Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Strong forces express certain cultural problem.

I sent a letter last month* to the leaders of the three parties at present negotiating the formation of our next Government. It was addressed to the leaders and to the Dáil speakers on Gaeltacht/Gaeilge affairs and the Minister of State in the Department of Arts Heritage & the Gaeltacht. As in all my dealings with the Irish state I wrote in the National Language.

Linguistic respect?
I expected little more than a letter of acknowledgement from those addressed rather than a detailed response but at least I expected the response to courteously in the language I had used in writing to them.

These are the responses.

Taoiseach: Leo Varadkar TD - Silence!
Minister of State: Seanadóir Seán Kyne - Silence!

Leader of Opposition: Micheál Mairtín TD - Acknowledgement (in English)!
Gaeltacht Spokesman: Dara Calleary TD  - Silence!

Ceannaire Chomhaontas Glas: Éamonn Ryan TD - Respectful Acknowledgment
Marc Ó Cathasaigh TD: - Silence

Do these not display the interest and respect held in the body politic here for the National Language?

There has been a considerable amount of talk and agitation about racial prejudice in our country. This attention is well overdue and there was a lot of pain involved in hearing some unpleasant truths. The 7 Lá program on TG4 last night was very painful to watch as was the interview with the young GAA footballer on Saol Ó Dheas (RTÉ Raidío na Gaeltachta) the previous day.

Of course these painful truths about Irish Society have been known but unreferenced until recent decades. Bias against Travellers was and is in evidence for a long time but more recently that against the Irish from another tradition whether it be African, Asian or South American or indeed other European origins. The attitude of the Department of Justice shown to the conditions of those in Direct Provision is another example. Of course the attitude shown towards women is a longstanding discrimination not unique to Ireland. Are they not all sides of the same coin? (See also Ola Majekodunmi's little YouTube film: 'What does "Irishness" look like?').

Can the attitude towards those who choose to use their Irish as their language of communication with the State be victims of this kind of abuse? I have been trying to conduct business with State bodies since I was able to vote and it has become more rather than less difficult. Sometimes they even ask what my "real name" is! Can it be said that the state shelters an "institutionally linguistically racist" attitude in these matters?

When we live in a state where the Minister of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht is perfectly happy to discuss matters concerning Arts and heritage but not on the Gaeltacht. Is it any wonder the President of Ireland could state (24 June 2016) "...I believe there is a certain cultural problem which controls the system, senior officers of the system and leadership..." which ensures Irish is rarely heard (my translation). This echoes the words of the only Ombudsman in Europe to resign on principle when he said (January 23, 2014) "that there are stronger and more widespread forces in place who have little or no concern for the future of our national language."

It is no wonder that Irish speakers are insulted and/or belittled in private and public, even on the airwaves. Why are you "speaking a dead language!" Indeed as part of a "Language Gestabo" or worse.  This disrespect does hurt no less than the "but where are you REALLY from" suffered by our fellow countrymen and women in another context. It also demeans the person administering the insult.

As far back as November 1892 the man who later became our first President expressed his astonishment on how the Irish people "continues to clamour for recognition as a distinct nationality, and at the same time throws away with both hands what would make it so."

Of course it is not quite the same as the racial prejudice but nonetheless as harmful since it also is a denial of basic rights. In the matter of language of course it is easier to abandon it than to abandon the colour of our skin or our sexual orientation.

* Litir chuig na Ceannairí (26 Bealtaine 2020)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

11% Increase in complaints.

“There is a language crisis in the Gaeltacht as is and if the law to protect the Irish language in the Gaeltacht isn’t adhered to then it is clear the situation will deteriorate.”

Kerry County Council breached the planning law by not implementing a language condition attached to planning permission for a housing development in the West Kerry Gaeltacht, according to an investigation carried out by An Coimisinéir Teanga.

The Language Commissioner described the investigation as ‘’an important one’’ due to the possible impact an increase in non-Irish speakers could have on ‘’the future of Irish as a community language in the Gaeltacht.”

“There is a language crisis in the Gaeltacht as is and if the law to protect the Irish language in the Gaeltacht isn’t adhered to then it is clear the situation will deteriorate,” An Coimisinéir Teanga added.

This is the first time an investigation was carried out on a provision of the Planning & Development Act 2000. Information on the investigation is included in the Annual Report of An Coimisinéir Teanga, which is published today.

The report shows a significant increase (11%) in the number of complaints received by the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga last year. An Coimisinéir Teanga said that the increase highlights the continuing difficulties people experience accessing public services in Irish.

The majority of complaints related to signage and stationery, replies in English to correspondence in Irish, road signs and difficulty in using names and surnames in Irish.

