his name in Irish?” Mr Stelfox said Douglas had “quite happily” allowed the police to search him, and then gave his name and address in Irish and was arrested.”

Peace process? One is tempted to ask, what peace process? However we have an even more outrageous event, from Hogan’s Stand, a bizarre attack on the rights of men and women in Ireland to wear the clothes they choose to wear if those clothes are recognisably Irish, and made by the leader of the TUV, one of several extreme parties amongst the Unionist minority:

“TUV leader Jim Allister says students wearing GAA jerseys to university are “creating a substantial chill factor”.

More and more Catholic students are opting to don club, county and college jerseys on campus at the north’s universities and – claiming to have received complaints from students at University of Ulster – Allister says the proliferation of GAA jerseys in intimidating members of the Protestant community.

In response to the Traditional Unionist Voice chief’s complaints, UU is to review its policy of allowing students to wear GAA tops…”

Forgot the Taliban. This is the Uniban. And forget western Europe. This is Europe’s regressive fringe. And we are part of it.

Negationists Ahoy!

Seán O'Callaghan

Seán O’Callaghan

So that tired old spy/informer/traitor of yore, Seán O’Callaghan, is back peddling his same tired old “analyses” of political and military events in Ireland. Or more specifically the bit of Ireland still occupied by our neighbours over yonder (and with himself at the centre of the story as always). It’s hard to know what to say about O’Callaghan that hasn’t been said before. I suppose it tells us more about the Negationist generation of Irish and British writers, apologists for all of Britain’s history on our island nation, that one of their most recognisable “sources” is an acknowledged fantasist and narcissist of legendary standing. Oh yes, one can’t help but feel sorry for the man. He has destroyed his life by allowing himself to become the political plaything of ideological others. However, couldn’t he just retire peacefully into obscurity and give up the fame-game instead of being trotted out every few months to entertain the prejudices of various obscure Unionist and British nationalist “think-tanks” and organisations? Or is the cheese and cracker circuit in London all that he has left? A few more gullible or willing fools to fool, a few more inexperienced journos to win over with a lop-sided smile and a twinkle in those sad eyes? It was ever thus…

Meanwhile over in the Irish Times historian Diarmaid Ferriter gets mightily annoyed with fellow historian John Regan for calling out the ideologically-driven philosophy of historians like, er, Diarmaid Ferriter. In fact the pugnacious Diarmaid goes a wee bit OTT so outraged is he. The whole article (given plenty of room by the IT, one notes) fairly rips into Regan and anyone who dares to question the bona fides of the Irish academic classes when it comes to examining the tortured history of Britain’s colonial rule in Ireland. That he has to do so by metaphorically standing on his head to make his arguments appear the right way up says it all. Ah, nothing like an orthodoxy scorned or an establishment challenged.

Viva la revolución!

Saving The Language Commissioner

Sábháil Ár dTeanga

Sábháil Ár dTeanga

It’s been a hard struggle, and a long one, but the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government has finally succumbed to public pressure and agreed to retain the independent office of the Language Commissioner, the state official who oversees the implementation of the Official Languages Act. In Ireland the default language of government is English meaning that Irish-speaking citizens are placed at a disadvantage when using their native language while dealing with public officials or state documentation (ironically Irish is in fact Ireland’s “national” and “first official language” while English is merely recognised as “a second official language”. However governments of all hues gloss over this constitutional inconvenience, as do the police and the courts). The 2003 legislation was passed to ensure that limited equality was provided to Irish-speakers with their English-speaking peers after fears were expressed that the constitutional primacy of the Irish language could force the courts to judge in favour of a genuine system of bilingual governance and services. However the Anglophone culture of Ireland’s civil service and its general antipathy to Irish has meant that the regulations are barely adhered to which is why the investigatory role of the Language Commissioner was so important. Inevitably this earned the office the enmity of both public and political officials and resulted in the plans by the Fine Gael and Labour parties to effectively emasculate the office. So a retreat in the face of protests on the streets and elsewhere is welcome. However here’s the catch. There is every indication that the retention of the Language Commissioner is something of a smokescreen to hide the ongoing dismantling of the 2003 Act to render it even weaker and more ineffective than is already the case. In other words Ireland may have a Language Commissioner but there will be little to nothing for him to be commissioner of! From the Irish Times:

“Two major Irish-language groups, Gael Linn and Conradh na Gaeilge, have today welcomed the Government’s decision not to amalgamate the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman. Chief Executive of Gael Linn, Mr Antoine Ó Coileáin, said that it was the right decision but he was still concerned that “the proposal to dovetail the publication of the annual report and accounts of An Coimisnéir Teanga seems to be designed to limit his access to the Houses of the Oireachtas with the attendant opportunity to highlight his work”.

