Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Gaels were planters too

Back in 1970 the poets John Hewitt and John Montague had a reading tour with the title The Planter and the Gael.  The accompanying booklet stated, 'Montague defines the culture of the Gael ... Hewitt that of the Planter.'  Subsequently the phrase 'the Planter and the Gael' entered the vocabulary of cultural and political conversation.  However it is a phrase with which I have never felt comfortable and it is interesting that Hewitt admitted, 'In the community I come from we never call ourselves the planters.'

I was reminded of the phrase this week when the GAA planted some ash trees at Stormont to mark the 125th anniversary of the organisation.  In its report of the event the Irish News created the clever headline 'Gaels become the planters as GAA puts down roots at Stormont'.

The flaw in the 'Planter and Gael' analysis of history is that of course the Gaels were 'planters' too!  Every ethnic group, including the Gaels, came to Ireland from somewhere.

The current issue of Time (9 November) has an article about the Swiss National Museum.  Earlier this year the museum opened a new permanent exhibition to chart the history of immigration since the Bronze Age and in it there is a section entitled 'No one has been here all the time'.

Some elements in the cultural establishment cling to the Planter and Gael dichotomy but is is a false dichotomy and one that should be abandoned.

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