So You Think You Know What It Means To Be Irish? Think Again…

During the revival of the French language and culture in Québec in the 1970s and ‘80s it became noticeable that the stronger, and more widespread, the language became the stronger and more widespread the opposition from English-speakers. It’s was almost an inverse law of language revival in a bilingual context. As the minority community increases, and gains more social and political standing, so hostility to it from the majority community increases in direct proportion.

As long as the minority language remains that, and is publically seen as such, the majority seem content to simply ignore it (or if feeling fairly liberal, indulge it to a certain extent). But as soon as the minority threatens the absolute power of the majority, even if it is only a perception of a threat, then let loose the dogs of war.

That is certainly the case here in Ireland where the enormous strides made over the last 15 years in Irish medium education, broadcasting, equality legislation and social participation and “prestige” for the Irish speaking population of the country has led to an arguable “Anglophone backlash”. At a political level this can be seen in the moves by the Fine Gael – Labour Party coalition government to undo civil rights legislation for Irish-speaking citizens by threatening to rewrite the Official Languages Act of 2003, which puts into law a form of limited equality between Irish and English speaking citizens when accessing state services or resources, and abolishing the office of the Language Commissioner, the legal authority which oversees the implementation of that law (often in the face of fierce hostility from sections of the civil service which have simply refused to comply with their legal duties in this area).

In the Irish news media, particularly in the print media, the increased hostility towards Irish speakers is now sinking to the level of “hate speech”. Hardly a week passes without some story or opinion piece denigrating Irish speaking men, women and children in this country. This has spilled over into online discourse where the sort of violent and abusive language once confined to the anglophone extreme has become the norm amongst many contributors and commentators on Irish-based news or current affairs websites (thejournal.ie and politics.ie are both noticeable for their lack of sanction against anti-Irish bigotry).

The language of Anglophone supremacism in Ireland is almost uniform in its abusive nature. The same terms crop up again and again. Irish-speaking citizens, even children, are the “Gaeliban” (a crude play on the word Taliban). They are:

“backward”, “primitive”, “anti-modern”, “anti-global”, “opposed to multiculturalism” (an ironic one that), “petty minded”, “tribal” (a favourite term of abuse), “bog-savages”, “living in the Dark Ages”, “living in the past”, “medieval”, “extremists”, “fanatics”, “fascists”, “Gaelic Nazis”, “crypto-terrorists”, “hobbyists”, “militants”, “elitists”, “working class”, “rural class”, “upper class”, “uber-nationalists”, “racists” (not sure how that one works!), “bigots”, “child abusers” (a recent addition to the list), “liars”, “cheats”, “frauds”, “remnants”, “recidivists”, “lazy”, “indolent”, “arrogant”, “two-faced”, “deceitful”…

Do I need go on?

Lately we’ve been told that Irish-speaking men, women and children aren’t even Irish. No: they are “Gaels”. Their language is not Irish: it is Gaelic. And the Irish-speaking regions, the Gaeltachtaí? They are “Gaelic reservations”.

I wonder do these people, these modern English-speaking, English-reading, English-thinking Irish men and women know that their terms of abuse for Irish-speaking people apes that of the English colonial rulers of Ireland in times past? Not just for Irish-speaking people in Ireland, mind you, but for all of the people of Ireland. Have they become the new Anglo-Irish of 21st century Ireland? No longer defined by religion, or wealth or status, or even colonial ethnicity but simply by language and culture?

Is Ireland now divided between a small, Irish-speaking Native Irish minority, and an overwhelming, English-speaking Anglo-Irish majority? And what of those who look to both? A confusion of labels exist here with no easy guide to aid our understanding. It is not a matter of ancestry, since all ancestries in contemporary Ireland are blurred, but rather of identity, and often self-identity. One can choose to identify one’s self as indigenous Irish, irrespective of one’s actual background, simply by identifying with Ireland’s native language and culture and regarding it as your own. Arguably then the opposite must be true. That one can reject such a label and instead identify with Ireland’s Anglo-Irish (and increasingly Anglo-American) language and culture and see oneself in that context.

So, two communities, some of whom at least are diametrically opposed.