The annual report also provides an update on how RTÉ has responded to findings by An Coimisinéir Teanga that the organisation breached the broadcasting law regarding its Irish language obligations by broadcasting 99% of its programmes on televison in English only.

"Three key reforms that I see as being necessary to strengthen the Act. These amendments relate to 
• the provision of State services in the Gaeltacht, 
• changes in State recruitment policies, and 
• the establishment of a system of language standards placing a clearer obligation on public bodies to serve the public in the country's first official language."
Report 2019
The Language Commissioner welcomed RTÉ’s commitment to significantly increase the amount of programming in Irish broadcast on television this year, but he said that more is needed to ensure the broadcaster fully complies with its language obligations under the Act.

The Language Commissioner also stressed the need for an amended Official Languages Act in his report. He said that an amended Bill, published late last year, doesn’t adequately address the lack of State services available through Irish. He also highlighted the lack of a deadline in the Bill relating to the number of Irish speakers that it says will be recruited to the public service.

• See also: The first monitoring report published by An Coimisinéir Teanga. (July 2019)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Bill publication an important first step!

Publication of the Official Languages (Amendment Bill) is an important step, however more action needed on Gaeltacht and Recruitment. This is a translation of a statement from the Coimisinéir Teanga.

The publication of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill is an important step in the process of bringing forth a stronger and more fit-for-purpose language Act. The opportunity to examine the proposed amendments is to be welcomed, but the deficiencies in the Bill are a matter of concern.

I have continually emphasized three key reforms that I see as being necessary to strengthen the Act. These amendments relate to the provision of State services in the Gaeltacht, changes in State recruitment policies, and the establishment of a system of language standards placing a clearer obligation on public bodies to serve the public in the country's first official language.

Reference is made in the new Bill to these matters and to a number of other important provisions, but the Bill, as it currently stands, does not adequately address some of the most important issues relating to the provision of public services through Irish and protecting the
language rights of the community.

The Gaeltacht
The fragile state of Irish in Gaeltacht areas is evident in the census results and in various pieces
of research over the past number of years. It is therefore vital that the provision of public
services through Irish in the Gaeltacht is placed on a statutory footing and that the language
rights of the Gaeltacht community should be underpinned by the legislation. Unfortunately,
at this stage, the Bill contains no firm provisions placing a duty upon the State to ensure that
the Gaeltacht community is served in their native language.

I support the recommendation that a national statutory plan for the provision of public
services through Irish be prepared and I agree that new recruitment policies and practices
should be an integral part of this plan. However, I am concerned that external experts and
the public are not adequately represented on the Advisory Committee to be established
under the amended Act to prepare the implementation plan. I am also concerned that there
is no stated deadline for the publication of the plan and that there is no statutory obligation
to implement any agreed plan.

System of Standards
One of the main provisions of the Bill is the proposal to replace the language schemes system
with a system of language standards. This is a worthwhile proposal, but it is difficult to judge
the possible impact of this change without sight of the draft standards. I believe that the
timely production of these draft standards would greatly benefit the process of assessing the

In the coming weeks we will have an opportunity to dissect the proposed amendments to
the Official Languages Act and indeed other important matters not mentioned in this Bill.
The weaknesses in the existing legislation have long been highlighted and should be
addressed at this juncture. To not do so would be a missed opportunity.

In the course of this debate it is important that the needs of the language community and
their rights continue to be addressed, taking into account the status of Irish as the national
and first official language of the country.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


In this blog last month I lamented the lack of knowledge of Irish literature among those Irish people who are unable to read it (in many cases after 11 years of study). In that article I mentioned in passing the remarks of a former Professor of Irish in Cork University, Alan Titley.

He has written (as he does almost every week) an article in the Irish Times (Irish) praising the decision of Education Minister Joe McHugh to continue the provision of history as a subject in our schools. This was despite the strong recommendations to the contrary including from the NCAA.

There was a paragraph in his article which struck me forcefully.
"Tá scoláireacht/aí dochtúireachta á dtairiscint ag Ollscoil Áth na Bó (nó Oxford duitse) ar son staidéir a dhéanamh ar stair na hÉireann san 18ú haois. Só bhfat? arsa tusa. Is í an mhórdhifríocht ná gur scoláireacht í ina gcaithfear leas a bhaint as na foinsí Gaeilge - na mílte díobh - d’fhonn na hoibre a dhéanamh. Is cuma nó réabhlóid sa staireolaíocht an méid seo féin.

Tá nach mór dochreidte gur scríobhadh stair na hÉireann tar éis turnamh na meánaoiseanna gan beann ar bith ar theanga na ndaoine a raibh an stair á scríobh fúthu..."