He said that the Government’s Heads of Bill for a revised Official Languages’ Act, also published today, gave “an opportunity to learn from the first 10 years of the Act and to plan for the needs of a bilingual society. The office of An Coimisnéir Teanga must then be resourced appropriately to do its work”.

He had doubts over the proposed new “language schemes”, that is, agreed plans by which departments and organisations provide services through Irish for the public…”

This is just one victory in one battle of a war that has yet to be won.

No Aboriginal Culture In Trinity College, Please!

Trinity College, the University of Dublin. Bringing 1960s’ Alabama to Europe…!

Sir John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO, the late 19th and early 20th century Anglo-Irish classicist, was one of the most widely despised figures in the Unionist intelligentsia of pre-revolutionary Dublin. That is hardly surprising given his unremitting contempt for those he described as the “…aborigines of this island“. As well as serving in Britain’s colonial regime in Ireland, first as a High Sheriff and later as a Justice of the Peace, Mahaffy was also one of the last provosts of Trinity College in the decade leading up to independence. At the time (and for many long years thereafter) Trinity lay at the centre of the cultural and social life of Unionist Dublin, the aristocratic heart of “West Britain”. Given his chauvinistic views of the Irish people (echoes of which continue to sound in the contemporary Neo-Unionist movement) few will be shocked to learn that his greatest hatred lay for that most distinctive definition of Irishness: the Irish language. Throughout his academic career the scholar battled any recognition of the “Celtic speech”, let alone its presence in the hallowed halls of his university. Though, in fairness, he did magnanimously admit that a few words were useful if one were forced to converse with the peasants when shooting or fishing.

So it is interesting to see that the early 20th century spirit of Sir John Pentland Mahaffy is well and truly alive in early 21st century Trinity College. From the University Times:

“An Cumann Gaelach has voiced heavy criticism of the new Trinity logo presented to students for containing only the English Language in its default form, as opposed to the previously bilingual logo that has been used for many years.

A statement sent to all An Cumann Gaelach members and shared on Facebook explained that at an open forum for undergraduate students on April 2nd 2014, students were told that the default logo (crest and name) that would be considered and recognised as the predominant logo of Trinity College (The University of Dublin) would be in the English language only. They added: “A college, long been playfully made fun of as ‘An Coláiste Oráiste’ whose students have in recent years made unprecedented strides nationally at the forefront of the student Irish language movement is, seemingly, making moves to turn its back on those same students.”

An Cumann Gaelach has asked all those in favour of including the Irish language as part of the logo on all college materials, publications and communications to attend an open forum being held for staff and students tomorrow at 11am in the Stanley Quek Theatre in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute on Pearse Street.”

So the predictions of quite a few observers have apparently come true (an Lorcánach and others, take note). Trinity College is once again to become a cold house for the “wrong type” of Irish

Sir John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO. We'll have no Abos in Trinners!

Sir John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO. We’ll have no Abos in Trinners!

Britain’s Very Own Own Crimea In Ireland

British terrorists of the UDA-UFF on parade in the north-east of Ireland.

British terrorists of the UDA-UFF on parade in the north-east of Ireland. The organisation remained a legal grouping until the 1990s when Britain was forced by international pressure to ban it. However it continues to enjoy relative immunity from prosecution.

Military jeeps driven by masked men wearing combat fatigues drive through the darkened streets of a city while hysterical crowds scream “Bring out the guns!” before confronting local paramilitary police. A week later over a hundred masked and uniformed men invade a local community, ransack homes, setting some on fire, driving people onto the streets before again confronting paramilitary police officers this time with sustained violence.

The Ukraine? Crimea? Transnistria?

No, this is Western Europe and this is Britain’s rotten colony in the north-eastern corner of Ireland. A medieval anachronism in a modern world. So why do we put up with it when we know what the solution is? The same solution that ended the greater part of Britain’s historic colony on our island nation and centuries of misrule. “Northern Ireland” is simply the rotten afterbirth of British imperial ambitions and it is time to flush it into the sewer of history where it rightfully belongs.

