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Speak English, Read English, Think English – Hate Irish?

Saoirse? Not in English Ireland!
Saoirse? Not in English Ireland!

Someone has expressed support for the Irish language and the rights of Irish-speaking citizens and communities in an English language newspaper in Ireland? Shock! Horror! How long before the Anglophone supremacists arrive?

From the Irish Independent:

“IRISH rugby international Luke Fitzgerald has called for more money to be put into promoting wider use of the Irish language and helping people develop their Irish language skills.

Speaking a day after Ireland’s bruising encounter with France, the Leinster and Ireland winger said he would like to see “a big revival of the Irish language”.

A fluent Irish speaker himself, the 25-year-old Dubliner said that despite the tough economic circumstances it was still important to put money into the language as it gave people a sense of Irishness.”

Watch out! Here come the Angloban!

nijinski: The Irish language was for many years used as an elitist barrier to those of us who were not proficient in it… It was a disgraceful use of discrimination by a privileged minority of self appointed culture ayatollahs. Irish is a dead language. It is not spoken by the Irish people.”

MetroMan1: The boggers with no clue as to how to run a traffic light system get to run the country…and doesn’t that in itself answer a multitude of questions… complete discrimination against those of us who don’t hail from gaeltacht areas. Watch out for the gaelgor nazis response to this ….will tell you all you need to know. This language should have died out decades ago, around the time we sold ourselves to Europe.”

Tomtack: …the Irish language is dead in the water, and good riddance to it.”

MetroMan1: …the ‘ruling’ class NOW coming from a Dublin based mandarin and banking class, they are no more than a generation or two from the bog and their standards are agricultural and animalistic ie. self, self, self. They have no understanding of modern urban society and how it should work. …there is only contempt for the years wasted on trying to keep up with the kids from Irish speaking backgrounds and teachers from bogholes who discriminated in their favour….(and still do). Languages die as societys, borders, geography and peoples change…its Darwinian, its natural, stop trying to hold the rest of us back just so we can have a faux national language and can bleat about being oirish…”

Ah, nothing like the good old-fashioned racism of a few English-speaking bigots to remind one of where one’s place truly is in modern Ireland.

At the back of the bus.

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25 comments on “Speak English, Read English, Think English – Hate Irish?

  1. Quote from “The Green Book” It is all Volunteers duty to learn Irish do not say you are too busy nobody is “that” busy. Look at Iv’rit in Israel adopted by the first aliyah – you can resurrect a language if the volition is there!

    • Very true. But it also requires the state to adopt the same attitude. Israel became a (predominantly) Hebrew-speaking nation because the state itself became Hebrew-speaking and actively promoted/facilitated the language.

      In Ireland that simply never happened. Any moves on Irish were tokenistic or lacking in any real substance. And still are. It was an anglophone state for an anglophone people.

      That must be changed.

      • The role of Hebrew in Israel is complex. Ireland suffered from cultural genocide (50% of us do not even have our real names) so that aspect needs addressing!

        • That is a very good point that never even occurred to me before. How many Irish people have anglicised or translated/transliterated English surnames of Irish originals? That is actually very revealing of where we are, psychologically, as a people.

          Thanks for that, G. A thought-provoking point.

          • 50% of Irish names are unconnected to what was arrived at in English it is a higher % further north. I can DM you full details!

          • Yes, i remember my fahter pointing out to me that the British changed his real name and it bears no relation whatsoever to his original family name.
            So we ar not carrying the true energy signatures of our ancestors.

      • Which came first, the state or the language? In the case of Hebrew, it was unquestionably the language. The revival had begun decades before Israel was established. And in that sense, I think it offers an important lesson for those who wish to see Irish attain a more prominent position in Irish society – ultimately it will be the people, and not the government, which will decide what language they speak.

        • But the Irish language revival began decades before the Irish state was established in 1916-22. So the same criteria apply. The only real difference is the decision by the political leaders of Israel to make their state a Hebrew-speaking one. It came from the bottom-up and the top-down and met in the middle.

