Sunday, December 23, 2007

Welsh & Irish Activism via the Net:
Eulogy or Euphony?

I'm spending the break-- such as it is when I face a year of teaching ramped up to 48 rather than 45 weeks a year as we become incessantly "receptive" to our students' impatience and "responsive" to our employer's investment-- reading up on Welsh nationalism and republicanism. They take so much of their energy from an alternative to the rat-race. Looking at my shelves or those of a library, you can compare Welsh dearth to Irish depth. The latter's literature, history, diaspora, and sheer numbers of emigrants, media, rhetoric, and casualties all dwarf the Welsh numbers. For my accumulations at least, but the English-language audience for Wales shrinks beside that sold Irish content. Admittedly my perceptions come filtered via perceptions of publishers, my reliance on texts in Saesnaeg, and the blinders of this Net medium.

Two centuries of thwarted republicanism (a term which remains elusively defined) have resulted in independence for 3/4 of Ireland, a devolved Scotland, and an Assembly for Wales. But, tethered as "EnglandandWales" geographically and legally, the Welsh cannot detach themselves behind Offa's Dyke as easily as even their Celtic cousins north of Hadrian's Wall. Justin Wintle, in his study of R.S. Thomas that I'm in the middle of, eloquently summarizes, as of a decade ago pre-Euro, the political- economical argument for the Welsh to basically accept that their fate with Brussels as an independent entity would differ little practically from their predicament as a subsidy of Westminster. Then, he counters his own argument with another, based on Thomas' poem "The Lost": the extinction of culture, of community, and of language.

For the Welsh, unlike the Irish, the Celtic language articulates their identity; so Thomas and many compatriots argue. As a determined if clumsy learner of Gaeilge, I'm not sure if I agree. Yet, think of James Connolly: he warned us presciently of the Green Flag replacing the Union Jack while its wavers kept us slaves to capitalism. Yet, he made his arguments to workers and intellectuals alike in English. His Welsh comrades would have appealed most likely in both languages- to both constituencies-- unlike, famously, one Irish-speaker who disdained such a talent, Dan O'Connell. Collins and Pearse, DeValera and the 1916 rebels learned it, impressively well, but rarely campaigned 'as Gaeilge'. Peadar O'Donnell came from a disintegrating Gaeltacht; he chose English. Rarely did a native speaker (with the exception of Máirtín Ó Cadhain) agitate through Irish: few could comprehend such socialist efforts as "An t-Éireannach" to combine into a 'monster rally' sufficient to overthrow Saorstat Éireann, let alone His or Her Majesty.

A century ago, contrarily, 50% of Wales spoke Welsh. Given a polity of Cymry today still half a million strong, arguably a fifth of three million compared with perhaps a twentieth of that in the Gaeltachtaí and urban enclaves at best within an Irish population nearly double the Welsh, I weigh the impact. Compiling sites for this blog to gather the best Welsh republican and nationalist content, I am struck first by the relative paucity of material and the bilingual, or monolingual nature, of much of it. While both Irish and Welsh sites aimed at Saeson sprinkle (as I do) the Celtic tongue into their discourse, I bet you'd find fewer activist sites 'gan Béarla go léir'.

This inspires me for my Welsh cousins. It discourages me for we Irish. Call me a stereotype. I peck away, an armchair patriot who waxes about 'yr hen iaith' in the 'thin language' of the conqueror, 'yr iaith fain'. But, the association of Irish with a dictatorial schoolmaster or Christian Brother or balaclava-ed volunteer has long plagued the past century of its attempted revival. For the Welsh, who had to wear the "Welsh Not" sign as the Irish had the tally-stick when punished for their once-native speech in the schools run by the Crown, the language permeated the choir, the chapel, and the common market. It ebbed as the Catholic Church largely failed to maintain it in 19c and arguably 20c Ireland, so the schools' and bureaucrats' compulsion could not revive it in the hardened hearts of a population resigned to emigration to London or Amerikay. However, for many Welsh, it remained a natural choice which, in Ireland, fewer choose.

So, I suppose from my admittedly limited understanding given my lack of but a few words in Welsh (although I am working on it), there is much to be learned about this topic that will elude me. For the Irish, in Gaelic, studies likewise hover above my level of fluency, but my general knowledge appears to confirm that whatever hopes rest in Irish remain, as Michael Cronin has written, in the hands of the English speakers in Ireland and its survival depends on we who write and talk 'as Béarla'. For the Welsh, my hunch is that, although no monoglots remain of course, there remains a natural means of expression in Welsh that can exist (ardaloedd Gymraeg) confidently outside of Saesnaeg And this reservoir, as it were, adds a potent elixir to Welsh identity.

I wonder if what I find scattered about activist sites in English about Welsh compares less in amount today still extant for the Irish, or whether the two are roughly the same now. I confess years pass since I trawled the Net for RM sceal. What I mean is that, if I wrote this a decade ago pre-blogging, there'd be discussion lists go leor about Irish republicanism. I miss the frenetic bashing and prickly camaraderie. Derry, Albany, San Francisco, Seattle, Orange County, Texas, Australia: the IRL-D crackled with craic from a Communist former manager of punk bands, a transgendered Lenin-loving Druidess, a veteran NICRA-turned-Stickie, a Fenian autodidact, disaffected Noraid stalwarts, and lots of us similarly educated eager to debate our versions of the Virtual Republic.

