Dé Luain 17 Nollaig 2007

Irish Above Politics


IN THIS pamphlet Mairtin Ó Cadhain suggests a plan of action for those interested in saving the Irish language. This work first appeared as a series of three articles in the "GAELIC WEEKLY", March 7, 14 and 21, 1964.

MUCH, perhaps too much, has already been said and written about the Irish Language Revival Commission. Revival bodies have dug into it like a cat discovering a dump of fresh fish on dry land. Plent of fodder for another forty winters ! Still very little worthwhile comment has emerged. I think the Report itself hardly deserved all the talk. With all due respects to
Donall 0 Morain, a member said the Commission was a packed jury. He simply meant they were in agreement before they met : you have looked at the deluge of cliches, the great snowfalls of common-places. The worst of this kind of agreement is that no persistent grappling with any problem is necessary. To tell us that Roinn na Gaeltachta and Gaeltarra should be packstraddled off to Galway !

Give a place of Galway's pretensions C Grade Ministries and Companies ! In case it is not English enough already! Two institutions whose use of Irish is merely to sweat it in dress-suits. Roinn na Gaeltachta has about twenty of a personnel and Gaeltarra not many more ! Surely the Commission did not spend the six years experimenting with new poitin-making methods. There are certain things which one looks for in reports-looks for in vain in this case. One is entitled to know the number of sittings and attendances at them. The Report states it is going to cost money to give effect to its recommendations. In fact one of its great faults, if not its greatest, is that they won't cost money. The Commission seems to have no idea how much. It had for instance a splendid opportunity of having a scientific investigation carried out on the Gaeltacht and its potentiali- ties. If one reads "West Highland Survey". (F. Fraser Darling, Oxford University Press, 1955) or some of the monographs of our own Foras Taluntais, one sees at a, glance what a few dedicated experts, or even one, can produce.

Most significant reference to the Gaeltacht is the "demoralising effect" of the dole. It strongly reminds me of what Palmerston and the Government at the time of the Famine did at the instigation of, Irish landlords. The latter, finding their labourers going over to the government relief schemes where there was more pay and less strenuous work, forced the Government to enact the Gregory clause. This deprived Guardians of the Poor Law of the power to give relief to any person having more than a quarter acre of land. Soup was substituted f or relief work. Not that I think it was the idea of the Commission at any time to open soup kitchens! Likely enough they did not have the imagination to think of it. It reveals-to use a charitable word-the snobbish attitude of inmates of Commissions to poor out of the way, and not so out of the way, places like Ranafast and Rathcarne. Mr. Blythe as an ex-minister for Thrift would give £100,000 for the Gaeltacht. Through some pressure performance he fishes up a quarter of a million for a private institution in Dublin which by any national culture-or should we simply say culture accountancy-Gaoth Dobhair or an Taibhdhearc or An Darner deserves at least as well. Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge get the Hoggers' share, what is left at the bottom of the empty Guinness barrels around the quays.

Mr. Blythe holds a pension for his services to National Thrift. Several high functionaries, including ex-secretaries of Departments and and individual who gave a few short years in his youth to a public institution before it was temporarily abolished, are jigging around with pensions and other lucrative jobs as well. The Commission should have remembered that the dole was duly legislated as well as
pensions. What then makes one demoralising and not the other? Size?

An analysis of recommendations reveals they fall into two principal categories. One is the many-decades, mildewed ideas of Mr. Blythe who I think had a by no means enviable role to play in regard to a former language commission. The other category is that of the Gael- Linn scholarship and industrial suggestions which when not futile are for most part dangerous. To be candid I doubt whether there is any basis for action, worthwhile action, in this Report. It is serving its purpose. Let me revert to the Famine "Nobody knows what to do, everybody hints at some scheme or plan to which his next door neighbour objects. Most people are inclined to consider the case as hopeless, to rest on that conviction, and let the evil work itself out, like a consuming fire which dies away when there is nothing left to destroy. All call on the ' Government for a plan or a remedy, but the Government have no plan and no remedy; there is nothing but disagreement among them, and while they are discussing and disputing the masses are dying" (Greville's MEMOIRS). Substitute 'Irish language' for 'masses' .. . Yet the Report can be and must be made the -point of departure for action, action in this case necessarily meaning political action. As far as I have seen nobody suggested such a thing. Such a suggestion for Irish revivalists will bring on high blood pressure, just as my ghetto suggestion for Irish speakers in towns has done for a long time. They will go on massaging their whiskers with the fish scales and
repeat the ritualistic ma to an Rialtas dhairire ...

