You can’t be an Irish-language activist and a conservative
2017-08-15 -

Panu Höglund

This time I’d like to write a couple of words about things Irish, especially about how Kevin Myers got fired as a columnist. I can hardly deny that it was good news for me: as an Irish-language activist, I have disliked him since I learned of his existence. His ideas of Irish were based on sheer ignorance; it was obvious that he had no idea of bilingualism as a research object, of sociolinguistics or any other kind of linguistics, and he couldn’t piece together the most basic phrase in Irish without murdering the language.


It is often suggested that Irish speakers are a privileged bunch in the Republic of Ireland, as the State was established by members of the language movement. It’s not quite like that, though. Irish speakers are a minority, treated like a minority by those in power. And a minority means people who are paid little attention by bigwigs. Interestingly, if any Irish-language activist comes anywhere near to being powerful in Ireland, it is most natural to him to understate his language commitment: he probably thinks he’ll make other people feel awkward if he tries to promote the language. You’d think that Irish is like homosexuality: some people don’t accept it at all, and even many others are prejudiced about it.


This is well illustrated by how Ciarán Ó Coigligh has turned against the language. Ó Coigligh is as conservative as anyone, and a veteran Irish language activist who back in his day played a man’s part, if not several men’s, to contribute to Irish literature. For instance, he edited for printing Pádraig de Brún’s translations of the Divine Comedy and the Odyssey; I made great use of them while I was learning the language, and I acknowledge that they are a great asset.


Today, however, things have changed: Ó Coiglí is strongly against an Irish language act for Northern Ireland, collaborating with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep it from being passed. Everybody knows that the DUP has never tolerated the language, depicting it as little more than a secret code for terrorists. So it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Ó Coigligh has joined the enemies of the Irish language, because no other political grouping in Ireland is conservative enough for him. Basically, he has betrayed the language cause for the sake of his new political friends.


This is difficult to understand, but it seems to indicate a decline of the very concept of conservatism. In the old days, the word ”conservatism” meant adhering to old laws, old ways and old traditions, not to mention your old cause – the cause of the Irish language for instance. Yet today its meaning seems to have changed: there is little else left of it but a dislike of minorities. Thus, you can’t be an Irish-language activist and a conservative anymore, as speakers of Irish are a minority in Irish society.

Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish.

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