From the BBC a story that reminds us that many people on this island owe a loyalty to a nation whose roots run far deeper than any modern nation-state (or Occupied territories):
“It was a letter written in a shaky hand by an 85-year-old man and his kind words warmed the hearts of a fledgling Irish language community in east Belfast.
He had been born in Armagh 85 years ago and now lives in Derry, he wrote in fine Old Irish script.
He likes to keep up with home and he read in the Armagh Observer about how the loyalist community had connected with the Irish language. It heartened him.
It is “our lovely language” said the letter writer – and he included a cheque for £100 to help someone else learn Irish.
It was a gesture that touched Linda Ervine’s heart.
She started classes in September at the East Belfast Mission – from one class, the project has grown to five classes.
She takes her work out into the community telling them about the hidden history of Protestants and the Irish language.
Since Linda became Irish language development officer at the East Belfast Mission last September, interest has grown. Her classes include an inter-generational one where all ages can learn together.
Linda’s love affair with the language began after she discovered from censuses that not only did some of her own ancestors speak Irish but that it was also widely spoken in several of the streets in east Belfast.
In the same week that the Armagh man wrote to Linda, Gaelchultur in Dublin sent learning resources worth £100.
“Cluain Ard and the Ultach Trust have also been very good to us. People are so generous,” she said”
Looking at the image of the letter accompanying the BBC piece, penned in traditional Irish script, I am struck yet again by the grievous harm that was done to the continuity of the living Irish language when the Irish print and manuscript alphabets were forcefully abandoned alongside the civil service-driven spelling “reforms” of the 1940s and ’50s. Suddenly an entire generation of adult Irish-speaking men and women found themselves cut adrift from the familiar written form of their language. Likewise, looking back from the early 21st century, literally thousands of Irish books and manuscripts published in the 18th, 19th and early to mid-twentieth centuries have been rendered all but illegible to most contemporary Irish-speakers due to the artificial changes in the language. And all in the name of bureaucratic efficiency. Would the Greeks abandon their ancient alphabet in the name of illusionary cost-savings? A hoax story that recently ran wild on the internet proves that they most certainly would not. But then the Greeks have a pride in their language and culture, a sense of collective ownership that the Irish simply do not.
Related to the issue of allowing faceless bureaucrats to decide (and implement) state policy one is struck by the lack of support from the Government of Ireland for the language initiative in Protestant East Belfast. While this is a delicate matter surely some mechanism could have been created to facilitate direct funding by the Irish state of this most welcome of cultural developments? Perhaps a joint initiative with the British government or via the auspices of the Iomairt Cholm Cille (Columba Project), the body overseeing co-operation on Gaelic-related matters between the Irish and Scottish governments?
As we look for imaginative ways of fostering and growing Irish national identity in the north-east of Ireland can there be anything more genuinely Irish than our indigenous language? And if that can take root again amongst our fellow Irishmen and women, even those who have a sense of Irishness somewhat different from our own, is that not a venture worth supporting?
- Arrested For Speaking Irish – Welcome To Anglo-Ireland! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Anglophone Supremacists Don’t Just Hate Irish – They Hate Those Who Speak Irish (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Speak English, Read English, Think English – Hate Irish? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- A New Protestant Beginning for the Irish Language in Belfast (patrickcox.wordpress.com)