It is not cynical to say that a Government never becomes sincere about anything until forced into a position where action becomes imperative. At this point some personal experiences may be relevant. I have seen spontaneously organised groups of Irish speakers in Galltacht areas supporting two election candidates. They did not merit support but, at that moment, it looked as if they could be used to some purpose. However, in both cases, the language was only very indirectly an issue. It may be more to the point to say something about an effort which was made in Dublin some years ago to organise the Gaeltacht people living there. It lasted for some time but petered out in failure.

One thinks it strange that this should be so. In modern times-in nineteenth century England and America as well as in twentieth century Ireland-the Irish have founded what have been probably the most effective mass movements known to any people. Indirectly the Church of the majority may have something to do with this. In any case it is a historical fact. Why have the Irish revivalists failed to establish or maintain any worthwhile movement since 1921? The above effort it is easy enough to account for. There was the stereotyped form of apathy met with everywhere and which we were gradually conquering by making those adjustments which the development of every organised effort renders necessary. But there are certain things which cannot be adjusted. A democratically appointed committee will always contain a number of notorieties sheltering under precautionary umbrellas from fireworks fall-out. Then there are those who will have given `hostages to fortune', people who could be be of tremendous use if they would beforehand measure the risks of office against its responsibility and its allurements. Some continued on committee while openly going against the fundamental principles of the organisation. The group was at length roped in as a Gaeltacht Dramatic Society, usual measures were taken to puff up their egos, they were dropped not with the crash of artistic tons of bricks but rather as Atlantic-smelling driftwood. The Irish language lagoons, are anything but ecumenical.

Candidly the idea was to form a pressure group. Initially it seemed easier to attain this by concentrating on a well-defined section like Gaeltacht people and on a limited if big objective like Gaeltacht consolidation. At that time too an attempt on different lines was being made to organise the Gaeltacht itself. Our intention was not eventually to con fine organisation to Gaeltacht people or Gaeltacht interest. We know that the cause of the language, like the magpie's nest which goes by the name of Irish culture, is indivisible. The Gaeltacht mentality is as crotchety a bag of tricks as that of the Cetharnach Caoilriabhach. Still there seemed to be more hope in it for a start than among the iceberg zones of revivalist Dublin. The latter have been organising themselves since 1893 and have succeeded in forming if not five or six mutilated, at least five or six mutually self-excluding very select vestries. They won't even yield to the ecumenical fall-out which has succeeded in reaching our shores. If they had any sense of responsibility, now is the moment for them to close their ranks. If Mac an 13heatha or anybody else chooses to remain out on a limb, leave him to caterwaul away there.

The idea of a pressure group -was and should be to educate and train an elite who would give precedence to the language issue above
all other issues arising in the political field. Irish revivalists, if the word is to have any meaning, must themselves realise that the cause
of the language is of more importance than the fleeting vagaries of politics which are for the most part irrelevant at any deep level. Dublin did and does offer a splendid opportunity for such a group. Five hundred people compacted into unselfish solidarity could conceivably decide the fate of three or four parliamentary seats and hence of a government. This is axiomatic. Seats have been and are decided by a mere handful of votes. This would all depend of course on the willingness of a determined group to raise the language above all other issues, no matter how personal such issues, or how vital in themselves. I know it is a negative approach. "An té nach bhfuil láidir
ní f oláir dó a bheith glic. '

