Na Ceiltigh (The Celts)

Gaelic, The Pluralist Language

The Celtic Nations

The Celtic Nations

The people of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man are united by one thing above all others: the indigenous languages they share in common. The Gaelic tongues, Irish, Scottish and Manx, are not just national, they are international. And so is the world-view of those who speak or support them. From the Irish Times the words of the new Language Commissioner, Rónán Ó Domhnaill:

“The thousands of Irish speakers who marched in Dublin last month for their rights weren’t looking for any special treatment.

The rights of Irish speakers are recognised in article eight of the Constitution and in the Official Languages Act 2003, while the rights of linguistic minorities are provided for in a number of important international documents including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Unesco’s Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights.

Increasingly, it is accepted that the rights of linguistic minorities are basic human rights.

The provision of language rights helps make the fight for the survival of a vulnerable or endangered language that little bit fairer, as languages often live or die depending on their perceived status and the level of prestige they are accorded.

These demands are being made by parents struggling against the odds to pass a 2,000-year-old language onto their children in order to preserve what is an important part of both our cultural identity and global linguistic diversity.

Is it too much to ask that children in the Gaeltacht should enjoy the right to basic services, such as healthcare, in their first language, which also happens to be the first official language of the State, according to the Constitution?

By indulging in empty rhetoric about the importance of Irish, while failing to grant it anything like the status promised by all the lip service, the Irish State, since its foundation, has sent out mixed messages about the value of the language.

In a review of Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World a number of years ago, the author Jane Stevenson suggested it might be time to adapt the old joke that a language is a dialect with an army, when “the real key to survival is for a language to be a dialect with a civil service”.

Stevenson wrote: “A class of bureaucrats with the power to defend its monopoly can keep a language going for centuries, as can a set of scriptures, while conquerors come and go.”

Irish speakers are asking for the right to conduct their business with the State in Irish because the provision of such services is key to the survival of the language…”

And in the same newspaper, veteran journalist Pól Ó Muirí:

“Many Irish speakers, sooner or later, find themselves heading to Scotland’s Gaeltacht to find out more about their sister language. It is one of the ironies of the language debate that those ignorant of Irish seem to believe that Irish speakers are insular and anti-British. Far from it. The pull of language brings many to the Highlands and Islands and to Wales. (Go to Wales and marvel at the bilingual signage. You will be amazed and a little ashamed.)

Many Irish speakers know more about British culture than their monolingual English compatriots do. However, it is not the Britain of the Home Counties but another Britain, a Britain with voices that predate the political state and speak of an older Europe.

That language arc, fractured but just about functioning, that stretches from Munster to Connacht to Ulster to Scotland and down into Wales…”

From Canada’s east coast Chronicle Herald:

“I’m sure it’s easy to dismiss the current argument about adding “Royal” or “Rioghal” to the name of St. Anns’ Colaisde na Gàidhlig, also known as the Gaelic College.

The problem with this, though, it that it dismisses the very real and ultimately quite reasonable aspirations of a community of people important to Nova Scotia’s distinctiveness.

Gaelic was spoken here for centuries. Until the 1930s, it was in decent shape; not great shape like French in Quebec City, but decent shape like Cree in northern Quebec. The decline has been sharp, but as in Scotland, it’s not yet a done deal.

And as in Scotland, that decline has long been led by the tendency of central governments to try to get people to behave in ways that make them easier to manage.

Language has always been a big part of that; it’s easier for governments, easier for business people, easier for state-run education services, if an entire state speaks one, or at the outside, two languages.

Governments generally have to be dragged toward multilingualism; they don’t just accept it because it’s the easiest thing to do. It’s basically never the easiest thing to do.

There is a group of Nova Scotians who have been working for a long time to maintain one of the province’s smaller languages, and trying to get the Canadian state to recognize their right to live some part of their lives through that language.

The activists, educators and civil servants who have devoted themselves to Nova Scotia Gaelic see themselves, quite reasonably, as part of the rich mosaic of this province’s smaller cultures.

Like the African-Nova Scotians, the Acadians, and the Mi’kmaq, Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants form a culture that exists nowhere outside of Atlantic Canada. And like all of those groups, they have a complicated and sometimes (not always, but sometimes) painful relationship with the central government.

There’s a long history, here as in Scotland, of Gaelic being informally or not-so-informally suppressed because monolingualism made things easier for that central government.

Nobody, then, should be at all surprised that words like “Rioghal” or “Royal” make many Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants uneasy. Nobody is surprised to hear that words like “Royal” tend to make Acadians uneasy.

It doesn’t mean that either group is stuck in the 18th century. It means that like African-Nova Scotians or the Mi’kmaq (for whom these words mean something different again), Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants want badly to move forward, and to forge a more current, more complicated and ultimately less dependent relationship with the state.

And that is something we should all take more seriously.”

However those who wish to supplant the indigenous languages of north-western Europe with their own take with far more seriousness that determination to subjugate and ultimately destroy. From the Belfast Telegraph, a tale of gerrymandered democracy – because in the anachronism that is the last stockade of the British colony in Ireland that is how they do things:

“Belfast City Council is facing a High Court challenge over its policy on Irish language street signs, it emerged today.