(There is a scholorship/docturship being offered by Oxford University for study on Irish history in the 18th century. What's unusual about that you might say. Of great interest is the fact that this study must use the resources available in Irish - thousands of them - in order to complete this work. This could be regarded as a revolution in its own right.

It is almost incredible that the history of Ireland after the collapse of the middle ages without the slightest reference to the language of the people about whom this history was been written...)

In fact this is perhaps the basis of the name I have given this blog - The Hidden Ireland. It is the name of a seminal work by another scholar of the School of Munster*, Daniel Corkery.

Of course, as Titley point out, there are historians who mine this rich resource like Vincent Morley, Néill Uí Chiosáin, Ghearóid Uí Thuathaigh, Bhreandáin Uí Bhuachalla and others but how many are blind to it's wealth. However how strange it is that the history of Ireland often is in fact the history of the English government of Ireland.

He wonders "Cad ina thaobh nár smaoinigh ollscoil éigin abhus ar bheart chomh réabhlóideach, chomh coimeádach, chomh soiléir, chomh lom, chomh nach mór meabhairphléascach sin, nárbh fholáir do staraithe na bunfhoinsí a léamh?"
(Why did no university here think of a plan so revolutionary, so conservative, so clear, so obvious, so mindbloggingly explosive as to suggest that historian read the basic sources!)

He asks is an of the Irish educational institutions ready to take up the challange.


Translations are entirely my own and I have take a little liberty to get the message across and thus loose the author's pithy and imaginative delivery found in the original.

* Ionad Bairre Sgoil na Mumhan - Motto of UCC

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Our literature? What are we missing?

I recently visited the incredible Charlie Byrne treasure trove on Middle Street in Galway. It is truly a remarkable place and there as yet many undiscovered treasures hidden in a Labyrinth of passages, rooms and annexes.

(People say there is no need to look of cases or forms of English - I found that I had to search for the plural form of "Annex!" But I'm drifting away from what I initially wanted to say! In one section I found a selection of books in Irish and it set me thinking.)

Irish literature in Charlie Byrnes Bookshop 6 September 2019

While there browsing I came across a section with books written in Irish and this started me thinking. What IS Irish literature? Surely this collection should be regarded as Irish Literature in the true sense.

Is literature regarded as the nationality of the writer or that of the language? I remember the great German writer and Nobel Laureate, Heinrich Böll was interviewed on British television. He was asked why he did not write in English and his reply was interesting. "If I wrote in English I would be more English than the Prime Minister!" He appeared therefore to regard writing in English as an English thing.

Perhaps we might say that writings on Irish subjects or topics are Irish Literature. If that is the criteria then perhaps the famous book of the same German author, Irisches Tagesbuch, could be classed as Irish Literature? Or conversly one of the most entertaining books I have read in recent times, "An Tionscadal" by Tomás Mac Síomóin (Coiscéim) could be classed as Catalan Literature? I understand the French regard Samuel Becket's work as French literature.

Irish, Dutch or Brazilian?
Can the short story collection "Gonta" written by Netherlands native, Alex Hijmans (Cois Life) about people in Bahia be Dutch or Brazilain literature? Recognised  as the best collection of short stories since 2000 by the critical journal Comhair in 2013. Can literature be multinational then?

Recently Iris Murdoch has been called an Irish writer and like Elizabeth Bowen she may be described as such by birth. But can their work be described as Irish Literature? Their topics can hardly be described as Irish.

Looking at the literature publications in Ireland few acknowledge, except in a passing reference, to the literature in the National Language. Full of references to Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, Wilde or more recent authors. Yes, these and the more modern authors in English are worth reading. Study of them can be enriching. They do display a certain aspect of life in Ireland in the last two hundred years but they build almost exclusively on the giants of English literature. But if you look book reviews in the English language media in Ireland, these are almost exclusively what they regard as "Irish Literature." (An honourable exception is Children's Book Ireland who place both Irish and English publications together on their own merit as literature rather than place them in a linguistic ghetto!)

So what am I saying.

There is a hidden treasure in our country. It is a thriving rich literary tradition in Ireland in our National Language. Rich not materially, as Máirtín Ó Cadhain adverred but in tradition going back not 200 years but nearly two thousand years (if not more). It is in fact the oldest written language in Europe which is still a spoken language too. It has perhaps been enriched with its contact with European literature especially pre 1700 and by English literature since that time. But drop into any book shop  - I exclude specialist shops here* - and you would be hard pressed to find any of this uniquely and indisputably Irish literature.