I am not discussing now what four or five hundred voluntary workers, even a hundred such, of the intellectual calibre and passionate persuasiveness of those contemplated here could otherwise do in maelstrom of an election. Nor am I forgetting the incalculable service that could be rendered by those who could not act openly but who would be with us. Nor am I forgetting the rest of the country. But Dublin gives better manoeuvring ground for an idea like this. Dublin is the Achilles heel for the Revolution. Let us not shirk at the word. Revolution it must be to get anywhere at this stage. And there is no use denying that the wrench which is required to be given to the minds even of the most passionate believers in Irish would be anything less than a revolution. Now an organisation, ACP (An Comhar Poibli) has been formed in Cork and seems to have groups elsewhere. I sincerely hope they

I was present at its first Dublin meeting. Although I was calculatingly somewhat rowdy there in pursuit of other and more immediate ends, I can say with all sincerity that I bore no ill-will to the promoters of the meeting. Sincerity itself must be non-fissionable. I was not impressed by the explanations at the meeting. A Fianna Fail T.D. very properly pointed out that the objects of ACP are self-contradictory. In fairness perhaps the approach at that stage was merely exploratory. Firstly it was stated they would operate through the political parties, taking an active part in the political work- each person of the party of his choice-and thereby influencing the attitude of all the parties towards Irish. Secondly it was stated they might enter election contests themselves as a group. I think in this latter regard local elections and rural areas were particularly mentioned. From the analysis given of the political situation, I gather that matters are likely to move fairly slowly? There is the strait-jacket of time. If we cannot move immediately we are simply wasting our time.
Under the discreetly shrouded whisperings of the boxes the potential Jacobins among the groundlings have remained in a lotus-land of inertia watching the travail of that great mountain of a Commission for the last six years, six critical years which may have decided the fate of the language for ever. I for one cannot see any person having sufficient influence in the work of any party without submitting wholly to the interests of the
party. If these interests clash with the interests of the Irish language or remain neutral to it despite his efforts, what is our man going to
More than likely become their man! As a good party man take the party line and say that his party is the party that really has the interests of the language at heart. In fact has it more at heart than Donncha Ó Suilleabháin on that Arctic expanse of Georgiana in Parnell Square; than Donall Ó Moráin fowlingg through Connemara bogs after scholars and rabbits who refuse to acclimatise; than the land-scape gardener Mac an Bheatha draining the just man's well-earned pint at Mount Vernon, or whatever Mount or Fount it is, in Clontarf.
All this was shown clearly at the meeting referred to above. The Irish speakers of what we may call the p-Party showed that they preferred their genealogical trees to the language. The Irish speakers of the pp-Party showed that to them the Irish language couldn't exist apart from the idols of a life time; they sought to pinpoint language failures as the small scree of the mountain side rather than the
awesome cloud-enshrouded top. We were all in the ruction !

It seems simple enough. If the Irish language becomes an election issue-which already it has actually become-then ACP will split into its component parts and parts-parties-will become more important than the language for the "duration", during which above all times the language should have a prior claim ! After all politics are the raison d'etre of a political party. Just look at pp-Party. For years they have had an Irish-speaking youth organisation. For years even the lads have solid flesh-bound jaws and waists straddled with built-in flesh packs. But can anybody point to them as an Irish influence on the Party?

Besides, the same party had a genius for fishing up front rank revivalists. Or was it the other way around? No matter. Why did the front rank revivalists never succeed in doing anything for the language? At no stage, for the sake of the distressed damsel i gcluid faoi lean, were the front rank revivalists prepared to divorce the party machine which fished them up successfully on to the Dun Emer carpets. Of course they baited their hooks with Irish for what it was worth. I personally think. these particular anglers would have served the cause of Irish better had they been known to oppose it. Their particular version of the Sea*-ritual, their contemptuous toadyism, was an effective opposition as it alienated - sympathy to the language in the very ranks of the party. I am afraid is is as simple as that.

The ACP may, convince a -substantial number to declare for Irish as against party when there is a clash.of loyalties. It would be some-thing unparalleled. The defence of the language against misrepresentation is one of their objects also. I am not convinced by their start. The analysis of examination figures and of the failures in Irish was a good piece of work. It was as effectively done already by INNIU and the results published in Irish and English.** The sample poll on compulsory Irish, taken in Tralee area, although conforming to all the conditions of such polls, would in my view have been better, left undone. Better have taken them on their own challenge of a referendum.