A resident in the west of the city has been granted leave to seek a judicial review over being denied dual-language name plates on her road.

Lawyers for Eileen Reid claim a method of surveying householders is irrational and unlawful.

Ms Reid was one of those canvassed about having supplementary Irish street signs erected on Ballymurphy Drive.

Under council criteria two-thirds of those questioned need to declare themselves in favour before the new plates can go up.

It is understood that out of 92 eligible residents 52 confirmed they wanted Irish signs, with only one opposed.

However, the remaining 39 did not respond to the survey.

According to Ms Reid’s legal team these non-returned votes were wrongly counted as being opposed to dual signage.

They contend that the two-thirds policy does not comply with a requirement in local government legislation for the views of residents to be taken into consideration.

Belfast City Council is also in breach of its obligation to promote Irish under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, it is claimed.”

So who are the true multiculturalists in western Europe, and beyond?

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Celtic Europe, Battling Bigotry From Left And Right

Oi Polloi

Oi Polloi

There is an influential theory held by an extremist minority on the Far Left of European politics which opposes a plurality of languages and cultures in Europe because it impedes (as they would claim) the development of a common group identity amongst the working classes on the continent, an identity that that would transcend historic national boundaries and borders. In this view anything that smacks of “ethnicity“, however benign or open, is a barrier to the establishment of a unified and cosmopolitan proletariat. In times past the German language was seen as the natural mechanism by which this could be achieved, the logical outgrowth of the nation’s industrial dominance and growing left-wing radicalism in the 19th century. After WWI and the establishment of the USSR the Russian language came to dominate, albeit with a degree of chauvinism perhaps not so readily apparent in its Teutonic predecessor. Now the English language is regarded as the new lexicon of the desired socialist utopia (though ironically anglophone supremacism finds just as welcome a home amongst ideologues on the Far Right in Britain, the United States and elsewhere).

One bizarre aspect of this dogmatic myopia in the heart of Mittleeuropa is the so-called Antideutsch or anti-German movement, a myriad outgrowth of the labyrinthine Marxist-Leninist politics of Germany and Austria. It shares the tenets of some on the Far Left in its suspicion of minority languages and cultures, particularly those that are believed to run counter to majority languages and their homogenising role in world society. This perhaps explains the decision by the organisers of a politically-orientated music festival in eastern Germany to ban the attendance of Oi Polloi, a well-known anarchist-punk group from Scotland that produces songs in the Scottish Gaelic and English languages. It was the former tongue that apparently spurred the decision to prevent their performance. Now we have an update from Oi Polloi on the controversy:

“”Banned for singing in Gaelic” UPDATE: Today we heard that the German “Kulturzentrum” that “banned” our March 1st concert there because we sing in Gaelic is standing by its refusal to let us play but still without a public explanation for this frankly sickening discrimination against minority language speakers. As an internationalist band who campaign in support of diversity, multiculturalism and the linguistic human rights of minority language speakers, we are determined not to let such bigotry and discrimination go unchallenged. As such we repeat our call for a boycott of the so-called “Kulturzentrum” Horte in Strausberg and would encourage others who disagree with the banning of artists on cultural/linguistic grounds to contact the venue via the e-mail address on the link below to let them know your views. There can be no place for racism or discrimination in the alternative/punk scene and we and other speakers of threatened minority indigenous languages will NOT be silenced.

We also hope to have good news very soon about an alternative concert for March 1st in a venue where speakers of all languages are welcome in an atmosphere free of prejudice or bigotry. GEGEN ALLE DISKRIMINIERUNG! “KULTURZENTRUM” HORTE BOYKOTTIEREN!”

Incredibly such prejudices can also be found amongst Far Left activists here in Ireland some of whom regard the Irish language, the indigenous language of this island nation, as an impediment to the development of a “pan-European class consciousness”. Indeed in the past I have heard a member of the Socialist Party argue vociferously that Irish-speakers through their “wilful rejection” of the English language are “reactionaries” and “tribalists”. Similar arcane views are to be found amongst some in the SWP-PBP grouping, as reflected in the complete indifference of elected TD Richard Boyd Barrett to Irish language rights when quizzed on RTÉ some years ago. Even in Scotland that migratory demagogue of the wayward left, George Galloway, has taken in recent times to attacking Scottish-speakers with the charge of “Obscurantism”.

George Chittick displaying the best of British and anglophone culture in Ireland. Lord be praised!

George Chittick displaying the best of British and anglophone culture in Ireland. Lord be praised!

However, as I pointed out above, such poisonous views are just as virulent on Europe’s Far Right and that is reflected in this story from the Irish Independent newspaper:

“A senior member of the Orange Order who claimed the Irish language was used by republicans for political purposes has been criticised.

An Irish language development officer in east Belfast said many people were upset by the remarks of George Chittick, the order’s Belfast County Grand Master.

Linda Ervine said: “I know a lot of people who have been angered and offended.”

Mr Chittick told a loyalist rally in north Belfast yesterday: “A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish… it’s part of the republican agenda.”

