In yesterday’s Guardian newspaper the journalist and political activist Ellie Mae O’Hagan argues that the Welsh language should be part of the school curriculum not just in Wales but in other parts of the island of Britain too. Since “England and Wales” are essentially treated as one constitutional and legal entity under British law it is perfectly valid to question why the second most-spoken and officially recognised language in the co-joined region, Welsh, is not also taught as a subject in English schools.
“Adam Ramsay, as part of Open Democracy’s Scotland’s Future series, has written a series of pieces in favour of independence – many of which have hovered over the questions of British identity. In one piece, he lambasts no advocate Danny Alexander for being blinded by “bombastic British nationalism”.
I’ve loved reading these pieces by Ramsay (though I make no argument either way about independence here), but I take issue with his criticism of British nationalism. To me, what Alexander is defending is not British nationalism, but a type of English nationalism that sees Britain as a “greater” England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland as subordinates whose cultures exist as only anachronistic novelties. I’m sure that’s what Ramsay was driving at in his piece, but that’s not British nationalism, it’s English nationalism, English entitlement – and Wales is suffering under it too.
There are many economic, social and cultural reasons for Scotland’s yes campaign to have reached such an unexpected level of success; but from my Welsh point of view I suspect that one reason must surely be frustration at the way that the English domination of Britain has led to the marginalisation – if not jingoistic ridiculing – of Scottish and Welsh identity. Our unique cultures and languages are habitually erased in favour of an umbrella Englishness.
It’s time to end the English domination of Wales and Scotland, regardless of outcome of the referendum in September. To do this, I propose schoolchildren take part in compulsory lessons in Welsh and Scottish studies, during which they at least learn how to speak basic Welsh. I don’t see why not: Welsh is an official British language, the oldest language in Europe and the most common in Britain after English.
Many will write this off as a ludicrous proposal, but in doing so they reveal, to quote Ramsay again, “something fascinating about the nature of British nationalism – how it is so ubiquitous as to be unnoticed; so hegemonic, as to go unchallenged.” After all, nobody would find it ludicrous to expect Welsh and Scottish schoolchildren to learn the English language and English history, and to imbibe English culture as a necessary result of its dominance.
If the Scottish people do vote no in September, Westminster should not take that as a validation of English empire. For the good of the many component parts, languages, and cultures that make up Britain, it’s time for something different.”
Typically the Comments beneath the article are full of Greater England derision for a “useless” and “dead” language that “no one” speaks. As pointed out on ASF before the Anglophone supremacism so often displayed in Ireland has its natural home (and origins) in Britain and more specifically in England. There is no language but the English language, there is no culture but English-derived culture. Given that the Welsh and Scottish (Gaelic) languages all have official status in Britain the argument that they should take their place alongside the de facto and vernacular language of the state, English, is overwhelming. Teaching British schoolchildren some knowledge of all the national languages that share the island of Britain, English, Welsh and Scottish (and Cornish too) is a threat to no one except the most intolerant expansionists of Greater England. Of which there are too many.
Meanwhile here in Ireland our national language continues to be denigrated and ridiculed by a state and political establishment that deliberately failed to revive it as the speech of the majority and now wishes to kill it as the speech of the minority. The broadcaster and radio producer Cuan Ó Seireadáin points out the farcical and dishonest nature of recent government actions for the Irish Central.
“Serious questions about the judgement of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny are being posed this week after his attempt to recover popularity by reorganizing his government last Tuesday backfired spectacularly, sparking off protests, a social media storm, tetchy scenes in the Dáil, and almost universal criticism in the press.
It is the unprecedented appointment of a non-Irish speaker to the position of Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht that has caused the greatest uproar.
Gaeltacht is the name given to the last pockets of territory in the remote south, west, and northwest of Ireland where Irish is still the primary language of communication.
Recent studies have shown that unless drastic action is taken, the gradual decline in population may mean that, within fifteen years, Irish could disappear as the default language of communication in those areas.
The Minister for the Gaeltacht is tasked with helping to reverse this trend, as well as improving economic conditions in the Gaeltacht. As part of his duties, he regularly meets with representatives of the Gaeltacht and other interest groups that are doing their best to keep Irish alive.
Until now, those meetings were held in the Irish language. From now on, residents of the Gaeltacht will be forced to speak English to the Minister.
The symbolism of an Irish government Minister with responsibility for helping to preserve and promote the Irish language forcing those in his presence to switch to English is unprecedented and bizarre.
The Irish Daily Mail’s front page headline “AN INSULT TO IRISH SPEAKERS” was echoed in The Irish Times, which dropped its usual reserve, and, in a blistering editorial broadside asked:
“How could Taoiseach Enda Kenny have appointed a junior minister with a special responsibility for the Gaeltacht, who lacks an essential qualification for that job – fluency in the State’s first official language? And how could Joe McHugh, who is the Minister of State with that responsibility, have accepted the portfolio? Mr McHugh is hopeful that he can quickly master the language and he yesterday invited the public to “join him on his journey” as he improves his knowledge of the language. Good intentions are, however, not good enough at this level.”
Conradh na Gaeilge, the democratic forum for the Irish speaking community, was quick to respond, and organized a flash protest outside Enda Kenny’s office within 24 hours of the appointment. The protest was well attended and supported by the leaders of all the opposition parties.
The appointment of a non-Irish-speaker to the position of Minister for the Gaeltacht is the latest example of a worrying tendency by the current government to disregard the civil rights of Irish speakers, despite widespread sympathy for their plight. In February Conradh na Gaeilge organized Lá Mór na Gaeilge, the largest and most successful Irish language Civil Rights protest in 50 years, which was attended by 10,000 supporters.
It is difficult to interpret Kenny’s selection of a minister who is incapable of communicating with residents of the Gaeltacht and those who are choosing to live their lives through the medium of Ireland’s oldest and first official language as anything other than an insult – to the 10,000, to the Gaeltacht, and to Irish speakers everywhere.”