Thursday, June 19, 2008

Losing Irish Identity, Long Gone Before Lisbon?

Paul Connolly writes to the Irish Independent, in a letter distributed via, about a common observation, but one no less perplexing for that. The sartorial, recreational, media, and attitudinal allegiance post-(partial)independence attests powerfully to an earlier Connolly's warning that the Green Flag replacing the Union Jack would matter not, unless the capitalist system changed. Well, it never did. Is Miss Ivers right about Gabriel Conroy being a West Briton after all? I bet Joyce would have loved today's cosmopolitan city, let alone Sam Beckett or Flann O'Brien. Not sure about Michael Cusack aka The Citizen, however, or his grumpy hound Garryowen.

Is there some 19th-century essentialist definition of the now archeologically discredited Continental Celtic race to blame? Are we stuck in a romanticized vision of a heritage beholden more to German poets, French painters, and British hikers from a couple of centuries ago? Marcus Tanner, in a book I reviewed (see my blog or Amazon US), "The Last of the Celts," a few years ago offered an obituary for this sort of vapid essentialism. I wonder if he's more correct than I gave him credit for. Despite the best efforts of Oideas Gael and such worthy endeavors to revive the fior-Gaeltacht, it's nearly breac there as across the remnants of the Atlantic fringe. While I learn and enjoy and pass on my fumbling knowledge of the Irish, I do wonder if we're teaching Esperanto by another name, or post-conciliar Latin. Most days I differ, but today, I agree with Tanner. Is it all too little, too late?

19ú Meitheamh 2008

Lose our identity with Lisbon? It's already long gone

During a post-Lisbon poll debate on RTE, a panellist commented that we don't regard ourselves as Europeans. We think of the Germans and French as being the real Europeans. The panellist may have had a point here. For decades following our independence we were the Albania of the north, isolated from mainland Europe and dependent on Britain for everything.

Membership of the EU freed us from that stranglehold and gave us real freedom, freedom of choice.

Since then we have not made much effort to really engage with the rest of Europe -- witness our lack of proficiency at continental languages. Part of the blame must rest with successive governments who have merely paid lip service to this area. Cable TV suppliers to the greater urban centres do not provide any foreign language stations. Instead all we get is an avalanche of Anglo-American pop culture -- without much protest from ourselves.

While we have demanded and got recognition for Irish to be accepted as an official language in the EU, at home we consistently turned our backs on the use of Irish, long before the foundation of the State.

Therefore I feel it is very hypocritical of us to incur the huge expense to the taxpayers of Europe in order to provide translation for this virtually dead language.

It is ironic that just as so many of us campaigned against Lisbon on the basis that we would lose our identity, hordes of us were preparing to flock to the parts of Spain that have become virtual Anglo-ghettoes, with the Spanish language giving way to English.

When soaking up the sun, we claim to be annoyed when other nationalities refer to us as English -- but at same time, we stroll into a shop and expect to be spoken to in English.

Or let's look at another aspect of Irish life. Any visitor to Dublin airport when Manchester Utd or Liverpool are gearing up for a big game would be amazed at the number of Irish people dressed in full supporters' regalia filling up the bars as they await their flights to the UK.

What kind of national identity is this? Do Danish people go in such numbers to see German Bundesliga games? Or Belgian fans go to see French or Italian matches. No they don't. They follow their own teams.

Irish Independent - Lthch:
Letters to the editor.

Photo: Crispin Rodwell. Ireland Derails a Bid To Recast Europe's Rules. June 14, 2008. New York Times. This wall in Dublin says more than the slogan; it looks like (at least) two out of the three strollers are immigrants to Ireland, or the children of them. Globalization thunders on, and the Irish complexion alters. I hesitate to affirm that they will embrace learning Irish with more enthusiasm. as some teachers predict, than the great-grandchildren of 1916's generation.

However, the media has played up the Nigerian emigré or Polish child who dazzles all with sudden bursts into Gaeilge, unburdened by dead generations and living malcontents. Call it the "Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom" syndrome. That vivid novelty, on the other hand, illustrates the duller norm. It appears to me, such exceptions perhaps aside, that Irish may loom as irrelevant to most of them as to most native Irish children.

Did Apache inspire fluency within America's arrivals? Irish identity may transform as multihued and polyglot as America's now. If so, Gaelic may go the way of the passenger pigeon if not the buffalo, or most Native American tongues, let alone the majority of our world's languages. Irish may not withstand the pressure added by no longer merely English but Chinese, Polish, Lithuanian and Hausa in the streets of Limerick or Cork or Belfast. Still, bemoaning its fate in the conqueror's tongue leaves me open to my own inconsistencies. But, too late to Irish, in that language I stumble along through middle-aged baby talk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gabriel Conroy got a sex change and is now Gabriella and is alive and kicking in Boulder, Colorado, according to Irish writer, Anne Pigone in her spoof on The Dead called "The Ugly" / Marty Forbes, NYC