In 1981 the “reverend” Ian Paisley MP MEP, founder and chief of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the Democratic Unionist Party and several quasi-terrorist groupings (notably the Ulster Resistance), issued an infamous response to a speech by the Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey where he claimed on behalf of the British Unionist minority in Ireland that:
“Our ancestors cut a civilisation out of the bogs and meadows of this country while Mr Haughey’s ancestors were wearing pig skins and living in caves …”
Despite the passage of nearly forty years this partisan understanding of the colonisation of our island nation by armed settlers and “planters” from Britain remains central to the ideology of political Unionism. The violent displacement of native Irish communities went hand-in-hand with the suppression of our language and culture, these things being regarded as the foremost impediments to the establishment of what we might now term a “British state for a British people” on the island of Ireland (to rework that old phrase). Through the historic mechanisms of invasion, occupation and annexation a shared sense of an indigenous Irish identity amongst the country’s inhabitants was slowly eroded or replaced. As many scholars have subsequently observed, Ireland’s fate under the Elizabethans and Cromwellians was a mere precursor for what would later befall the peoples of North America during the era of European expansion; an expansion that of course featured many prominent “Scots-Irish”, the immediate descendants of those who brought renewed “troubles” to Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries.
It is in this context of past struggles that we should view Unionist opposition to the establishment of legal equality between the two majority cultures in the north-east of the country, Irish Nationalist and British Unionist, represented most obviously by the Irish and English languages. Such obstructionism is simply the continuation of that ancient Anglo-British “culture war” which disfigured Ireland for so long and which was latterly fuelled by notions of racial superiority. Notions that the rest of Europe rejected in the aftermath of WWII and the defeat of Nazism, including most of the people on the island of Britain (bar the Far Right fringe of the BNP, EDL, National Front and UKIP; where of course many Unionist pols find a ready audience for their special pleading). Indeed similar supremacist thinking shapes the world-view of those who use violence against satirists and journalists because those individuals refuse to accept the cultural restrictions demanded by their attackers.
From the Newsletter:
“A consultation on a draft Irish language act has been branded a waste of time and money by former culture minister Nelson McCausland.
DUP MLA Mr McCausland said the announcement of the process, due to begin next month, is designed to “distract from Sinn Fein’s failure” to progress the issue.
His party colleague Gregory Campbell has already stated he would treat the demand for such legislation as no more than toilet paper.
The current culture minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, hopes to enshrine official protection for Irish speakers in law.
Mr McCausland said: “At a time when there are many pressing issues and challenges facing her department, the culture minister has announced that she intends to waste time, money and effort consulting on something she knows will not happen.
The chair of the Assembly’s culture, arts and leisure committee added: “The SDLP have been keen to embarrass Sinn Fein over recent days about their failure to secure any progress towards an act, and it would seem that the minister’s announcement is some crude attempt to give the impression that something can be achieved, when both she and her party are well aware that her chance of success is zero.””
Chance of equality? Zero.
However, lest we believe that our nation as a whole is free of the poisonous legacy of colonial-era racism, think again. It can manifest itself in many ways. From the Herald:
“A GOVERNMENT department is advising its staff not to use a fada in the spelling of their names, despite being a huge supporter of the Irish language.
The Department of Education sent an email recommending that its staff refrain from including the accent in the spelling of their name, as its finance systems will not recognise the accent and, therefore, employees risk delayed wage payments.
The email, sent last month by the department’s assistant finance principal asked finance system users not to include the sine fada when using the service.
A source told the Herald that there is anger among some staff within the department regarding the instruction to drop the fada and that several are threatening to make a complaint to the Irish Language Commissioner.”
In fact government departments in Ireland have been discouraging the use of the síneadh fada for decades, an essential element in most Irish words and terms. The last big scandal arising from this latent discrimination concerned obstacles being placed in the way of children with Irish names being registered by the Department of Social Welfare. We were promised technological and procedural reform then. Instead it seems that we are still waiting for some Irish-born men, women and children not to be regarded as “foreigners” in their own country.
We’ll have none of that shite spoken here! You’re Irish! So speak English!
But aren’t you acting the same in cases when your rudimentary Irish is not enough?