          In contrast, in Ireland it has always been from the bottom-up. The new Irish state made itself in the image of the old colonial one bar a few token gestures (Dáil for parliament, Garda for police, Taoiseach for premier), It was from inception an English-speaking state for an English-speaking people. Even if a majority of that people were willing to have it otherwise at one stage.

          It is not that the political classes reflected the will of the people but that they ignored it. And continue to do so.

          Governments lead. We can twist our democracy, law, and society every which way in order to keep German, French and British bankers in the luxury they have become accustomed to but we cannot create a truly bilingual nation?

          The government can impose a smoking ban, change miles to kilometres but it is incapable of creating an Irish Ireland? I think not. It can do so. It chooses not to.

          The question is why? Who’s vested interests prevent us progressing froward? On this blog I have offered one answer.

          • Well I accept that the government can play a role in reviving Irish. And I also agree that, in general, the Irish government has not done an awful lot to promote the language.

            But State intervention has certainly had mixed results. For every Irish speaker who has emerged thanks to the prominence given to Irish in the education system (mise san aireamh), another person emerges who feels they have been the victim of state “oppression”, and develop a hostile attitude to the language.

            Regarding Hebrew, it was far more bottom up than top down. All the real work in reviving Hebrew was done long before the Israeli state had been formed. By 1916, 40% of the Jewish population in Palestine spoke Hebrew as their daily language. Bear in mind that this began with a single speaker in the 1880s. Hebrew was the accepted language of the Jewish population prior to the formation of Israel. Certainly the Israeli government continued to promote and safeguard the language (and sought to repress Yiddish in the process), but it didn’t really have a role in reviving the language – it had already been revived.

            Aside from this case showing that a language can thrive without government support, I think it highlights how ultimately it takes personal commitment, rather than government initiatives, to make a real difference in how a language is used.

            I think expecting the government to “do something” to improve the position of Irish is partially what is holding the language back. People absolve themselves of personal responsibility to do something for the language, and complain that “better teaching” or a “better syllabus” is what is needed. People who support Irish wait for some “top down” initiative to boost the language, without thinking about what they can do. Government can have some role, but to see the widespread use of Irish, we need to see a widespread willingness to use it.

            • But surely the ghettoization of the Irish language in the education system is part of the problem?

              Keep it safely locked away under control and don’t let it out. That is the state’s Irish language policy and has been for decades.

              Then when we do try and release the language from its educational prison, via the Official Languages Act of 2003, what happens? People, civil servants, public officials, the state itself simply ignores or by-passes it own laws and regulations. Look at the 2012 Annual Report released by an Coimisinéir Teanga yesterday. Rank illegality and law-breaking by the state. They don’t agree with the 2003 Act so they simply ignore its provisions.

              Then to make matters worse we have a young man in Dublin arrested and detained by the Gardaí, in handcuffs, because he answered in Irish to a Garda speaking in English!

              That reflects, to me, all too accurately the attitude of the Irish state to the civil rights of its Irish-speaking citizens and communities.

              I agree that waiting for the government to do something is a hopeless cause. They’ll do something alright. Everything they can to keep Irish in a state of near-death.

              Power grows from the ballot box in a democracy. Irish-speakers need to be in positions of power and influence in society and that can only happen through organised action. And not just the kind that provides weekend classes for Irish learners, essential though that is. Irish-speaking citizens and communities need to make their voices heard. And they need to make common-cause with their English-speaking peers, to win over the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Anglophone Irish people who are already favourably disposed towards Irish and Irish language rights.

              Active opposition to Irish, however violent in words and sentiment, only comes from a zealous minority of Anglophones. Unfortunately they are the ones in positions of power in the media, politics and public services.

