Thursday, 30 July 2009

Letero por Caoimhín la Irish Voice:

While the Northern Ireland High Court’s ruling in the case of Caoimhín Mac Giolla Catháin, upholding what may be considered the last Penal Law, the Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737, stipulating that “all proceedings in courts of justice within this kingdom shall be in the English language” is disappointing, it is heartening to hear that Caoimhín’s attorney will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

While Caoimhín himself is second to none in speaking, using and promoting the Irish language, the strongest argument against his appeal will likely be the lack of Irish use among the population as a whole.

Indeed, while this noxious law was imposed by Britain over 270 years ago, it is upheld only by Irishmen.

At present, there is no one who hates the Irish language who isn't Irish himself, from either the north or the south. The judge in this case is named Séamus Treacy.

Northern Ireland’s new cynically appointed and culturally-challenged culture minister is surnamed McAusland (Mac Auslainn). Anti-Gaeilge laws only serve the ideologies of a few on the island and are no longer of any concern to anyone in Britain.

One recalls that the only obstacle to the Irish language’s official status in the EU was Ireland itself. After all the hair-pulling and hand-wringing in Dublin, it passed painlessly through Brussels with a pen stroke.

A recent documentary on Irish network TG4, Gaeilgeoirí -- Naimhde an Stáit, exposed and confirmed that in the 1970s the Dublin government was actively hostile to the language.

Things have changed considerably in this regard. The present Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and the Deputy Consul General Breandán Ó Caollaí here in New York are shining examples of this new positive direction.

The closing of the two last Irish language newspapers, Lá Nua and Foinse, within a year’s time is disastrous.

Two years ago, Ireland’s national airline, Aer Lingus, extended the 1737 Act to its employees, forbidding Irish-language announcements on flights in and out of Belfast. This is nothing short of scandalous.

Other businesses, on the other hand, most notably Bus Éireann, a private concern, have long engaged in business practices implementing the first official language and are to be commended.

Some organizations, other than those specifically formed for promoting the language, have a pro-Gaeilge constitutional ethos. The GAA and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann are examples, although some branches have done better in this regard than others.

This past year, the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee unveiled its new sponsorship seal.

Sadly, this instrument is entirely in English without a scribble in Irish.

Here, New York’s guardians of Irishness and fervent devotees of the Apostle to Ireland chose to use a language that did not exist even in England at the time of Patrick, and ignored the language in which the Irish first heard the Gospel as a result of his ministry.

This squandered opportunity only confirms to me that committee is out of touch and that their annual spectacle, save for a handful of participating organizations, is little more that an opportunity for suburbanites to parade their residual genetic material up Fifth Avenue. (Although the archdiocese seems to hold it as the Eighth Sacrament!)

Other organizations here have done much better, namely the Irish American Unity Conference, the American Conference for Irish Studies and the New York Irish Center.

The Brehon Law Society was able to closely support Caoimhín’s effort. The rest of us can best support him by using Irish whenever possible and calling upon Irish social and cultural organizations, particularly those in which we are associated, to publicly use Irish.

While redesigning signage and letterhead might be costly, the use of Irish on web pages such as those previously mentioned is much easier and more thrifty.

This Internet visibility may encourage others to follow and would weaken the argument that no one uses Irish anymore.

If Irish fails to survive the 21st century, it will because the Irish themselves have exterminated it.

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