Jānis, the image was inspired by the arrest and detention of an Irish-speaker by the gardaí for answering in Irish to questions put to him in English. The officers concerned voiced the opinion that “Irish-speakers” should be treated in the same way that they would treat “foreigners” (which tells us much). My Irish fluency is employed as much as possible when engaging family and friends, however poor it may be. I do not dismiss the language or those who speak it. And by publishing these pieces in English I reach a far greater and more sympathetic audience than is generally assumed. Irish-speakers already know the story – sympathetic English-speakers rarely do. Engaging in a campaign of hearts and minds takes many forms. Challenging Anglophone supremacists on their own terms is a necessary prerequisite of that.
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The officers concerned voiced the opinion that “Irish-speakers” should be treated in the same way that they would treat “foreigners”
And what’s wrong with that? – do you think that foreigners should be treated worse than the natives?
More like – they should be treated like people who don’t want to or can’t speak the real national and official language of Ireland – the English language.
If someone started to answer questions in Polish or Hungarian he would be detained too and Gardai would try to get an interpreter for him.
You can of course quote the constitution and say that the state must provide all of its services in Irish as well.
But we all know that the constitution does not reflect the real situation. You simply can’t expect bilingualism from a monolingual society – that just does not work and we all see the results.
The Irish have decided – they want to be an English speaking nation and the legislation should reflect that.
Irish is not the 1st and national language it’s a regional minority language and a ceremonial language and that’s it – that should be clearly written in the constitution.
You’ll not revive it by passing schizophrenic cargo cult laws that have nothing in common with the real world.
(And I don’t think that the Irish nation actually wants to revive it)
Get your heid doon Jānis, you’re in for it now …
Actually, in response to your comments on ‘foreigners’, I think you’ll find some languages are “more equal than others”. When the row broke out recently in the UK about Polish supermarket workers being banned from speaking Polish at work, including apparently to Polish speaking customers in places where there was a Polish community, it caused a lot of discussion, especially in Wales. But one thing that came out was that an employee who could deal with say a French or German speaking customer in their own language would be praised, whereas to supply exactly the same service in Polish or Lithuanian (or Latvian, no doubt) could get them the sacked. Speaking a ‘big’ language like French, in the UK at least, is still considered an ‘accomplishment’, whereas speaking an East European language, or no doubt a local minority language or immigrant language is seen as offensive. Interesting. Then add the Celtic Cringe, which is the other side of the coin, and you see the problem. I’ve said it before, but you really don’t know just how lucky you are that there appears to be no similar ‘Baltic Cringe’, despite centuries of colonisation. I wonder exactly what factors explain the difference, but still that’s history and doesn’t really alter the present situation.
Did the Romans feel “Roman Cringe” when they got invaded by barbarians?
Jānis, when it comes to your native home and your adopted home you seem to sing from very different – and contradictory – hymn sheets 😉
There’s no contradiction.
The Russian language is spoken in Latvia only by Russians which were imported from the USSR – it’s not used by Latvians to communicate among themselves and it’s not a part of our identity.
The English language, on the other hand, is spoken by almost all of the Irish natively.
It’s totally a part of their identity and most of them can’t speak any other language.
Russian has been a minority language in Latvia since the 19th century. In the latter half of the 20th century a third of the population in Latvia spoke Russian as their sole or second language. Including serveral generations of Latvian-born Russian monolinguals. What has reversed the Russification of Latvia has been legislation by independent Latvia to protect and promote Latvian while ignoring or discouraging Russian. Russian was and remains a “native” language in Latvia for a minority of Latvians. You are blind to the mote in thine own eye.
Most of those “Latvians” would feel offended if they heard you calling them “Latvians”.
(especially the ones who immigrated during the Soviet rule)
They would say: “I’m Russian not Latvian, don’t call me Latvian again!”.
The Russification was reversed by the Russians GTFOing back to Russia or dying off and the fact that we closed the border with Russia and stopped further immigration from there.
The Russian language does not exist in Latvia without physical presence of Russians.
Ethnic Latvians like me simply DO NOT use the language to communicate despite the fact that most of us speak it fluently.
Most of my family and friends speak Russian as good as native speakers, but we use Latvian exclusively to communicate and we’re doing that not because we’re afraid of breaking the law, but because the language of the invader is not part of our identity and it feels natural to speak Latvian.