He later said his remarks were aimed at those seeking funding for Irish language projects rather than financial aid for projects which would generate jobs.

Ms Ervine, a development officer at an Irish language centre in east Belfast and who is married to Brian Ervine, a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, said she was surprised by what Mr Chittick said.”

Ironically as a member of a fundamentalist Protestant and British nationalist organisation that promotes anti-Catholicism in the north-east of Ireland George Chittick might find some common ground with religiously-minded folk elsewhere in the country, albeit from a Roman Catholic background. Some lines from an article in the local Limerick Leader:

“Now if I may be allowed to make an even more irreligious proposal to that propounded by the Minister, let me suggest that if primary schoolteachers find that they haven’t enough hours in the day for extra classes in numeracy and literacy, maybe they should consider taking a few minutes from the four hours a week spent teaching the Irish language, which does little for our literacy or numeracy problems, and, as far as I’m concerned, nothing at all to enhance our chances of getting into Heaven. You won’t find Ruairi Quinn making a suggestion like that for fear he’d really be burned at the stake of nationalistic fervour.

On the other hand, if the Department of Education really wants to improve the literacy and literary skills of primary schoolchildren, I can’t think of a better way of doing it than by encouraging them to read the Bible.”

Even those who claim to be the greatest advocates of equality and pluralism in Western society cannot but help reveal themselves to be Anglophone illiberals in faux liberal dress once the issue of Ireland’s indigenous language is raised. For how else would you describe the views expressed in the otherwise oh-so correct publication “Other People’s Diasporas: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Cultureas highlighted in it’s Irish Times review:

“…Moynihan questions in another chapter why Des Bishop’s embrace of the Irish language does not highlight the “historical baggage – of nationalism and separatism some would say borders on xenophobia – it brings with it”, but there is no reason why Irish speakers should be any more xenophobic than speakers of other languages.”

Unless of course the observer is a partisan for English. For only in Ireland (or Scotland and Wales) could a colonised people attempting to undue centuries of linguistic and cultural damage to their identity be presented as xenophobes for not wishing to speak the language of their former colonial masters. Obviously the free marketeer and neo-liberal view of multiculturalism only extends to the “right kinds” of culture. In that the New Left and the New Right find a common voice.

[With thanks to An Lorcánach, Daithí Mac Lochlainn, Club Leabhar NYC, Méabh and others]

German Music Festival Bans Gaelic-Punk Group?

Some surprising news from Scotland’s well-known anarcho-punk band Oi Polloi, a bilingual group who produce songs with both English and Scottish Gaelic lyrics. They have issued a statement on their Facebook Page claiming that the organisers of a music festival in Germany have objected to the band playing Scottish language songs and cancelled their planned gig.

“We’re very sorry to announce that our March 1st gig at the Horte social centre in Strausberg in eastern Germany is now cancelled after we were “banned” when organisers realised that – shock horror – we sometimes sing in Gaelic, one of the UK’s minority Celtic languages. Like many other minority language speakers we’re used to abuse from “Speak English or Die” British Nationalist types at home but it’s especially depressing to come across an attitude of such hostility to multiculturalism and diversity in what we thought would be a progressive social centre. We know that speakers of Sorbisch, the Slavic minority language in parts of eastern Germany, also suffer the same kind of ignorance and hostility from those who want them to all speak Hochdeutsch instead but we had hoped that a place like the Horte centre would be different. Needless to say this will only spur us on to continue to campaign for respect for minority cultures, diversity and linguistic human rights. We’d also call on all politically-aware touring bands to boycott the so-called “Kulturzentrum” Horte – there can be no place for racism or discrimination against minorities in our scene. For diversity, multiculturalism, respect for minorities and a punk scene free of discrimination!”

All very strange and uncharacteristic of most European music festivals I have heard of. I will update when I hear more.

03.02.2014 Updated news here.

[Thanks to Daithí Mac Lochlainn for the links]

Second-Class Service For Second-Class Citizens

A photo of the bilingual prescription that staff in a Welsh pharmacy refused to accept, clearly showing English and Welsh texts

A photo of the bilingual prescription that staff in a Welsh pharmacy refused to accept, clearly showing English and Welsh texts (Íomhá: MailOnline, Wales News Service)

Given the news yesterday about a group of young people from Ireland being subject to racial abuse by a taxi driver in the city of Glasgow for speaking in their native Irish instead of English here comes another disgraceful story about speakers of an indigenous Celtic tongue being subject to discrimination for not using the English language. A pharmacy in Wales refused to serve medicines to the father of a sick child because he presented a bilingual prescription, one written both in Welsh and English. From the Mail Online:

“A sick baby was rushed to hospital after a supermarket pharmacy refused to hand his medication to his father because part of the prescription had been written in Welsh.

Aled Mann, 34, took the prescription from the family doctors to his local Morrisons pharmacy counter after his one-year-old son Harley developed a chest infection.

But staff at the supermarket in Bangor, north Wales, refused to give him the steroid tablets because they could not read the note as not all of it was in English.

Mr Mann got the medication two hours later after driving back to the GP surgery and waiting for another prescription to be printed in English which he then took back to the pharmacy.

