“The speaking of Irish is not an end but a means to an end: the end is Nationality.” – Pádraig Mac Piarais

Non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment in Irish is ráta dífhostaíochta gan éifeacht ar bhoilsciú. Phenylazobenzene in Irish is feiniolasóibeinséin. LGBTQ in Irish is LADTA (Leispiach, Aerach, Déghnéasach, Trasinscneach agus aiteach).

On the 1st of January 2022, Irish gained full official and working status as a language of the EU. Among other things, this entails an increase in the number of staff employed by the EU to translate documents into Irish from 138 to 200. It is impossible to imagine a document on EU company law as Gaeilge ever being useful to anyone. 

The millions of euro a year these translations cost might as well be ritually burned or thrown into the sea. But no one will admit it. Something has gone wrong with the Irish language revival, but what?

Much of the energy and resources the language movement has at its disposal are wasted trying to make Irish do things that English will always do better. It is symptomatic of the strange and self-defeating globalist nationalism which is so widespread in our country that we take pride in divorcing Irish from Irishness; in showing that Irish can be the language of soap operas, stand-up comedy, impossibly bad short films, and young adult novels

We are happiest with the language when it is a vehicle for American ideas. Pearse wrote that “the question of retaining the Irish language is not a mere question of retaining a set of sounds developed by ourselves for the mere pleasure of being unlike other men; it is a question of remaining in communion with the past of our race”.

The aim of modern revivalists is to sever the Irish language from the Gaelic past and to make the language serve all those elements of modernity which are most opposed to that past. It would be a lesser betrayal of the spirit that fired Pearse, MacNeill and Hyde to abandon the language completely than to put it to such use as this.

Once we recognise that it is neither possible nor desirable that Irish become the language of trash TV or organic chemistry, we begin to see the other roles a language can play. Latin and Sanskrit survived as literary and liturgical languages for thousands of years because they were each anchored to the sacred texts and rites which defined a civilisation, to the eternal and not the transitory. 

A renaissance scholar would have disdained to use Latin for commerce or throwaway entertainment. It would have been a degradation. 

The current Leaving Cert Irish syllabus is stuffed full of hideous anglicisms – “fisiteiripeach”, “athrú aeráide”, “x-gathú”, etc – and aims to prepare the student for such impossible scenarios as opening a bank account in Irish. We should take inspiration from the way Classics is taught. Learning Irish should not just be about memorising sequences of syllables, it should be an initiation into a history and a culture. 

The syllabus should be built around the old songs and ballads, bardic poetry, and rich folklore which constitute the true glory and essence of Gaeldom, and which so many men have gone to such pains to preserve. It should restore the language to that sacred position in the Irish heart which English can never occupy. The connection between the Irish language and the Irish cultural heritage must be secure if a general revival of the language is to have any meaning. Only then can it act as a bulwark against the atomising and homogenising forces of modernity.

In the first half of the twentieth century, writers on Ireland often referred to an ancient and unworldly nobility which was preserved in Ireland but which the richer nations of Europe had lost. 

GK Chesterton could write that Ireland “has not been either sodden with smoke or oppressed by money-lenders, or otherwise corrupted with wealth and science” and that “In the matter of visions, Ireland is more than a nation, it is a model nation”. Aodh de Blácam could write that “Even now, Fionn and Oisin would feel at home in our farm-houses, and Odysseus might sail into our little ports and recognize in the stalwart fishermen, giants of body and noble of mind, men who sat in order in his vessels and smote the sounding furrows of the sea”. 

Attempt to apply either of these sentences to the Ireland of today and they become ridiculous. The British Crown committed countless atrocities and shed rivers of blood trying to crush the Gaelic spirit, and it failed. 

The politicians of the generations after de Blácam handed the country over to global capital and mass media, and the last visible vestiges of this spirit were destroyed almost instantaneously. Any Irish nationalism, linguistic or otherwise, must reorient itself toward this elusive spirit and reject the stifling dross of modernity, or it will come to nothing.