If a Latvian refuses to speak Russian in Latvia he’s not discriminating anyone.
If a Russian tries to communicate with me in Russian he’s offending me, because he’s basically saying: “Latvia is not an independent country, it’s a part of the Russian empire and as a subject of the empire you must stop speaking your dog language and speak Russian like all normal people do”
We can’t really apply that kind of thinking to Ireland because that would mean that 90% of the Irish (including the author of this blog and his family) should pack their bags and move to England.
I find it very interesting how foreigners are posting here what should be in the Irish constitution, or what our first language should be and is.
The Article 8 doesn’t make you look respectable.
It makes you look silly and when I read that it makes me think “Who the hell are you trying to fool here?”.
I would figure that the purpose and motivation behind Article 8 would escape a foreigner. Not to be in any way wanting to be offensive or exclusive, but perhaps you have to be Irish or somewhat sympathetic to Irish history to really understand that. Proclaiming a tenet of the constitution as not respectable is not exactly good form, by the way.
I understand the motivation.
The people who wrote the constitution wanted to revive the language.
But the problem is that the related legislation pretends that the society is bilingual while in reality it’s far from the truth.
Pretending that you’re something that you’re not does not make you look respectable at all.
There are still a good number of us left who are not pretending at all.
Maybe you’re not, but the state as a whole is.
I’m not sure all native Irish communities were displaced, the Presbyterian and C of I churchyards in my own area are full of native Irish surnames, Presbyterian Scots also seem to get the blame for inventing Irish Republicanism, so they can’t have been all bad. I’m also unconvinced that the Scots-Irish were uniquely anti-native American, sounds like stereotypical scapegoating to me. Wasn’t it General Phil Sheridan, an Irish Catholic, who coined the well-known phrase about the only good Indian being a dead one?
Precisely. The Plantation of Ulster was carried out over a period of nearly a century, from the death of Liz 1 in 1605 when James became the first king of both England and Scotland. It involved three separate and frequently mutually antipathetic ethnic groups: the southern English, from East Anglia, the West Country, London (hence Londonderry) who mainly settled in Mid Ulster – the English speaking Lowland and Border Scots, who provided by far the largest contingent, and became dominant on the E Coast, and the Gaelic speaking Highland Scots, who were themselves descended from Gaelic speaking Irish colonists who had colonised Scotland from Ulster 1000 yrs earlier, and were far more closely related culturally linguistically and racially to the native Ulster Irish.
The Protestant majority was reinforced by further immig from Scotland and also by immig of French Huguenots (see Danny Blanchflower)
Virtually all Northern Irish Catholics have some Planter DNA by now: Hume, Adams, Hendron, Sands, Nelson etc – and most NI Protestants are likely to be a mixture of English Scots Gael and Scots Lowlander, probably with some native as well.
Spot on John, and I know it, for I personally did a lot of mixing with young Ulster-scotch lassies in my youth
If they weren’t displaced than what was the Nine Year War about?
Ginger, “displaced” can mean many different things in this context: politically, socially, culturally, linguistically and geographically.
My focus was on one of the founding tenets of “Unionism” as a political ideology, not on the “Unionist” community or people, whatever their historic origins. The colonial era and racist origins of some aspects of political Unionism in Ireland can hardly be debated (however much some Unionist leaders may wish it otherwise). A primary objective of Unionist-sympathising or defending writers, academics, journalists and politicians for the last 40 years has been the removal of the word “colonialism” from the discussion of the British territorial presence in Ireland. It simply terrifies them since they know the connotations it carries in the ears or eyes of most Western audiences. Hence the hysterical reaction to Anna Lo’s observations last year on “Northern Ireland” being the last administrative remnant of the British colony on this island nation (though even the UK government agrees with her).
The attribution of the phrase to General Sheridan is actually thought to be in error by most historians. Most of the non-native population was reportedly anti-native American (especially in Sheridan’s time), so I am not sure either if the Scots-Irish were exceptional in their disposition in the overall destruction of the Native American people. However, during earlier settlement in the time period between 1700 and 1776 the majority of immigrants from Ireland were Scots-Irish Presbyterians. They were particularly ruthless in their treatment of Native Americans, but were also frequent victims of Native-American violence. It is now difficult to ascertain whose acts initiated the conflict.
