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The Irish Language

In response to a query about the Irish Language and Heritage


"I'm studying Heritage and we have to write a short piece on a current topic within the heritage industry. I want to write mine of the Gaelic language. I know that there has been bit a bit of controversy over the language in the North as the DUP don't want to have it widely spoken?

Well, I know you're very passionate about Gaelic and I was just wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about why it's so important for Irish heritage. I am reading a lot of stuff online but would be nice to hear it from an actual person. Also, being a Protestant, I don't know too much about this stuff!!"


I'd love to help out. 


I've been thinking over this situation for a few years in terms of my photography and writing practise, as well as my personal life, and here's my view on things.

In my mind, the strife between people at the minute is not so much a bit of controversy, it’s more an out and out war. The reason that the DUP is against an Irish language act (not so much against it being widely spoken), is because they fear it as a political tool.


The Northern Irish first minister Arlene Foster said that an Irish Language act was about ‘cultural superiority’. That statement coming from a leading figure in the political scene is just ignorance beyond belief. It shows how out of touch they are with current views in Northern Ireland. 


The DUP fear that if they give into this one thing, this one thing that was promised and signed and agreed upon in the St Andrew's Agreement*, then they’ll fall into a hole and we’ll be in a united Ireland, and they’ll have no place in our society. They fear, that by giving recognition to Irish speakers, they will switch places and there will be no cultural recognition for them.


The reason that the large majority of Protestants haven’t learned or spoken irish for so many years (bearing in mind, that during the decline of Irish, Protestants helped to keep the language alive), is because the language had been politicised. (BY BOTH SIDES). It was a “One thing for them another thing for us” mentality.


Politics did the same with religion.

I’m protestant, but my religion and politics are two different things. My love of the Irish language and Gaelic culture doesn’t devalue my belief in Christ and God. (I even say some of my prayers in Irish). The church of ireland holds services in Irish.

People who don't know me always assume that because I love Irish music and Gaelic Culture, I'm either Roman Catholic or 'on the turn' to become one. Far from annoying me, it amuses me. But these moments also highlight the rift that still exists in peoples minds. 


It’s only now that people are beginning to open up and learn about a culture, which WAS and IS theirs, but which they thought didn’t belong to them. Only now that people are feeling free enough to become culturally aware.


The Irish language is important because it’s our own. 


Our ancestors grew it and nurtured it. 


My family originated in Normandy, came to Scotland and then went to Ireland. So I can say with certainty, that for nearly 1000 years my family has been surrounded by some form of the gaelic language. The importance of Irish in the terms of heritage, is to realise that you can’t just blot out that 1000 years of history (in terms of the nation it's more like 3000 years) for the sake of 20, or 30, or 80, or 200! years of disagreement and fear.

Heritage and culture will always be used in politics, but they are separate! If native culture was political, it would be communist, because it belongs to everyone in that native place. 

There's an old old story about how at the tower of Babel, when all the new languages were being formed, an Irishman pops up and forms the Gaelic Language out of all the best bits.


My belief is simple:

We should love, cherish and be proud of the Gaelic Language. It has seen more than we ever will. Without it's formation our history, good and bad, does not exist. Without it we are nothing.

I hope this has helped.

Dàibhidh Stiùbhard


*"The Government will introduce an Irish Language act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language" - St Andrew's Agreement, 2006

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