*"Sea" in this context is not the English word, but the contraction of.the
Irish "Is ea", conveying the same meaning as the Americanism "Yes"-man.

**INNIU, prompted by the 1960 Fine Gael plan to remove Irish as an
essential subject in the Leaving Certificate, analysed the 1959 and 1960
Leaving Certificate results in 1961 and 1962, respectively. ACP alone pub-
lished an analysis of the 1961 results.

Let Garret Fitzgerald have his scorched earth, his culture-neutral no-man's land, peopled solely with his figure goddesses. It is evident he rates the I.Q. of the Irish people rather low, so low in fact that he thinks he can easily recruit them to the sole adoration of his figure goddesses. In his goddess island he will be defied by a chain detonation of referendums which will blow his figures, goddesses and all, into stink bubbles, if not something worse, into his face. This is the price he will pay for trying to convince the Irish people that Irish will sieve off as easily as oil off water. Fitzgerald engrossed in his nutshop for figure goddesses has not yet realised that the heart-the humble Irish field turnip as well as any other-has also its reasons. To make Tralee area the sample was wrong, I think. After all the object wasn't to imitate the rawness of Fitzgerald propaganda. If I am not mistaken Tralee has entered the Glor na nGael competition.
That means that there must be a certain amount of language propaganda going on there. At the very least general goodwill towards the language can be expected. What is more important, Tralee is the most nationalist, the most republican town in Ireland.
Republicanism, extreme Republicanism, doesn't mean anything very much in an Irish language context. Sinn Fein candidates in recent elections had all their names in Irish. One doesn't exactly know. whether this was a facile gesture to .,Irish, or simply a strategem to make names unmistakable to voters, a strategem which has been resorted to by people besides Sinn Fein. It may be merely a repetition of a 1918 precedent. One thing is cer-tain, that there is not more Irish spoken in Tralee because it is Republican than in any other town of its size. Paradoxically enough, I would be inclined to think that for that very reason less Irish,may be spoken in it ! But it means that "not merely. free but Gaelic" is a built-in article, a. constant presence in the mind. Declaring against Irish would be the same as declaring against Republicanism, against G.A.A., against Croke Park itself ! And what does the poll mean ! Some of its crucial features were not favourable. Anything but! Even if it were, all the way through, the opponents of Irish have taken no notice of it. Some kind of a sample taken by Irish Marketing something or other, somewhere or other, is the one that serves their purpose. Who are Irish Marketing something or other? Where was the sample taken? Who took it? What check was there that they were neutral? How were the subjects of survey selected? How was processing done? Were there neutral observers or observers with different view-points present? Where can the data, the names and addres-
ses of subjects, be examined? In fact all this looks like poachers procedure. It is on a par with samples taken throughout the year all showing that Fianna Fail would be beaten anywhere !
Yet this was the one Garret Fitzgerald started to chip more of his Great Figure Goddesses out of. It conforms to scientific require- ments IRISH TIMES, February 22, 1964) ! The "Times" articles of Fitzgerald bear out what others have suggested, that he starts off with his preconceived inferences-if that is not a contradiction in terms-and that he then conscripts, chips and processes legions of figures in the Zeus-Fitzgerald head from whence they spring down fully armed Goddesses to force the adherence of us low I.Q. Irish mortals to laws as rigid as Destiny. Perhaps Destiny is the word. For science it is not. Even at the highest level it is doubtful whether emotive colouring can be excluded from the most rigorous reasoning. But how could one call such prejudicial emotionalism science? Defenders of the language cause have referred to him as "a good economist."
One of course can refer to economists-whatever that word may mean now-as reviewers refer to novelists as good, bad or indifferent, the canons of criticism being no' more valid in one case than in the other. Sometimes my personal impression of certain economists is that they would love a Famine just in order to have figures to gorge themselves with, as I am nearly certain they would be among the survivors. Most of what I have to say here is offered rather as an alternative than as serious criticism of ACP undertaking.
Political action of some type is imperative. Now many people passionately attached to Irish have no interest in party politics or party. machines. But for the sake of the language we are prepared to go to hell, jail, into a street riot, jujitsuing with Fitzgerald's Figure Goddesses or, as a last resort, into the iron jaws of the political machine. Al- ready a number of young people and people not so young have be- cq~ne orientated in this way. They can be added to.
To me what is particularly wanted is a number of people not engage in party politics. When I mention "number" I would hope for thousands, but I would be quite satisfied with hundreds. They would not tie themselves to any particular party but, by constant vigorous pressure, work, shifts of support when necessary, would be very active, in fact more active in the critical areas than the party machines between elections. They should not refuse a platform to anybody remotely sympathetic to their objects, but should not themselves ever lose sight of the rigid ideal. Everything would necessarily be elastic and courses embarked on would have to admit of easy change as circumstances would demand. Any political step should not bind anybody beyond the immediate issue and immediate means of dealing with it. I personally could not tie myself to any party machine.
As such, I think this is a course that can be acceptable to the most extreme Republican as well as to most extreme Fine Gael person believing in a Gaelic Ireland. The important thing is the priority of belief, of the definiteness of the consequent action.
A swing from one party to another-according to "the party line" the interest of the language-would be a matter of course for such a group. Even tactical abstention from voting would serve the purpose at stages. I have heard certain clerics say-I forget whether under the pain of mortal sin or not-that it is the duty of everybody to exercise the vote. Intelligent abstention is also exercising the vote ! Even certain politicians have suggested that people should be compelled to vote. The same people would in the next breath speak of the inviolable sanctuary of conscience. We should be legislated into voting for a lot of flapdoodles !
