Disagreeing with Phil!! was Re: National question & Irish Language

Gary Maclennan g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Thu Feb 1 00:20:20 MST 2001

Interesting as always is Phil on Ireland.  But as with the Scots there is a
lingering romanticism in my attitude towards his post here. I do not speak
Gaelic but can read it with about a 40% competence. I could work this up
and as a middle class cultural type I intend to sometime - some time.

  When Adams spoke in Irish here in Brisbane I was able to translate for my
sons.  I have never impressed them so much.

I approved of Adams's use of Irish for it pisses off the Planters - the
Loyalists, the Colonialists.  Their hatred of Gaelig has to be seen to
believed.  In the 1960s there was a historical documentary produced in
Ireland and the commentary was in Gaelig.  The film contained rare footage
of the founding of N. Ireland.  There was a public showing for Queen's
University Belfast students.

A large number of unionist-Protestant students went.

When the film began and the Irish commentary  was heard they began to
scream abuse and shout and boo.  Their anger was of course related to the
evidence of the failure of the colonial project.  At that moment I
understood very clearly how political the question of the preservation of
the Irish language was.

Similarly when Maire De Brun uses Irish in the Stormount parliament she
gets torrents of abuse from the Loyalists.  Again their hatred is of the
Other - the Gael - the native - the "Indigene" who is to be hunted and

So notwithstanding the translation farce that Phil relates and his amusing
story of trying to learn Irish and yes the conservative atmosphere that has
frown up around it in the South of Ireland in the North it is still a
matter of a people defining their own destiny.  as with the Native American
languages the people have a right to say what must be preserved.  Nor is it
simply a matter of substituting culture of the Armalite rifle.  Here the
cultural is the political. the Irish language is still important and
despite the force of Phil's analysis I am for its preservation.  It is you
see a sign that the conquest is not complete.



At 18:37 31/01/01 -0800, you wrote:
>In his interesting post on The National Question, Lou writes:
> >Kautsky
> >would have probably opposed bilingual education, as some dogmatic Marxists
> >do. He concluded that the languages of the small Slavic nationalities and
> >the Gaelic tongue in Ireland had no future. At most, they would remain in
> >"domestic use" the way that "old family furniture" is taken out on special
> >occasions but has little practical value.
>I don't know anything about the languages of the small Slavic
>nationalities, but if this was what Kautsky said about the Irish language
>(or 'Gaelic' in Ireland), then he was certainly right.
>Hardly anyone in Ireland these days speaks Irish.  This is not primarily
>because of repression.  Quite the contrary.  Irish is the official first
>language of the southern state and you have to pass Irish in order to get
>the Leaving Certificate at high school.  This has been the case for many
>decades, yet the language has continued to decline.
>This may be sad, but it is a product of changing times.  You simply cannot
>artificially preserve languages, even if you make them the 'national'
>language and force-feed them to your school children.  Many young people in
>the southern state associate the Irish language with coercion and
>conservatism and narrow-minded parochialism and regard the English language
>as almost liberating.
>Within the republican movement there has long been debate over the
>language.  Formally, the movement was committed to its preservation but,
>frankly, most members weren't much interested.  When I was in Sinn Fein I
>made three attempts to learn Irish.  The attempt I made with a group of
>other SF members ended when, over a period of weeks, they all stopped going
>to the class and I, a NZer was the only local SFer left trying to learn
>Irish.  I realised then, there was no point.
>In fact, it was interesting to see how the language and cultural questions
>served a quite conservative purpose in the Movement.  The more the Movement
>as a whole retreated from the struggle for national liberation, the more it
>emphasised cultural issues.
>At an ard fheis (national conference) around 1990 (can't remember exact
>year), the leadership, at the behest of the Cultural Dept of the party,
>decided to have simultaneous translations for all delegates.  This meant
>hiring headphones for all the delegates - hundred and hundreds of seats of
>headphones.  You could have Irish or English broadcast to you through the
>headphones.  Since every single member spoke English - and the vast
>majority (probably about 95-99 percent) spoke English as their first
>language this was truly bizarre.  Surreal, even.  You had people whose
>first language was English wearing headphones translating delegates
>speeches in English into Irish, the headphone wearers' second language.
>This palaver cost quite a lot of money, and alot of people in Sinn Fein
>were highly pissed off that valuable funds were being frittered away in
>this nonsensical exercise.  Moreover, the people who were the most pissed
>off were working class members from poor urban areas, and the people most
>keen on the surreal exercise were middle-class cultural types.
>The more these latter people came to the fore in the Movement, the more the
>movement settled for identity politics in place of national liberation.
>The more the Movement moved away from national liberation (and socialism),
>the more you found the cultural brigade assuming more power in SF.
>Frankly, it doesn't matter what language people speak in a free Ireland.
>But, most likely, they would speak English.  As long as there are
>facilities there which make Irish freely available, I see nothing at all
>wrong with English as the first language of Ireland.  And, at least school
>children would be saved from having the turgid and banal doings of the life
>of Peig Sayers forcibly drummed into them!
>Philip Ferguson
>"Don't Dream It - Extreme It" (Lana Coc Kroft)

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