In terms of who initiated the conflict between native American communities and the new immigrants from Ireland, well I would say those incoming invaders/settlers. Though admittedly I’m biased in this regard 😉
That last statement was actually meant to be tongue-in-cheek, perhaps even somewhat sarcastic. Most people are not happy about being invaded.
Another spell of direct rule from London would no doubt get the bill through (irony). But such legislation is no use unless there is the public will and an official culture to see that it is respected and where necessary enforced. Like in the South … oh dear!
Totally agree, Marconatrix.
I’ve said the same multiple times as well. Without the public will language legislation is not worth more than a toilet paper.
The linguistic environment is created from the bottom up, not the other way around.
Séamas should be glad for the lip service and tokenism he gets right now – you can’t expect anything more from public servants who don’t speak the language themselves and are not interested in it.
Jánis you seem very interested in this topic. Can I ask why? Does it effect you personally that the Irish would have the audacity of choosing their indigenous language as the official language of the country? Perhaps you should be aware that Irish holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Irish. Almost all of our place names and surnames and a good deal of our forenames derive and are in Irish. Irish was the language of our ancestors and is still known throughout the land despite not being spoken widely. Irish was the first written language in the vernacular in Europe – we are proud of this. I’m sure you will come back with some smart comment that we should speak American English and forget about all this heritage but somehow I don’t think everyone will agree with you.
As another foreigner (though from the ‘near abroad’) I can only say that the situation regarding the RoI and it’s official language comes over as a bit of an anomaly and is somehow mildly annoying. A sort of irritating itch you keep wanting to scratch. “Why don’t they either bring back their language big-time in the way many other ex-colonies have done, or simply abandon it and leave off all the hypocrisy?” we keep asking ourselves. But then who can understand the Irish? LOL!
Years ago I applied for a junior post at one of your universities and got a whole lot of bumph back explaining that Irish speakers would have priority, although when I discussed this with the head of dept. and asked how much Irish they actually used, he said basically none, and explained that Irish would only be used as a tie-breaker if two applicants were exactly equally qualified in all other respects, which he pointed out was rather unlikely, i.e. in practice impossible.
I think you can understand how confusing and annoying this sort of make-believe is. I would not have objected if the language was actually in use, and if foreigners were required to learn it within a reasonable time, and given appropriate support. Not too difficult in my case as I already knew a fair bit of Gàidhlig. OTOH to expect outsiders to already know a language at a time before the internet when it was pretty well inaccessible outside of Ireland (or Irish immigrant communities) was really asking too much, and simply amounted to a “jobs for the boys” policy. I.e. it attempts to limit access to people who’ve been educated in the RoI and so presumably can limp through an Irish test even though they probably can hardly speak the language and probably never do so.
I’m not sure quite what situation Jānis expected to find in Ireland or even if he’s have come to work in Baile atha Cliath if the place wasn’t English speaking, perhaps he’ll tell us? I certainly find his insights interesting and useful.
Thanks for the answer Marconatrix but I would prefer an answer from Janis herself. For a while I thought you were Janis. But to answer your frustrations as best I can .i.e. “Why don’t they either bring back their language big-time in the way many other ex-colonies have done, or simply abandon it and leave off all the hypocrisy?” (I’m not sure who this is a quote from). I don’t think this is a fair statement as the Irish like any other nation are made up of individuals. Some of us have decided to use Irish others have decided not to. So take it or leave it is not an option. Those of us who have decided to use Irish just expect equal treatment (not preferential treatment as some might suspect). A minority language needs protection if it is to survive. This is especially the case when the English is the larger language. I think it quite unfair that someone would view the Irish choosing their ancestral and indigenous language as “mildly annoying” as you call it. The Irish constitution is democratically supported. Someone who knows a fair bit of Gaidhlig really should know better. But here we are.
GRMA airson sin. As it happens I’ve just read a couple of on-line articles about the linguistic situation in Latvia and the Baltics in general. This one may interest you while we wait for a response from Jānis (who’s a ‘he’ afaik, probably their equivalent of ‘John’) as it helps to explain the situation he’s coming from :
Click to access Latvia_attitudes_for_Uzule.pdf
Another article says, “The Baltic countries represent a unique case, probably not taken into consideration when universal declarations on linguistic human rights are written. The situation shows that the linguistic rights of state language speakers can also be infringed and that the official state language in an independent country may be an endangered language at the same time.” Clearly the author has never considered Ireland!