But baby Harley’s condition worsened and he had to be admitted to hospital for treatment the next morning.

Mr Mann and his wife Alys, 33, live in the 2,000-strong seaside village of Felinheli, near Bangor, north Wales.

Their GP Dr Ieuan Parry in the Welsh language stronghold printed the prescription for baby Harley’s steroid tablets in their native language.”

The incident has been condemned by several local politicians and Meri Huws, the Language Commissioner in Wales.

(With thanks to Seanán Ó Coistín, Welsh Not British and others for the heads-up).

Viva La Revolución!

Flag waving, riot police, Irish language

Tá An Réabhlóid Ag Teacht! The Revolution Is Coming!

Rarely have I agreed with an article more than this opinion piece by Tom Law featured on the Sabotage Times examining the cultural subjugation of the Welsh language and the Welsh-speaking citizens and communities of Wales. He articulates for many the frustration and anger of a new, younger generation of activists in the Celtic nations determined to have their voices heard in the face of the passivity and fatalism of too many of those who came before.

“The popular narrative is that it’s just a natural process – a stronger and healthier language replaces an older and weaker one. That the Welsh language is dying of natural causes – like an elderly relative withering away. It’s sad but inevitable. What can you do?

That’s the common explanation – but it’s bollocks.

The Welsh language has declined so rapidly because the English placed a pillow over its face and smothered it. It has taken around 150 years to complete, there have been occasional bouts of kicking and thrashing against, but it’s pretty much job done.

And it was only when the body was limp that England placed some chocolate biscuits on the bedside cabinet – bilingual road signs, a Welsh TV channel. And then started to berate the lifeless patient for its lack of appetite.

England’s policy towards Wales is not the only reason for the decline, but it’s the main one. It’s the consequence of the state treating the Welsh language as a sickness which needed to be cured.

This division of the population by language has been eating away at the country ever since. It has created two versions of Wales, two distinct cultures which view the other as a threat. What one side gains, the other side loses. What’s good for one, is bad for the other.

It has left non-Welsh speakers feeling like outsiders in their own country, forever left out in the cold and staring back in at a history and culture they can’t access; at jobs they’re not qualified to do. For Welsh speakers, they have been battered from all sides, endlessly under attack, having to justify the use of their own language – mostly to fellow Welsh people.

It’s a cultural civil war which has brought out the worst aspects of both sides. A nation which once fought for its rights, which fought against inequality and injustice has been effectively turned in on itself.

If the attack on the Welsh language was done to subdue and weaken the country, to create a servile and utterly compliant people who would accept their British medicine – then it can only be seen as a monumental success.

Wales has become a husk of a nation. The decline of the language, the stripping away of links to its history and culture, has induced a kind of dementia. It’s a country which no longer remembers who or what it is – so it simply exists. And accepts the guiding hand of its neighbour.

The removal of the Welsh personality has created a void which is being gleefully filled by the English media’s tub thumping brand of Britishness – the royal family, the Armed Forces, Team GB and all that. And there seems little hope of anything changing.

There’s no fight or energy left. No upsurge of anger. No dissent. No political will. No obvious solution. Just a blank stare, a rugby top and a grim Welsh cheeriness; a nihilistic acceptance of fate. While Scotland gains confidence and considers independence, Wales is left retreating into the arms of its abusive partner and going gently into that good night.”

One could just as easily apply some of those criticisms to Ireland, to an island nation where those who speak out for language rights are vilified while those who disdain or oppose such rights are elevated to the highest positions of influence in our society.

Lá An Dreoilín Shona Daoibh Go Léir!

Lucht an Dreoilín

Lucht an Dreoilín “the Wrenboys”

Happy hunting to all those who join the Lucht an Dreoilín today.

Wolfing Around

The “Legend of Priest and Were-Wolves” from the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis), the Medieval Norman-British chronicler and propagandist

The “Legend of Priest and Were-Wolves” from the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis), the Medieval Norman-British chronicler and propagandist

Given the importance of wolves in the traditions of the Indo-European peoples as far back as one can go into the archaeological, literary or linguistic records the claim that the first domesticated dogs evolved from an ancient species of wolves found in Europe some 10,000 to 30,000 years ago is somewhat appropriate. From Britain’s Independent newspaper:

“The domestic dog originated from wild European wolves in the Stone Age before the development of farming, when humans hunted and gathered their food, according to a genetic analysis of ancient canine remains.

Scientists have long puzzled over how domestic dogs came into existence and their efforts have centred on the grey wolf, their closest living relatives of dogs, but there is conflicting evidence on when and where wild wolves were first tamed.

Earlier studies suggested that wolves may have been domesticated by the first farmers about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East or Asia, possibly to guard livestock. However, the latest study has found that it began much earlier in Europe, long before the development of agriculture.

Professor Robert Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles said that an ancient European lineage of grey wolf, which has since gone extinct, is the most likely direct ancestor of the first domesticated dogs based on similarities in genetic sequences.”

For Celtic and Germanic expressions of wolf cultism may I suggest this article on the Fianna of ancient Ireland some of whom, as the annals record, spent their time ag faoladh “…wolfing around”.