But at least we can see we are not the only ones who experience this. For as the Welsh-speaking population of Wales has grown, and asked for equal standing with its English-speaking peers, it too has faced an increased chorus of opposition. And the same confusion of identity exists. As In Ireland some Welsh people (correctly) claim that they and their ancestors never spoke the native tongue, no matter how deep their roots in the country, so why should they speak it now? Others, whose great-grandparents may well have spoken no other language but Welsh, still reject both language and culture as “alien” to them. In this Ireland and Wales face almost identical dilemmas (the irony of all these Hourihanes and Kennys hating the Irish language and culture is not lost on many of us, especially given the eager embrace of the de Buitléars and Rosenstocks).

In Wales this tension has exploded once again (and with greater furore than the time before, a sure sign of escalating “identity conflict”). From WalesOnline:

“FORMER Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy has warned that “excessive” spending on Welsh language schemes and untimely demands on public bodies and private firms at a time of tight budgets could damage the progress made on the Welsh language in the past decade.

The Torfaen MP issued a statement after reports yesterday about proposals under consideration to extend translation of Assembly proceedings to the written records of every meeting at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

In fact the translations referred to above will cost in the region of £95,000 (not the £400,000 claimed by Anglophone critics of the policy), but that hardly matters. The truth is not the point here. This is simply yet another manifestation of the struggle for supremacy between Welsh Wales and English Wales in what is likely to become an increasing feature of politics and society in the country (just ask the people of Québec and Canada).

In Wales indigenous speakers are in a far stronger position than their cousins in Ireland. Which is why the Anglophone supremacists here have stepped in before the “natives” get any more uppity than they already have. Bye-bye Language Commissioner, bye-bye full Official Languages Actbye-bye Irish medium education, bye-bye Gaeltachtaí, bye-bye civil rights legislation and equality for Ireland’s Irish-speaking citizens and communities.

So long and thanks for all the Gael.

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21 comments

  1. Perhaps there is a universal law at work here where minorities begin to (re)assert their rights? “The Universal Law of the Reactionary Majority (or Would Be Majority) Their Presumptious (Aspirant) State Apparatuses” for their is ample global historical and contemporary evidence of this “iron tendency” ranging from the Far East, through Australasia, the Americas – north, south and central – into the heart of Europe, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, Africa et al (including neo-Russian imperialism and its cultural and linguistic hegemonies in its “Near Abroad”).

    This latter example seems to resonate somewhat aptly vis a vis the Scottish independence struggle and the war of lies and smears being perpetrated by the Anglo elites and their comprador Anglophone lickspittles in Alba. And, of course, let us not forget the sufferings of the Palestnians at the hands of the Zionist expansionists and supermen supremacists.

    However, it is the quisling dimension which vomit induces most especially when the vitriol is couched in pseudo-PC aphorisms.

    Dogs of War, indeed.

  2. Every poll in Wales shows that a huge majority – 80-90% support the Welsh language and efforts to encourage it, though there is a mall, and very vocal minority who agitate against it, especially on comments section of the Western Mail, and on blogs. One thing these pposters have in common is a very loose grasp of English grammar and spelling, which makes you think that they are closely related.

    If you want a good laugh, I recommend gogwatch.com and glasnost.org. Obviously written by people who – to be charitable – belong to the right wing of UKIP, they share delusions of grandeur, believing they represent a massive silent majority, even though the evidence is against them.

    1. I’ve had a look into the people behind these sites, one of whom is a Serbian “businessman” resident in Wales since the 1990s who has a long record of attacking the Welsh language and culture.

      I’m in two minds whether or not to put it all together and publish it. I suspect he will resort to legal action if I do so. But on the other hand there would be nothing in it that is not already in the public domain.

      I shall probably publish in the next month or two, if I can establish some more about him and the people around him.

      As far as I can see there are no UKIP links. There may be a Serbian nationalist one, though (I’m looking at some BNP-type associations at the moment but that may be a red herring).

      1. How strange. On http://www.daltai.com a few years back, there was a “contributor” to the discussion forums who was from Eastern Europe somewhere… Latvia? I can’t recall at this late date, but the point is that he likewise seemed to derive his best satisfaction from attempting to derail discussions (ironically all the while casting himself as some kind of self-made expert in Munster Irish).

