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Shitting On The Irish Since 1169

Labhair Gaeilge
Labhair Gaeilge
Labhair Gaeilge!

While the rest of Europe is getting on with the 21st century in the north-eastern corner of our island nation the final redoubt of the British colony in Ireland continues to behave as if it were the 19th century. At the annual conference of the DUP, the largest political party representing the Unionist minority community in the peace-brokered power-sharing regional government in Belfast, former local minister Gregory Campbell made it explicitly clear to the Irish Nationalist community – the majority demographic on the island – the regard he and his colleagues have for the indigenous language and culture of Ireland.

“Sometimes you have to spell things out for the slow learners in Sinn Féin. Now some of us do it regularly and do it often. But we’re going to keep doing it. On behalf of this party we’ll say it sloooowly so you understand Caitriona [Ruane] and Gerry [Adams]. We will never agree to your Irish language Act. Do you understand? The paper that your wish list is written on, well, we just regard it as toilet paper.”

Can you imagine a politician associated with a high profile regional administration in Spain or France, Italy or Germany, uttering such sentiments and getting away with it? Can you imagine a senior politician promulgating such hate speech and the liberal media not demanding his metaphorical head on a plate? Yet, as with his previous anti-Irish taunting, Campbell will get away with it because journalists and commentators will say it is simply a British Unionist politician in Ireland being a British Unionist politician in Ireland, appealing to the racist, sectarian and supremacist ideological base upon which his power and that of his peers are based.

However lest you think that antipathy to this country’s native culture is a legacy confined to the more anachronistic elements of the Unionist minority remember our own dear Irish civil service and its loyal adherence to its British civil service past, circa 1900. From the Irish Times:

“The Revenue Commissioners failed in their statutory bilingual duty when they sent out only the English language version of an information booklet on the local property tax, it has been claimed in the High Court.

The Revenue is appealing a decision by the Office of the Language Commissioner that it had breached the Official Languages Act 2003 by failing to communicate bilingually when it sent 1.7 million booklets to households in February 2013.

In what is the first appeal against a decision of the Language Commissioner, the court heard the commissioner received a number of complaints because under the 2003 Act, public bodies are obliged to communicate bilingually “with the public in general”.

Ben Ó Floinn, for Revenue, said the parcels sent to 1.7 million households last year were not communications with the public in general because each information parcel was addressed to a specific citizen, whose name was written clearly on the envelope along with the words “Private and Confidential”.”

Yes, a department of the government of Ireland is going all the way to the courts to appeal a review by the Language Commissioner that in the future would oblige it to fulfil its legal obligations under the Official Languages Act, both in word and in spirit. That 2003 legislation places the Irish and English languages on an almost equal footing within the state (along with the Constitution of Ireland which uniquely denotes Irish as both the national and first official language of the state, a constitutional inconvenience blithely ignored for the last ninety odd years by the, er, state). Yet civil servants will now fight against a judgement by the Commissioner that will over the long term still cost less than the hundreds of thousands of euros in legal fees it will incur in fighting it – and which the general public will pay for.

So before we condemn some extreme Unionist politicians and their media apologists for their historically racist biases perhaps we should look first at the discriminatory culture permeating the institutions of our own government. For when it comes to treating Irish-speaking communities and citizens as excrement both political Unionism and political Nationalism share a common tradition.

56 comments on “Shitting On The Irish Since 1169

  1. I have to admit to have been taken aback by Gregory’s use of language – from a personal point of view I found it deeply offensive and (naively) surprising.

    In bigger picture terms and looking at it from a Unionist point of view – ‘we’ don’t allow them to do their parading and ‘they’ don’t allow us to have an Irish language act.

    In my book their is little comparison between speaking a language and parading – from a Unionist point of view they don’t want Irish to be seen in any sort of official capacity and speaking Irish in Stormo is perhaps the equivalent of parading where you are not wanted.

    If we cut away the political rhetoric – the reality is that the Irish language and parading are part of the on-going culture wars and although I fully support an Irish language act and disapprove of Orange parading in ‘mixed’ areas – we have to recognise Gregory’s comments in that context.

    Unfortunately for Unionists our case will undoubtedly look much more reasonable to the outsider(the British) and the DUP conference must look to the same outsiders as not far off a racist-love-in but in the current political climate (ie Labour and Tories needing seats ) that may not be enough for the British to make their position clear to Gregory et al.

    And this type of talk may win back East Belfast but hopefully will serve to push South Belfast further out of Unionist reach.


    • Agree with a lot of that, sammymcnally. I think the bigger picture – culture wars to one side – is the 2015 and 2016 elections in Ireland and Britain, national and regional. Electoral concerns are driving a lot of this. That said the whole Stormont arrangements, sooner or later, must fail. Will the DUP/UUP/TUV (Alliance?) ever accept a Sinn Féin first minister? I think not.


