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John Masterson: Do we have any of our culture left anymore?

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Riverdance

Riverdance

Riverdance

I spent many pleasant hours recently with a Zulu woman who was very proud of her country as she showed it to me. Time and again she mentioned the culture and traditions of the Zulus. She talked about how things were passed from one generation to the next and the many rites of passage from childhood to adulthood. She saw it as something valuable to have behavioural guidelines. She used the phrase "our culture" a lot.

She spoke English to me and Zulu to most of the people we met along the way. It set me to thinking what I could say to a similar visitor to Ireland. Just what is our culture? Or do we have any? Is Ireland just a place that is known for drink-fuelled craic and the mandatory photo with a pint?. When has anyone last heard anyone talk of Cuchulainn? Or the Tuatha De Dannan? Or the Salmon of Knowledge? Or the Children of Lir? How many of us even remember what the moral lessons of these stories were?

We don't have a language to define us in any real sense. I speak half-decent Irish. But I hardly ever use what bit I have. I wouldn't have many people to talk to in my circle. Speaking Irish is just a club that some people enjoy belonging to. If the language is not dead it is mortally wounded. You could go months without hearing a word of it spoken. We waste millions having documents translated into the 'first' language that no one ever reads. Successive Departments of Education have succeeded in bringing the language to its knees. I am not proud of, or in favour of that. I merely make the point that there is no way we have a language that defines our culture.