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An English Ireland Fears An Irish Ireland

Tá an Réabhlóid ag Teacht!
Tá an Réabhlóid ag Teacht!

For over two-and-a-half years An Sionnach Fionn has been reporting on the rising levels of public antipathy towards Irish-speaking citizens in Ireland and the heightened culture of discrimination within the country’s departments of government. Since 2011 we’ve examined the reduction or blocking of services through the Irish language by large sections of the state, even within legally-recognised Irish-speaking communities or Gaeltachtaí. We’ve seen how the deliberate avoidance or breaking of regulations laid down by the Official Languages Act of 2003 by English-speaking civil servants and their political masters has created a culture of consequence-free prejudice that now pervades every aspect of Ireland’s dealings with its Hibernophone citizenry. To many observers both at home and abroad traditional Irish-speaking communities are being targeted for extinction by the very state which claims their allegiance through the erosion of their special legal and cultural status as the heartlands of a distinctive Irish Ireland. Now Irish-speakers are arrested by the Gardaí or police for answering in Irish to questions put to them in English (and treated, in the words of the arresting officers, as “foreigners”). Meanwhile the Supreme Court of Ireland has ruled that Irish-speaking defendants can be legally denied trial by those who speak the Irish language while English-speaking defendants are legally guaranteed trial by those who speak the English language.

Into this culture of Hibernophobic mania comes this interjection by the Irish journalist and broadcaster Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh who two years ago rightly identified the bigotry towards Irish-speakers in Ireland as “racism”. In yesterday’s Sunday Independent newspaper she highlighted the increasingly desperate plight of a minority population under linguistic siege from a majority where those with the loudest voices and the greatest influence are the most bigoted:

“Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does a great Dort accent. No, in fact, Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does an awful Dort accent – awfully accurate and just a little bit angry. She does impersonations of those who marvelled at the fact that she, “Omigod, spoke Irish at home,” when she first moved to Dublin. She also mimics those people at dinner parties, who tell her they “don’t see the point” of Irish.

And then there is a special passion reserved for the woman on the sidelines of a schoolboy rugby match, who made the mistake of asking, “What’s that language you’re speaking?”

There’s no affection and a lot of irritation in Blathnaid’s impersonations and, given that she lives in the heart of comfortable south County Dublin, you imagine that she must feel irritated a lot of the time.

Spend some time with Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh, however, and you see where this comes from. Sure, she lives in south Dublin and has spent all her working life in the heart of Dublin 4, but, in many ways, Blathnaid regards herself as a stranger in a strange, English-speaking land.

She feels, fundamentally, like an outsider, and the fight that is so evident in Blathnaid – the feistiness, the spunkiness – all come from that position.

One thing that unsettles her in the state broadcaster, however, is what Blathnaid perceives as a devaluing of the commitment to the Irish language. She laments that the television Irish-language programming department is open only six months of the year…

At work, Blathnaid says, a few colleagues have approached her recently, asking her to revive the Irish-conversation sessions she used to conduct over lunch in the RTE canteen. “I loved them,” she laughs, “I’d really get off on that kind of thing. Partly from a performing point of view, partly bossy, partly evangelical.” The colleagues’ requests are born out of the fact that their kids attend gaelscoileanna and they, the parents, are floundering when it comes to doing homework with them.

And Blathnaid admires that they admit their weakness, and that they want to do something about it. It’s the ones who make no effort that drive her mad, she explains.

At the dinner parties, where fellow guests – in their Dort accents, as she relates it – tell her that Irish was drummed into them and they “don’t see the point of it”. Blathnaid replies that its she who got the Irish-language raw deal, not them. “I tell them,” she says, “‘That I left my area, I had no choice, I had to speak English.’ And they say, ‘Oh, that’s not the same.’ Well, they had the advantage over me, that’s my point.

“I mean, all my life, I’m thinking in Irish and translating in my head before I speak,” Blathnaid explains. “I think in Irish, I cry in Irish. If I’m really upset or angry, I can’t even speak in English.

“I gave birth to the kids in Irish and even, being honest, when I’m intimate with Ciaran, it’s in Irish. And I can translate pretty fast, but it’s a lonely place to be.

“I do feel like a minority, and I think that, if we were to take offence, genuinely, like other minorities, then people might stand up and take notice. I think it’s racism, I really do.””