    • using irish is not equivalent to parading though an area where you are not wanted. a parliment is a shared space that both sinn fein and DUP members are entitled to be there, if it offends DUP members to see SInn fein members Stormont then the Offended DUPers should not go to the parliment. That is in no way equivalent to a march been forced through the street on which you live, or even in the vicinity of where you live, there by causing you personal inconvenience.


  2. You missed this:
    However, only the English version was sent out, along with a letter and an application form, unless the householder had specifically registered to conduct their business with Revenue through Irish.
    That makes sense.
    What’s the point of sending information to people in a language they don’t understand?

    Irish Water – the company you hate so much – sent me everything in Irish and English.
    That was a waste of money and paper.


    • The point?

      Because state policy since 2006 has been one of “official bilingualism” which every party in Dáil Éireann signed up to at an all-party gathering.

      Because the Official Languages Act of 2003, however limiting, demands it.

      Because the Language Commissioner requests it.

      Because the constitution demands it.

      Because it is the right thing to do!


      • But in this case people who wanted to receive that information in Irish received it successfully – so what’s the problem?

        How is sending papers that no one (except the few people who actually opted in) reads going to help the language?

        I think it would be better to use that money to fund Irish lessons for people who actually want to learn it.


        • what additional cost. the saving on printing in one language instead of two (presuming you mean on paper and ink) wouldn’t pay for even one person to do a language course. in fact the cheapest way to do it is to print a single bilingual run instead of having to set up two separate runs for two different languages.

          in fact, i’m suspecting Janis that you may not be lativian at all. Why would a lativian person care less about irish speakers wanting to interact with the irish state in irish?

          i would also point out that i work in a government department that prints an enormous amount of public documents. practically all the document that become obsolete are solely printed in english, so in our department the vast majority of waste is lost on documents printed in english for which there is no requirement, and which have to be disposed of at additional cost. i suspect all other departments are the same


          • If almost no one reads those documents in English, then there’s no point in printing them in Irish too.


  3. This thing is more interesting Séamas.
    A new report has found that children who are native Irish speakers have better linguistic competency in English than in Irish.

    Researchers examined the linguistic ability of 50 children, aged between seven and 12, whose home language is exclusively Irish.

    They found that their competence in English significantly surpassed that in Irish.

    It is estimated there are now fewer than 1,000 children who are native Irish speakers in Gaeltacht area primary schools.
    This means that even people who speak Irish daily right now will probably have English speaking grandchildren.

    So that’s it man – game over man, game over!

    And at the same time you’re bitching that some government agencies don’t send papers to English speaking Dubliners in a language they can’t understand and have no desire to learn.


    • Interesting, but I’m not sure how much you can generalise from a sample of 50. Also, Jānis, I wonder if you’d be so pragmatic if it were your language that was on the line?

      As to the original post, this puts the UK government in an embarrassing position since they’ve given international guarantees under the ECRML to give specific rights to Irish speakers in the North.


      • Marconatrix, I wonder that myself about Jānis’ rather ruthless linguistic and cultural Darwinism. But for the grace of god he would be speaking Baltic German or Russian. The peoples of the Baltic have more familiarity with the suppression of a language than most:


        • That’s a perfect example of how people supported their own language from the bottom up because they felt that the language was necessary to them. The government was actively hostile to their cause.

          That’s not the case in Ireland. The general public just doesn’t want to save it – they don’t care about it. And the government spamming them papers with Irish language on them will not change their minds.
          What’s next?
          – Knock, knock, have you accepted Irish as your true saviour?
          – It’s your heritage and you’ll burn in hell unless you start learning it right now.


          • If the account that Séamas linked to is accurate, then Latvian probably had a very lucky escape. It might easily have been ground out of existence between German and Russian, or somehow partitioned between the two. But what seems to have happened is that Latvian national and linguistic consciousness developed at exactly the time when German power was waning and the Russians hadn’t quite taken over. So they had as you’d say a window of opportunity to establish Latvian as a ‘proper’ state/national language in the late 19th century, and then their period of independence between the wars to stabilise the situation. However they probably had another lucky escape with the fall of the USSR for had it endured for another few years the balance would probably have tipped in favour of Russian. This is not in any way to detract from the indomitable spirit and national awareness of the Latvian and other Baltic peoples, simply to point out that it might all have been in vain if circumstances had been less favourable.

            In the case of Irish, and indeed all the Celtic languages and peoples, there has been just one threat, that of British power and the English language, and it has been constant and unyielding through the centuries. A long war of attrition, gradually wearing down the moral and resources and self-respect of those it despised, or more recently simply wrote off as irrelevant. Put simply, we never got a break.


    • It’s about social prestige, Jānis, and services. Irish-speakers abandon Irish because of social pressures to speak English because Irish and Irish-speakers are perceived to be of lesser value. Or of lesser citizenship. To speak Irish is to open oneself to discriminatory attitudes in society, particularly as reflected in popular media and politics, and even from the government itself. Young people naturally follow the line of least resistance, naturally follow the route to social and cultural acceptability. Everyone wants to conform.