I think of course that an abstentionist should spoil his vote in a place like Dublin where party machines have highly organised personation departments, a fact which I never heard any cleric or sanctimonious politican condemn !
A cleric relieving himself of a statement such as "it is the duty of everybody to vote" reminds me of the famous letter to the IRISH PEOPLE in which it was stated that the Pope was less competent in Irish politics than any shoemaker ! I can envisage times when direct action of a sort is the only answer. I translate the following from a report of a symposium on the Irish Revival Commission in Power's Royal Hotel (IRISH INDEPENDENT, 25'2/'64) "The Uasal Donnchadh 0 Sailleabhain's view was different,. 'If the Gaeltacht came to an end to-morrow the Irish language could continue. Henceforth the task o f propagating the language will devolve on Dublin."'
I have recently said elsewhere that this gentleman had stated on television that Irish was saved and I asked what I think was a very pertinent question : if he believed that why did he not, as a member of this Commission, submit a Minority Report? Now, the venerable society whose secretary he is has no further function apparently, I ask it to close its premises. To enforce this there are two effective legal ways. One is picketing. The other the even more effective method,of the boycott. Which reminds one that the most pressing necessity of the Irish revival is a span new virile language organisation. Even with that I can envisage times . . . For one thing the sand are flopping out.
For another thing resolutions, delegations and goodwill can no longer billhook their way through the rank undergrowth of Government subsidiaries, the impenetrable jungle of semi-Ministries, semi-demi-Ministries, shadow Ministries, state companies, boards, institutes. Even the algae lichen Ministry of the Gaeltacht is threatening to become a spreading village chestnut tree, shading 0 Morain's (not the Gaeltacht Minister, the other fellow) scholarship smithy at one end, with Fr. McDyer, Cathach on breast, advancing with processing hordes of cannabalistic gallowglasses at the other end, threatening to trample down the forge, the chestnut and all.
There arc- already seven junior and three senior paper keepers in the Fail and they are claiming the status of a Bord, the more competently to place on. the Table Of The House the bumper crops of reports' which nobody is expected ever to handle. In fact according to all the talk about education in the papers nobody in the first instance was competent to write these reports, the whole lot of us being illiterate !
Everyday one reads the same monotonous answer : "The Minister has no competence in the matter. He is not responsible for the policy or the day-to-day working of Bord na Sudairi ... " To enable Irish to penetrate in any more substantial form than a three word title into this multi-concentric ringed fort more than kid- glove political methods, even by the most dedicated elite, are necessary.
We must be prepared to let the watch-hound have the ball through the gullet and entrails. That is another way of saying that politics are only a conspiracy. To build up an elite in the first instance is going to be a nonpectsscular, difficult and at times a most disappointing job. You are going to have all the official hnguage organisations against you. All the papers will refuse to pub lish our ideas, with the possible exception of two, one English language paper and one provincial Irish language one.
As for papers like COMNAR and INNIU they are the censorious trumpets of an Establishment and have all the good Pompadour perfume of an Establishment. An independent organ becomes necessary which may also publish about the same proportion of worthwhile matter in English as English language papers publish of Irish trash.
Looking at it none too optimisticall I still see that this is all possible. Further it will take less time to do with more tangible results than the infiltration of party machines. New forces have been liberated and it is possible to do it on a broader front now than some years ago. Even the Masonic institutions in Parnell Square, O'Connell and Grafton St. might lend a hand. You can be sure they will lend a dead hand. Finally this brings up the immediate task, the political situation at the moment. This is not being wise after the bye-elections.***
Some ten days before them I wrote a letter on these lines to the only paper . likely to publish it. It didn't. For the simple reason that being the organ of a political party it knows that neither that party any more than the others wishes to do anything worthwhile for Irish.
Yet one must say that it is more likely that gold will be quarried out of some seams than out of others. One party appears to be on a see-saw. Its leader must be continually putting orthodox glosses on the schismatic sermons of his lieutenants. Can that party be made to abandon the "stray sod" in which it seems to be planted? Browne, MacQuillan, Tully, Norton, Miss Larkin? ... One party had definitely said time and again that they would continue compulsory Irish at least to the same extent as at present.
Without compulsory Irish there is as much chance of getting anywhere as Manx or Bretons or Basques have with their languages. Then there is the party of Fitzgerald's Great Figure Goddesses.
They have very definitely repudiated compulsory Irish which is the same as repudiating Irish and, protest as they will, abolishing it.
Of course we all have heard about that omelette which in its pro- prietary brand is "Love and Sympathy for the Language." This pro-prietary omelette of course is not selling too well. It was this-non- compulsive love and sympathy-which was the second top-item in the programme for the recent bye-elections ! Strangely enough I believe this was not so much dictated by opposition, as by utter political bankruptcy.
The rest of the programme is a bleak corridor of "Biddies"- dolled-up non-rouged Brideogal. This, in its turn, dictates that they accept a reasonable attitude to Irish or be driven from public life for ever. Everything seems to point to Mr. Dillon up-grading his own I.Q. a little too much and that of the Irish people a little too low. The only possible opposition or alternative to Fianna Fail is Labour. This gives also a sane voting choice.