Talking of taking notice, Declan Lynch, media demagogue of the Anglophone lobby, replies in the Irish Independent with unapologetic disdain for the rights of Irish-speaking citizens:

“…the recent resignation of the Irish Language Commissioner, mainly on the grounds that the State is no longer supporting the language, is obviously a good thing.

His objection to the way things are done these days, suggests that there has been a change of attitude on the part of the State. And any change is self-evidently bound to be good, or at least better than whatever was there before.

Unfortunately, the role of Irish Language Commissioner itself has not been abolished. But we are indebted to the old one for his complaint that due to the lack of civil servants who are fluent in Irish, it is now compulsory for most Irish speakers to speak English in their official dealings.”

The rest of the article is taken up with the usual belittling propaganda of the English language extreme: Irish-speakers are mere “enthusiasts” not a distinct community with their own linguistic and cultural identity, one that is shared by hundreds of thousands of English-speakers in Ireland who reject the prejudice espoused by the Mad Mullahs of Angloland. Though for a change and in contradiction of his own argument Lynch accuses Hibernophones of fostering a system in the Irish state of “institutional discrimination” against English-speakers. That’s right, Deaglán Declan, Irish-speakers in Ireland are such a “powerful elite” that they created a rights’ Commissioner and language rights’ legislation to enforce their will on everyone else in the country – both of which are now in complete disarray following years of obstruction by English-speaking politicians and public servants.

Rather than making a serious point Lynch’s use of the term “institutional discrimination” simply reflects the manner in which An Sionnach Fionn has reframed the debate over the Irish language (and become essential reading in some hostile media circles). This website and its readers have led the fightback against Anglophone intolerance in Ireland, we have repositioned Irish rights as civil rights – and English-speaking zealots have sat up and taken notice. They now know that the “Gaels” will no longer be passive actors in a would-be tragedy penned by others.

Like the militant extreme of the British Unionist community in the north-east of Ireland the militant extreme of Anglophones know that demographic change is on the way. They are frightened – and they are showing it.

34 comments on “An English Ireland Fears An Irish Ireland

  1. Graham Ennis

    The only thing now left is civil disobedience.

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    • I tend to agree. Peaceful protest along the lines of the civil rights moment in the north-east of Ireland during the 1960s (though hopefully without the same response from the “state”). St. Patrick’s Day should be a red letter day for demonstrations with the world’s media in Dublin. A sit-down protest on the streets of the capital to highlight the issue. It’s a “media spectacular” crying out to be actioned.

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  2. Athbhlagáladh é seo ar seachranaidhe1..

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  3. michaeleverson932

    One should not capitalize “an” or “ag” in “Tá an Reabhlóid ag Teacht”.

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  4. Ceannaire

    Tá an Reabhlóid anseo?

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  5. an lorcánach

    ‘Why I bothered to learn Irish’ — “The biggest obstacle I encountered was the ‘shame barrier’”

    http://anoutsiderincamus.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/why-i-bothered-to-learn-irish

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  6. Athbhlagáladh é seo ar Machholz's Blog..

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  7. ‘Hibernophobe’ is surely the wrong word, as it refers to anti-Irishness in general and has nothing to do with the Irish language as such. People who do not speak Irish can experience Hibernophobia. ‘Gaelophobe’, perhaps?

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    • @Brendano, Interesting point. Perhaps it would be suitable if I had used the term “Gaelophones”. However “Hibernophone” is a better recognised term in linguistic or academic circles (albeit not widely in English language ones) and forms a juxtaposition with the term “Anglophone”. So in this case “Hibernophobe” is more appropriate, especially given the origins of the antipathy towards Irish-speakers within the racist legacy of British colonial rule in Ireland.

      Taking the example of Québec, Francophone and Anglophone are common terms as is Francophobe (or Anglophobe!) in linguistic senses.

      It was recently pointed out to me by an Irish-speaker that he prefers Hibernophone to Gaelophone because he views the former as a more neutral term. He meant in he sense of “ethnicity”. I suppose in that way it might have more appeal to members of the Unionist community.

