The Celtic Language Insurgents

Predictably enough, following the successful intimidation of a small community council in the majority Welsh-speaking village of Cynwyd by English language lobbyists, we learn that elsewhere in Wales the country’s native tongue is being rejected by a number of local government bodies on the spurious grounds that it is somehow alien to their regions. From the news and current affairs website, Wales Online:

“Two further councils are claiming the Welsh language is a social irrelevance in their areas and therefore need not be considered as part of planning policy.

Newport and Blaenau Gwent have followed the leader of Cardiff council in arguing that Welsh is not part of the local social fabric, according to research published by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society.

Responding to a survey organised by the group, which asked councils how they would respond to recent planning legislation, Newport council quoted what Cymdeithas yr Iaith said were incorrect statistics about the number of Welsh speakers in the county and stated: “The Welsh language is not a significant part of the social fabric of Newport.”

Blaenau Gwent council said: “The Welsh Language is not an issue for the borough”.

Cardiff council came under fire earlier this year after leader Phil Bale argued the Welsh language was not part of the social fabric of the city.

According to responses from 20 county councils, only three plan to review their policies because of the changes to the legal status of the Welsh language in planning law.”

Meanwhile in a report by Lorna Siggins for the Irish Times the institutional discrimination faced by Irish-speaking communities in Ireland is highlighted for the thousandth or perhaps the ten thousandth time. Unfortunately those with the power to end the discrimination are those who are practising the discrimination.

“One of the last fluent native speakers in the Galway city Gaeltacht of Mionlach believes that Irish has just 10 years left as a community language.

Landscape gardener Pádraig Ó Fathaigh (57) is already the subject of linguistic research, as the youngest speaker retaining complete fluency in his home village of Mionlach or Menlo.

He takes no pleasure in witnessing what he describes as the “death of a Gaeltacht that I grew up in” due to lack of State commitment to Irish and the inseparable dominant influences of urbanisation and anglicisation.

Lying within the Galway city boundary and overlooking the river Corrib, Mionlach has its own distinct Irish dialect which has been recorded by Brian Ó Curnáin, assistant professor in Celtic studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

“Former president Mary Robinson says we are the last generation to be able to do anything about the planet, but we are also the last generation to be able to record what Irish was,” said Prof Ó Curáin.

Prof Ó Curnáin takes issue with what he describes as an “ignoriat”, reflected in elements of academia, the media, State administration and politics, which ignores a “series of detailed and high-quality research” showing evidence of the death of the language in the Gaeltacht.

“One of the most unfortunate results of their denial is the deflection from ameliorative interventions and language planning such as the “New Deal for Irish and the Gaeltacht”, proposed by Prof Conchúr Ó Giollagáin,” he said.

Prof Ó Giollagáin, Soillse research professor in the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland, outlined his proposals for such a “new deal” in this newspaper last June.

He proposed re-establishing communities with sufficient density of Irish speakers to ensure Gaeltacht sustainability; and establishing a form of civic trust to manage socio-economic resources for the benefit of the minority group.

He also proposed establishing a Dáil na nGael or assembly to allow for the development of Irish language civil culture and to provide group leadership; and provision of research and productive strategic back-up for the Irish-speaking community.

Prof Ó Curnáin supports the concept of an “urban gaeltacht” proposed for Galway’s draft city development plan for 2017-23.

Mr Ó Fathaigh, who speaks Irish to his 96-year-old aunt Nell Ní Chaserlaigh in Mionlach, said he would love to see such a project initiated as he believes that gaelscoileanna are “no substitute for community language”.

He also believes there is a sense of shame attached to Irish, and a belief by Irish speakers that they must defer to English speakers who might not otherwise understand them.

“I heard a man once say that ‘if we are too polite to speak Irish, we will polite it to death’, and I am inclined to agree,” he said.”

To misquote the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, one might argue that, “linguistic power grows out of the barrel of a gun“, or at least that it does so in a metaphorical sense. Unfortunately in the historically colonised nations of Wales and Ireland precious few people have the means to truly challenge the English language tanks parked on the lawns of the Irish and Welsh languages. Instead linguistic insurgency must be the weapon of choice. And that is a struggle which requires more fighters…

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8 comments

  1. I call myself a true (diaspora) Irishman, but I can’t speak a word of the Irish language. I squandered my talents on French 😦

    Still, I’d love to see the Irish and other Celts embrace their native languages!

  2. Léigh mé an t-alt san Irish Times inné agus chuir sé brón orm. Ní Éireannach mé fhéin ach táim i mo chónaí i nGaillimh agus úsaidim an teanga ar dtús le gach duine – agus bíonn Gaeilge go leor acu. Is teanga mhionlaigh mo theanga fhéin agus mar sin ceapaim go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach an Gaeilge a choinneáil beó. Ach gach turas bíonn na gaeilgeoirí ag caint Béarla le daoine eile mar “níl sé béasach Gaeilge a labhairt mura bhfuil Gaeilge ag na daoine”. Ach cén fáth? B’fhéidir go mbeadh sé droch-mhúinte Béarla a labhairt má tá Gaeilge ag na daoine. Tá bród ag teastáil óna Éireannaigh nó gheobhaidh a dteanga bás. Ach ní feicfidh siad an rud sin nó go mbeidh sé ro-dhearanach.

    1. But they’re right. The author doesn’t really offer anything – just to restructure some government bureaucracy. It’s like rearranging deck chairs on Titanic.

      1. Indeed, but this is quite misleading. The article is a tribune to get people’s attention. Being familiar with Conchúr Ó Giollagáin’s work, especially from being at a talk with him about his current stand, I can tell you that he has clear and pragmactical ideas and projects. I agree that this specific article does not do justice to that, but I would assume it is linked to the fact of trying to reach the wide audience of the Irish Times without getting technical. Or a bad choice of the elements to include. The recent article quoted here on this page about Mionloch’s Gaeltacht does mention some of Ó Giollagáin’s ideas as well, as you can see.

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