Yes, with Paisley and McGuinness, Adams and Trimble as legislative colleagues, outbursts still occur-- the Omagh trials continue, and Paul Quinn's slaying in So. Armagh again raises, as have the Northern Bank and Robert McCartney ghosts of a spectral presence thought foolishly long past. However, the bonfires and flares have dimmed. Only a remnant of a "physical-force nationalism" RM flutters, post-David Rupert, Michael McKevitt and the FBI. Dissidents infiltrated, the armed struggle turned farce. The 'ra turns towards the petty thievery that stains so many across the 'peace divide' in Belfast. Both factions descended from protecting their communities into extorting their neighbors. The Cause finally ebbed from Hollywood after a flurry of Riverdance-related Celtic Tiger tax-haven cash-ins pitched at that smitten "Kiss Me I'm Irish" demographic. Culturally, much of mult-cult Ireland could care less about its heritage. They'll quickly wrangle open greasy tills at exorbitant ticket prices to admit we visitors. Then they curse our "green jumper" backs within earshot.

Dingle's proud natives spray paint "An Daingean" off their supposed Gaeltacht signs lest tourists can't figure out where to swim with Fungie, Sinn Féin asks for cooperation with the PSNI in arraigning those who made off with 12 July regalia from a Lodge, and Orange Watch itself-- a peace dividend-- finds reason to nod. (I hope Newton Emerson's wickedly satirical "Portadown News" still thrives; it gave me pleasure even if I missed many insider jokes when perusing its collected best bits while perched in my host's loo in Ballymurphy mid-July.) Derry boasts German superstores, Belfast fills with polyglots, and a mile or so down the motorway from the shuttered Kesh another mall looms. Forums buzz (if on a quieter level) that have supplanted the RM lists that subsided, from my observation, when the Marxists shouted down the rest of our crowd.

Slugger O'Toole and Newshound gather today's NI stories; blogs morphed with indie sites for the few Celts still restive and not on the mobile. I do miss contributing to "The Blanket" (see the link from this blog), but as its co-founder and I discussed its fate last summer, it appears, as so much of the Irish republican vision, to have faded. Its editor explained that community groups now existed to keep tabs, that many in this same community had harassed the founders and their family relentlessly for perceived disloyalty to the SF party line, and that the Belfast enclaves that "The Blanket" served had slid into sordid deals and moral squalor; the solidarity of the RM melted away into SF corruption and IRA thuggery.

Whether 2016 will prove the culmination of 1916 may occur by demographics, but how many of the Northern young bother with either Church or chapel? The realities of compromise, ceasefire, cessation and collaboration have undermined historical vigor and dampened ideological fire. I wonder, for the Welsh and Cornish, themselves under assault by anglicized monoculture and Anglophonic incomers, if they will fare any better than the Irish, themselves facing a present hardly imagined only a decade ago, pre-GFA and post-Canary Wharf, when Wintle mused about the prospects of the euro and the EU. Already, Polish outnumbers Irish as the nation's second most widely spoken language.

Taking its outrage from the drowning of Tryweren to provide water for the Merseyside, the militancy of Free Wales Army and later MAC (Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru) and Meibion Glyndŵr reacted to the submersion, symbolically and literally, of the Welsh by the English. Now, on liquid channels, perhaps its language streams more rapidly. I marvel at the amount of Welsh in the media and in the resurgence of Sain, folk and pop music, thriving poetry and publishing (John Davies' History of Wales premiered-- in Welsh-- bestselling for Penguin). Listen to it flow on the Net (a place not to be underestimated) and into language learning resources. Rosetta Stone, Acen, Wlpan, CD-Book sets, and a plethora of aids on the BBC website that dwarf those on BBC-NI for Irish.

Contradictions of conservative distributism vs. decentralized schemes of Connolly's "Celtic communism," or a celebration of a scion from the 'uchelwyr'-- noble Owain Glyndŵr-- against the appeals of socialist and industrial solidarity, complicated rhetoric promoting a blend of nationalist, republican, pantheist, ruralist, medievalist, and Christian legacies. How many Celts want the Earls to return from their flight, or Marcher Lords to exact fealty? The miners singing the Internationale tended to belittle as divisive the anachronistic tongue. Chapels, parishes, and now trade unions, dwindle. Past powers over the peasants and proles host schoolchildren and coachloads; the Pit or the Folk Museum follows the Gothic cloister or the ruined castle, as globalized consumerism tramples us all. But, the Welsh enjoyed, however unwillingly dragged to preachers for centuries, an advantage: Nonconformists forced them to keep their language in daily use. Celtic speakers escaped Famine decimation; far fewer Welsh faced Holyhead's journey east.

Yes, of course republican links can be found: Ernest Rhys, Frongoch, Pan-Celtic leagues, the 1966 commemorations, the sale of arms by the Officials to the FWA, Welsh regiments stationed in NI. My post today merely ponders distinctions. For Irish, as my blog and Amazon US reviews labor to document, such resources also provide essential nutrients to sustain 'ár teanga beo'; my entry today seeks but to balance these against those I am discovering-- if in cyberia-- across the Irish or Celtic Sea.

Looking for a blog about such matters by somebody who actually can blather 'as Gaeilge'? Sample this re: recent subject Manchán Magan (which I doubt MM will be posting on his own site) about his "No Béarla" series vis-a-vis one in Welsh, "Popeth yn Gymraeg" at a lively bi-lingual blog 'as Gaeilge agus Béarla':

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