Tuesday 17 September 2019

Declan Lynch: Overwhelmingly, we Irish prefer the lie

The one true function of the Irish language is that it shows the vast dishonesty of the Gael, says Declan Lynch

IN THE recent census, 1.77 million people said that they were able to speak the Irish language.

In the recent census, 1.77 million people said that they were able to speak the Irish language.

In the recent census, 1.77 million people said that they were able to speak the Irish language.

In the recent census, 1.77 million people said that they were able to speak the Irish language.

I have written that sentence four times, no doubt bringing back happy memories of your schooldays, but mainly to ensure that the magnitude of the statement is fully absorbed.

Because this is not just a lie. All official statements pertaining to the Irish language are to some extent a lie, but it is the extraordinary size of the lie in this case which requires special attention. Even to call it a Big Lie would be to understate it by some considerable distance.

This is a massive, massive lie that we're talking about here.

It is so self-evidently untrue, on such a truly fantastic scale, that I think we can say this morning that what we are looking at is the Biggest Lie In The World.

Per head of population, I don't think there is any other country outside of, say, North Korea, which lies to itself on that level. And North Koreans have the perfectly good excuse that they do not have the advantages of free speech and freedom of conscience in general, which would

enable them to address the realities of their plight in a truthful manner.

In Ireland, we have all that. We can say whatever we like, on the census form. We can tell the truth with impunity.

Yet, overwhelmingly, we prefer the lie.

We know in our hearts that occasionally calling our bed "the leaba", or our hair "the gruaig", is not just a low-level form of eejitry in itself, in no way does it allow us to state honestly that we can actually speak the Irish language.

Indeed, looking back over his entire life since he left school, trying to remember just one situation in which he had spoken Irish or had it spoken to him in a meaningful way, a colleague recalled a singular occasion when "we tried it in the pub one evening".

Unfortunately, it didn't work, but nobody minded because they were enjoying the drink anyway. Again, it places the language firmly in the domain of eejitry, and drunken eejitry at that, a bit like wearing a traffic cone on our head.

Personally, I have been known to use various Italian words in normal speech, such as "spaghetti Bolognese" and "Giovanni Trapattoni", but to extrapolate from this, that I can speak Italian, would clearly be a lie. And a most ridiculous lie at that.

And yet huge numbers of us are prepared to tell such a lie, to state that we can speak the Irish language but that we simply choose not to speak it, what with roughly 77,000 claiming that they actually speak it every day outside of an institutional setting.

So 1.77 million can, but only 77,000 do, which is about 40,000 less than the number of people who speak Polish -- and that 77,000, given the levels of candour which we have encountered elsewhere in this census, is probably itself a lie, albeit a somewhat smaller one than our new friend, the Biggest Lie In The World.

And the figures for the Truth are not all that encouraging either, with one in four saying that they never speak Irish. Which means that about a quarter of Irish people are capable of telling the truth, and about three-quarters are not capable of it, even when they are under no pressure.

Then again, perhaps at some deep level, the Biggest Lie In The World is a response to the pressure suffered in childhood, when we would frequently be tested in Irish in school, and found wanting. Maybe we just get some sort of a defiant kick out of lying about our abilities today, knowing that the teacher can't give us a contemptuous No Grade and make us write it out again 100 times.

Whatever it is, the one true function of the Irish language today is that it demonstrates the vastness of the dishonesty of the Gael, and the piety that is his calling card.

Not that that matters, except that it requires a load of other bullshit to sustain such a lie. And on the whole, we can probably do with a bit less bullshit in our lives, not more.

Bullshit like the proposed cuts in RTE's coverage of sports events which people actually want to watch, when TG4, with its comparatively tiny audience, receives about a quarter of all public money spent on broadcasting.

Big-occasion bullshit like the TG4 presidential debate in which the one candidate who could actually speak Irish was disadvantaged because the rest of them are speaking in the actual national language, English.

And everyday bullshit like the "20-year strategy" for the Irish language, which you probably didn't know about, and which you probably don't want to know about.

Against all that, we have this thing that is unique, that is an ancient part of our heritage. It is something that we have worked endlessly, and yes, strategically, to sustain. It is, in its own way, a wonderful thing.

It is the Biggest Lie In The World. It is ours, and ours alone.

Sunday Independent

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