Monday, December 22, 2014

Irish North

From the BBC:
"Why is Irish language divisive issue in Northern Ireland?"

There has been renewed political focus on the Irish language and its use in the Stormont assembly following controversial "curry my yoghurt" comments by the DUP's Gregory Campbell. There have been calls to protect the language in legislation.  But why is the Irish language such a divisive issue between the largest power-sharing partners and the latest touchstone in Northern Ireland's culture war? This year's nursery class at Beann Mhadagáin primary school in west Belfast contains some of the 5,000 or so children in Northern Ireland now educated entirely in Irish. But in another part of Belfast, evening classes are under way. Not far from Stormont, locals are learning Irish in east Belfast.  An upsurge in numbers of Protestants learning Irish would not be surprising to students of history. At the turn of the last century, Irish, although in decline, was seen as a language for all.
UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey, who has studied Protestant engagement with the Irish language, says: "An integral part of unionist identity in Ireland was the fact that they were Irish.  "There was a great sympathy for and complete comfort with the whole concept of Irish, Irishness and the Irish language." He says the partitioning of Ireland in 1921 was a turning point in unionist attitudes to the language  Partition prompted nationalists in Northern Ireland to embrace the language in greater numbers, according to the historian Diarmaid Ferriter.  "They felt completely abandoned by their southern counterparts, and in that sense there was more at stake for them when it came to the language," he says.  The survival of the Irish language in west Belfast owes a lot to a pioneering project in the 1960s when a group of families decided to make the Shaw's Road area into a Gaeltacht, an Irish speaking area.  A second wave of Northern Ireland's lrish language revival movement occurred on another site - the Maze Prison.   Republican prisoners and those interned in the Troubles in the early 1970s built on the example of the Shaw's Road Gaeltacht and began learning Irish.
As the campaign for political prisoner status escalated in the 1980s, learning the Irish language - in what became known colloquially as the Jailtacht - became a way for prisoners to set themselves apart from the prison officers.  Feargal MacIonnrachtaigh, whose father was interned in 1973, says republican prisoners would use the language as a means of both communication and resistance.  "People were inspired by this idea that you could reclaim your identity and you could go through a process of 'reconquest' in terms of the language," he says. In 1982, Sinn Féin established a cultural department to promote the Irish language.  "No-one has anything to fear from an Irish language, and you know, increasingly when I am out on the streets, I believe that it has been accepted by ordinary people, it has to be a shared language  An Irish language act, aimed at helping to support and protect the language, could create an entitlement to use Irish in interactions with government bodies and a number of other services.  In Northern Ireland, cultural symbols are an important part of identity and language is often used to imply what cannot be said.   A flags and culture and identity commission is one proposal under consideration as part of the current round of talks, but Stormont has yet to decide on the Irish question.

^ Now there are many things I don't understand about the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland, but learning and using the Irish language should be a no-brainer. It should not matter which side you are on or what your faith is. Both sides should want to and encourage others to learn the Irish language. Learning and using Irish doesn't mean you are pro-Republican (ie for a Catholic Ireland) or pro-Monarch (ie for a Protestant Ireland..) It simply means you are from the island of Ireland. It seems that Northern Ireland will always be plagued by these kinds of petty issues. ^

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