Declan Lynch: The real world beyond the Magic Door
Irish is not 'part of what we are' in the way that we actually live our lives, and it never will be, writes
WHEN Prime Time reporter Katie Hannon was interviewing me for her excellent feature on the state of the Irish language, there was a moment when it seemed that we had passed through the Magic Door. Through the Door and into that other world where you can hear the strange music.
It went something like this: Katie had suggested to me that perhaps the GAA is an environment in which the Irish language is used more frequently than it would be in other areas of Irish life. To which I replied that the captain of the winning team in the All-Ireland final may indeed use a bit of Irish at the start of his speech – roughly the same bit every year, it must be said – but after that it's usually English all the way. Because GAA players, like the players of any other sport in this country, generally speak English, which is the language that most Irish people speak.
And at that moment we had gone through the Magic Door. Because here I was stating something that was utterly obvious and absolutely undeniably true, and yet in these debates about the Irish language I am usually "opposing the motion". Going against the heartfelt views of the majority, such as the 1.77 million Irish people who say in the census that they can speak Irish, though they obviously cannot speak Irish in any meaningful sense.
"Giovanni Trapattoni" – does that mean I can speak Italian?
Anyway, that controversial statement about the Irish speaking English did not make it to the final cut. But a member of the audience still found something which disturbed him enough in another statement of mine to declare that in his view, I am living on a different planet.
Irish is not part of what we are, I had argued. And it never will be part of what we are, even at the end of the Government's 20-year plan. Especially after that.
Now I accept that Irish may be "part of what we are" in terms of our imagined view of ourselves, or an aspirational view, or in some other historical or abstract sense that may be floating out there in the Irish consciousness. But in the sense that I meant it – the way that we actually live our lives outside of the institutions of this deeply dishonest State, it is not part of what we are.
Indeed outside of those institutions, in all the years
I have been wandering the roads of Erin, through every county and every town, and every tavern in which I did linger, I can't recall a single person initiating a conversation with me in Irish. Not one.
Which I think entitled me to make the observation that, on the whole, it is not part of what we are. In all the circumstances indeed, this would seem like another mild and modest observation, yet it drew that riposte from my opponent, that I am living on a different planet.
To which I would say, that if we are indeed on different planets, then the one that I'm on is called Earth and the one that he is on is so far away, they haven't got around to naming it yet.
Indeed, there is a distinctly inter-galactic aspect to this debate in recent times, with that Canadian astronaut tweeting his few words of Irish to us. Which caused great delight among the gaeilgeoirs, who hadn't quite grasped the true meaning of the encounter – it is now on the record as a matter of fact that there is more Irish used in Outer Space than in most Irish households.
This idea of extra-terrestrial visitors – the astronaut, the Queen, the president of the EU – throwing a few words of Diplomatic Irish our way, as Official Ireland swoons with ecstasy, is just the latest gimmick in an endless line.
It is believed that they're now dumbing down the Leaving Cert exam in order to further falsify the numbers of people who "speak Irish", but then
in the overall history of our educational system, this is one of the milder forms of abuse. They have tried everything, including torture.
The only thing they haven't tried is laying off the bullshit for a while, and abandoning their insane policies of compulsion – though Irish traditional music, for example, has survived without everyone being forced to learn the concertina.
It's so crazy it just might work. And if it doesn't work, that's all right too.
They can start the beatings again.