Monday, 18 March 2013

Them Without Sin

The Blether Region attended two Saint Patrick's Day events in Belfast yesterday, the parade itself, and an Irish-language service at Saint George's in High Street.

The News Letter, which in recent years seems to have specialised in angry headlines of the Daily Mail type (minus the ubiquitous "now"), has a report of "drunken and sectarian behaviour" that relies heavily on the uncorroborated evidence of a single shopper.

Although the story in question might not give a particularly rounded picture of what was a long day (the shops didn't open until the parade was over, after all), there is unfortunately little doubt that it represents the true experience of the person interviewed. Remaining in lock-step with that part of the parade in which Junior was participating, the Blether Region for a time found itself keeping company with a group of young people draped in tricolours, drinking from beer cans and shouting "Fuck the PSNI". Whether that behaviour meets the dictionary definition of "sectarian" is open to debate, but readers will, one hopes, agree that it was boorish, juvenile and offensive — not to mention cowardly, taking advantage as it did of the cover of a crowd in which few would have been up for cross-community fisticuffs.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about the incident was the fact that the offenders were noticeably middle-class, probably students of some kind, proof that — flag protests notwithstanding — it is not only on the Unionist side that the educated will stir things up and then scarper, leaving the barely literate as riot fodder.

Admittedly, this only slightly and temporarily marred the parade — much better and more colourful than in previous years, and with great effort made on the organisers' part to attract Protestants. It was also particularly notable for the large numbers of ethnic-minority people marching and watching.

The service in the second half of the day could not have been more different. A mixed audience attended a religious, linguistic and musical celebration held in that beguiling marriage of opulence and austerity that is Saint George's, with the Catholics in the congregation taking communion and partipating in the familiar High Anglican liturgy alongside their fellow Christians from across the divide.

The more historically minded may criticise the Church of Ireland as the Rackrent class at prayer, a colonial imposition of tithes and souperism. Even in the present day, like all the main Protestant churches, it has many members in the Orange Order, an organisation at bizarre loggerheads with the New Testament's message of tolerance.

On this occasion, however, it did better than a vocal minority at the parade.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The (formerly CorkExaminer is running an editorial questioning spending on Irish that is both short-sighted and misleading — short-sighted because it fails to make the obvious connection between use of Irish and services provided through the language, and misleading because it disingenuously suggests that money spent on Gaelscoileanna, were those schools abolished, could magically be spent on something other than educating the children who currently attend them.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the (formerly GlasgowHerald has a much more positive piece on Scottish Gaelic at Glasgow University, which is "considering introducing Gaelic into its graduation ceremonies, increasing the use of bilingual signing, and developing a Gaelic university logo".

There is a German saying that may not be particularly relevant in this context but is a favourite in the Blether household: "Men and women are incompatible — except in the middle."

The middle is also the place where linguistically sceptical Scotland and linguistically enthusiastic Ireland may one day meet, and the above provides further evidence for the Blether Region's thesis that the Goidelic languages' relationships with the state will at some point in the future have become remarkably similar in the two territories — with Northern Ireland remaining the "odd one out" for as long as the current St. Andrews Agreement set-up obtains.

Linguistic Provocation

The hullaballoo over the climate- (never mind cop-) killing Kia "Provo" has set the Blether Region thinking about a much more "clear and present" danger to Unionist sensibilities — and one that predated the Provisional IRA itself.

Yes, we speak of Provo, Utah, a city of over 100,000 inhabitants and the third biggest in the Mormon-dominated territory.

Wikipedia states that the settlement, originally known as Fort Utah, "was renamed Provo in 1850 for Étienne Provost, an early French-Canadian trapper who arrived in the region in 1825", making it an early example of dodgy American "maneuvers" with le français.

Of course, where much of political discourse turns on competing notions of victimhood, as in Northern Ireland, people will unsurprisingly be quick to express, or simulate, their offence in cases of unintended associations.

One of the most interesting cases known to the Blether Region arose 20 years ago when English Eurosceptics were working themselves up into a lather about the euro. One bright spark, who had studied Greek, probably Ancient, and probably at public school, claimed that "euro" was similar to the Hellenic word for "urine". By chance the Blether Region was living on the European mainland at the time working as an English teacher and was able to ask a Greek-Australian colleague for his view on the matter. He had trouble getting his head round the Conservative's comments but eventually said that, for the Greek word ούρο to sound anything like "euro", it had to be given an initial English-style glide that was simply not present in the original.

The poor case put forward by the Europhobe had not stopped some enterprising journalist presenting his thesis to the Greeks, however — with one respondent producing the witty riposte that the English had a damn cheek, being, as everyone knew, the ones who called their currency "pee".

Monday, 4 March 2013

The End of the Affair

The Irish-language community has been digesting the news that Foras na Gaeilge has decided to terminate its contract with the newspaper Gaelscéal prematurely, thus precipitating the publication's demise. The general decline in hard-copy sales of newspapers has been a particularly damaging development for the Irish-language press, whose sales were never large. The last few years have seen the successive ends of Foinse (as an independent weekly), and now Gaelscéal.

Meon Eile reports that Gaelscéal had previously gone to some lengths to comply with its funders' various prescriptions to make itself more relevant. Given the structural changes in how society accesses news content, that may have been an impossible task. It is clear that, in a collapsing market, consolidation has not worked as a strategy, with no easy remedies.

However, in view of the fact that Gaelscéal had gone out of its way to accede to Foras na Gaeilge's wishes, the latter's decision to end a legal contract a year early seems particularly callous.

It also dramatically reduces the availability of Irish-language news on the Internet — whose supposed expansion is Foras na Gaeilge's favoured option for the future of the sector.