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh

Feis Shamhna - the festival of Samhain. The Meascán Méabha, Cnoc na Riabh, Contae Shligigh, Éire

Feis Shamhna – the festival of Samhain. The Meascán Méabha, Cnoc na Riabh, Contae Shligigh, Éire (Íomhá: © Seán Monaghan, http://www.atasteof-ireland.com)

A pale yellow sun has sunk below the grey horizon here in Baile Átha Cliath and the Feis Shamhna is upon us, the sunset-to-sunrise festival of Samhain which marks the start of the winter in the ancient Celtic calendars of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man (and probably the rest of the Celtic world too). The event gives us the Christianized All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) and is popularised as the Celtic New Year in contemporary culture. Whether that was also the original meaning is much debated though certainly Samhain was one of the four great quarter-festivals of the Gaelic year, alongside Imbolg, Bealtaine and Lúghnasa (or Lúnasa), and one of the two dividing points on the calendar between the winter and summer halves of the year (the other being Bealtaine in May).

Importantly, compared to all the other seasonal celebrations, Samhain was the supernatural festival par excellence. This was the time when the barriers between the two worlds that made up the Celtic cosmos, that of gods and men, were lowered. Though the preternatural could intrude into the natural at any time it was at Samhain that it was most often encountered and around which the most Otherworldly tales clustered. In purely practical terms of course, as the commencement of the winter season, it was also the period when communities battened down the hatches and prepared to wait out the increasingly dark and dismal days ahead. Cattle and other valuable livestock were brought down from their hillside pastures and placed in pens or fields closer to home. Winter grazing foods, such as mast, were gathered along with berries and fruits. Fences and ditches were repaired, roads and trackways cleared, roofs and walls refurbished. Warfare came to a halt for several months (theoretically at least) and people tended to stay close to their homesteads and fortresses foregoing travel.

Not only did Samhain symbolise the start of the winter it was also the setting of the last major market-festivals until Imblog in February, a final opportunity to exchange or purchase goods, including harvest surpluses for those lucky enough to have produced them. This facilitated great communal festivities across Ireland and the Gaelic nations between kings and their people where loyalties were renewed and legal disputes settled or placed into arbitration. From these and many other traditions we get the Feis Shamhna and a legacy that remains one of the Gaelic peoples’ greatest contributions to popular Western culture.

Below are a series of articles on the indigenous literatures of the peoples of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, focusing primarily on the Irish tradition.

Tuatha Dé Danann

Na Fomhóraigh

Lucharacháin

An Sí

Na Fathaigh

Na Bocánaigh, Na Bánánaigh

Na Púcaí

Na Péisteanna

Na Murúcha

Seanchas Agus Litríocht na nGael

Na Fianna

An Gal Gréine

Gaels United

The Pan-Celtic flag - six nations, one soul

The Pan-Celtic flag – six nations, one soul

From “Driving A Wedge Within Gaeldom”, an article on the post-Medieval history of Ireland and Scotland featured in the magazine History Ireland:

“From earliest times Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, united by the sea, formed part of the same cultural, linguistic, religious, economic and political ethos. The cultural and linguistic homogeneity, together with the political instability of this North Channel World, alarmed central government. For the monarchs and their ministers—whether in Dublin, Edinburgh or London—regarded the economic, political and cultural distinctiveness of its inhabitants as ‘uncivilised’ and potentially corrosive to the English and Scots-speaking polities. They classified them as barbarians, rebels, and subversives intent on de-stabilising the peripheries of the Tudor and Stewart monarchies.

…contemporaries from the king down continued to regard the Gaelic Irish and, to a lesser extent, the Highlanders, both mentally and culturally as a lower form of humanity. They were savages and barbarians who had failed to progress, to farm for their food, and to inhabit an ordered polity regulated by the law and Christian morality.

Convictions of racial superiority critically shaped attitudes about how best these remote regions could be ‘civilised’—how these unruly subjects could be reformed, their over-mighty lords tamed, thuggery and feuding replaced with law and order, and labour channelled into production rather than destruction. Crown strategies ranged from annihilation to assimilation.”

Which reminds of the famous letter dispatched to Ireland in 1315 by Roibeard Brús (Robert the Bruce), King of Scotland, where he calls upon the lords of the country to unite with him in a pan-Gaelic alliance:

“To all the kings of Ireland, the prelates and clergy and to the inhabitants of Ireland, our friends.

Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God’s will our nation [the Irish and Scots] may be able to recover her ancient liberty.”

Struggling With The Language

Ble mae'r Gymraeg? - Where's the Welsh? From Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society

Ble mae’r Gymraeg? – Where’s the Welsh? From Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the progressive language rights’ organisation in Wales, has proposed a radical shift in the teaching of the language in Welsh schools. From Wales Online:

“A row has blown up over a plan by language activists that would see all pupils in Wales having at least a third of the school curriculum taught in Welsh.

In its submission to a Welsh Government review of second language Welsh education, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg say: “Depriving anyone of the essential skill of the ability to communicate and discuss their work in Welsh is an educational failure.

