In today’s Irish Times newspaper Seaghán Mac an tSionnaigh reviews the latest in a wave of books from a new generation of writers and historians challenging the inferior position of Ireland’s indigenous language, and the conventional narratives which have shaped our understanding of the suppression – and extermination – of those who speak it:
“In The Broken Harp, Identity and Language in Modern Ireland, biologist and author Tomás Mac Síomóin presents the decline of the Irish language as one of the most insidious outcomes of the multi-faceted colonisation of the Irish people from the 16th century through to the present day.
Rather than appealing to the Romantic rhetoric of the failed Gaelic revival period, or to the naive optimism of modern-day “official Gaeldom”, Mac Síomóin presents a convincing case relying on consistent reference to the fates of other postcolonial nations, to modern postcolonial theory from intellectuals such as Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, and N’gugi wa Thiongo, as well as to his own background in biology which allows him to describe with some authority the residual effects of post-colonial trauma…
Irish history is not presently a compulsory secondary school subject, as Mac Síomóin notes, but when it is chosen, its narrative is entirely purged of reference to what constituted a veritable cultural genocide in Ireland. As such, Mac Síomóin’s first chapter sets about establishing the nature of the historical relationship between the Irish people and their ancestral language. He does not, however, pursue the jaded cliche of blaming England outright for Ireland’s cultural ills. Rather, he advocates an understanding of Irish history as involving three distinct agents of colonisation, a distinction reflected in the chronological arrangement of The Broken Harp’s central three chapters whose overall narrative may be summarised in the following manner: a process initiated by the Tudors was perpetuated by the Irish Catholic Church who, moving to occupy a power vaccum created by the end of the Irish War of Independence, served to consolidate the English-imposed status quo.
The particular psychological profile of the Irish as a people who for generations had suffered genocide, famine, and sexual crime as consequences of the first two waves of colonisation is said to have engendered a catastrophic vulnerability to the third and present wave of colonisation; that of Anglocentric neo-liberal globalisation, a pet peeve of Mac Síomóin’s.
[Mac Síomóin] …associates a variety of malign symptoms with the colonial condition afflicting Ireland, sensationally terming it “Super Colonised Irish Syndrome”.
In a situation he feels is reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome, Mac Síomóin diagnoses Ireland with a general infatuation with and assimilation to the cultural norms of other Anglophone cultures to the detriment of its own…
That Ireland submits all to easily to the cultures of its anglophone counterparts is shown by Mac Síomóin to be in keeping with the Sapir-Whorf hypthosis which maintains that the loss of a language entails the loss of a world-view tailored to the centuries of experience shared by those who spoke the language. Adopting the language of the coloniser exposes the colonised subject to a world-view in which he is a mere subaltern partner. On the willingness of colonised peoples to internalise unflattering colonial conceptions of themselves, Mac Síomóin places Albert Memmi’s remarks in the context of Ireland’s consequent inability to assert itself internationally…
In response to claims made in his presence that the loss of the Irish language was a necessary consequence of societal modernisation, and that the revival of Irish on economic grounds makes no sense, I feel Mac Síomóin has omitted a very effective rhetorical question; to what extent is post-Gaelic Ireland, having embraced Anglicisation, more societally modern and more economically stable than a similar-sized country such as Denmark whose mere five-and-a-half million inhabitants have yet to abandon Danish? To no extent at all, I dare to wager.
Mac Síomóin suggests that a resuscitation of the Irish language cannot be achieved without first mentally decolonising the nation, echoing Frantz Fanon’s call to discover that the coloniser’s conception of the colonised was nothing but a “hoax” which nonetheless needs to be demolished after colonisation ever before the considerable psychological effects of colonisation can be reversed. Mac Síomóin thus laments the common conception of Irish speakers in popular speech as “eccentrics” or “fanatics”, whose rights, accorded to them by the EU, if not by common sense itself, are consistently denied to them by Irish governments.”
Most of the arguments and points above are ones that readers of An Sionnach Fionn will be readily familiar with, and the full article makes many more. As I have said previously, one cannot understand modern Ireland without understanding the colonial forces, by invaders or appeasers, which have created it. In terms of our culture and society we continue to live in a Medieval English colony, a psychological Pale of hearts and minds.