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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Say it in Breac n’ English

Part Two of Four

Seaghán Ó Murchú • September 25th 2004

Muireann Ní Mhóráin offers an exasperatedly tragicomic riposte to the language question while expanding upon Ó Laoire’s examples of state annoyance towards those who expect its representatives to provide service in its first language. Why do clerks, she asks, suffer from an occupational disability preventing them from pressing CTRL + ALT + vowel for an síneadh fada, or in alphabetizing surnames starting with Ó nó Ní? Ní Mhóráin tires of those demanding ‘what’s that in English?’ after hearing her name. Passersby recoil when hearing her speak Irish to her children. She marvels at their nimble ability to gain Irish fluency while her children’s administrators misdiagnose their charges due to the lack of assessment criteria for Irish-speakers. Why not turn to the newly mandated incumbancy of Children’s Ombudsman? Well, no Irish ability’s needed for this post, therefore any of the rights due children can only be asserted in the nation’s second official language.

While the demise of compulsory Irish receives extended treatment in the final essay in the collection, I interject here that many contributors reject the equally patronising situation in current Ireland, where lip service ventriloquises any real commitment to speaking Irish within daily situations, at least outside of specific Gaeltachtaí. Users find themselves habitually shunted to the margins. As Ó Laoire concludes, the official and practical respect gained by those refusing to learn Irish over the past three decades demands that those choosing to use Irish equally deserve parity. Or more, I advocate, given the threatened condition of the language documented throughout these pages.

‘Outside Northern Ireland, the political or nationalistic motivation for speaking or writing Irish is diluting constantly.’ (72) Again, the personal choice of whether or not to keep using Irish becomes paramount, within a nation increasingly leery of patriotic appeals or weary from ideological arguments for or against the perpetuation of the language. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s autobiographical account contrasts with Ó Laoire’s account of growing up in Donegal. She speaks as the daughter of one of its native speakers, but one moved to Dublin who married a woman with no command of Irish. Éilís’ father’s dialect serves as her way of speaking with him, the sign of intimacy repeated by so many of the contributors. But, at school, Éilís learns a Kerry-Conamara blend, so she cannot fit in with her mother, her father, or her Ranelagh neighbours. For they see him as a rarity: ‘a real Gaeltacht man, a carpenter who spoke Irish because that is what his mother spoke.’ (75) The rug-headed kerne returns to beguile those inside the Pale. Compared with Ó Laoire’s enshrinement of Irish as a maternal language, Ní Dhuibhne encounters a barrier against its use to further affection between parent and child. The state, unwittingly in her public education through Irish, has thwarted the manner by which she can advance its private expression at home.

She emerges out of her early Irish-only schooling to study English at UCD. Anyone with literary aspirations, she explains, was encouraged to pursue them through the nation’s predominant mode of publication. With little to read in Irish as a girl, Ní Dhuibhne recalls her alienation: ‘Irish seemed to exist in a non-literary world. People spoke it, taught in it, danced in it, went to clubs in it, but they didn’t read it.’ (74) At university, through mediaeval studies she found herself drawn into the Irish folklore archives, but commenced a rewarding career writing in English. Only in 1995 did she begin to create plays and, recently, novels in Irish. The advantage of the latter language, she tells us, rests in the ability of its audience to allow a more experimental, folklorically dependent story. For example, her novel The Dancers Dancing, about a teenaged girl at an Irish college in Cork, expanded into 2003’s Caíliní Beaga Ghleann na mBláth. Even a quick comparison of the two titles reveals a flight from Yeatsian spirals towards fairytale inscapes. The author tells how transitions between English and Irish cultural identities can be tracked better in the latter language, with more attention to the wholeness rather than the separation of Ireland’s two forms of expression. The West of her father, the mediaeval motifs of her studies, and the urban Dublin from where she crafts her modern narratives—they all blend. In writing Irish, she adds, the assurance of an audience familiar to her remains; in English, her readers loom more anonymously.

As with others in Mac Murchaidh’s collection, Ní Dhuibhne continues ‘to negotiate the borders’ of different Irish worlds. Along with Ó Laoire, she anticipates that Irish, within a more multicultural and linguistically diversified setting, will remain an attractive choice. She attests to the intimate nature of Irish over English with a final anecdote. She wrote “Why Would Anyone Write in Irish?” originally—if mistakenly!—as gaeilge for this collection. Having to translate it, she reflects upon the friendlier, cosier style of its earlier rendition, compared against the less formal, less colloquial form that we face here. And, in closing, she speaks for the future, when a girl eight or nine ‘with literary aspirations’ longing for a good read will find that pleasure finally in a book penned in Irish.

The next three essays wander various terrains. Prolific poet and translator Gabriel Rosenstock seems a bit weary of Irish between the lines of his anarchic thoughts on its current condition. He does find it an ideal, if not his only chosen, voice for his muse. Along with the INNTI poets from UCC in the 1960s, he hears lyric in many tones: haiku, his father’s German, Shakespeare, and the Beatles. I recommend his lively primer, Beginner’s Irish, to any learner looking for an entertaining introduction or stimulating refresher. Lorcán Mac Gabhainn combines a history of gaelscoileanna with his own implementation of Gaelscoil Thaobh na Coille in the Dublin suburb of Palmerston. The Breton-Irish RTÉ veteran Anna Heusaff opens up the experiences of immigrants studying Irish. Ros na Rún, she notes, has added a black actor, Séamas Ó Feithcheallaigh, not as any exotic TV character, as he agrees: ‘I’m just another Irish person, as I am in real life.’ (109) Some recently arrived African, Romanian, and Chinese will become gaeilgoirí.

This progress challenges the bicultural, bilingual, and bifurcated stereotypes perpetuated by many Irish natives. She quotes Piaras Mac Éinri, founder of Cork’s Migration Studies Centre. Daily, ‘I come across people who can’t even be bothered to spell my name properly. So how are they going to show respect to more unfamiliar names from other cultures? And therefore to the people who carry these names?’ (110) The demands for the Dublin government to assist its minority populations, no longer only its gaelicised citizens, raise unfamiliar problems. Should Gardaí if they come from another country have to attain Irish fluency? Must foreign-born special-education teachers learn Irish? Contrasted with Muireann Ní Mhóraín’s critique of the lack of Irish-fluent educational support staff, here Heusaff presents another voice in this multicultural and poly-linguistic debate. Six percent of the Irish are nationals of other countries. Familiarisation, she repeats, must occur. She cites Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom as a short film exposing scenarios rarely drawn before the last decade. Ironically, she concludes that Irish-speakers in Dublin—contrasted with Ní Mhóráin’s shocked pedestrians overhearing her Irish-language chats with her child—feel less conspicuous in a city full of different sounds: Latvian, Portuguese, French, and Russian. Whether this pan-glossian crescendo will drown out or keep a solo performance for Irish, on the other hand, Heusaff does not say.

Two of four parts. Part Three follows in the next issue.

Part One



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

John Kerry: He's Milking it, He's Milking it!!!
Patrick Hurley

Ultimate Deadline by Endless Postponement
Anthony McIntyre

Say it in Breac'n English (Part Two)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Tears of Women Heal the World
Elana Golden

When a Beautiful Soul Comes to Visit
Mary La Rosa

Via Haiti US megaphones Venezuela: "Will you comply?!"
Toni Solo

27 September 2004

Intimidation of a Writer
Anthony McIntyre

Say it in Breac'n English
Seaghán Ó Murchú

An Open Letter to the Man Known as "Martin Ingram"
Mick Hall

Philosophy in a Time of Terror
Liam O Ruairc

Diary: 3 Days
Elana Golden



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