  2. I have always believed that the maintaining of the Irish language is very important to the identity of a small country on the edge of Europe. What promoters of Gaelic languages should not get into in my view is attacking the historical reasons why their language has been eroded over time ie. having a go at England. Bad move. It taints Gaelige with an anti-England, ‘Republican’ brush that the language does not need. That’s why I love TG4 – brilliant stuff, because it’s about loving Irish, not having a dig at bad old England. Love the future of Irish, don’t hate its past. Promoters of Gaidhlig in Scotland make the same mistake.

    • To an extent, I agree. The damage is done, now is the time to remedy the damage.

      England/Britain should no longer be central to the argument about Irish language rights and promotion. The single greatest obstacle to Irish is not England or Britain. It is the Irish state itself and has been for decades.

      In my own postings here specifically on the Irish language 90% of what I deal with is an examination of the discriminatory practices of the Irish state or the token gestures by the state towards it Irish-speaking citizens. The 10% that reference’s Britain and England is in terms of the colonial legacy of both in Ireland and how that impacts both language communities here and the broader political and social culture of the nation.

      The opposition to Irish does not come from the English, and has not done for decades. The opposition to Irish comes from a small but zealous minority of English-speaking Irish men and women in places of influence in the media, civil service and body politic.

      Those are the people I have a (frequent) go at 😉

      Thanks for taking the time to Comment. Appreciated.

      • “The opposition to Irish comes from a small but zealous minority of English-speaking Irish men and women in places of influence in the media, civil service and body politic.”
        This may well be true.
        I think the catholic Church was a much stronger opposer to the Irish language revival. It was in charge of Schools/Education in the Republic of Ireland for the main part for many years.
        How come Irish language teaching in schools was such a disaster, with most schoolchildren hating the classes, homework and language?
        Why was French language teaching not such a disaster? Snob value?
        What did the Catholic Church risk if people learnt Irish that they didn’t risk with them learning French or Spanish? Exposure to “Pagan” thoughts, ways of thinking etc In a word risk of Heresy!!!Risk of people starting to think independently? In a different way? Loss of control?
        What did they gain? Apparently nothing –
        Just some thoughts

        • Some good points, Anne. We have the doctrine and policies of the RC Church itself on record. The aim was to use the Irish people as a wedge and source of influence in the Protestant British Empire. The aim? The conversion of England back to the faith. It may seem ridiculous now but at one stage that was the RC Church’s avowed aim and the method to do so (in the 18th and 19th centuries).

          For that they needed an English-speaking Ireland.

          Who saved the Irish language in the late 1800s? The Protestants. Presbyterian and Anglican ministers and laypeople. Not the RC Church which came to the party very late in the day and with little enthusiasm.

        • What did the Catholic Church risk if people learnt Irish that they didn’t risk with them learning French or Spanish?

          A rememberance of who we are.

          The RC church were never on the side of the Irish,, only in its destruction from the day it gave Eire and all her people as slaves to the British to keep us under control and destroy our old centers of learning. Re write the his story in education and we end up believing it all to be true.

          How about the woman in USA burned as a witch, because they thought she was possessed – and all she was doing was speaking Irish.

  3. I think its for the reason when jews emigrated to what is now israel there was no common language therefore a new tongue needed development for the new society being constructed whereas here its simply carrying on where britain left off and everyone can speak english when they learn to talk. Its hard to revive a language that has complicated alphabet and script after centuries of conquests, genocide, disposession and emigration. This is one task I’m afraid your’e gonna need to go outside the official channels if your’e going to have success in reviving daily usage of Irish.

    • Fair point, Mark, though Hebrew was known to many even if only as a “book language”. And it did remain the mother-tongue of a small minority. The Israeli state could easily have chosen English as the national language (with Yiddish as a competitor too). But it did not do so. Instead it self-consciously chose the ancient language of the Jewish people as the new language of the Jewish state.

      The Irish state could have followed the same path. A national language as a way of promoting national unity and community, as in Israel. It did not do so. It chose to become an anglophone state for an anglophone people.

      What does it say about the Irish state that at its inception thousands of its citizens were monolingual Irish-speakers and today none are?

