English versus An Ghaeilge

In an interesting if factually flawed article the surprisingly authoritarian newspaper columnist Victoria White, the eco-activist wife of the Green Party’s lame duck leader Éamon Ryan, takes to the pages of the Examiner to express a degree of resigned sadness at the passing of the Gaeltachtaí, the traditional and supposedly state-recognised Irish-speaking regions of the country. The chief culprit for the erosion of these last bastions of indigenous Irishness she seems to argue is modernity itself, as they inevitably succumb to the transnational forces of economic, social and demographic change. The impression White leaves is that there is little to be done but to accept the necessity of globalisation; by which she means the universality of Anglo-American culture on our island nation. At most all we can do is embrace a Gaelicness of the mind, speaking our language where and when we can. Which is fair enough.

However I wonder would White argue in a similar vein about matters environmental? So sorry to see the destruction of that ancient oak woodland that has existed for the past four millennia but we can compensate for its loss by every one of us planting an oak tree in our back garden. Sure, isn’t that the same thing? And its a great pity that a native species of fauna is being driven to extinction in its natural environment but we’ll probably have some specimens as pets, and plenty of pictures to remind us of what it used to look like. As for global warming. Well isn’t that the inevitable consequence of socio-economic change around the world, the rise of new industrial nations and the desire of their peoples to partake in the good life enjoyed by those in the so-called “West” for the last century or more? So why rail against this inevitable if unfortunate side-effect of globalisation?

“The people of certain isolated regions should no longer be paid badly to take the bare look off our refusal or inability, as a nation, to trade English for Irish.”

Except of course that the people of Ireland have not “refused” to trade English for Irish, or shown any “inability” to do so. What they have shown is that shallow tokenism towards the Irish language and those who speak it by the state has accelerated the death of our native language – and of our native speakers. Irish is not dying, it is being killed through the hostility of government and media (and it is not alone, as our fellow Gaels in Scotland can attest). It is the Irish language deniers and the myths they propagate (unknowingly echoed by others more sympathetic) which is destroying the Gaeltachtaí and an Ghaeilge itself. Instead of offering up quasi-sentimental but actually facile explanations those in positions of influence or power who have a “…huge affection for the Irish language” should be fighting for it as they would fight for any other form of civil rights in our society. Or for any other unique aspect of our island home. The day a senior member of an Irish political party, or anyone associated with one, stands up and argues for a detailed programme to make a Gaeltacht of all of Ireland, to make a Québécois-style commitment to the indigenous language and culture of this nation, is the day I will respect what they have to say.

All else is mere lip-service.

9 comments on “The Irish Language Deniers

  1. As an Acadian (the other French Canadian people), I have benefitted greatly from the government support of the French language in my province. That being said, many of the same global issues that threaten the traditional Irish-speaking areas also threaten the traditional Acadian areas. The situations are earily similar historically, geographically, and politically.

    I wish that people would look at the loss of language and culture as:

    the destruction of diversity in the ethnosphere.

    Just as many are alarmed at the destruction of biodiversity, it isnot acceptible to simply respond with: it is the way of the modern world that we should all act and look like USers and quietly walk down to road towards cultural homogeneity .


    • I quite agree. Diversity in all spheres of life must be cherished. It alarms me that so many traditional Greens in Ireland and Europe, the generation of the 1970s and ’80s, are now amongst the most conservative and authoritarian in our public life, indifferent or casual about protecting distinct languages and cultures. There is an odd contrariness to their beliefs.


  2. ar an sliabh

    It is very ironic to think of oneself to be “conservative” and be indifferent to one’s historic language and culture. Very good point indeed.


  3. eileen healy

    Local politician/planning consultant (without a seat at present comes to our door before last local elections sporting a FÁINNE. Had no intention of supporting the guy but out of sheer curiosity and testing my instincts I asked as Gaeilge if there were many constituents who might converse with him in Irish. Got a brief puzzzld look which in hindsight meant he didn’t understand exactly what I said and knowing me to be from outside the area spoke to me ina mixture of benevolence and authority. “AH sure you’d have to go a long way from here to find an Irish Speaker” “Well you didn’t have to go far “says I”. ,but it would “appear” that I need to go further”(joking tone but fully in earnest) He alludes to Connemara or Kerry . “Mar dhea” clarify ing myself isay “I didn’t mean a speaker from a Gaeltacht, I meant an Irish speaker” Probably feeling a little challenge d at this point he goes on “You will find very little of one or the other around Clare” That’s a terrible shame ” says I” The Undertakers in the county must have been very busy for the last twelve or thirteen year’s”
    At this. point he’s stopped backing and turned around as I refer to the loss of Gaeltacht status for West Clare( due among other things to the low numbers of speakers) He obviously had no knowledge of a strong campaign in recent years to promote the language and restore the status to West Clare

    Tirade Finished
    On the subject of people developing conservative traits in middle years Im always amazed at contemporaries of mine who sneered at friends whose parents made some effort at discipline. They are now parents and some of them are obsessively controling of their children .Then there are those (especially politicians ) who play both sides of the card according as it suits.


  4. To raise this as a discussion point:

    What do people think about the disappearance of Gaeilge from the Gaeltachtaí but its continuation by growing numbers in urbanised areas? In many western countries, the vast majority of people (in Canada, for example 85%) are urban dwellers. Small communities are losing population. Ending the trend of urban migration is one thing but with the appearance of Gaeilscoileanna and the creation of a new class of non-traditional, non-homogenous Irish-speaking regions, it is perhaps the path of the future.


    • Eileen Healy

      I concur on the concerns for the destruction of the Ethnosphere and the general lack of awareness of the richness and enrichment from cultural diversity. Yes i think that the increasing numbers of Irish speakers in urban areas is a path to the future. I don’t think that that would necessarily be detrimental to the future of the language and culture of the Gaeltacht. The exsanguination of our heritage and culture has been largely concealed by officialdom and political tokenism for decades. I’m certain someone can sometime bait one expansion against the other. I, myself see extended usage as good for general advancement of the language ,,,unfortunately disregard for language rights by native and non native speakers seems to illicit racism in surprising quarters


    • Sylvaingrandcerf, I think we need both. Monolingual Irish-speaking regions, rural or urban, and bilingual ones. Since the former already exist in the Gaeltachtaí why reinvent the wheel? Or allow a precious resource to be lost? We should be saving and growing the traditional rural Gaeltachtaí while encouraging new rural and urban ones. Dublin needs its Gaeltacht Quarter.


  5. Great article


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