The Kathleen and Thomas Clarke Chapter of the Gaelic League, Cumann Cháitlín agus Thomáis Uí Chléirigh / Conradh na Gaeilge, staged a protest over the weekend of October 30-31 outside the British embassy in New York City to show their support for an Irish Language Act for the Six Counties, and to show their solidarity with their fellow Gaeilgoirs who have been subject to loyalist harassment recently.
In a statement, the Chléirigh Cumann stated, “The historical and continued suppression of the Irish language in Ireland is epitomized by the British Administration of Justice (Language) Act of 1737, which was upheld by Lord Justice Girvan in 2010. This onerous legislation, which bans the use of the Irish language in courts, has been described by Irish historian Dr. Éamon Phoenix as ‘the cultural equivalent of the penal laws’. This residual Penal Law remains in force in the North of a partitioned Ireland in spite of the stipulations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for ‘parity of esteem’ and the specific call for an Irish Language Act in the Saint Andrews Agreement of 2006.”
There has been an ongoing battle with many hurdles to get the Irish language treated equally in Ireland. Summed up, the only reason why the Irish language is not treated equally is loyalist bigotry. Northern Ireland loyalists ignore the fact that in the other two Celtic nations of the United Kingdom, native Gaelic languages (Scottish and Welsh) are treated equally as English is. Loyalists, primarily through the Democratic Unionist Party, have opposed even the most moderate measures to treat Irish equally. On one occasion, water meters in the loyalist town of Ballymena were bought from Dublin – when the residents discovered that the meters had “uisce”, the Irish word for water, written on them, they had them removed and the town bought new water meters at a higher price from England. Such is their hatred of Irish culture.
The loyalist hatred of Irish culture has brought out some of the most grotesque behavior seen in Ulster in many years. Reminiscent of the attacks on Catholic schoolgirls at Holy Cross in 2000-2001, an Irish language nursery school called Naíscoil na Seolta in loyalist East Belfast was faced with intimidation and threatened by protesters over the summer. The school is run by an Irish-speaking Protestant Linda Ervine, who is from a loyalist background. The school was forced to move to a new location due to the unsafe conditions for the students, whose average age is 3.
Time and time again the DUP have promised to make concessions on the Irish language, and time and time again they have reneged. The London government promised that they would pass the Irish language legislation to override the devolved Belfast government if it had not done so by October, but their own deadline has passed. Ignored and insulted by their political counterparts, Irish-speakers now resort to the grassroots action which has helped the language movement grow exponentially. Through local protests and local language classes for all ages, the movement will continue to grow and loyalists will have no choice but to recognize the Irish language as an official language in Aontroim, Ard Mhaca, Doire, Dúin, Fir Manach, agus Tir Eoghan.
Since the inception of the Gaelic League, Ireland’s American Diaspora has helped to agitate for equality for the Irish language in Ireland, and the inheritors of that challenge are the Gaelic League chapters still active in the United States. To join Brooklyn’s Gaelic League Cumann, contact BrooklynGaelic@gmail.com or visit them at Paddy’s of Park Slope on Nov. 10 at 8pm.