On Saturday 18th February, the Irish Gaelic language group, ‘Dream Dearg’ (Red Crowd, red as in angry) organized a demonstration in Newry calling for an Irish Language Act, designed to ensure respect for the native Irish tongue, as well as facilitating those who wish to conduct their day-to-day business through the medium of Gaelic.
The event was very well attended, given the short period for preparation, with 300-400 protesters gathering outside the town-hall, where songs were sung and calls made to ensure that politicians of whatever hue show due respect for a language that is more than 2000 years old, yet is still vibrant and very much alive throughout modern Ireland.
It remains to be seen, however, if the reasoned calls will fall on deaf ears, as sadly there are those (a minority, I feel) within the upper financial echelons of Unionism who would oppose anything that smacks of an Irish identity. Yet they continue to live in Ireland.
Of note during the demo, was the number of both young people and children, as across the Occupied Six Counties (OSC), Gaelic-medium schools have sprung up to cater for growing numbers of children whose parents wish their issue to be educated via Gaelic. These children still speak perfect English, yet they also receive the gift, with associated benefits, of learning a second language. Additionally, they are growing up with a true understanding of what it is that makes Irish people unique.
‘Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam’, we say in Gaelic. ‘A country without a language, a country without a soul’.
I find it intriguing that, although the OSC has suffered the effects of colonialism more profoundly than any other region of Ireland, it is in the OSC that the Gaelic language movement is at its strongest. There are Unionists now confidently learning their native tongue. This doesn’t make them any less Unionist, it merely demonstrates that they are more comfortably Irish (and if it was good enough for Carson, then surely it’s good enough for modern Unionism).
When colonial authorities invade a territory, they attempt, as Standard Operating Procedure, to reduce or abolish that which makes the victim nation different from their new overlords. This forced assimilation has taken place, and is still taking place, across the world today.
In the OSC, this battle is being fought on many fronts. Yet it can be seen, that the more the colonizers attempt to destroy the indigenous identity, the more firmly the natives resist, and the more strongly they clutch their national selfhood to their defiant breasts.
In Ireland – and I say this with the greatest of respect to those anti-partitionists of the 26 counties – if one wishes to meet a person who fully appreciates their separate Irish identity, they should look north to the OSC. For it is when others try to smother who you are, when you are then forced to defend your culture and language from continuous and insidious colonial attempts at erosion, often by risking your life, that you can best understand how important and precious such integral aspects of personal identity are.
Yet the adults across Ireland, who strive to learn and/or use our native tongue, are but a stopgap. They are the keepers of a flame for the future. Even those who have no Gaelic yet promote it, are an essential part of this movement of preservation.
But it is the children, our children, the children of Ireland, who will be the salvation of the Gaelic language. It is they who will be tasked with elevating the timeless speech of our ancestors to a position where those who oppose it will be shamed into silence.
Sadly, that day is not here yet. The worst excesses of the colonial machine still hold sway. But not for much longer. Our confidence grows. Our numbers grow. Our voices grow. Soon the sweet strains of Gaelic, as spoken by Cú Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill, as told by Macha and MacNessa, as heard by Lír and Nuada, will prevail.
That day will come, when the flame we carry will become a roaring pyre upon which burns the hatred of the narrow-minded and the bitterness of the insecure.
For whether it is the colonial invaders of Palestine, or the unreformed Planters of Ulster, they must surely know that we will not be denied. They can beat us down but we will rise again. They can tell us no, but we will ignore them. They can try to stop us but we will step past, or over them… their choice. Our path is clear. Our will is set.
The people who turned out on Saturday, and many thousands more who couldn’t, are refusing to be treated with disrespect any more. For they are not the supremacists, nor are they the bigots. They would stand as equals with all. And in this there is an affirmation of that strength and parity that shall be heard ringing across our land;
‘Anáil a Ghaidheil… air a mhullach‘, (The breath of the Gael… on the summit).