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Analysis: the place of the Irish language today

The controversy over the termination of British government funding for Glor na nGael the Irish language cultural body raises a number of interesting questions. Not unexpectedly, Glor has kicked up an enormous row about it, alleging that the NIO wants to suppress the language.

We in Ulster Nation would suggest to Glor that if you want government money you should keep your doorstep clean. This is not exactly the case with Glor na nGael. Sinn Féin's cultural affairs spokesman and Belfast councillor Martin O'Muilleor was until recently on Glor's Belfast committee. Glor should realise that `he who pays the piper calls the tune'. If they want the money, they must sacrifice some of their independence!

However, it must be stressed that there is nothing wrong or subversive about gaelic, although most Protestants react in kneejerk fashion against it. O'Muilleor and his cohorts use it as a political weapon - often to wind up those Protestants silly enough to I et them.


Yet Irish is just as much a part of our common British heritage as Welsh, Scots gaelic, Manx, Cornish, Breton and of course English. Many Ulster towns have names taken from gaelic - Ballymena, Straid and Belfast to name but a few. Irish and Scots gaelic only really separated in the Sixteenth Century. Irish is one of the many languages spoken across Europe and as far east as India that trace their descent from Indo-European, thought to have been spoken more than 4,500 years ago. Irish belongs to the Celtic branch of the Indo-European family. It and Scots gaelic, Welsh and Breton are living community languages. Cornish and Manx cultural societies are reviving their own languages.


The Celtic form which became Irish arrived about 300BC. Later it spread to Scotland and the Isle of Man. Scottish and Manx gaelic gradually separated from the Irish and more slowly from one another, and they can be thought of as distinct languages from the Seventeenth Century onwards. The term `gaelic' may be used to denote all three.

Although often seen as an exclusively `Catholic' language, Irish inscriptions appear on the Lord Mayor of Belfast's Chain of Office, on at least one Orange banner and at the great Unionist Convention of 1887. Calvin's Catechism an John Knox's Book of Common Order were both translated into literary Irish and used by Scottish Presbyterians. It possesses one of oldest literatures in Europe - much of which deals with the ancient history and mythology of pagan Ulster.


East Belfast councillor, Dr Ian Adamson is a fluent gaelic scholar. He has done much to recover the memory of Ulster's lost culture and history through his writings. He has brought much of this to a wider audience through a study of the original gaelic writings. Rev Cosslett O'Cuinn, a Church of Ireland cleric, has translated the New Testament into modern gaelic. Often the 'gaelic' spoken in West Belfast is mere pidgin-gaelic. It is used for political and sectarian rather than truly cultural reasons.


Don't be afraid to quote gaelic, use gaelic names and speak the language if you wish. Don't allow the Provos and their ilk to hijack the language and transform it into a weapon against all Ulsterfolk. Don't listen to ignorant unionist politicians who brand it a `foreign language'. Reclaim this vital part of these islands' common British heritage!

David Kerr

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