      All this is stereotypical of language suppression. Look to your own history and count yourself lucky that you are not speaking Russian or German as your own language.

      As for your game over. Maybe so. However that represents the death of a language and culture that has survived for 4000 thousand years on this island. That is the indigenous language and culture of this island. It is a victory for a process of extermination that began 800 years ago. There is nothing to be flippant about. The last remnants of an entire race of people and the civilization they represented may be about to be extinguished from the world.

      We have a saying in Irish taken from something the author Tomás Ó Cromhthain wrote in relation to himself and the Irish-speaking communities of the islands of Na Blascaodaí: Ní bheidh mo leithéid arís ann “There will never be the likes of me again.”


      • Of course there is social pressure to speak English in most parts of Ireland.
        It’s an English speaking country after all.
        I can’t imagine myself going around and speaking to people in Latvian in Dublin – that would be extremely rude and they would not understand anything anyway.
        That’s why I speak the language that the Dubliners have democratically chosen as their main language – English.

        Look to your own history and count yourself lucky that you are not speaking Russian or German as your own language.
        Very few Latvians actually speak a non-Latvian language as their native language.
        (Mostly people who repatriated from other countries)

        In Latvia we’re not reviving anything, we’re teaching a 2nd language to immigrants (Latvian has never been part of their heritage) and their descendants to ensure that there are no communication problems, because many Latvians can’t or don’t want to speak Russian.

        To speak Irish is to open oneself to discriminatory attitudes in society
        Sure if you speak it to people who don’t understand it.
        because Irish and Irish-speakers are perceived to be of lesser value
        I don’t perceive Estonians as lesser people, but I have no desire to learn Estonian. because it’s totally useless to me.
        I’ve got an impression that many Dubliners think the same of the Irish language and its speakers.


    • the number of irish speakers is increasing. when those grandchildren you speak of are about there will be considerably more irish speakers based on current trends.


      • People who speak Irish significantly worse than English will probably fail to pass Irish to their children.


        • If speaking Irish is just something the parents do, then the kids will have no motivation to use it once they get out the front door, mix with other kids, and generally realise that the world outside speaks English. There has to be a wider language community that they can (and wish to) identify with through later childhood and adolescence. Otherwise they won’t remain active speakers up to the point where they have their own children, so transmission will still have broken down.

          The point at which intergenerational transmission breaks down in a community is easily overlooked, because there will be many older folks actively using the language for decades afterwards and by the time someone notices that they’re all over 40 it’s just a bit too late to do very much about it. This has been seen over and over around the world.

          Even where many adults learn the language, all that often happens is that this ‘dying phase’ of the language is extended indefinitely, because its usually relatively older people who have the time/money to attend language classes week after week until they attain some kind of fluency at 50 or whenever. If organisations took language restoration even half seriously they’d be planning for physical communities of speakers, a sort of internal (re)colonisation.


          • And a wider community will form only if the ordinary people work to make it happen.
            As I said multiple times before – “trickle down” policies are not going to work.
            It’s like the Prohibition in the USA.
            All the laws were great on paper, but the public just did not want to follow them and the Government had to repeal it.


            • I agree, but laws can be used to remove obstacles, like preventing employers from forbidding their employees to use the local language, and there was a long history of this in Wales, and when people are frightened of losing their jobs this is very effective and reinforces The Cringe.

              Here’s a nice positive venture I’ve just come across which deserves to be more widely emulated :


              Crowdfunded too, so there’s another way the internet can be a positive force.


              • Yeah, but those laws are meaningless if the employees do not want or can’t speak the language in the first place which is the case in Ireland.

                There are no “official language” rules at my workplace, but I’ve yet to hear a conversation in Irish there.


  4. Some more positive trends in an Irish speaking community are recounted in this post:


  5. Hi Séamas,

    I knew you would write a post on Gregory Campbell’s offensive remarks in relation to the Irish language. An Irish-language agency sent me a press statement on this, and I thought I would respond in a personal capacity. My response (below) focuses on the “curry my yoghurt” carry-on. While I am in no way condoning Gregory Campbell’s comments, I thought I would, for the sake of balance, express some reservations with the way the Irish-language movement is often hijacked politically. To illustrate my point, I am referring to an old edition of “an Foclóir póca”, which I purchased back in the days when I was studying Irish. Anyway, enough said. Please find the response I sent below:

    I thought you might want to hear my views because I am a foreign national living in this part of Ireland… I am not affiliated to either community, I didn’t grow up over here, and I have no family connections in this country. It means that my views are not tainted by upbringing, community affiliation, or the schools I attended as a child/teenager.

    I have been living in this part of Ireland for a long time. I also did study Irish for a while, and did enjoy it immensely (ar an drochuair, tá mé as cleachtadh… so I will stick to English here). My aim is not to defend Gregory Campbell’s ridiculous and highly offensive remarks. It is his loss if he doesn’t want to take any interest in the Irish language. However, part of the reason why his attack on the Irish language is so scathing, is to do with the way the Irish language has often been hijacked by nationalists.