Gabriel Rosenstock, Margadh Na Míol In Valparaíso

Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso

Would I be right in suggesting that Gabriel Rosenstock and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill are probably the two greatest living Irish poets? There are many contenders for that title but when looks at the breadth of their works it is hard to imagine a more deserving rival than those two doyens of Ireland’s literary scene. Sometimes I prefer Rosenstock, sometimes Ní Dhomhnaill, each appealing to my particular moods or where I am in life (in fact at the moment I am sick as the proverbial madra but that is an aside).Of course the Anglophone media don’t rate either very highly and for one reason and one reason only: they write in Irish not English. So while the late Séamus Heaney will be rightfully eulogised those who express their art through our island nation’s indigenous tongue will forever be placed at the back of the literary bus. Indeed both receive greater respect and admiration outside of their own country than they have ever done at home. So this is interesting, from Mícheál Ó hAodha in the Irish Times:

“It is common knowledge that Gabriel Rosenstock belongs to the Innti generation of poets, that generation that coalesced around UCC in the early-1970s and who sparked the smouldering embers of a hitherto rural-based Irish language idiom and culture into life, a culture that was like an old dead woman whom a former lover can’t bear to rest his eyes upon in the wake-house. The Irish language was battered and bogged down and had nothing urban or hip about it.

But the Innti generation of Ní Dhomhnaill, Davitt, Rosenstock, Ó Muirthile and co. came along and put a fire beneath it. Like the “Burnings Limbs”(or the “Géaga tré Thine” (2006) – (a title of one of Rosenstock’s poetry collections) and inspired and energized by the tearing down of old barriers and repressions on the broader stage of the world – the burgeoning civil rights movements of Northern Ireland and the USA, the Paris upheavals, the struggles for minority rights among peoples, languages and cultures – the Innti generation created a new and transgressive language, a language of challenge and rebellion, both political and social.

This is all common knowledge. It is well-known amongst the literary cognoscenti of Ireland. Or is it?! The reality is that the Irish language including Irish language poetry is so marginal to this country’s literary circles in the apparently “multicultural” Ireland of today, so peripheral still, that no-one is quite sure what space it occupies – if any.

What might not be so well-known outside to those outside the small world of Irish-language literature is that Gabriel Rosenstock, of the aforementioned Innti generation continued (and continues) writing. This bilingual volume Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso/The Flea Market in Valparaíso (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) is a very comprehensive collection of his “New and Selected Poems” as translated by Paddy Bushe…

Rosenstock and his fellow Irish-language poets are constantly breaking new ground and became interlocutors with the wider poetic worlds of Eastern Europe, the US and Asia long before many of their more staid European contemporaries did. Why is this?

… it is not because they have that ancient “sense of place” that so fascinated the Irish poets of old; it is that the language is their home-place rather than any geographical locale.

This brings with it an enormous freedom. And yet Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.”

Time For Truth, An Fhírinne Anois

With thanks to the Mirror, a powerful video from the Irish victims support organisation “Relatives for Justice” which campaigns for truth and openess in relation to the former conflict in the north-east of Ireland. Though focused on those who suffered at the hands of the British Forces and their terrorist allies the pain and suffering on display here is applicable to all the victims of the Long War regardless of nationality or allegiance. Please watch it in full and share with your family and friends on your social media networks.

Tweet #Time4Truth and #AnFhírinneAnois.

Only A General Amnesty Will Yield The Truth

Jean McConville, a Belfast woman suspected of being a British Army informer, was arrested and executed by the Irish Republican Army in December 1972 and her body hidden as one of the so-called “Disappeared” until August 2003

As the impact of the arrest of the veteran activist Ivor Bell continues to reverberate within Republican circles there is a lot to agree with in this analysis by Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe:

“Ivor Bell is awaiting trial in Belfast on charges he aided and abetted the murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who in 1972 was abducted, shot, and secretly buried by the IRA after she was accused of being an informer.

Bell’s lawyer said Bell was innocent, but acknowledged that Bell was the man referred to as Mr. Z in a series of tape-recorded interviews made by a researcher hired by BC to compile recollections of republicans and loyalists who fought in Northern Ireland.