***The bye-elections held in February, 1964, in Cork and Kildare, in both of which Fine Gael were convincingly beaten.

I am reluctant to discuss a matter like this in your paper which I am sure avoids party politics. It is of course a purely personal opinion. But as Irish national identity, the very destiny of our people is involved in the loss of the language, I think you and your readers must see it as something more than the shifting sands of party politics, though the idea might have to incarnate itself opportunistically in party machines.

I may say that those proposed momentary alignments are from my own point of view extremely distasteful, running counter to a life-long attitude. I have never voted for any political party, Labour or Fianna Fail, no more than for Fine Gael, Clann na Poblachta or Sinn Fein. I am also well aware that Fianna Fail have precious little to show in. the language promotion line in thirty years of power, in fact less than Cumann na nGael, the forerunner of Fine Gael, had in ten or twelve.

I know that neither Fianna Fail nor Labour will have anything to show in the future unless constant intelligent pressure and, at times, doses of prudently administered compulsion are brought to bear on them. Their answer to everything will be more and more commissions relegated to dead letter boxes, huge dumps of fish offals for Revival land lubbers, if they do not see that there is sufficient courage and determination to change caterwauling into action.

Action will give the Irish Revival the self-confidence which it badly needs and will inculcate a healthy respect for it, even in John Dillon's sons.

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