Thursday, 26 December 2013

Foreigners, Lundys and the Irish Language

Now we hear that draft 4 includes promotion of Irish (foreign language) Will it also promote polish, Chinese etc?

Once again Jamie Bryson has single-handedly made me reach for my wee laptop and vent my digital spleen.

Although, it won't be a lecture, rather I'm just going to present a few nuggets of history that highlight the Protestant history with Gaelic (I say Gaelic over Irish as the topic leaps from Ireland to Scotland so Gaelic is an umbrella term in this instance).

NOTE: A lot of the leg work here is borrowed from a few friends of mine who are putting together a book that will have them all hung from Samson and Goliath for their defiance of 'the norm';
 Their book will highlight the lesser-popular facts of Northern Irish history at the expense of unionists, republicans, nationalists, Royalists, the army, the Catholic church, the Orange Order, the Vatican, the Apprentice Boys and everyone else.
Watch this space folks...

Anybody who wants the full monty of the Irish-Protestant Gaelic relationship could do worse than to read these two eye-opening gems:

Or this:

(though, help a local business out and order it from No Alibis in Belfast, )

Anyway, it's not a lecture, just a presentation of historical snippets. Make up your own mind.

First of all though, why would Jamie regard it as a 'foreign language'?

Well it's not the first time I've heard this dismissal from unionists; local purveyor of fire & brimstone and gospel music star, Rev William McCrea fobbed the language off in similar terms in a Magherafelt council meeting.

(NOTE: McCrea - derives from an ancient Gaelic male given name "MacRaith", son of grace, prosperity, or favour, from the Celtic "rat", luck, fortune. This name, inscribed as "Maqi Rati" on an ogham stone found at Keenrath, in the Irish county of Cork, may have been introduced into Scotland as early as the 5th Century A.D., when the Gaelic language was brought from Ireland.)

Also, his DUP colleague Edwin Poots told Sluggerotoole's David McCann that his greatest achievement was 'burying the Irish language act' as he believes that there is precious little need for it outside of republican circles.

So, how do men, some of Gaelic descent, come to regard an ancient language of this land as 'foreign'?

Well, invariably it comes from hostility to the language.

A hostility that I used to share.

And many others I might add.

This might sound strange coming from someone who would dearly love to see a Gaelic revival across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, but, it's true.

I only saw Gaelic in a different light when I lived amongst Gaels in Scotland (most Gaels in Scotland are Free Presbyterian. Go figure).

Before that, the only time I ever saw anything in Irish/Gaelic was if I came across a Sinn Fein leaflet, IRA propaganda or something republican.

In short, SF & the IRA's use of Irish made it repellent to me.

"Politicising the Irish language? Not us..."

I'd never heard of Protestant Irish speakers.

I assumed that they'd never existed.

In that respect, I suppose it was kind of 'foreign' as in it had NOTHING to do with me and my 'folk'.

Scotland changed all that.

And before you reach for the old dead end arguments of "well, republicans use shoes, so are you against them too?" please consider the following before you make an eejit of yourself and voice such an argument;

Until (relatively) recently, both Rangers and Celtic had the same sponsors.

For decades before hand they did not.

Why the change?

 Because those clever mind doctors and marketers realised that negative association was very powerful, more people were put off the services of CR Smith and McEwans lager than were attracted to them.

In effect, they discovered the part of the brain that brands something as 'themuns'.

So, now a sponsor must sponsor both teams rather than risk a boycott from the team's rivals. (Though Celtic went solo again, if it was a good move for Magners remains to be seen)

Anyhoo, it demonstrates the power of negative association and the republican 'hijacking' of Gaelic really should not be discounted.
 At all.
In fact a song and dance should be made about it.

Anyway, since I've managed to remove the republican contamination from my impression of the Gaelic languages and started to (slovenly) study Scottish Gaelic I've stumbled across some eyebrow-raisers.