That researcher, former Irish Republican Army volunteer and prisoner Anthony McIntyre, told me from Ireland that he expects police to knock on his door any day. If they do, they’ll be wasting their time. “I wouldn’t even tell them hello,” he said.

Neither will Bell, 77, who was a senior IRA commander before his star dimmed…

Bell was among a group of IRA veterans who opposed the compromise accepted by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in 1998, effectively ending the Troubles.

Now, police would love Bell to implicate his former comrade turned foe, Adams, who has repeatedly denied involvement in McConville’s murder. Adams says BC naively allowed McIntyre, who openly opposed his leadership, to interview former IRA members who were inclined to implicate him for political reasons.

McConville’s children believe that Adams was behind their mother’s murder and insist he face justice. But this debacle has never been about justice. It’s about politics, specifically about sticking it to Adams and his party…

…the prosecution is so biased and politically motivated as to undermine all credibility.

The police in Northern Ireland have shown no interest in the other half of the oral history project: interviews with loyalists, who presumably could shed light on state-sanctioned murders they carried out with the covert assistance of the police and British military.

Ed Moloney, the journalist who oversaw the Belfast Project paid for and archived by Boston College, called Bell’s arrest “a cheap publicity stunt” by police and prosecutors who know that the oral histories, given to an academic by people who were neither under oath nor given legal warnings about self-incrimination, will not stand up as evidence in court.

As critical as he is of the authorities in Northern Ireland, Moloney said it wouldn’t have gotten this far if the US Department of Justice had rebuffed British authorities who asked their American counterparts to gain custody of the BC tapes, or if BC officials were willing to risk fines and even imprisonment to defy the government.

What a mess. An American university has been unwittingly and unwillingly used by a foreign government, with the acquiescence of the US government, to build a criminal case.

Oral history and academic freedom are dead and gone.”

The author Ed Moloney has suggested on several occasions that the pursuit of the forty-year old McConville case by Britain, and particularly by the PSNI or the British paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, has more to do with the settling of old scores than any concerns over justice delayed. During the Irish-British conflict from the late 1960s to the early 2000s the RUC, the much-feared predecessor to the PSNI, incurred thousands of casualties amongst its officers while combating the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and others. Though that came to an end with the Peace Process of the late-to-mid 1990s the negotiated settlement also brought an end to the RUC. However despite promised reforms many hardcore RUC men were kept within the ranks of the new PSNI or subsequently rejoined it when the political spotlight moved on to elsewhere. Under their influence, and that of some senior British government officials, retribution upon former opponents has become a primary impulse of law and order in the north-eastern region of Ireland. This post-conflict vendetta is one that anti-Sinn Féin elements of the Irish and British media have proven eager to pursue with little thought for the consequences (which in this case is a not inconceivable eruption of renewed armed conflict). Nor is SF itself blameless. Elected members of the party, notably Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, have been less than honest with their electorates and the Irish people as whole. While there were good reasons for their obfuscation during and in the immediate aftermath of the war those reasons are looking increasingly threadbare now that we have had over a decade of (near) peace. Furthermore Sinn Féin’s willingness to see former, now rival, Republican comrades and colleagues thrown to the PSNI wolves is less than edifying.

All this is not to excuse the Republican movement of any wrongdoing when it comes to the central issue of Jean McConville’s death. It is clear that after a considerable debate McConville was executed/killed/murdered by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army on the orders of senior officers within the organisation, her body hidden and her relatives left with no (honest) account of what had happened. Repeated claims by the news media in Ireland and elsewhere that McConville was killed because she had lent aid to a British soldier wounded outside her home by a sniper are completely unfounded. It simply never happened, as a 2006 investigation by the Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan made clear. Indeed the belief that such a gesture of simple human decency would elicit the ultimate penalty says much about the wilful ignorance of the conflict by observers both in Dublin and London.

While the O’Loan examination went on to find no evidence of McConville communicating with the British Forces, and specifically denied that she was a known informer, it did reveal that the British Army had initially insisted that her disappearance was a hoax or later that she had willingly deserted her children and was living elsewhere in Ireland. Whether that reflected poor intelligence or something more sinister has never been established (certainly such rumours may have originated with the IRA in an effort to confuse any potential investigation though local people were aware of her execution and the reasons behind it within weeks). Unfortunately Britain has refused access by journalists and members of the McConville family to the regimental records of British Army units deployed in Belfast during this period which is why so much of the case remains in the realms of speculation. However we do know that no serious investigation was carried out by the RUC into her disappearance until some considerable time after her death (and that the subsequent investigation was thrown off track by the misinformation supplied by the British military despite the RUC’s more informed sources). The evident reluctance of the British to address the disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972/3 remains the subject of much discussion, both fair and unfair.