“The Government should announce the intention of abolishing ‘second language Welsh’ immediately and ensure instead … an immediate move to a system where every pupil receives a proportion of their education through the medium of Welsh, as well as studying the language as a subject, so they are able to work through the medium of the language.”

Robin Farrar, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, added: “It’s unfair that only a minority of young people have the opportunity of having Welsh medium education at the moment, depending on parental choice and a postcode lottery.

“We should aim for every pupil to be fluent and able to use the language in day-to-day life, so the term ‘second language’ is no longer appropriate…”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The review group is considering the curriculum and assessment methods, as well as training for Welsh second language practitioners. The group will report back with recommendations in the autumn.”

A spokeswoman for Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws  said: “The Commissioner is pleased that the Welsh Government is looking in detail at how the Welsh language is introduced as a second language in schools. The Commission will respond fully to the Government’s report on its findings when it is published later this year.””

In fact a very similar recommendation was made by an international panel of linguists and education experts to the Irish government, arguing that the effective teaching of Irish in schools must be accompanied by a broader range of subjects taught partially or wholly through the Irish language. That advice was effectively ignored by the Fine Oibre coalition despite the Irish government seeking it in the first place. Instead Fine Gael and Labour have ramped up their discriminatory policies towards Irish-speaking children and communities and treat the indigenous language of the island of Ireland as an inconvenience to the national education system (and the so-called Irish state itself).

Meanwhile in Québec, as reported by CTV News, a small group of anglophone extremists have taken to the streets to protest the Francophone nation’s language equality laws:

“A couple of hundred demonstrators assembled outside of Premier Pauline Marois’ downtown office Sunday afternoon to rally around speakers such as Howard Galganov and former Equality Party leader Keith Henderson.

Galganov, a hardliner activist who led an English-rights movement in Montreal in the 90s before moving to eastern Ontario, was clad in a leather Freedom Riders biker jacket and riled up the crowd with such phrases as “Canada needs Quebec like it needs a hole in the head.”

Galganov, who once fought for Canadian unity, made no apologies for his anti-Quebec comments.

“We’re at that point in our history where Canada would do far better without Quebec and maybe Quebec would be better without Canada,” he said.

Some in the audience said they were uncomfortable with the divisive comments and didn’t agree with the entire contents of the colourful rant.

The language rights rally was hosted by Jimmy Kay, a local salesman who made a documentary called Angryphone.

The rally not only targeted Bill 14, but also other language-related issues that have intensified since the Parti Quebecois came into power.”

The Homeland Of The Celts, Where The Celts Have Always Been

The origins of the Celts in western Europe

The origins of the Celts in western Europe – the ancient Atlantic homeland of the Celtic-speaking peoples

For the last century and more historians have believed that the homeland of the Celtic-speaking peoples lay in central Europe and from there they spread across the continent in several waves of migration bringing their language, culture and way of life to almost every corner of the European landmass. The Celts, we were told, originated in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age communities of southern Germany and northern Austria and this became the default reading of early Celtic and indeed early European history.

However there is problem with all this. Why? Because the theory is wrong and has been suspected or known to be wrong in professional academic circles for decades.

The homelands of the Celtic-speaking peoples were never in central Europe. They were in the one place where Celtic-speakers have always been known to exist and where some still do exist: north-western and western Europe. The modern nations and territories of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, England, Brittany, western France, Spain and Portugal formed the historic heartland of the Celts – and their ancient place of origin.

The BBC has news on a new three-year project to trace the origins of the Celtic peoples, including an interview with Professor John Koch, who points out the failure of the old theories to explain the origin of the Celtic-speaking nations.

Language Wars In Wales

Here we go again. The obsessive Anglophone supremacism of the right-wing news media in Britain is becoming something of a running joke here on An Sionnach Fionn. We’ve had conveniently anonymous internet claims of English-speaking children being “discriminated” against in Welsh-speaking schools (not once but twice), mysterious anti-Welsh websites that have managed to find the ear of right-wing British journalists but are strangely deaf to anyone else, and now an English-speaking Santa Claus being pressured into resigning from his job because he was unable to speak to the children he was meeting – that is Welsh-speaking children in a Welsh-speaking region of Wales.

According to claims made in the Daily Mail:

“With his authentic bushy beard and red suit, Richard Burnell appeared the obvious choice to inhabit the Christmas grotto at his local museum.

But that wasn’t enough for parents on the Isle of Anglesey.

Because when they learned that Father Christmas could not speak Welsh they mounted a revolt to oust him.

Yesterday the 72-year-old retired housing officer admitted he had stepped aside after complaints that he wouldn’t be able to listen to children’s wish lists in their native tongue.

Mr Burnell, who belongs to an American organisation called the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, was due to don his red suit for the opening of the Christmas grotto at Oriel Ynys Mon, the island’s history and culture museum, in Langefni, on December 9.

But when parents realised he wasn’t bilingual they lodged complaints with the local council.

‘I think it is a disgrace that you have an English-only Father Christmas coming to Oriel Ynys Mon,’ one mother said.

‘It’s going to cost £6 a child to meet him, so I’d expect they could find one who can speak Welsh.