Btw, the situation in Scotland is rather different, since Scotland was never largely monolingual the way Ireland was until a couple of centuries ago. Indeed Scotland’s national identity is much more wrapped up with it’s separate legal and other institutions carried over from when it was formerly an independent European state. In so far as origins go, historically Scotland was created from an alliance of Scots (Gaels), Picts, Britons (Welsh) and Angles, originally against the Norse. Later they joined too when the main enemy became of course England. Gaelic is an important national language, now slowly getting the recognition and status it deserves, but was never *the* national language, the way Irish was in Ireland. In fact IMO it’s best to keep the Gaelic and Indy issues separate for now at least. There are pro-Gaelic people who are Unionists and Pro-indy people who hate Gaelic. To closely link the two causes would reduce support from both. Nevertheless progress towards independence appears to benefit the status of Gaelic.
Some time ago. I read Tim Pat Coogans book “The Troubles”.
This might seem unfair, my upcoming question because it’s about an anecodote in that book.
I should by right be asking TPC, himself.
But the story goes in that book TPC talks to a Korean historian..And they are discussing artifacts from Ireland.
The korean historian relates how in England there are plenty of artifacts from the common people , allowing a glimpse into the ordinary person’s way of life.
The Korean historian expressed astonishment that he couldn’t find such things in Ireland.
His conclusion was that every 50 odd years the Irish would improve their economic lot acquire possessions etc and every 50 odd years the British would launch a new campaign.
So, my question is..Is there a lack of such artifacts in Irish museums? Also, I can’t recall during what period of history both TPC and the Korean were discussing.
The best one I came across with regard to the Irish Language and the Government is the visa application for those wishing to visit Ireland. My mates boyfriend is from a non English speaking country. His spoken English is very good but because he learned from immersion his written and reading english is passable. Applying for the visa to come to Ireland he was asked on the online application form to supply his sponsors name as it ‘appears on their passport’. His girlfriend has an Irish name with a fada on her passort. He entered it exactly as it appeared fada and all, even going to great pains to find out how to do it. It wasn’t accepted as forms ‘had to be filled in English only’ he was told! Poor man was bewildered trying to figure out where he was going wrong.
SeanG, I’ve had similar issues in the past using the sínte fada in my name. I will admit that the Official Languages Act has done a lot in fixing what was an ongoing issue when it came to government websites. That said I still regularly receive packages to my home from private IRISH companies addressed to S@!amas 😉
What particularly peeves me about that is that apparently no one else in the world has that issue. Spain, France, Germany, Scandinavian Countries, etc, etc… all are able to process their “accents” with no problems. Getting a letter addressed to S@!mas is as silly as getting one addressed to G@!nther (Günther – German) or @!mile (Émile – French). For some reason, Irish private industry and government both can get those right.
Very true. To be honest I’ve never heard of non-Irish accented names being rejected by Irish government services or websites but I presume it must happen for people with accents and umlauts and the like.
What happens whem Ireland has more Eu citizens with accents on their names..Like Janis above ( My PC won’t do fadas etc) I bet the Irish Government will do it then.
And as for private industry. They don’t as a rule like to insult their customers and as technology advances there can be little excuse not to get it right.
I have no idea really but I suspect a giant Like Amazon would have the facility of getting accents in the right place across the entire EU. No successful business would survive with insulting even a tiny fraction of their potential customers.
Maybe the lack of effort on Irish industry, indicates why we have so few home grown success stories.
Customer focus is key. Go to any Asian cornershop in England..If they don’t have an item in stock and you shop their regular.They will stock it for you. That’s why they are good in business.
Oz, as far as I can remember most of my overseas deliveries have been ok. No issues with my name. Amazon, etc. are always spot-on. It’s the domestic companies in Ireland that make me laugh (or despair). The latest was last week, from Homestore + More. They made alphabet spaghetti of my name. I was actually tempted to blog that one with a nice big photo.
Amazon changed my name to JÄnis so they’re no better than the Irish government who put “Janis” on my Public Services Card.
And my bank did the same thing with my credit card.
Most of my colleagues ignore the macron, some replace it with á and only a few write my name correctly.