The Irish Republican Army is adamant in its counter-claim that Jean McConville was a known informer who had been warned about her activities until finally discovered in the possession of a concealed military radio transmitter supplied to her by the British Army. Though we cannot be sure it seems likely that she was seized by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade the day before her known disappearance, interrogated (perhaps beaten) and then released. That would match British military reports and statements from some of her family relating to the discovery of a woman likely to be McConville in streets near her home in a state of some distress and confusion the day before she was abducted. With the radio transmitter in its hands the IRA must have discussed what actions to take based upon the evidence gained, no doubt in part spurred on by fears that Jean McConville would be spirited away to safety by the British now that her cover was truly blown or that she had further knowledge to impart to the enemy (her son, Robert McConville, was a member of the Official IRA and detained in the infamous Long Kesh concentration camp at the time of her death. During this period the OIRA and PIRA were bitter rivals, especially in Belfast and McConville remained a committed Republican activist going on to serve with the insurgent INLA). This resulted in her arrest the next day by the Irish Republican Army and transport across the border to the spot where she was shot dead. Or at least we can suppose that is the sequence of events. The truth is, of course, that everything to do with the killing of Jean McConville is supposition. We simply don’t know what happened during that dreadful period some forty years ago. However, as yet, no one has produced a plausible reason for the controversial killing of a mother of ten from an intensely closeknit community beyond that offered by the killers themselves.

The only legitimate way to end yet more years of speculation and anguish for the McConville family is for the governments of Ireland and Britain to agree a general amnesty that will allow all participants to the conflict, willing or otherwise, to give truthful testimonies free of fear or repercussion. Only then will we learn the truth about Jean McConville. Or about Gerry Adams.

Law And Order, Ireland

 

So the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has finally jumped ship after a catalogue of controversies involving allegations of systemic corruption within Irish law enforcement. However, lo an’ behold, hot on the heels of his splashdown comes news of another scandal-in-waiting. It seems that phone-calls to and from a significant number of Garda stations in Ireland have been recorded and filed as a matter of routine since the 1980s, including private communications between detained citizens and their legal representatives. With no regulatory, judicial or democratic oversight or even the knowledge of any recent governments (though one suspect the further back in time one goes the less tenable that particular claim will be) An Garda Síochána has taken it upon itself the right to act above the law, no doubt in its own best interests. Ironically the revelations have entered the public domain largely because of two court cases: one involving several Gardaí charged with (and convicted of) assault and another as yet unspecified investigation. Hoisted by their own petard! Just as interesting is the manner in which the slow drip of scandals has led to government in-fighting as minsters air their differences over the airwaves. Less edifying though is the hypocrisy of the Irish news media several of whose more prominent members have made ample use of their Garda connections to ensure that their own legal misdemeanours were wiped from the record. Quite literally. Though you won’t be reading about that here in Ireland. For that we need to rely on the international press.

Ah, the dear oul sod. As rotten as ever.

Ireland, The Dysfunctional Poster-Child Of Minority Rights

Fianna Fáil, back from the dead

Fianna Fáil, back from the dead ( (Photo: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh, Binn Éadair, Cúige Laighean, Éire, Meitheamh 2012)

The Hidden Ireland blog has a short post listing a number of motions on the Irish language from this year’s Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. Unsurprisingly these proposals are the very embodiment of the lip-service and tokenism that Irish-speaking communities have been complaining of for decades. Not one single concrete suggestion is offered up nor indeed does FF as a whole have any policy documents of its own beyond some fluffy sentiments in relation to the disingenuous 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 (already four years overdue any significant implementation beyond rolling back the civil rights of Irish-speaking citizens). Is it any wonder that academics and cultural activists around the globe hold up Ireland as the dysfunctional poster-child of minority rights and language restoration? Ireland, the country you go to in order to learn what not to do.

By the by, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD intoned the phrase “progressive republican” in his speech to describe his party. Sound familiar oh fellow progressive republican readers of An Sionnach Fionn?