Without further ado, some things to ponder:

Edward Carson: Spoke 'Provo speak'

* Edward Carson, co-founder of the UVF, father of Northern Ireland and uber-Brit was a speaker of Irish

* It is said that every outfit in the Ulster 36th had at least one Gaelic speaker

* There is a tale of soldiers of the Ulster 36th marching past men from a Munster regiment and besting the Munster men in 'slagging session' in Gaelic.

* The 1911 census showed that nearly a fifth of the Shankill's Protestant population spoke Gaelic (as many as the Falls area)

* Some academics estimate that at least half of the original planter Presbyterian population were Gaelic speakers

* In some areas English planters learnt Gaelic to avoid being disadvantaged in markets

* In the 19th century Belfast was the academic capital of Irish learning

* In 1828 the Ulster Gaelic Society was established by Lord Downshire (powerful Protestant landlord and member of the ruling class)

* Contrary to popular belief, the gentry and landlord class were not fervently opposed to the language. On the contrary, when it finally dawned on them that their English counterparts saw them as 'Irish' many of them embraced this heritage and commissioned Irish books, murals and mosaics

Mosaic in a former  (Protestant) stately home in Ballymena

* An oft understated stance is that of the Catholic church. The contribution of the Catholic church to the decline of Irish is one of the most bafflingly under reported stories of Irish history. Really, go check it out for yourself

* Fitzroy Presbyterian church in Belfast counts a number of Irish speakers among its congregation and has weekly services in Irish

* The motto of the 1892 Unionist Conference was ‘Erin Go Bragh’ – ‘Ireland forever’

* Irish regiments in the British army have used the motto "Faugh A Ballagh" - Clear the way

* The Irish culture centre in the Falls area is named after a Protestant Gaelic speaker - Robert Shipboy McAdam

* The last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner (he who introduced internment) spoke Irish

* The almost extinct Antrim Gaelic is (according to Robert Shipboy McAdam) identical to some Scottish Gaelic dialects

* Former UVF leader, Gusty Spence, studied Gaelic in prison

* The motto of the terrorist group 'Red Hand Commando' has a Gaelic motto - "Lámh Dhearg Abú" -  'Red Hand to Victory'

* A lodge in the Orange Order had an attractive banner written in Gaelic

* It is thought that some (if not ALL) of the original 13 Apprentice Boys of Derry's famous siege spoke Gaelic. (Given the make up of the population back then it is highly unlikely that none of them had any understanding of Gaelic)

* The Gaelic League (ironically partly responsible for severing the Protestant involvement in Gaelic) in its early days attracted the head of the Independent Orange Order and a grand master of a Belfast Orange lodge.

So there you have it, a mere drop in the ocean of the Irish Protestant relationship with Gaelic.

It is unfortunate that it is now a political football and that unionists are so terrified of the language eating them up.

I would argue that they would have some control of it's direction and growth (e.g. increase the Scottish element of the Northern dialects?) if they got involved rather than backing off into the corner trying to hide from its inevitable growth.

I don't see how NOT getting involved achieves anything:

"We don't like the actions of the GAA!"

"Cool, so you're going to join and have a say in its affairs then?"

"No. We'll stand outside with a sign saying 'down with this sort of thing'...."

"How's that working for you so far?

Hardly the stuff of dynamic thinking. As usual.

Flegger Ted: Will bring the GAA to its knees...

Could some one, anyone please explain to me how Gaelic is a foreign language to Northern Ireland?

Especially when we take into consideration the Gaelic names of some of the unionist representatives:

McCrea, Allister, Cameron, Buchannan, Campbell, Craig, Dunlop, Dunne, Donnelly, Donaldson, Finlay, Givan, McCoubrey, McCartney, McCausland, McClure, McClurg, McCoy, McCrum, McCullough, McKeen, McCorkell,  McIlroy, McIlveen, McKee, McKnight, McQuillan, McWilliams,  Douglas, Herron, Kinahan, McGimpsey, Patterson (?) etc etc.

I just went through a list of unionist councilors and MLA's and found so many that I got bored, I'd be here all night writing them down...