    I will give you one example, which is indicative of the political bias which still exists within some Irish-speaking circles. My old edition of the “Foclóir póca” shows alarming bias in places… Granted, it is a very old edition (1990), so it could be that things have changed since then. At the end of the dictionary, many countries/regions are listed. They include Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, the Isle of Man, the Shetland Islands… all parts of the “British” Isles. Yet, there is no entry for “British Isles”! I can see that an Irish nationalist doesn’t view Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England etc. as forming a “British” unit, however the phrase “British Isles” is a widely used geographical reference (used throughout the English-speaking world, in fact), and therefore it really should have been listed in that dictionary, if only for the convenience of those unionist learners who relate to it and might want to use it. It is abundantly clear, to me, that “British Isles”, as an entry, was deliberately omitted because it didn’t fit the nationalist agenda of the people who compiled the dictionary.

    It is also interesting to see that “Northern Ireland” isn’t listed…. Which means that a unionist learner of the language, who might want to find out how to say “Northern Ireland”, won’t be able to find out in that particular edition of the dictionary. I even checked the examples of use associated with “Northern”, in the dictionary. The only example listed is “the northern towns”! And if I check the equivalent entry in Irish (Tuaisceart), all I find is “north/northern part”… No such thing as “Tuaisceart na hÉireann”.

    But the worst bit is the fact that British/Briotanach is not listed as a nationality! Yet, a whole pile of nationalities are listed: French/Francach, Italian/Iodálach… Again, to me, this is totally deliberate.
    To me, this is all very unfortunate. People compiling a dictionary should set aside their political views. Imagine a vegetarian deliberately omitting the entry for “meat” when listing words for a dictionary!

    So, there you are. Yes, Gregory Campbell’s comments are shameful, but more could be done, in my opinion, to make his community feel welcome within the Irish-language community. Being an outsider, it is easy for me to be so philosophical and detached about these matters. If I were a Unionist Protestant, on the other hand, I don’t know to what extend I would feel included within a cultural movement that is so obviously pursuing political objectives that would go against my deeply-entrenched views.

    Gregory Campbell may have mispronounced Irish words on purpose, to ridicule a language and its speakers, but a dictionary that stops short of listing words it doesn’t agree with is equally questionable.


    • Thanks for the comment, François. Maybe the limited nature of a pocket dictionary meant some terms were omitted for reasons of space rather than politics? Which edition was it? The Collins has it since at least 2002, I think? I know that na hOileáin Bhriotanacha does occur in Irish, though exclusively relating to the island of Britain and its islands. Which is how an Irish person would use the term in either Irish or English. Very few Irish people would include Ireland in the “British Isles”, either geographically or politically and would be offended by the inclusion. We are not a “British Ukraine” 😉

      The Irish language, by tradition, usually refers to the nations of Britain individually. That is not a political thing but rather a cultural one (and with long literary and vernacular roots). In Irish I would say Sasana “England” when I meant “Britain”. But I would always say Britain in English for Britain. It represents a non-English cultural view and custom.

      Likewise I’d rarely say “British” in Irish but would by tradition individualise based upon country or region of origin in Britain, or use Sasanaigh “English” for “British”. That again follows centuries-old historical custom. The problem – in part – is that the Irish language use Breatnaigh for the “Welsh”, which again reflects a very different cultural point of view and semantic history. The Welsh are the “British” in the Irish language 😉

      That may be objectionable to some Unionists but they can change that through their own use or even neologisms (which the language already has developed). Every language has its cultural and historical idiosyncrasies.

      As for “Northern Ireland” the term is used in Irish documents and appears in the dictionaries but again history and custom reflects actual use. In English I’d say the north or north-east. In Irish I’d say the north or six counties. I’d never say “Northern Ireland” in either language. It is a very formal way of referring to the region and largely artificial in nature.


      • Hi Séamas,

        Thanks for your reply. I first became aware of missing terminology in the Foclóir Póca (1990 edition… it cost me IR£3.95 at the time, going by the price tag still on it!) when I was trying to find out how to say “Northern Ireland” in Irish. I realised that there were no references whatsoever to that terminology. It was published by An Gúm and An Roinn Oideachais, and has a blue cover with white stripes.

        As you know, “Northern Ireland” is commonly used in this part of Ireland. Since I work for the local newspaper, I am well aware of the terminology used by the various political parties, and general public alike, when they issue press statements. The unionist parties, and Alliance, always refer to this part of Ireland as “Northern Ireland”. The SDLP tend to alternate between “the North” and “Northern Ireland”. Sinn Féin is the only party (sizeable though it is) that doesn’t use “Northern Ireland”.

        Likewise, “British” is commonly used by people in the town where I live, either to describe themselves, or to refer to the nationality of people living in GB and/or the UK. They also usually include Ireland, north and south, as being part of the British Isles. Things are very different north of the border, as you know, especially where you have a unionist majority, as is the case in my small town.