      I personally prefer Hibernophone to Gaelophone because of the refusal of some English-speakers in Ireland to call our native language “Irish”. They insist it is “Gaelic” and those who speak it “Gaels”. Which is not unrelated to the point above. In this sense the Hibernian language is the Irish language 😉

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      • Thanks for that. Séamas. It is a tricky matter when one considers ‘phobe’ rather than ‘phone’, though, as in normal usage nobody would understand ‘Anglophobia’ to mean ‘opposed to the English language’, for example: it would signify a dislike for England and the English, just as ‘Hibernophobia’ signifies a dislike for Ireland and the Irish.

        I didn’t know there were Irish people who refuse to call the language ‘Irish’: I thought all Irish people called it that. Perhaps you shouldn’t tailor your terminology in reaction to some small jaundiced minority.

        Personally I learned Irish at school in the 1960s and 1970s and have rarely used it since. I wish it well, but I don’t think its interests will be best served by strident agitation – that will only serve to antagonize the vast majority who are in the middle, between those who supposedly wish to do Irish down and those who are angrily campaigning on its behalf. But of course people are entitled to do as they see fit, within the law.

        I think Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh’s claim of ‘racism’ is downright silly – we are all the same ‘race’.

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        • an lorcánach

          all this sounds like re-inventing the wheel!

          ‘Gaelic’ is the Irish spoken in Ireland and ‘Hiberno-‘ is relating to Ireland: therefore Hiberno-phobia is antipathy towards Ireland and Irish people, and Gaelo-phobia (can’t find reference unfortunately) is best word to describe antipathy towards Irish speakers specifically

          bláthnaid is right in sentiment though anti-Irish language prejudice seems more accurate: then again, if racism is casually defined as extreme hatred towards an ethnic grouping such as Irish travellers (‘race’ is a cultural construct as there is only one race, homo sapiens sapiens), then why not Pobal na Gaeilge? @

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          • Unfortunately Gaelophone leads to the logic of “Gaelic-speaker” instead of “Irish-speaker” and “Gaelic” instead of “Irish”. On my phone but will make a fuller reply tomorrow 🙂

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            • an lorcánach

              ceapthas go raibh tú ró gnóthach leis an job! -:) — no worries, sionnach: what I don’t understand though why publicly funded Irish university academics aren’t engaging in this important debate because if we (as Irish language speakers and rights’ advocates) can’t even agree on definitions for Irish language hate speech then we could be in trouble without the right vocabulary!

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          • Because ‘Pobal na Gaeilge’ is not an ethnic grouping, and the ‘extreme hatred’ is probably imaginary.

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            • an lorcánach

              you’re right, Brendano, Pobal na Gaeilge isn’t an ethnic grouping: there are those, however, who believed Brian Ó Cuív, even TK Whitaker and others when they talked about ‘caint na ndaoine’, the language of the Irelanders, ‘the Irish language’ – dissipating as fast as native speakers can emigrate again, and more aggressively disregarded by their mainly Anglophone neighbours and legislators in recent years: only in Ireland – or among the disinterested Irish-state schooled – will someone find the real hatred Sionnach writes much about

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  8. Brendano, the problem is one of understanding. Those comfortable within the existing system find it difficult to understand or appreciate the experiences of those outside the existing system. Or for whom the existing system is positively inimical. That is the essence of all disputes where some form of discrimination is taking place. It is not that the majority are active in discrimination rather that they just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

    “I personally have never been discriminated against in the existing system so I can’t imagine why or how anyone else could be. Therefore claims of discrimination must be exaggerated or false.”

    Yet over the last three years we have seen a State turn on part of its own citizenry. Put it this way. When you have a situation where English-speaking defendants in Ireland are legally guaranteed to a trial entirely through the English language while Irish-speaking defendants are legally prohibited from a trial entirely though the Irish language it is a bit hard to argue that there does not exist a two-tiered system of citizenship.

    And no the answer is not that Irish-speaking defendants should be able to speak English therefore they must perforce submit to trial and judgement entirely via the medium of the English language. That merely makes Irish-speaking citizens “foreigners” in their own nation. A view some Gardaí would be entirely comfortable with as we have seen in the arrest and detention of Irish-speakers for answering in Irish to questions put to them in English.

    As for the accusations of racism, the term itself does not have to be based strictly on dubious notions of race (we are all one race). It can also have application to prejudice towards specific ethnicities, communities, etc. Bigotry towards the Roma is popularly described as “racism” not “xenophobia” or “Romaphobia”. Therefore the term has some merit to it, though personally I see racism as the origin not the cause of discriminatory views towards the Irish-speaking community.

