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Seosamh Mac Muirí
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Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:52 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Bhí Gaelport ár gcur ar an eolas inniu faoin alt seo thíos. Is iontach an t-alt é. Imreoidh sé tionchar ar go leor díobh sin a tholg galar an aineolais in Éirinn na linne seo.

Talking the sweet talk - Pól Ó Muirí
Magill, February 2005.

Most English-language media have warped the terms of reference for Irish so far out of shape to render any meaningful and sustained dialogue about the language almost impossible.
Tell me what you think about the Irish language. Tell me what you think about the Official Languages Act or the Gaeltacht or TG4 or Irish as a working language in the European Union or the state of publishing in Irish or the standard of Irish-language literature or the impact of English on Irish society and then tell me their opinion of the same.

Come on, come on. We live in the age of the Celtic Tiger. My latté grows cold. I've money to make. What's the matter? You hate the Irish language and all it stands for? You hate the waste of money and the lack of brains and the medievalness of it all and the thickos and thieves and the minging mná na hÉireann and their even more grotesque men who speak the lingo, who gargle the Gaelic?

Every heard of Alan Titley? Yes? Well done. What about Breandán Ó Doibhlin? Ever read Liam Mac Cóil? Do you know which paper Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí edits? Do the names Róisín Kelleher or John Walsh ring any bells? Does the name Máiréad Ní Chinnéide mean anything to you? Or Deirdre Ní Chearra or Fionntán de Brún or Diarmuid de Faoite? How about Aoife Ní Scolaí or Peadar Ó Flatharta or Pádraig Ó Ceithearnaigh? Do you know Seosamh Mac Donnacha at NUI, Galway? What about Liam Ó Cuinneagáin in Oideas Gael or Pádraig Ó hAoláin at Údarás na Gaeltachta or Seán Ó hÉalaí at Raidió na Gaeltachta?

What about Alex Hijmans? He's an Irish-speaking Dutch journalist with a coffee shop in Galway. For goodness sake, how many Irish-speaking Dutch journalists with a coffee shop in Galway can there be? What about Róisín Elsafty? You must know Róisín. Beautiful singer; Irish mother, Egyptian father. Lives out in Conamara? No. You'd know her to see, I'm sure.

You don't recognise too many of them. Fair enough; that's your loss.
But tell me, what did Al and Brendy and Liam and Anne and Aoife ever do to you? Nothing? They haven't done anything to you? They haven't beaten Irish into you or forced it down your throat or dumped you at the altar or refused you a dance at the summer college or kneecapped your poodle in the fight to free Ireland? You hate them for simply being. That's some condition you're struggling with. Please, come in, lie down. As that great Gaeilgeoir, An Dochtúir Frasier Crane, would say: "Tá mé ag éisteacht."

The names above are people whom I know either professionally or personally and who are making a contribution to the language in journalism, the arts, broadcasting and education. (Indeed, some of the really smart ones manage to do all four.) They range in age from 19 - Deirdre Ní Chearra - to 70 plus, Breandán Ó Doibhlin. Some of them are established figures; some are just beginning their journies. Ó Doibhlin is a former Professor of French at Maynooth, a writer of long-standing and has been honoured at the highest level by the French government for his contribution to their culture but has never been so honoured by the Irish government for his work in Irish letters. (What's that about prophets in their own land again?)

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Seosamh Mac Muirí
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Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:54 pm:   Edit Post Print Post


Ní Chearra is a second-year student at UCD and has had a couple of pieces published in The Irish Times column Beocheist (which I edit). She was raised in Dublin but her father hails from the Conamara Gaeltacht and her mother from the Kerry Gaeltacht. Ní Chearra speaks Irish as pure as Ó Conaire's and, hopefully, the occasional column will lead to a career in writing.

Betwixt and between, you have young journalists like Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí, a twenty-something editor of the weekly newspaper, Foinse. He's a writer of great ability and a man with a good eye for a story. Elsafty is a scientist and sean-nós singer of breath-taking ability; Fionntán de Brún is a young academic who has published one masterful study on the Donegal writer, Seosamh Mac Grianna, that offers a glimpse into the development of Irish writers after the War of Independence; Aoife Ní Scolaí is a young-gun Chief Executive of Conradh na Gaeilge, the oldest Irish-language organisation in Ireland; Doctor John Walsh is a lecturer at DCU who has worked for the EU in Brussels and who has radical and cogent arguments for the role of Irish in the development of modern Ireland; Máiréad Ní Chinnéide and Seán Ó hÉalaí are journalists of ability, experience and integrity who do what good hacks do -give their readers and listeners honest news and views.

I wish I had the space to give you a brief biography of each person mentioned. Suffice to say, they are all people of conscience and intellect; they are part of the modern Hidden Ireland, people who contribute more in a minute to the cultural well-being of Ireland than all the bile and boke which anti-language commentators vomit up in print and on the airwaves.

And you don't know them. And because you don't know them, you don't know a damn thing about the Irish language and where she stands now.

Yes, yes. You've a copy of An Tonn Gheal and maybe you heard Cathal Ó Searcaigh reading in Roscommon once and you were in a pub in the Gaeltacht and you didn't hear Irish being spoken and you know someone who once saw Máirtín Ó Cadhain walking across the quad in Trinity. But that's not enough. You are out of touch. You don't know the highways and byways of the debates, any of the debates in Irish, about Gaeltacht boundaries and the Language Act and any other issue that pertains to modern Ireland, from the War in Iraq to motorways through Tara to the real pulse of European literature. All you are getting are translated headlines - the more sensational, the better - and that's if you're lucky.

And it's not because Irish-speakers won't contribute to the debate - we speakee goody English - it's because the "debate" is deliberately one-sided and censorious. Most English-language media have warped the terms of reference for Irish so far out of shape to render any meaningful and sustained dialogue about the language almost impossible. Irish-speakers and Irish-language organisations are constantly playing catch-up or clarify-up when it comes to their case and that's if they even bother to do that.

The truth is that were Irish-speakers offered newspaper columns, op-ed pieces and spots on television in the English-language media on a regular basis, they would transform the cultural debate. There are any number of articulate, interesting and pioneering professionals working in the field of language maintenance who are more global in their outlook, more mature in their thinking, more intelligent in their analysis, than our home-grown Littlejohns. The only problem is, they are rarely given the opportunity to express themselves.

Perhaps it's a generational thing. There are people who met some Fáinne-wearing octogenarian while at school and have been so traumatised by the experience that the sight of a síniú fada reduces them to slobbering fear. (There is another generation, lucky sods, who are growing up with the Conamara curves of TG4's weather girls.)
Certainly, Irish has its head-bangers, but every movement - be it sporting, political or cultural - has its head-bangers. The head-bangers are not allowed to define in its entirity the English language and all it represents. Yet there is a persistent attempt to do just that for Irish.
So the next time you see a lurid piece about "Mad Gaeilgeoir ate my Gerbil" or the cost of translating documents or Irish in the school curriculum or in the European Union, ask yourself what Alan or Breandán or Máirín or Liam or Seán Tadhg might make of it all.
And then ask yourself why no one has bothered to give them the chance to tell you.

Pól Ó Muirí is Irish language editor of The Irish Times

Alt ó Magill, mí Feabhra.

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