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