Monday, 29 April 2013

Do the Math

"The poor level of attainment in mathematics in Ireland clearly originates in the compulsory nature of its teaching. Generation after generation of Irish schoolchildren have seen their budding pleasure in the subject wither prematurely owing to a failed and ideologically driven statist policy of asking them to learn to count. It should by now be obvious to all that the surest route to bringing about a renaissance of numeracy among the population of the state is a policy of inaction, desuetude and laissez-faire. Educationalists agree that students will be just as capable of picking up algebra and calculus when raising families and holding down full-time jobs (none of which, as is well known, ever has anything to do with maths). Not only that: making the study of maths voluntary would free millions of euro of resources that are highly unlikely ever to be spent on teaching children something else instead."

One could go on. The above is clearly a load of nonsense. That's because the Blether Region just made it up.

And yet there are those who employ the same arguments, drawing on the same non sequiturs, with regard to Irish.

Earlier today the album Rí-Rá le Hector 2013 popped through the Blether household's letterbox, a whole album of songs produced through the simple expedient of providing a translation to artists who had gained a grounding in the language at school. Now try doing that one in Scotland, where Gaelic is not compulsory — and, indeed, hardly offered — and see what happens.

One might even say, "Do the math."

Sunday, 28 April 2013

East of Eden

The BBC has an interesting story on the experiences of Linda Ervine, wife of former PUP chief Brian Ervine and sister-in-law of its late and sorely missed leader David (cheekily called "Shakespeare" by some, and by one former colleague of the Blether Region referred to with only a half-portion of irony as "the Walrus of Love"). For the past few months Linda has been the Irish-language officer at East Belfast Mission.

Loyalists have of course been linked to Irish before. Gusty Spence, founder of the modern UVF, was at one time learning the language (some reports even had him down, wrongly, as a teacher). Part of the attraction for impish journalists may be that the paradox of East Belfast Gaeilgeoirí makes for a good story. It may, of course, on occasion also be the case that those steeped in the political culture of Loyalism feel more confident about sticking their heads above the parapet and exploring Irish culture. No one can accuse them of being soft on the national question, after all.

If so, then they are demonstrating an important truth. Language need have nothing to do with politics. While religions, and sects, may deny each other's legitimacy, the more languages you know, the easier it gets to learn another — and the more the links that bind become apparent.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Irish and the Zero-Sum Game

Meon Eile has a predictably disheartening piece about non-fulfilment of promises regarding Irish made under the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. Indeed, it should by now be clear to all that whatever progress the language makes is likely to be piecemeal, bottom-up and subject to casual medium-term reversal while the current St. Andrews set-up obtains (or while there is no consensus, but that might be an even longer time coming). Despite this, DCAL continues to list an Irish Language Act among its legislative priorities. Is this naïveté or part of some greater plan to keep the matter in the public eye? The issue is in fact part of a wider legislative logjam, since in 2012 the Assembly passed a stomping total of five Acts, all of them financial and, one suspects, to a greater or lesser extent linked to decisions taken in Great Britain.

Meanwhile, plans are announced in Scotland for a much greater role for Gaelic, and on the Isle of Man the first Manx-language cartoon series for children is completed.

It is clear that Northern Ireland, where interest on the ground has, for even longer than the polity's existence, been much stronger, is in danger of being overtaken by its late-developing cousins.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Papering Over the Cracks

Conradh na Gaeilge's Julian de Spáinn has called for the development of an all-Ireland strategy for Irish.

In an ideal world, that is of course just what would be happening, but unfortunately the fact is that there are two jurisdictions on the island, with different education systems, different parties in power, and different approaches and attitudes towards the promotion of Irish and its presence in the public sphere. Perhaps most relevantly, the effective veto on a language Act wielded by Unionist parties since the St. Andrews Agreement means that there is unlikely to be one as long as that agreement remains in force. Ironically, perhaps the best that Irish-language campaigners can hope for is a suspension of the devolved institutions, with Westminster forced into keeping its promise to pass an Act. History shows, however, that once Stormont is suspended, it can prove very difficult to get it back up and running.

And as the 20-year strategy for Irish devised by the last Fianna Fáil Government has already, in the view of many, including the Gaelic League itself, been watered down, it's difficult to see the logic of grafting on a polity where half the population is, at best, neutral with regard to Irish.

That's not to say that all cross-border co-operation on language is a bad thing. Although the Ulster-Scots Agency established under the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement has been a more or less unmitigated disaster, when Foras na Gaeilge was set up it created an expectation of parity, or at least an ambition to achieve it, in the treatment of Irish on the two sides of the border. Funding decisions, however, took account of the different circumstances involved.

A cynical interpretation of Mr. de Spáinn's call would situate it in the context of ongoing manoeuvring on the funding of Irish-language organisations, with the smaller ones in the North worried that, in this case, an all-Ireland ethos might simply mean the end.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sruth na Maoile

The Derry Journal has an interesting bilingual article on relations between the Gaelic-speakers of Ireland and Scotland. One of the key points of contact for many generations now has been Glasgow, with large numbers of immigrants from the Highlands and the north of Ireland entering the city, so much so that the very accent is slightly different from that of the rest of Scotland — in which context the introduction to the Scottish National Dictionary famously complained that "Owing to the influx of Irish and foreign immigrants in the industrial area near Glasgow the dialect has become hopelessly corrupt."

On a more positive, and less prejudiced, note, in that regard Donegal has even been referred to as an island off the coast of Scotland, and there are still many native speakers of Donegal Irish in the city. There are also similarities in lifestyle in the Gaidhealtachd and Gaeltacht, some of them surprising. Thus the Blether Region's mother spent her wartime school holidays on North Uist in the Western Isles, speaking Gaelic and subsisting on the unappetising aran Innseanach — the Indian meal handed out to the Irish Gaels during the Famine.

The main stumbling block to integration of the two Gaelic communities has historically been sectarianism, of both the home-grown and immigrant variety (many influential Irish newcomers to Glasgow being of the Orange persuasion). That is happily now recessive, with parity in employment and increased electoral support for Scottish Nationalism. Without the reductive verities of the Auld Firm it might even vanish altogether.

Whether we shall actually see the emergence of "a new dialect", as the journalist speculates, is another matter. However, the Blether Region has often thought that there might be benefit in exploiting some of the occasional public disquiet about the role of denominational schools to encourage the Catholic ones to put more Irish Gaelic on the curriculum. In many cases they already have the teaching expertise — and someone who has studied Irish at school could easily go on to study Celtic at university.

Friday, 5 April 2013

When is a Consultation not a Consultation?

The Blether Region has learnt that luminaries from the world of Ulster Scots were invited to the launch of two booklets on spelling reform in the Ulster Museum on 27 March. Over the wine and canapés they were handed copies of a Spelling and Pronunciation Guide by Ivan Herbison, Philip Robinson and Anne Smyth, and an English/Ulster-Scots Glossary by Philip Robinson. Each booklet included an insert asking for consultation submissions to be sent to by Friday, 24 May. Yet the booklets have not been made available on the Internet, and at the time of writing this blog post it looks like those who did not personally attend the event or send a friend will have no way of learning about the brave new world of re-spelling single as sïng'l and poem as póame.

Which no doubt suits the authors of the booklets.