‘I have young children who are still not that confident when speaking English, I think it is a shame they won’t be able to chat to Father Christmas in their own language.’”

Indeed.

Would you hire a man to portray the figure of Santa Claus who could only speak Welsh for children who could only speak English in an English-speaking region of England? Of course not. So why on earth would it be justifiable the other way around?

Some New Arrivals

New Books – The World That Never Was, The Gaelic Finn Tradition, The Shadow-Walkers, Vanished Kingdoms, Celtic from the West, Weapons and Warfare in Viking and Medieval Dublin

In recent months I have been somewhat remiss in posting no new book reviews on An Sionnach Fionn. This is not for a lack of book purchases but rather a lack of time. The chill winds of recession have well and truly caught up with me and they are cold indeed. Like most people in Ireland outside of the corrupt elites of the Continuity State I find myself running fast to stand still and exhaustion is never that far away. However, as is my wont, I digress from the real purpose of this post: a quick round-up of recent purchases that might interest some of you. Especially with Christmas coming.

Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literatureedited by Barry Cunliffe and John T. Koch (published by Oxbow Books, 2010)

First off the (printing) blocks is “Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literature“, a series of essays on the origins of the Celtic peoples edited by professors Barry Cunliffe and John T. Koch. The central thesis of the collection is the long-standing but now increasingly in-vogue suggestion that the Celts gradually emerged as a distinct peoples from the Neolithic communities dwelling in the so-called Atlantic Zone of western Europe during the Late Bronze Age. This new paradigm of course replaces the older and now difficult to sustain theory of a central European origin for the Celts. It presents the Celtic homelands as those self-same countries where the Celtic-speaking peoples are known to have been historically present, with an ultimate source of origin in an even further distant past perhaps somewhere on the Iberian peninsula. This theory of course answers the age old question of when did the Celts come to Ireland, Scotland and Wales with an elegant reply that stems from contemporary archaeological, genetic and linguistic evidence. The Celts never came to the modern Celtic nations because the Celts came from the modern Celtic nations.

Admittedly “Celtic from the West” is for the serious Celtic scholar, lay or otherwise, since it consists of a number of detailed academic studies. The text can be quite densely worded at times, with scholarly terms in profusion, but for those who make the effort it is a thoroughly rewarding and an eye-opening collection, finely produced with numerous colour photographs and illustrations that aid understanding. Unfortunately you must pay for such professional excellence. My copy cost some 45 euros so only purchase it if you are sure you want to engage with such a heavyweight work.

“The Gaelic Finn Tradition” edited by Sharon J. Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons (published by Four Courts Press Ltd, 2011)

Another collection of scholarly essays this time covering all aspects of the history, literature and poetry of Fionn mac Cumhaill, the legendary Gaelic hero-figure of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. This is a relatively unique book since no new studies have been published on Fionn and the Fianna in many decades and the series of thirteen articles brings Fenian studies bang up-to-date with the latest in historical, linguistic, textual and comparative analyses. While many casual readers will find some of it heavy going, and in places scholarly terms and abbreviations fall like rain drops, essays like Kim McCone’s “The Celtic and Indo-European origins of the fian” are an essential read. Unfortunately we have another pricey work here, in my case 50 euros plus shipping. Academic rigour and validity do not come cheap though one certainly wonders if it should come quite so high. With only 288 pages and a handful of dubiously relevant illustrations I had to think long and hard before placing my order. While I’m glad that I did so the high price justifiably gives one pause for thought.

“The Shadow-Walkers: Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous” edited by Tom Shippey (published by Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 2005)

If the name of Tom Shippey sounds familiar to you that should come as no surprise. For the last twenty years he has become synonymous with the publication of studies into the works of the English fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien. More than any other person (except perhaps Tolkien’s son Christopher) he has become the scholarly defender of Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium against its critics and possibly its greatest proselytizer. However Shippey is also a noted professor of Medieval and Old English literature and it is this expertise that comes to bear in this series of essays by a number of international scholars.

If you wish to investigate the origins of the supernatural races of English and Germanic myth, elves, dwarves, trolls and the like, but with the surety of academic rigour, this is the place to start. Thankfully free of New Age or Wiccan nonsense this large book (at some 433 pages) is very well produced, finely-stitched and bound with long-lasting acid-free paper (which I thoroughly approve of!). The majority of the articles are clearly written, though again the casual reader might find some of it quite challenging. If criticisms could be made one might look to the indexes which are extremely poor, something that will certainly hamper its use for ready referencing. The lack of illustrations that in some places could have broken up the dense text also tell against it.

Naturally Irish literary figures and institutions receive a mention in a book dealing with the Medieval mythologies of the nearest neighbours of the Celts, though at times one wonders about some writers understanding of their Irish source materials (for instance the féinnithe are not the exact same as the díbheargaigh, despite the implications drawn from some early Irish ecclesiastical texts). However, in general, there is very little to question here when it comes to scholarly learning.

One sour note, though, is yet again the hefty price to be paid for all this professional knowledge and guidance. At 63 euros it is very hard to justify the purchase of this book for the ordinary reader and I don’t think I shall even attempt to do so. All I can say is that for me not smoking and drinking has some benefits beyond mere health, not least the health of one’s bank account. Otherwise I’m not sure that I could afford any of the works above.

