Sometimes we need reminding that – whatever our origins – we are not just Irish but Celts too, one of the indigenous peoples of north-western Europe. From a report by the Irish Times newspaper:
“At the Festival Interceltique, President Michael D Higgins was warmly received as the only head of state of a Celtic country. But what does Ireland have in common with the seven Celtic regions: Brittany, Asturias, Cornwall, Galicia, the Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland?
“In my view, the centrality of the thing is the sea; the sea as the space which was travelled,” Mr Higgins said. “The Celts of Europe travelled much longer and farther than previously thought. They brought back pieces of culture and lodged them on the periphery.”
Ireland is regarded as the leader of Celts to the extent that its language is constitutionally recognised and protected, Mr Higgins said.
Mr Higgins praised Ireland’s first president Douglas Hyde. Before he was elected, Mr Hyde fought the contention by John Pentland Mahaffy of Trinity College that there was nothing of value in the Irish language. Mr Hyde drew up a study outlining evidence that Irish was between 2,500 and 3,000 years old, and was rich in literature.
Mr Higgins said he visited “many, many schools” to encourage the teaching of Irish. As minister of the Gaeltacht, he established the Irish language television station TG4.
French people are setting up Irish traditional music groups and GAA clubs in significant numbers. Attendance at this year’s festival has increased 30 per cent – because it is the “year of Ireland,” organisers say.
If Ireland were not a small, neutral country, one might almost speak of cultural imperialism. “I would describe it as an energy of diversity,” Mr Higgins said.”
On the close and historic relations between Ireland and Brittany (a place close to my own heart) President Higgins also had much to say, as described by the Irish Times:
““Of all the regions of France, none is closer to Irish hearts than Brittany,” Mr Higgins said at a reception on the Irish Naval Service’s patrol vessel LE Niamh. “I understand that, likewise, nowhere in France is there more interest in Ireland than here. Our landscapes and are coastlines are so similar. Our climates are in dialogue with, and almost equally affected by, the vast Atlantic Ocean.”
Founded in the 18th century, Lorient was reborn as a modern city after its destruction in the second World War. It’s usually sleepier than its twin city, Galway. But during the 10-day festival, when Irish tricolours hang from balconies, the smell of oysters, beer and crepes wafts through crowded streets, against a round-the-clock barrage of revellers, rock music and bagpipes.
Everywhere he went, Michael D was photographed and fawned over. At the Irish pavilion, Lucy McCormack gave Sabina Higgins a Tara broach. The graphic artist Mags Harnett gave Michael D a palimpsestic print of the Irish constitution in Irish, while sculptor Charlie Mallon from Derry entrusted the President with his exquisite bronze boar of Ben Gulbain.
After 44 years, the festival has taken on a kind of permanence, as has Lorient’s relationship to Galway. Mayor Norbert Métairie said the cities shared la céltitude, which he defined as “having roots somewhere and at the same time being open to the world”. Celts, he said, are “people on the periphery of European history” who take strength from their roots today.
Michael Dodds, Irish director of Tourisme Bretagne, said he was impressed with how Bretons “pass their heritage from generation to generation”.
The relationship between Ireland and Brittany has been consolidated by people like Reuben Ó Conluain, who has been the volunteer liaison between Ireland and the festival for 28 years (and who prepares the Irish syllabus for the Leaving Cert in his real job), and Pádraig Larkin, owner of the Galway Inn, who moved from Galway to Lorient in 1982.
“The Bretons know Irish music better than a lot of Irish people do,” Ó Conluain said.
Larkin, who describes himself as “50 per cent Breton and 100 per cent Irish,” followed a French au pair girl to Lorient, then stayed for Nadia, his French wife.
“It’s all about love,” he said.”
Of course much of the media establish in Ireland has little love for any of the Celtic languages or those who speak them, whether native or adopted. It prefers instead to believe in the same old lies about Irish-speakers along with some newer ones. Pat Fitzpatrick presents some “satirical” suggestions for the formation of a new political party, via the Irish Independent:
“You could always call the party something in our second language. It’s about time we had a party with a Polish name. Don’t use an Irish name. A slick name like Nua might appeal to people who close their eyes during a sing-song. But people who close their eyes during a sing-song are always dyed-in-the-wool Sinn Fein supporters. It’s one of the telltale signs.”
The number of regular Polish-speakers in Ireland according to the most recent census, 119,526.
The number of regular Irish-speakers in Ireland according to the most recent census, 801,063 (and that from the total of 1,777,437 who self-identified themselves as having the ability to speak Irish).
But hey, who needs something as awkward as facts when your’re peddling discrimination dressed up as humour? Know any good Jew jokes, Pat?