Only my employer wrote my name correctly in my contract of employment.
That’s why I don’t use macron in my name when ordering stuff from abroad any more – some developers still haven’t heard of utf-8 unfortunately and I don’t want to confuse the post office.
But I’ve never had those problems in Latvia – all private companies and the state always handle the Latvian characters correctly.
I notice that virtually all the posts on this blog site are in English. Is this because the author seeks to reach as wide an audience as possible, or because they lack sufficient Irish to post “i nGaeilge”?
One of the main hurdles which Irish-speakers in the North will have to overcome in order to convince others of the need for an Irish Language Act is the obvious lack of a broad base of speakers. According to the last NI census just 4,200 people said Irish was their main language, and approximately 64,000 said they could speak, read, write and understand Irish. This is the current extent of the Irish-speaking ‘core’ in the North and the number of fully fluent, habitual speakers at the present time is probably closer to 4,200 than it is to 64,000. i.e. less than 1% of the total population.
When someone like Carál Ní Chuilín speaks in English with an Irish language media outlet like Meon Eile (as recently occurred during the demonstration in favour of an Act on the steps of Stormont), it justifiably makes some people question the motives behind the Acht na Gaeilge. In fact, Ní Chuilín was the only person who spoke any English at all, out of the 7 or 8 people interviewed.
This is someone who has spearheaded the campaign for an act, someone who Gaelicised their name, and yet has never given an interview in Irish, as far as I’ve seen or heard, and I’ve seen her on my screens and the radio numerous times in the past few years. No wonder some people are suspicious.
Are there enough fluent speakers to justify a language act as advocated by POBAL, where simultaneous translation would become the norm, where super councils would be expected to print material in both English and Irish, and who knows what cost? Have they learned nothing about the OLA in the South!?
More targeted, precise demands will have a greater chance of success. I speak Irish and am in favour of its revitalisation, but oppose these wide ranging demands by people who think we live in a country where Irish is widely spoken. Few people speak it and even fewer can be bothered to learn it. A little realism please, and less of the victimhood mentality… Empty rhetoric and symbolism, and treating Irish as some national ornament to be trotted out at special occasions has done the language no favours, and has been a contributing factor to the indifference and cynicism which is so often evident, particularly in the South.
Danny, both. My oral Irish is poor-to-average, my written bad-to-poor in terms of the fluency I have in English. Plenty of websites, authors, organisations and activists address the Irish-speaking community on these matters. Few reach out to wider audiences, both domestically and internationally. I have achieved the latter to some small extent. At least to judge by the website traffic, social networking posts, emails and messages. Irish-speakers speaking to Irish-speakers can only achieve so much. We need more reaching out to English-speakers challenging the bigoted stereotypes and prejudices promulgated by the Anglophone supremacists. Falsehoods in English need to be proven false – in English.
That’s a fair point, but unless you’ve been learning Irish for a relatively short period of time, it lessens your credibility somewhat to be talking about an Éire Gaelach etc., but not actually posting in the language you seem so passionate about!
Is it a case of “do as I say and not as I do”, or something else? Many of the most active Irish speakers are non-native speakers, so a high level of fluency is achievable with enough dedication and time.
Surely one of the reasons Irish is in the precarious state it’s in is due to the prevalence of the idea that merely being an advocate and ‘cherishing’ the language is enough. If all the goodwill expressed towards Irish in dozens of surveys and statements over the last century was translated into actual genuine use, the language would be in a far healthier state.
(Blogs like The Hidden Ireland/Galltacht and its Irish language counterpart Gaeltacht21 come to mind as ones where the author uses both languages.)
I hope you don’t take this as a personal attack. Just something that stood out to me when reading the blog..
Danny, all fair points that others have made. For various reasons I have struggled with mastering Irish as a second-language, partly because I am the product of the present “system” (in terms of education, state services, society, the media, etc.), partly for personal reasons. I have certainly never made any secret of that. On the contrary my approach has been to highlight my own failures with the language and the inhibiting pressures I have encountered, whether they be governmental, cultural or social, to advocate for a more progressive and methodical way of doing things. No need to worry about your opinions. It’s good to get contrary views or criticisms. Keeps me on my toes! 🙂
Ciod i na h-éileaimh ar leith ataoi ag a n-iarraidh?