“Weapons and Warfare in Viking and Medieval Dublin” by Andrew Halpin (published by the National Museum of Ireland, 2008)

Now here is a truly excellent study of military matters in Medieval Ireland that extends well beyond the Scandinavian-Irish city of Baile Átha Cliath or Dublin. Everything you could want to know about warfare in early Ireland is touched upon here, especially in the first few chapters, and it’s safe to say that it will challenge and overturn several preconceptions about Irish, Viking and Norman-British warfare on the island of Ireland. The book, which is in a large format, runs to 269 lavishly illustrated pages and certainly justifies the 35 euro price tag. However this is a work for those interested not just in the broad scope but also in the minutiae of Irish military archaeology as it relates to Dublin city and its environs. If that is for you then you won’t regret the purchase. If not then perhaps you should look elsewhere.

“The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents” by Alex Butterworth (published by Vintage, 2011)

This is a great read. The militant world of revolutionaries, democrats and anarchists in 19th century Europe and North America brought to vivid life. While in places there is a certain glossing over of the subjects, or lack of elucidation, in general this is a thoroughly enjoyable and at times thought-provoking work. My only criticism is the scarcity of Irish references and the author’s unfamiliarity with Ireland’s revolutionary movements, in particular the Fenians (both the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Fenian Brotherhood). However at only 8 euros you can’t go wrong.

“Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe” by Norman Davies (published by Allen Lane, 2011)

Another great read, as celebrated historian Norman Davies takes us on a grand tour of the “lost” states of European history, from the early Middle Ages right up to the 21st century. At 848 pages you certainly get your money’s worth (11 euros in paperback) in what is a well-written and thoroughly engaging book. The parts of the book dealing with the author’s predictions for the future of the “UK” make for fascinating reading though, yet again, a lack of familiarity with Irish affairs does make for one of two annoyances.

And that, a chairde, is it for now.

A Double-Win For Wales In The Vale Of Glamorgan

Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru

As normal in the first week of August (and Lúghnasa didn’t pass unnoticed, either, despite my crazy work commitments) a big welcome for the return of the most important cultural festival in Wales, the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru or National Eisteddfod. From WalesOnline:

“The National Eisteddfod will be a “huge boost” to the Welsh language in the Vale of Glamorgan, according to First Minister Carwyn Jones.

“The National Eisteddfod is an important event for us as a nation,” said Mr Jones. “It’s one our finest arts and cultural festivals, and provides us with an opportunity to celebrate our culture, our heritage, and our language. The fact the National Eisteddfod is being held in the Vale will be a huge boost to the Welsh language in the area.”

Mr Jones pointed to growing number of Welsh-medium schools in the Vale as proof of the region’s passion for the native tongue.

He said: “The Welsh language is an important and defining characteristic of Wales. It belongs to all the people of Wales – Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike.

“The Vale has seen a substantial increase in the number of Welsh speakers in recent years.

“This is largely due to the Welsh-medium education. For example, the percentage of seven-year-olds in Welsh-medium education in the Vale has risen from 10.9% in 2001 to 13.7% in 2011.

Yet he added: “The challenge, however, is to go one step further and provide opportunities for children and young people to enjoy using Welsh outside school. Earlier this year, we launched our new Welsh language strategy – ‘A living language: a language for living’.

“It focuses on helping people to use Welsh in everyday life, including through new technology and social media. The future development and survival of the language will need fresh ideas and must be owned by each and every one of us in Wales.””

Meanwhile the Independent newspaper carries some equally welcome Glamorgan-related news after a period of electoral misfortunes for Welsh nationalism.

“Labour went down to a landslide defeat against Plaid Cymru in the latest council by-elections.

Plaid’s Ian Johnson triumphed at Buttrills, Vale of Glamorgan County, south Wales, on a huge swing since the main polls just three months ago.

The Labour loss at Vale of Glamorgan follows last week’s defeat by an independent at Stoke-on-Trent…

Plaid Cymru gain from Lab. Swing 12.3% Lab to Plaid Cymru.”

 

The French Elections 2012 – The Breton Connection

The Agence Bretagne Presse carries the results of the first round of votes to the French parliament from Brittany (in French, of course). Nationalist politics in Brittany is incredibly fractious and has been since the 1970s. The Unvaniezh Demokratel Breizh (UDB) remains the largest party but it is a regionalist one (à la Plaid Cymru) and largely competes as part of shifting electoral alliances with other parties (most of which are “pro-French”). So far it has had mixed results electorally and this looks unlikely to change anytime soon. Their main rivals are the nominally Breton republican Strollad Breizh who have made relatively little impact at the ballot box. There are others such as the long-standing if all-but-defunct Emgann, not to mention the newer Breizhistance (which had a some modest success in this election as part of a wider Left coalition – spoiled by post-election disagreements in classic Breton style).

Of course France’s electoral system, which favours large establishment parties, doesn’t help but unfortunately some blame must attach to Breton nationalists themselves.