Thursday, 15 February 2018

Mind Your Language

"Catholic equals Nationalist equals at least aspirantly Irish-speaking", whereas "Protestant equals Unionist equals militantly non-Irish-speaking"? That whole thesis is contrary to the plain facts of history.

Whereas early Nationalist leaders were often highly scornful of the Irish language as a bar to progress, no small contribution to saving it was made by eccentric Anglo-Irish grandees and enthusiastic Protestant clergymen, staunchly Unionist in most cases.

Douglas Hyde, the son of a County Sligo rector and born in an Ascendancy "Big House", became the first President of the Republic while remaining an observant Protestant, a dedicated Irish-speaker and educator in that medium, and an adherent to a political position fundamentally Unionist rather than Nationalist, which was probably why Fine Gael, pushed into declaring a republic by a coalition partner, gave him the job.

Sinn Féin may be creating a network of publicly-funded Irish-medium schools in order to banish the Catholic Church from the education, first of the Green side in the Six Counties, and then of almost everyone in the Twenty-Six.

But at least as sterling, in its way, was the work done for the language by the late Reverend Dr Eric Culbertson, country parson in County Tyrone, Honorary Clerical Vicar Choral of Armagh Cathedral (not the Catholic one), Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order, member of the Council of the Evangelical Protestant Society, and outspoken critic of the Good Friday and Saint Andrews Agreements. He stood in a long, long line.

Not that Sinn Féin wants an Irish Language Act for that reason. It wants one because thousands of Sinn Féin voters and members would have to employed in order to enforce such a thing. But hey, ho. The normalisation of politics, indeed.

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