        1. There is a lot of them about! 🙂

          I can understand a Welsh-born anglophone objecting to the Welsh language and culture, even if I would disagree with that person. You can argue the merits one way of the other with such a person and at least respect their opinion.

          I find it rather harder to take the vociferous objections, and active campaigning, of a non-Welsh born adult immigrant to the indigenous language of the place he has immigrated to. Especially when he hides behind a series of noms de guerre.

      2. Damn fine work Seamas, I applaud. I think that something like this needs to be done in Scotland. There will be massive black propaganda by these people in the run up to the Election. It needs something like “Traitor Watch” online, that will list and expose those doing these things.

  3. Years back I faced a what I can only call weird reaction to me learning Welsh by a lovely but very damaged soul who had grown up Serbian in Yugoslavia. His parents had gotten him out before it all kicked off really badly and he was emotionally very harden, feeling, tricked, guilty, many things, having no home to go back to. He perceived my learning of my language, along with social justice/green/land rights matters and indeed Paster Niemoller’s famous speech as the sort of behaviour that destroyed his country and (ironically) that caused the Second World War. It really flumuxed me.That it was best to ignore everything around you, have no opinion, have no cause, turn a blind eye. Otherwise you see what happens. A ‘feel nothing’ and therefore don’t contribute to war approach. It takes a while to get one’s head round it – particularly when I was brought up quite strictly that ‘I was just folowing the crowd’ would be cut nothing from one’s ethical responsibilities and from my point of view what happens when blind eyes are turned. I was considered ‘racist’ for not being willing to sing ‘God Save The Queen’ and for feeling it was not my anthem (but it’s not?!) – even if not Welsh I wouldn’t be singing it to be fair and hadn’t be particularly outspoken about it.
    I can but think there could be a tie in outlooks with this chap. I’m not wanting to try to explain away such an outlook as I think it very wrong, but it was one that this chap had been fed and had taken to heart. His father had tried to ‘hold the country together’ against ‘splitters’ and the ‘splitters’ had caused the problems. If they had not been ‘splitters’ no war would have happened. Understanding that people might want to be themselves, speak their own languages, make choices for themselves was neither here nor there. One should never question the ‘status quo’ even if it is a moving one as long as the moves come from the imperial power. The Croatian collaboration with Hitler had brought him to the position to put Pastor Niemoller and the cause of the Holocaust in the same boat – there was no space for the irony involved. But he was quite traumatised and he wanted a UK where the anthem was sung and there were no ‘splitters’, though also admitting to feeling very empty. A similar thread was be seen in the otherwise lovely British Balkan film ‘Beautiful People’ – as a side comment. Again, the Welsh language comes up in the more blockbustery one ‘The man who cried’ but from an angle I resonate much more with where the little girl sings a song from her childhood her otherwise kind teacher acts out internalised repression, that they’d stopped him speaking his language, for his own good. I digress anyhow and need to do the school run. Would be interesting to see if there may be BNP or other links though. And yes, if you can publishing would be a good thing I think. xx

    1. Thank you so much for the Comment, Diane, and all information you’ve provided. Now I’m really flummoxed. If it is the same person (and I suspect it may be) I actually feel sorry for him. From being in two minds whether or not to publish I’m now in several.

      I don’t want to attack the man (though I’ll admit that at times it can be the rhetorical style of An Sionnach Fionn, especially if something particularly egregious irks me). Certainly not if as you say he is suffering the aftermaths of some sort of personal tragedy or pain. However, his opinions are at times so offensive, and he has gone to such lengths (setting up a website dedicated to attacking Welsh-speaking men, women and children) that no response seems worse.

      Ho-hum.

