The cupla focal and pious drivel that keeps Irish artificially alive
IT'S official: God wants the people of Ireland to speak Irish. This unassailable truth puts all doubt about the future of The Language where it finally belongs: in the rubbish bin of history. Or maybe God was just trying to spare me a lynching.
Now I've said many times that the entire project to restore the Irish languages is an immoral waste of time and money – which was why I was asked on last Tuesday's 'Prime Time'. This clearly prompted God to behave rather like the Chinese peasant that burns down his house in order to have some roast pork. On Monday, he covered all of Europe in a blanket of snow and ice, and simultaneously banjaxed my central heating, obliging me to chop some firewood. A swing of the axe, and a wicked shard of timber, turned my upper lip into a mouthburger, oozing ketchup.
In my sanguinary stead, RTE got Brenda Power of 'The Sunday Times' to play devil's advocate, against two supporters of The Language. She began by declaring that she was happy to have Irish as the first national tongue, which is rather like a state prosecutor telling the jury that the accused is not guilty. The discussion duly descended into a grisly phantasmagoria of simpering and denial. That such a farrago – all sweet smiles of submission before the Totem of The Language, like young chimps making a communal rictus of obeisance at a dominant alpha male – could even masquerade as a "debate", says it all.
The Language is one of the foundation-myths of 20th century Irish nationalism. To keep this submarine airborne requires quite heroic levels of self-deceit, factual falsification, sentimentality, coercion, and much venom. In 1922, virtually the first act of the Free State government was to close all primary schools for three months. Of the 6,000 primary teachers in Ireland; only 1,000 spoke Irish. The rest were ordered to attend a series of two-week courses run by "specialists", and during this succession of magical fortnights, they were all taught "Irish". So there you have it. The complete mastery of a language, which is the greatest intellectual achievement of anyone's life, and which normally takes 14 years, could suddenly be managed in 1/365th of that time.
And just as religion is often guarded with anger and unreason and accusations of heresy, the cult of The Language is similarly protected. Indeed, the utterly degrading "cupla focal" are merely a secular form of the pious ejaculations that once littered people's conversations, and which were intended to offer windows to an interior landscape of boundless piety. Furthermore, a spoken language that consists of carefully-composed, slang-free sentences, rather like the responses in a Mass, is not a living entity, but a corpse being kissed at the wake.
Any pro-discussion on The Language usually depends on a simultaneous maintenance of two mutually-exclusive, passionately-held ideas, which is not uncommon in this land of carnivorous vegans and god-fearing atheists. Thus, some 1.4 million people reported in the last census that A) They speak Irish and B) They never do. Thus, Minister Denny McGinley could declare on 'Prime Time' that A) the "the people love the Irish language" and B) "our problem is to get people to speak it". Not so much the love that dare not speak its name, but does not speak at all. He carolled happily about The 20-Year Plan, which would produce 250,000 Irish speakers. But don't hold your breath waiting for a quarter of a million language-Stakhonovites marching into the 2033 sunset, Gaelic spanners in hand, chanting Erse verse.
Admittedly, Katie Hannon began the 'Prime Time' report with a brilliantly candid overview of the state of Irish, including some mordant pre-recorded denunciations of the language-myth by the irrepressible Declan Lynch. (But why was he not in the studio? Or is D Lynch too nice to lynch?)
Apparently, only a thousand primary schoolchildren are now native speakers – the same number of Irish-speaking teachers at the time the State was formed: clearly, another triumph for 91 years of language-policies. Minister McGinley airily declared that rescue was at hand.
All civil servants who wanted to learn Irish could now do so – no doubt, using the same magic wand that in 1922 turned some 5,000 teachers into Irish-speakers almost overnight.
Now, if this entire absurd project didn't cost us over a billion a year, it might almost be funny. But you know what? At the end of The 20-Year Plan, when there isn't a single native-speaking Irish child left, Gaelgori will still be declaring that the emperor is fully clothed, and moreover, righteously lynching anyone who declares otherwise; unless, that is, a kindly God once again intervenes, with a providential frost, a judicious axe, and a shrewd sharp shard through a non-Irish speaking upper-lip.