Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Yes it was Irish blarney

Back on 31 October I wrote:
'Today I came across an article from the 2 July edition of the Sinn Fein newspaper Republican News / An Phoblacht. In it the writer refers to Belfast City Cemetery and states that 'many of the graveyard's Protestant headstones bear Irish inscriptions'.  I found that somewhat surprising and so perhaps someone who is familiar with the graveyard can tell me just how many of the headstones do in fact have Irish inscriptions. I know that there are a few Protestant headstones with inscriptions in Irish but is it true that there are 'many'? Is it a fact or is it just another bit of Irish blarney from Sinn Fein?'

The only response was from 'igaeilge', who said... 
Nelson knows full well that he should consult with former Mayor of Belfast, Tom Hartley, if he wants information on the graves of Belfast City Cemetery. I saw such an inscription in Irish on the grave of a once prominent Orangeman in that cemetery - were there more? Maybe?

I decided therefore to look at Tom Hartley's book about the graveyard Written in Stone.  In it he states that by 2006 there had been over 91,000 burials in the cemetery.  There are many thousands of headstones in the City Cemetery so how many of these headstones have Irish inscriptions?

According to Hartley (p 121), 'the Irish language and Irish speakers are here', so what exactly is there to support the claim in An Phoblacht?
1. Rev Dr Richard R Kane was a prominent Orangeman, a patron of the Gaelic League and 'reputedly an Irish speaker'.  However Hartley makes no mention of Irish on the gravestone.
2. There is a line of Irish on the headstone of Captain Norton Butler Alexander.
3. Dr John St Clair Boyd was prominent in the Belfast Gaelic League but there is no mention of Irish on his headstone.
4. There is a single line in Scottish Gaelic on the gravestone of Rose Elizabeth Cameron.
5. Robert Lynd was an Irish language activist but there is no mention of Irish on the gravestone.

As regards the original claim in the Sinn Fein newspaper, there is nothing to support it and there is only mention of one 'Protestant headstone' with an Irish inscription.  According to Sinn Fein 'many of the graveyard's Protestant headstone bear Irish inscriptions' but as far as I can see Hartley mentions only one.  It is clear that the original claim in the Sinn Fein newspaper was pure Irish blarney. 

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