      Publish and be-damned I think. Watch this space, as they say. Thanks again 🙂

      1. Well, I think, in terms of the actual reality, that sadly when he goes online with racial abuse, (This is what it is) and hate speech, then he has crossed the red line into law breaking, and for nasty reasons. he is spreading distress, hatred, and upset. Given his background, I can understand it, but it is still illegal hate crime, actually. Something has to be done. I suppose people could try and explain to him how much pain and distress he is causing, and how wrong legally, he is, and ask him to stop. But as a last resort, there are strict hate crimes laws. They will need to be enforced, ultimately, if this does not work.
        Graham Ennis

        1. Just to clarify, it was the comment about why would someone from Serbia bother that struck up the memory of the chap I knew. It is an ideological theme for some – I was explaining what his outlook was, the chap I knew. It wasn’t for the sake of understanding of the type that brings sympathy and allows it to continue. This man sounds extremely unpleasant and certainly not the chap I was talking about. There are links with all sorts of groups internationally, that they feed into cultural backdrops and misunderstandings, doesn’t make them any better.
          Even in my longwindedness I’m not always that clear, sorry.

      2. I’m certain it woudn’t be the same man. It wouldn’t be something he would do/bother doing. He was a fellow student years ago. It just reminded me of those conversations. I haven’t read anything this person you’ve been dealing with on the Internet has written. It sounds like a whole different kettle of fish to be honest, and on a very different scale. Just culturally-politically where someone would have that take on the Welsh language – it seems the Welsh language, want for Welsh autonomy and the internalised repression against the language in the past.. not to say they are commented on with any depth of understanding at all, but it is used symbolically by others internationally/in that region, symptomic of issues in other settings in some other’s eyes. I’m not defending that at all, just that I’ve come across it before. As for what this guy has been doing, many suffered in the war in Yugoslavia, but many abhorrent things were done also, I couldn’t make any comment on this guy, especially as I don’t know the details, but it wasn’t to excuse his behaviour, elicit any sympathy for him whatsoever, nor allow what he spreads to fester. He sounds like a particularly unpleasant person with unpleasant views which he is trying to propogate. Solely that I’d come across matters Welsh being seen from a particular context from someone in that region in terms of how he could have linked whatever his ideology is up to attacking the Welsh. It really isn’t something that should elicit sympathy for him. He may be a guy who had trauma, he may be someone who brought trauma on many others, either way what he’s doing is wrong. I had many Serbian and Serbian-Croatian friends in other settings who didn’t have this view at all, who’d fled the war personally, were searching for lost younger siblings, trying to get friends to safety and were empathetic, kind and had no issues with the Welsh.
        Thank you for your work on it. I think people should know where these views are coming from – should in the sense of good that the information gets out there. Good luck with publishing. x

  4. Just read Graham’s post. Haven’t read anything of this guy we’re speaking of, but having come across strong feelings from a similar area no way is attempting to justify anything of this man’s views, actions or his repression of others. Solely that I’d heard matters Welsh being tied up in that context before. From the sounds of it his views on fellows from his own region would be abhorrent also.

  5. Just for clarity, it wasn’t for the sake of understanding of the type that brings sympathy or allows things to go on that I was explaining. It was just the why would someone from Serbia care thought reminded me of conversations with the chap I knew. I’m certain it wouldn’t be the same person. It was just that I had just come across the theme before. But there are links internationally between allsorts of groups, but that they feed into cultural backdrops, prejuduces, outlooks, misunderstandings and otherwise doesn’t excuse them. Just trying to help fill in a bit of the map. x

    1. Diane, I entirely understand. But hate crime is like a dangerous virus. It has to be sanitised

      1. I wasn’t supporting anyone’s hate crime, nor eliciting sympathy for the perpetrator. Hh. I’m sorry if the way I wrote didn’t bring that across clearly enough – juggling children at the same time here.

        1. Thanks for the Comments, both of you, and some fair points.

          Strange that the former Yugoslavia / Serbia has produced at least two immigrants to Wales who are so hostile to the Welsh language and culture. Considering the very prominent role of the UK in the breakup of the federation (along with US, NATO, etc.) I would have thought most Serbians would be quite bitter or anti-British. But then I suppose that must naturally exclude those who chose to emigrate to the UK in the first place.

          Apparently many Serbs are fascinated by all things Celtic and there is a big music and literary scene out there dedicated to the Irish language and culture, and Celticness in general. So I wonder where this hostility comes from in one or two individuals?

          Diane,
          Juggling with children? Now that is impressive! 😀

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