        If I was a Breton speaker compiling a Breton-French dictionary, or indeed a Breton-English dictionary, there is no way I would leave out entries such as “France” or “French” to make a subtle (sneaky?) political point. I truly don’t believe the omission of the word “British” was accidental, or the result of a lack of space. Yet, I am not normally the ‘conspiracy theorist’ type…

        Now, I still like my “Foclóir póca”… It brings back good memories of attending the Oideas Gael college in Glencolmkille, Donegal. I would like to think that more current editions, in keeping with the more peaceful times we are living in, are more reflective of the cultural/political diversity that exists within the island of Ireland…


    • i find the term ‘british isles’ a fairly offensive (and political) term actually. i don’t think it is used that mush really. i can’t remember ever hearing it used in a conversation i was involved in. i’ve heard it on tv or read it in newspapers. even the ryder cup team before it was european was referred to as the great britain and ireland team, not the british isles team. People who use that term have a particular political outlook, and i’d be very surpised if the term is used that much in the rest of the english world outside our small corner.

      People here would tend to call northern ireland simply the north, though i have noticed that northern ireland is used more now. again the name northern ireland is politically loaded, but the term ‘Tuaisceart na hÉireann’ does exist.

      can’t explain the british not being listed as a nationality, though i lived in the UK for years and most people there would refer to themselves as English/Scotish/Welsh. I will say that republican’s have no problem in using the term British to describe people’s nationality. but then again, you seem to KNOW that the term is omitted from your small dictionary on the grounds of prejudice.

      incidently, i suspect that campbell has no interest in being welcomed into the irish speaking community, despite his name being gaelic.


      • In other countries it’s used purely as a geographical term and simply means “Great Britain and Ireland”.


  6. Hi Martin,

    I can only speak from what I know… The small corner of Ireland where I live. You appear to be living south of the border, so bear in mind that it is a very different world.

    I work for the local newspaper, so I am pretty much au fait with the local phraseology (the one I have to use every day as part of my work). I know that the terminology used elsewhere is very different… I don’t have to drive that far to hear it. So, please bear in mind that I am not questioning anything you are saying. I am just speaking from the perspective of the people I meet day in, day out, through my work and outside of work, where I live.

    I don’t think you read me correctly. I have no way of “knowing”, as a fact, that “British” was omitted deliberately, since I am not privy to the thinking of the people who compiled that dictionary. I am just ‘convinced’ of it… There is a difference. I just think it is a very strange omission, that’s all. I don’t see any big evil plot behind that, though… I would say the same thing if the word “Spanish” was omitted from a Basque-Spanish dictionary, or “Belgian” from a Flemish-French dictionary, and so on.

    As stated, and on a lighter note, I love that small pocket dictionary of mine. It brings back lots of happy memories…


    • I don’t know the answer to the “British Isles” problem, i.e. what do you call the whole collection of islands off this part of NW Europe. Clearly there are times when in geography or biology or climatology etc. you need to refer to them collectively and without regard to politics.

      IIRC there was a fierce edit war on Wikipedia where someone had written that Lough Neagh was the largest lake in the British Isles … oh dear! (The bodies are probably still lying about on the comments page). What do they say in France or Denmark or Latvia? If we refer to “the three Baltic states” does that wind up the Estonians who are not linguistically Baltic but Finnic? This can all get very very silly.

      In English “British” can mean either “belonging to the nation state of Great Britain”, or usually in historical or linguistic contexts, “relating to the Ancient Britons, their language and their linguistic and cultural descendants, the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. In Welsh there are two different words.

      At least in the UK we can distinguish between England and Britain, so no one would say the Welsh or Scots are ‘English’ (the Cornish are often not so lucky), even though most of them speak English, but then so do Americans, well sort of. So when English people say ‘English/England’ when they mean ‘British/Britain’ or the UK for that matter, it is highly offensive to the rest of us. But the French are stuck with one term for both the multi-ethnic state and the dominant ‘people’. So they will happily say that Bretons, Basques etc. are French, which I imagine is also highly offensive since it effectively ‘dissappears’ these other communities.


      • Marconatrix, in recent years the term “Celtic Isles” has become relatively popular in Ireland as a geographical description for the islands of Ireland and Britain and their islands, since it reflects the the fact that at least four of the five nations in the area are popularly viewed as being “Celtic” (Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Mann; or five out of six nations if you also count Cornwall) and it remains the home of the largest number of Celtic speakers (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Manx and some Cornish).

        “British Isles” in Ireland at least carries entirely political connotations not geographical ones. And even geographically it implies possession/ownership/territoriality.


      • In Latvia it’s not uncommon to hear people saying “Anglija” (England) when they really mean “the UK”, because they’re like “they all speak English, so what’s the difference?”.

        Mass media use the term “Britu salas” (British Isles) when referring to Great Britain and Ireland – it’s a geographical term and does not imply ownership – just like “the Irish Sea”, for example.