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  9. Thank you, Séamas. First, I don’t think we ought to extend the term ‘racism’ so far that it ceases to have any real meaning. This would not be to the benefit of people who suffer genuine racism. Somebody who makes a snooty remark about the Irish language to Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh at a dinner party may be annoying her but is not oppressing her. The Roma are a ‘race’; affluent mIddle-class offence-takers are not.

    Furthermore, cultural snobbery cuts both ways. Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill wrote of the trauma her parents (a GP and a surgeon) had to suffer in moving from the cultured Kerry Gaeltacht to the mere ‘Galltacht’ (my home town of Nenagh, where her father proceeded to remove my tonsils and appendix). This attitude would not have been untypical among Gaeilgeori, who often appeared to see themselves as a cut above the common Anglophone herd.

    The state has devoted massive resources to the Irish language since independence (quite rightly), although for the vast majority it is not the vernacular. It seems to me that the Irish-language community constantly evinces a sense of belligerent entitlement that others are free to see as unfounded. The common good may be interpreted in various ways.

    My 20-year-old daughter studies French and Spanish at UCD, and is currently doing her Erasmus year in France. She would make a superb primary school teacher, but this is not an option for her in this country as her Irish isn’t good enough. Yet she and others like her do not claim to be discriminated against, or the victims of racism.

    There is always another way of looking at these matters. People with an axe to grind often congregate, back up each other’s views and work themselves into a state of high dudgeon. They risk losing a sense of perspective, in my opinion.

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    • an lorcánach

      “belligerent” entitlement; common “good”; “losing” a sense of perspective…. – perhaps “legal” entitlement, the common-“wealth” and “non-conformity” – parity of esteem for a people finally reacting against the 90 year counter revolution – once again it must be ‘The North Began’

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      • On my Amazon wish list!

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        • an lorcánach

          lost count of those in my wishlist – i’m finding though good to look out for decent second hand copies at the lower price but have to be conscious of postage – tricky! 😉

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  10. Sinéad Rohan

    Saw these articles in the Sunday Business Post, Sionnach; had to wait till I got to scan them in: hope they’re of interest!

    http://postimg.org/image/ymvcx7cir/
    http://postimg.org/image/bjlye8adv/

    https://www.linkedin.com/pub/catherine-o-mahony/1b/39a/b07

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    • English-speaking citizen of Ireland publicly works through some thoughts on Irish-speaking citizens of Ireland until she arrives at the conclusion that, yes, they do indeed face social ostracization for speaking in Irish and are being pressurised into speaking English. Her solution to the heretofore unacknowledged oppression of a significant linguistic minority in her country? Remove the obligation to continue the teaching of Irish language skills to schoolchildren ages 12-18 so that even fewer people will any understanding or respect for the Irish language or for those citizens speak it.

      This is then presented as a reasonable and enlightened solution to the problem of the linguistic persecution of Irish-speaking citizen and communities in Ireland.

      Given ongoing events in Ukraine and the Crimea I’ll call this the Putin option.

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      • Sinéad Rohan

        O’Mahony is very typical but sad to see so many unmoved by protests few weeks ago

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        • Have a couple of posts ready to write looking at this and related stuff from Canada and Wales. If I get the time 😉 Thanks for the email, genuinely appreciate the links 🙂

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          • Sinéad Rohan

            Thanks very much Sionnach. I thought because of Biz Post pay-wall article might have gone under the radar!

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            • Interesting newspaper article. It looks to me as though the writer has thought little about Irish since being put off it at college, and is now trying to make sense of and come to grips with all the contradictions and confused attitudes that surround the language and its various users today. At least she’s now thinking about it and turning over the implications as she ponders out loud. Perhaps not altogether a bad thing, and hopefully she’s not alone.

              Does there need to be a sort of Gaelic Pride Movement, like Gay Pride maybe. No really, speakers seem afraid to ‘come out’ for fear of perjudice, so attitudes in general will have to change to get any real progress. Otherwise, if the language is only used in private between consenting adults, then it disappears from public awareness, so why learn it when ‘nobody speaks it anymore’. That way lies extinction.

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