Posted by Eoin Fitzpatrick

10 Comments

  1. Interesting piece, seems to me it presents a challenging but important perspective on the language question, that should be more widely heard and discussed.

    Reply

  2. The ad that popped up as I was reading this was Thirty-Two Words for Field by Manchan Magan, Mr Magan has done a wonderfully job on showing the connection that Irish has to this ancient land. The meanings of place names would yield a far more of a connection to history than opening a bank account in Irish ever could.

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  3. Mary Stasia Concannon 09/01/2022 at 2:29 am

    Well, those words and terms don’t exactly roll trippingly off the tongue in English, either .

    And why are we worried about saving the EU those millions of euros in translating the additional documents into Irish? If they are put towards paying Irish speakers, why are we objecting?

    As for Latin, even the Vatican doesn’t want to hear Latin anymore. That’s the fate you want for Irish?

    Don’t worry about losing the visionary language. Was Shakespeare lost to English? Rather, look forward to the day when a spacecraft will carry our language among thc stars and we hear an Irish poem transmitted back to us on earth.

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  4. Seanán Ó Coistín 09/01/2022 at 1:50 pm

    Ní béarlachas é athrú aeráide.

    Ní mór don Ghaeilge a bheith i bhfeidhm i ngach gné den saol comhaimseartha. Níl faic cearr le reachtaíocht a bheith ar fáil i nGaeilge – ná cláir teilifíse, fógraí in ollmhargadh, ríomhchláir, fógraí ar an traein, úrscéalta grafacha agus araile. Tá gach ceann acu tábhachtach.

    Aontaím leat gur cheart na seanscéalta ó Éirinn anallóid a chaomhnú agus daoine a chur ar an eolas fúthu ach ní haon mhaith iad sin leo féin. Ní mór don Ghaeilge a bheith i bhfeidhm i ngach áit agus ar gach caoi. Bheadh Pádraig Mac Piarais breá sásta leis sin.

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    1. Maolsheachlann "An Préachán" Ó Ceallaigh 09/01/2022 at 5:02 pm

      Aontaím go hiomlán le seo. Is rud ilgnéitheach é teanga. Ní féidir le gach úsáid teanga bheith fileata.

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    2. Aontaím leat. Ní l morán ciall le gearáin an scríbhneora seo, is cosúil gur cuma leis faoin nGaeilge.

      Reply

  5. Lillis Ó Laoire 09/01/2022 at 2:39 pm

    Trying to provide an enhanced LC curriculum for fluent speakers has come down to how many extra points they will gain as a bonus. The elements mentioned above are undoubtedly worthy of study but why deny Irish its place among the nations to achieve it?

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  6. I have to strongly disagree with the overall message here. First of all, I think it’s possible to draw a distinction between the revivalist view and what I would call the ‘preservationist’ view. The writer of this piece, while he uses the language of revival, seems to believe that the Irish language should be preserved almost like how one would preserve some dusty old manuscript in a museum. Keep Irish as a language for old songs and stories, but not for anything modern. But to quote Irish language writer Pádraic Ó Cónaire, “a language which was nothing more than an ornament for a race has never survived and never will”.

    The revivalist, on the other hand, wants Irish to be a spoken, living language, in all aspects of modern life. As nationalists, this is what we should in my view be striving for. There’s no reason why the language should be limited to old stories and songs, while I do see the value in such things, it can and should be a both a language of tradition and one of modernity. Some of the writers’ complaints here make little sense, Irish finally achieving equal recognition and status among the languages of Europe is something we should be proud of, it’s not clear why the author seems to take issue this. Irish language translations of technical words or phrases are also a bad thing apparently because… they just are.

    Our aspirational goal should be nothing less than an Irish speaking Ireland, drawing a line short of that is a lack of both ambition and imagination.

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  7. DuoLingo is like this with regards to Irish. Lots of references to how Ireland is a modern country now and how the Church held her back and so forth. All very bright and busy and transactional. A functional language on a functional app. No depth or grandeur or roots. The antipodes of what Pearse longed for.

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  8. Just a few nuts thrown to Ireland, the EU’s favourite performing monkey.

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