        If we refer to “the three Baltic states” does that wind up the Estonians who are not linguistically Baltic but Finnic?
        No it does not. I’s a commonly used term in the region.


        • Éibhear Neff

          In Ireland you can also hear people refer to any place in Britain as England, this does not make it right; it annoys even me and I’m neither Welsh nor Scottish.

          With due respect Jānis, “they all speak English” is not correct, they also speak Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Scots, Ulster Scots, Irish, among others. It could therefore be insulting to those other language speakers. Generalisation is no justification for even the slightest insult – or unacceptable racist remarks.

          Also, I would have to hear Estonians tell me they don’t mind the term “the three Baltic states”.

          If I was ignorant of your region, would you mind me calling you Russian, or say they speak Russian in the Baltic States?


          • I know that people speak languages other than English in the UK – I just said that many people are ignorant and don’t know that.

            The Estonians certainly don’t mind the term “Baltimaad” (The Baltic States) , because they’re using it themselves.

            I would find it offensive if someone called me Russian.

            But here in Ireland people often mistake me for Polish or Lithuanian which is not nearly as bad 😀


            • Éibhear Neff

              I guessed, Jānis, you would not like to be called Russian 🙂 So, you might understand why we in Ireland do not like the term British Isles – but as I have argued below it is totally Celtic and so we should not really have a problem with it. It has political connotations for us 😦


              • Using the term “British Isles” is offensive, but speaking and writing BRITISH ENGLISH and teaching it to your children as their 1st language is not offensive at all – for some reason.

                Dat Irish logic.


              • Éibhear Neff

                Teaching English to our children as their 1st language is unnecessary to me. Having said that, I would never sever our, now well established, link with the English language – after all we have given the English language some of its greatest writers – something all Irish people are very proud of. We Irish have made the English language our own and moulded it to our needs and added a development to it.

                I spoke Irish to my children, knowing that English would be readily available to them as well, it is after all an international language. A child being bilingual is a great mental tool. But if an Irish parent wishes to bring their child up with English only, then they are quite entitled to.

                There is nothing wrong with Irish logic, and at this stage I think you are only being mischievously pedantic.


  7. Éibhear Neff

    1. You do not seem to understand the concept of a state practicing official bilingualism (Ireland is not alone). Also, you can live in Dublin and never hear Irish, you can also live in Dublin and hear Irish every day, just as you can live in Dublin and hear Latvian every day.

    2. Gael Scoileanna and “Book Smugglers” are very similar and “a perfect example of how people supported their own language from the bottom up because they felt that the language was necessary to them. The government was actively hostile to their cause.” (your own words are now my words)

    Language is a body of words and a system of rules to put these words together so as to form an arrangement to communicate.

    1. The same language may even have differences when used within another nation.
    i. English as spoken in Ireland can have “a hurler sitting on the ditch”, whereas, in England he would have to sit on a “dyke”, whereas again, in Ireland he could only fall into the dyke.
    ii. The term “republican” will infer something specific in Ireland as opposed to internationally.

    2. The language system may not be sufficient so as to be unambiguous.
    i. English literature – is this literature in the English language or is it literature written by English writers?
    ii. “Litríocht an Bhéarla” means literature in the English language, whereas, “litríocht Shasana” is literature written by English writers; no unambiguity in Irish.

    3. Language influences thought and perceived reality and vice-versa.
    i. “Tuaisceart Éireann” means Northern Ireland, “tuaisceart na hÉireann” means the north of Ireland. There you have the creation of a term with the difference of just one small word. Just one note, some dictionaries avoid naming countries as they have a tendency to change, Yugoslavia.
    ii. “Briotanach” refers to the person, “Breatain” refers to the island of Britain. To create the term “British Isles” we would have “Oileáin na Breataine”, but in Irish this would imply possession or ownership and therefore in Irish means the island of Britain and its territorial islands (Ireland would not be included, it is not for political reasons this understanding is made, rather, it is because the Irish language is actually more precise in its grammar). This is why you will not find the term in an Irish language dictionary, British Isles is actually translated as “Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór”. In fact, the Irish have more claim to the term British than the English. The term Britain/British is Celtic, it comes from the goddess Brigid (Brigit), a goddess common to both Ireland and Britain, therefore, to bring the term back to its origins we could have “Brigit’s Isles/Oileáin Bhríde” (notice how easily “Brigit’s” could become “British”). By the way, you could insult a Breton by calling him/her French (the term Breton comes from the same root as British, they were displaced peoples from Britain).


    • that’s really interesting. thanks for that


      • No relation between ‘Britain’ and ‘Brìghd’ (< Brigantia) though, they're quite different roots.


        • Éibhear Neff

          The Romans coined the term Britannia, a Latin term taken from a Celtic language name (note: there were no English anywhere on the island at the time so the origin of Britain is not English).