      In the entire history of the Irish state there has only been one organised anti-Irish language, pro-English language group, the Language Freedom Movement which lasted less than ten years. Why? Because it was never needed. The Irish state did the job for it.

      In contrast dozens and dozens of Irish language groups have waxed and waned down through the years. All to little avail,.

      The battle for Irish language rights will be won in the halls of government. Not in the schools, where the language was ghettoised. That is where the revival must begin, in the political sphere.

      That is the example of Israel, Québec, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Flanders, Frisia, etc. Or at least that is how I see it.

    • But surely the overwhelming majority of European Jews spoke Yiddish, which would have been the natural candidate for a national language in Israel, if there hadn’t been a certain level of cultural and linguistic zeal pushing for Hebrew instead?

      In fact, Yiddish is a language that has been all but killed by the dominance of Modern Hebrew as a “killer language”…

      • True, both Yiddish and English were candidates for the “national language” of Israel, especially the former. However the fact that Hebrew had official recognition under the Mandate since 1922, was spoken in situ as a communal language in Palestine/Israel and was the historic tongue of the Jewish people (or at least the main recognised historic tongue) made it a more favourable candidate for Israel’s new political and cultural leaders.

        Yes, the choice was a self-conscious one. In Israel the state itself chose to become Hebrew-speaking. In Ireland the state itself chose to become/remain English-speaking.

        That is the contrast between both. The lack of political will to lead from the front. As James Connolly might put it, what is the point of freedom if it means no more than replacing one flag with another?

  4. Ah, the self loathing so beloved of the angicised Irish. Is it not a simple truth that none are so disliked (and I chose that word carefully instead of another) by both coloniser and colonised than those that seek to cast off their own culture and attempt to adopt that of their betters as they see it? Classic self hatred and lack of confidence. I genuinely have a degree of pity for such an attitude.

    • I agree, BD. Ireland suffers from an epidemic of post-colonial neuroses that would send any counsellor screaming for the hills. That is why we have formed the major part of most post-colonial studies since the 1960s. It is not a good thing to be able to boast of… 😦

  5. A Shionnaich Chóir, given your obviously strong feelings on this matter, what haven’t you or anyone else as far as I’m aware, set up a militant campaigning organisation on the lines of Cymdeithas yr Iaith just across the sea? This has always baffled me, but I admit as a foreigner I don’t really understand the Irish.

    • The lack of such an organisation has baffled me as well. What I can say is that Irish-speakers are in such a precarious position in modern Irish society that there is a definite feeling amongst them of “don’t rock the boat” in case they are bound and gagged and thrown overboard. There is a widespread culture of subliminal violence and overt discrimination directed towards Irish-speaking citizens and communities in this country. It can range from “jokes” or “teasing” about having an Irish language forename/surname to being confronted in a street or shop for speaking Irish in public. Or, of course, being arrested by the Gardaí for answering in Irish to a question put in English.

      The need for a pro-active Irish rights organisation, embracing Irish-speakers and English-speakers, does seem enormous. But it is hard to see it emerging yet. Though we are approaching, perhaps, the point of ignition.

      • It’s sad in a way that the Irish language has managed to pick up so much baggage over the years. And yet there appears to be no real lack of competent Irish speakers, they’re all over the internet, something which actually surprised me. The language is enshrined in you constitution and yet you claim people are reluctant to speak it publicly in their own country? It’s not like say in Catalonia where at one time I’ve read you could arrested and beaten up for just being overheard speaking the language in public. I can’t believe anything like that would have happened in the RoI. The police incident is noteworthy, but it’s really not wise to wind up the cops anywhere. The point is most of the time we deal with businesses and one another, not the state. But looking at Wales it seems to me there’s no point in having legislation for language rights unless you’ve also got a body of people crazy enough to go around plastering “Cá bhfuil a’ Ghaeilge” stickers over every English only sign they can find 😉

        • I certainly agree with your last point. Activism is the key. We need a leaf or two out of the Greenpeace book (or even the Anonymous one!).

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