Ireland in chains


Ta An Reabhloid Ag Teacht
Tá An Réabhlóid Ag Teacht!

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.


10 comments on “Super Colonised Irish Syndrome

  1. Derek Ó H

    An suimiúil. Must read full article. Very interesting subject-the psychological damage caused by the centuries long colonisation, loss of language, multiple mass population losses, destruction, famine etc.
    I had hoped the ‘decade of centenaries’ would lead to a re-examination of what it means to be Irish and an acknowledgement of our Gaelic origins but I am still waiting for this. There is no doubt the post-colonial anglo-centric mindset still holds sway generally. I left school without the realisation that ‘Gaelic’ applied to me as well as people in the Gaeltacht.
    I cannot see us growing up as a nation without casting off the post-colonial shame first. I am heartened by the increasing numbers of Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht who are taking it upon themselves to learn the language or teach their children-admittedly this rise is from a base level of almost zero circa 1900.
    Ach níl an scéal críochnaithe fós!


  2. eileen healy

    Had intended to get this book, now I’m definitely getting it Your review has made the prospect of “new paper” seem more appealing. Disappointed to hear that the rhetorical question regarding Ireland s societal modernity isn’t raised especially when the author calls for mentally decolonising the nation I don’t know how one could view themselves in different light perspective without posing this rather fundamental one
    Nice review
    Comprehensive ,yet Snasta


  3. That’s a good article.

    Says the same I said in my comments before.

    The Irish have never left the British rule. Yeah – you have your own flag, parliament and separate legal system, etc… But as long as you keep speaking the language of the invader you’ll never be truly independent.

    Mac Síomóin suggests that a resuscitation of the Irish language cannot be achieved without first mentally decolonising the nation
    This is very true. That’s why I think that blaming the govt for not supporting the language is pointless. It’s no better or worse than the people who elected it.

    The responsibility for language’s preservation and/or revival lies primarily with the ordinary people not the ruling party or the prime minister.
    Ask not what the government can do for your language, but ask what YOU can do for it.


    • Wee Jimmie

      Is it possible to mentally decolonise the nation? It isn’t just the hard colonisation of conquest and occupation that has anglicised Ireland; at least as important has been the soft colonisation of people living and working in Britain but continuing to think of themselves as Irish and returning to Ireland as effectively British in attitudes and psychology. The number of Irish people and close relatives living in Britain who have been effectively Anglicised and their influence on their kindred in Ireland is so great that Anglicisation may be inescapable.


      • anglicisation is inescapable because we speak english, and only english. its no coincidence that climate change denial is pretty much restricted to english speaking countries. and that english speaking countries are all all fairly neo-conservative. the english language has become a prison through which we’re fed a 1-D vision of the world.

        Another point, the catholic church did everything in it power to eradicate the irish language and replace it with English, We’d have been so much better off keeping gaeilge and dumping the catholic church.


      • Without mental decolonisation you might as well rejoin the UK – it will not make a difference.


        • If you want to picture what Ireland would look like under the Brits..Then
          look no further than Wales.
          You think you’d like to live ther. it’s a fine place.but there isn’t many jobs is there?
          Think what ireland would be like with BSE beef banned from Europe.
          Think how many Irish would be in London..right now under brit rule.
          there are 250,000 British living in Ireland.
          You think there would have been jobs for them..if Ireland was ruled by Londonograd??
          so it’s made a huge difference.
          Did you ever consider Wales as a destination?
          I doubt it.
          Coz London Messed it up FUBAR.
          They’d have done even worse mess of Ireland.


          • I’m talking about culture and language not economy Oz.

            My point is that without mental decolonisation your independent country will become a poor man’s England – the master doesn’t even have to be around – its slaves will do his job themselves because they don’t know any better.
            And that’s exactly what has happened.
            Ireland looks like something between an UK’s country and an US’ state instead of something like the Netherlands or Latvia.

            Imagine if the Latvians threw away their culture and language and created a poor man’s Russia – oh, you don’t even have to imagine – just look at Belarus.

            Just like the Irish – the Belarussians threw away their culture and language and become a Russian speaking nation. And now that country isn’t in the EU or NATO, it has no democracy and no functioning market economy, and it’s ruled by a dictator.
            It’s a Russian puppet state.

            I don’t want that to happen.


        • Jānis, I agree.


  4. Michael Newton

    Reblogged this on The Virtual Gael and commented:
    This experience of cultural invasion and domination was a pan-Gaelic phenomenon, albeit more distinct and better explored amongst in an Irish than a Scottish context.


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