          Celtic peoples (or tribes) often took their name from the god/goddess by whom they swore by. This was the case with the powerful Celtic people in the north of what is now England, called the Brigantes – Latinised Brigantia. The Brigantes fought the Romans for years to defend their Celtic homeland. Ptolemy, a second-century geographer, mentioned a tribe also called the Brigantes in Leinster.

          The goddess of the Brigantes was, in Old Irish, Brigit (there are many variations, pronunciations, and spellings of her name all over Europe). “Brigit” would be “Brighit” spelt in Modern Irish, and the “ighi” sound in the middle would eventually give an “í” sound. (This is explained nicely with the English language word “bright” where the “igh” sound is different today – “Brigit” has one meaning as “Bright One”). The name and the word have an Indo European and Sanskrit root.

          Brigit is not just an Irish or British goddess, however, she was a primary goddess of the whole Celtic world. She has given her name to rivers and places in Ireland, Britain, and across Europe to Hungary.

          The symbol of Britain is this goddess (still found on coinage in her aspect as Goddess of Sovereignty and Guardian of the Land).

          Modern spelling Bríd, through the Brigantes who worshipped Bríd and were the largest Celtic tribe to occupy the Britain in pre-Roman times, has without doubt given her name to Britain.


          • Brigantia is a description and means something like “noble (lady)”, likewise the Brigantes thought of themselves as a cut above the rest. The word is related to Gaelic _brὶgh_ ‘essence’ and Welsh _bri_ ‘honour’, ‘distinction’. _Brigant-_ > W. _Braint_ ‘privilege’. I believe _brenin_ ‘king’ is another derivative.

            The ancient Brits seem to have called themselves _Brittones_ but there are varients with one _t_ and two _nn_’s. Hence _Britannia_ for the island, or at least the Roman province. An even older version (of the same name?) with an initial _p_ became specialised for either the entire island or for the northern bit ‘beyond civilisation’, so something like *_Pritania_. This gives Welsh _Prydain_ ‘Britain’ (now Gt. B. the modern state). The Gaelic word _Cruithneach_ ‘Pictish’ seems to have been borrowed from a native form like _Pritenikos_.

            Whatever, nothing to do with Brigantia apart from both words happening to begin ‘Bri-‘.


            • Éibhear Neff

              We are speaking linguistics here, and we might as well discuss the existence of Bríd herself. All the descriptions you apply to Brigantia are also applied to Bríd.

              The ancient Brits would not have called themselves anything in a collective sense because, as in Ireland, they would not have the notion of nation. The Irish word for that island was Alba. Applying a collective name to the peoples of the island would come from the outside, because, each people/tribe would see themselves as quite distinct and separate.

              “Bri-” has everything to do with what we are talking about, “Brigantia, Bríd, Britain” and in fact “bright” all have the same Indo European and Sanskrit root, and brings us back to an extremely important and very popular panCeltic-European solar goddess “Bri”git. Her popularity fills Europe, Britain, and Ireland with place names and river names – just as the god Lugh, another panCeltic god, gave his name to London.


              • The Britons had a collective name for themselves as inhabitants of the Roman province of Britannia plus there relatives between the walls who were allied and spoke the same language. This was in contrast to the Caledonians/Picts north of the Forth/Clyde line.

                We know very little for sure about Celtic paganism and most of what you read has just been made up, the temptation to fill the void is enormous. I don’t doubt there was a goddess of childbirth and dairy products associated with the dead of winter, who was sufficiently important culturally that she had to be transformed into a Christian saint. Who know what her original name might have been? As is often the case she became known by an epithet, ‘noble’ or ‘exulted’ or ‘excellent’ or whatever. That doesn’t mean that the adjective ceased to be used as a common or garden descriptor, or that other things or persons could not be so described. Indeed the word and its derivatives still exist in our modern Celtic languages.

                Lugus > Irish Lugh > Welsh Lleu (Llyw- in names), seems to have meant ‘light’. E.g. W. go-leu ‘light’ where the go- is an intensive prefix. His feast was of course six months on from Féile Brìghde. I always associate him with rational thought, the rather ‘male’ ‘logical’ mind, as opposed to the dark intuition of Brìghd, but that’s just my personal interpretation. Also probably an association with lightening (W. lluched, probably related, would need to look it up) given his weapon was a spear that never missed its mark. Meant literally, or just to imply a penetrating intellect? Who knows 😉


              • Éibhear Neff

                The “Britons” had a collective name put upon them as inhabitants of the Roman province of Britannia by the Romans.

                Of course very little is known of Celtic religion, simply because the Celts did not trust writing – that is unfortunate for us. As religion is a belief and not a science, people interpret old religions as is done today with fundamental ideas of modern religions. Nothing new there.

                During my studies, a respected Professor of Old Irish informed and explained “Britain” being derived from “Brigid”. Linguistics can work back to establish an acceptable researched Indo-European root and even show the relationship between two words in different languages that look totally dissimilar. We have the obvious P and Q Celtic languages changing the same word. I could show “Brigid” becoming “Britain” but would have to prove it with academic research and I am not giving it the time right now.


