No surrender ever to the enemy within
Our unyielding resistance to our native tongue is nothing short of heroic, writes Declan Lynch
LISTENING to a debate on the Irish language on the Pat Kenny radio show the other day, it struck me that we aren't giving ourselves enough credit here.
Because when you think about it, our resistance to the Irish language, and everything associated with it, can only be regarded as heroic.
In fact, it is almost beyond human comprehension that we have held out so steadfastly against it, given the odds that were stacked against us. They say that Mandarin Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. Yet if any of us had been taught Mandarin Chinese for an hour a day, five days a week, for about 14 years, it would be inconceivable that we would emerge from that with almost no ability to speak Mandarin Chinese, or to write it, and no desire to acknowledge its existence in any way.
Yet for generations, in vast numbers, we Irish have managed to do that in relation to our "first" language. Our resistance has not wavered in any way -- if anything, we grow more resolute.
How do we do it? How do we keep hating the Irish language with such integrity?
Because let us dispense with the usual pretences here, the pious aspirations, the lies. And let us talk about this hatred of ours, this deep and implacable hatred which we feel towards the native tongue.
Because we simply could not have kept ourselves free of it for so long, and with such success, if we did not profoundly hate it. We could not be that lazy, or that careless, or that stupid.
No, we have clearly identified Irish as the language of the enemy, of the abuser. We have absorbed these negative feelings so completely it is almost unconscious at this stage, yet the vast majority of us cannot hear that language being spoken, in any context, without also hearing some distant echo of physical and sexual and psychological abuse, inflicted by Irish people, on Irish people -- the most bitter cruelty of all.
When we hear the French or the Italian or the Spanish language, we think of wine-coloured days warmed by the sun. When we hear the whine of the Irish language, even if it's only someone reading the Nuacht to no one in particular, we think of children being tortured.
Even in these more enlightened times, it seems we are instantly connected to that ancient race memory, to the sufferings of our forefathers.
Can any other honest interpretation be put on our unyielding attitude?
Some might argue that English is the language of the original abuser, and there is something in that too. Yet we got over that somehow, and turned it to our advantage in many ways.
It is the enemy within that we cannot abide.
Indeed, we have demonstrated a facility, even at times a genius, for the English language which should dispel any notion that we are just not very bright when it comes to learning languages.
We should be well able to emerge from all that intensive schooling with an effortless command of Irish as a spoken and a written language -- not that there is much to read either.
Instead we set our face against it. We just will not do it.
We have perfected a form of passive resistance which surpasses the achievement of Gandhi himself. After all, the tide of history was running with Gandhi, and against the Empire. But in Ireland, it seemed as if everything was against us, that the most fiendish energies of the State were directed towards this mad thing, the restoration of the Irish language.
And we listened to all that and we knew that, in so many ways, it was bullshit.
We would not yield.
We would display an independence of mind and spirit which bears comparison with that of the dissidents of the gulag archipelago.
And our war has been going on for about 80 years.
Our children will be going back to school next week to resume the struggle.
'We simply could not have kept ourselves free of it for so long if we did not profoundly hate it'
As we search desperately for some source of inspiration in these troubled times, we should perhaps give ourselves a big round of applause for clinging to our beliefs with such tenacity. A bualadh bos, if you like.
No, a round of applause is better, to salute one of the few examples in our dark and sordid history, of Paddy fighting the good fight. And winning.