I remember seeing another author, Alan Titley, address a meeting in the Oireachtas (The parliament not the festival) on the lack of true understanding that ignorance of literature written in Irish hinders. How many histories of the period, the centenery of which we are celebrating in these days, have been written with out reference or even knowledge of the works published in Irish? How many of our historians have read the three volume autobiography of Ernest Blyth or the works of Pádraic Ó Conaire?

Does not this ignorance render our nation so much the poorer? There is a real lacuna in how the literary establishment treat Irish authors. Awards, when they acknowledge works in Irish ghettoise it - "The Irish Language award!" They appear never to judge it on equal terms with the works in English as the "Best poetry Award, " or best work in fiction.

Surely we should commemorate and support it for what it is - true Irish literature.

* Such as An Siopa Leabhair on Harcourt Street in Dublin or Cló Iarchonnacht's Shop behind the Ceardlann in An Spidéal.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Good news for Irish education welcomed.

‘Announcement by the Minister for Education of new criteria for the founding of Gaelscoileanna is a positive development’

An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill has welcomed today’s announcement by the Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh, T.D., that 5 of the 13 primary schools to be established between now and 2022 have been predesignated as Irish – medium schools.

In an investigation conducted by An Coimisinéir Teanga in 2017 he ruled that the Department of Education and Skills breached language provisions of the Education Act, 1998, when a patronage application for a new Irish-medium primary school in the Drumcondra/Marino/Dublin 1 school planning area was rejected. An Coimisinéir Teanga ruled that the language objectives of the Education Act were not adequately addressed in the evaluation process for deciding school patrons.

The implementation of the report’s recommendations are a matter of continuing discussion with the Department of Education and Skills. Today’s announcement that the evaluation criteria for the patronage process are being changed is a positive development that will benefit Irish-medium education. It means that the option of an Irish-medium education should be available in the future in areas where a new school is being built but where that option is not available at present.

It should also be ensured that the measures introduced by the Department of Education and Skills meet the extra demand for Irish-medium education and that is a matter that is still being discussed with the Department.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

What's that in English?

You can sit on a mountain but you can't sit on a pin!

Not again!
Imagine if you can Silvio Berlusconi entering the European Parliament to which he has just been elected.

"Who are you?"

"Silvio Berlusconi, newly elected representative from the Republic of Italy."

"What would that be in English?"

This is something that happens regularly in Ireland to people who use the (more correct) form of their surname. It has happend to me as recently as last week.

I had to go into a local hospital in the Gaeltacht serving city of Galway for a medical procedure. For safety reasons the very efficient and friendly staff of these establishments must check your name date of birth etc. to ensure that your are the correct person for this procedure.

Checking my name one of those checking queried my surname, "And whats that in English, Eoin?" I just said that's my surname, "It's a old Wexford name!" I went on to talk about other surnames from Wexford in my family background including my great-grandmother who was a Hore - one of the Hores of the Moyne as my grandfather used to smilingly refer to her in the days when I had no idea that there could be any other word with the same sound, a different spelling and a completely different meaning!

On other occasions I have been told directly "That's Ryan isn't it?" Now as I appriach my dotage I no longer acquiesce and say no it isn't it's "Ó Riain." Prior to this i might have agreed for a quiet life!

I have also been told that I should not have not to use that form of my name. I decided to use it and only that form when I came to voting age. I feel that after over fifty years this decision should not be queried. Perhaps I am naive?

Recently the film director, Ciarán Ó Cofaigh drew our attention to the apparant inability of may of our public (and private) institutions to cope with the accent or long sign over vowels. "It's the esence of who I am!"  (RTÉ, 9/4/2019) This is I suppose part of the same problem. Try booking a seat on IarnRód Éireann or on an Aer Lingus plane if your name has an accent!

Respect: My name tag from a conference
in the Netherlands. 
It is a problem I have only come across here in Ireland. In my somewhat limited experience abroad - including Mother England believe it or believe it not - the fada on my surname is nearly always respected. In Ireland it is invariable either left out (acceptable) or replaced with a following (and meaningless) apostrophy. Nobody outside of Ireland asks me the fatal question, "What's that in English?"

I agree it is in one way a small irritant. But as the saying goes, "You can sit on a mountain but you can't sit on a pin!" The Comisinéir Teanga has said, "Our name and surname is an integral part of our identity and no person or organisation should take it upon itself to anglicise this." (Annual Report 2015, Page 7)

The ruling of a judge reported in yesterday's Irish Times (12/7/2019) has perhaps some relevance. The Judge refers to “a historically lukewarm State commitment to the giving of practical support and resources to support the language in the administration of justice”, or in any of its services I would add.

If the state is so lukewarm is it any surprise that those in the service of the public show a similar disregard?