    • Hi Éibhear,
      Thanks for your comment. I am well aware that every language has regional/national variants. Obviously, I wouldn’t have expected to find “windshield” or “sidewalk” in the English-entry section of my pocket dictionary, since these are US English terms. The generic term “British” may well be less used in Irish than in English (at least in the UK/Ireland), however it remains a common term, and I would have expected to find it in my small dictionary, since other nationalities are listed as well. In France too, the word “British” (“Britannique”) isn’t nearly as used as the word “English” (“Anglais”), however it remains a common word that I would expect to find in a small dictionary. Britain is the country next door, after all, so we are not talking about Tadjikistan!
      Regarding Breton people, I wasn’t commenting on whether they feel/don’t feel French, or indeed whether they are/aren’t French (or whether they ought/ought not to feel French, etc.). I wanted to remain well clear of that debate. My point was simply that the noun/adjective “French” is bound to be a word frequently used in the Breton language, regardless of political considerations or national allegiances. So, there again, I would be surprised if I didn’t find the Breton entry for “French” in a Breton dictionary.
      Thanks for the bit on “Tuaisceart na hÉireann” vs “Tuaisceart Éireann”. The subtle shift in meaning is interesting.


      • Éibhear Neff

        Bonjour François,
        I am not defending a dictionary, I am explaining differences in languages and obviously not very well – so I will stay with the term you are interested in.
        There are in fact two generic terms in Irish for “British”.

        1.i. “Briotanach” a noun, refers to the person : a Briton.
        1.ii. “Briotanach” an adjective relating to the person : British :- “pas Briotanach” = a British passport (a passport for a Briton, or by extension, a person with allegiance to the British Crown). This term, therefore, cannot be used for “British Isles”.
        1.iii. Strictly these terms are connected to the island of Britain. Even in English, the term British being applied to a citizen of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (that is not a Briton) is being used as an adjective. A person from “Northern Ireland” of the Unionist tradition will use the adjective “British”, not to say they were born on the island of Britain but their tradition/viewpoint/allegiance is to the British Crown.

        2.i. “Breatain” a noun, refers to the island of Britain. “an Bhreatain Mhór” = Great Britain (“an Bhreatain Bheag” = Wales)
        2.ii. “na Breataine” is the genitive case of the noun being used with an adjectival understanding, “British”. This structure, therefore, is the only one that can be used for “British Isles”. And, in Irish, refers to the island of Britain only.
        2.iii. Therefore the term “British Isles” / “Oileáin na Breataine” in Irish means the island of Britain and its territorial islands (Ireland is not included).

        I hope this explains that the term you choose, “Briotanach”, to create the term “British Isles”, cannot linguistically be used in Irish. It has nothing to do with politics nor how common a word it may be, or if the country is next door, or if the country is at the other side of the world. So with this reply, and the last, I have shown you that the Irish language is very specific – one word in English losely covers what three more precise words do in Irish – language, person, land.


        • Thanks for your reply, Éibhear. I wasn’t trying to contradict you, but maybe it came across that way. Your knowledge of Irish is obviously very sound, so well done. I would probably have kept at it if it was spoken where I live, but that’s a separate issue…


          • Éibhear Neff

            Tá Fáilte romhat, François. You never know, there is still time 🙂



          Then what does “Na hOileáin Bhriotanacha” mean?


          • Éibhear Neff

            “The Islands of the British (People)”, you could then flip that to poorly represent “The British Isles” BUT consider the above “pas Briotanach” = a British passport.

            For a Latvian your Irish is good (even knowing what to search for).

            From the same search you found “Ny h-Ellanyn Goaldagh” = the islands of foreigners, “Eileanan Bhreatainn” = “Oileáin na Breataine” above.


            • “Ny h-Ellanyn Goaldagh” = the islands of foreigners : Surely this must mean the Hebrides, once largely dominated by the Norse. “Na h-Innse Gall” in Scots G. “Gall, Galltach” is usually a ‘lowlander’, i.e. anyone who’s not a “Gaidheal”. Someone from “A’ Ghalltachd” as opposed to “A’ Ghaidhealtachd”, which for us is the Highlands, (where Gaelic was once the main language, say 200 yrs ago), although it is now sometimes used in the Irish sense of “current G.-speaking area”.


          • Jānis, oileáin Bhriotanacha is pretty much “civil service Irish” as far as I know. A term created by Irish public servants to match a term in English. I stand to be corrected. I would equate it with the term An Albainis which is used to mean “Scots (Scots English)” and comes from bureaucratic origins. This despite the fact that some Irish speakers object to the application, arguing that the term should be properly applied to Gaeilge na hAlban or “Scottish (Scottish Gaelic)”. In Irish Manainnis means “Manx (Manx Gaelic)” – along with Gaeilge Mhanann – so the logic is obvious and with valid historic origins. You can follow a bilingual row on it here.


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