Last and by no means least, there is another  unionist voice potentially of Gaelic origin:


This interesting surname has two possible origins. 
The first is a patronymic from the male given name "Brice", i.e. "son of Brice".
 Brice is a pet form of the Welsh name "Rhys", meaning rashness; an ancient namebearer being King Rhyence of North Wales, whose hobby of collecting the beards of his rivals to trim his cloak proved his undoing when he attempted to complete his collection with King Arthur's.
 The name may also be an Anglicized form of the Gaelic "O Briosain", an altered version of "O'Muirgheasain" (Morrissey), meaning "son of Muirgheasain".
 In Ireland it originated in Ulster, particularly in Counties Donegal and Derry. The 17th Century Hearth Money Rolls for the Northern counties list many people with the name Mrieson and similar variants, later these became known as Morrison, Bryson is the modern form, and is commonly found recorded in the counties mentioned above.

Read more:


  1. Spreag an sui seo suim mor orm . Beir bua.

  2. Very good article but there are a couple of points I'd like to put. Firstly, Republicans never 'hijacked' the language. This, like so many other things you have so eloquently explained, is just another perception. Yes, they used/promoted/ Irish and maybe even had a bit of fun because it upset the Unionists but why shouldn't they use/promote it? It doesn't give them any ownership of it and Irish speakers certainly never looked at it like that.

    Secondly, and as an extension of the first, right throughout my life, I have been exposed to Irish from a number of angles and the Republican movement would be way down the list. My mother was a fluent speaker, 4 of the 7 teachers at my primary school likewise. The local parish and GAA ran classes and offered scholarships to the gaeltacht. At secondary school, Irish was taught from first to third year and was one of the most popular choices for 'o' level. Here we learnt about McAdam, Miss Young and the first book printed in Irish, a protestant bible.

    After school age, classes were even more popular with schools developing in many areas. Magazines, Radio and TV, Literature abounding and in no area did I ever encounter the IRA in charge. Certainly the overwhelming majority of those involved would have come from a C/N background but a pretty diverse one.

    Not suggesting that you are claiming such but the opinion that Irish has to behave itself and stop consorting with terrorists is utterly ridiculous and has no basis in reality. To be honest, poor Irish from certain Sinn Féin members was ridiculed mercilessly in Gaeilge circles, often referred to as Jailtacht or Jailtalked.

    Should point out that I'm not a Shinner, a Christian or indeed am I that strongly interested in the Irish language, just felt I needed to state my personal experience.

  3. Portglenone

    Thanks for your input, this is exactly the kind of comment I welcome here.

    I'm glad you understand the importance of perception, it is key to a lot of my points and gripes.

    With regards to the 'hijacking' well, yes, that's how it's perceived, in particular the 1915 'putsch' that removed Douglas Hyde.

    Your exposure to Irish is quite an eye opener for me, for if your moniker is a reflection of where you're from then you're from my neck of the woods and I had practically no exposure to Irish other than SF literature or such like.

    A bit like an anglo 'muggle' surrounded by Gaelic 'magic', completely unaware of it.

    I'm glad you hold the republican use of Irish in such low regard.

    Perhaps, just like moderate unionists, people like yourself should make themselves heard more.

    As it stands, most Protestants regard Irish as a 'Catholic' thing.

    Hat's off to Linda Ervine for her supreme efforts in east Belfast, but she could be helped greatly by people such as yourself making public their sniggering of jailtacht types.

    Unfortunately, things being what they are, people on the unionist side of the fence will remember statements such as the 'bullet = irish freedom' nonsense way before they remember points like what you have mentioned.

    Anyway, much obliged for your comment


    PS I love the Wild Duck, great for a feed.

  4. Good article. At about 40 secs in, this guy's remarks support your point about negative association:
    Btw, I went down that road too, stalking- as opposed to following- J Bryson on Twitter. It provided short term amusement but ultimate psychic depletion. But if you can’t help yourself, check out his testimony.