Monday, 7 December 2009

The GAA, an Irish language centre and republicanism

On Sunday 6 December there was a series of events in Londonderry to mark the 25th anniversary of the deaths of four IRA men. 

On 2 December 1984 Ciaran Fleming and Anthony MacBride, who was a member of the Irish Army as well as the IRA, planted a landmine near Kesh in county Fermanagh.  A hoax call was made to lure the British Army into the area and three armed IRA terrorists lay in wait but the mine failed to explode and MacBride was shot by the SAS.  Another IRA member, Ciaran Fleming, drowned in the Bannagh River while trying to escape.

Two more IRA men, Willie Fleming and Danny Doherty, were shot on 6 December 1984 by the SAS as they were going into the grounds of Gransha Psychiatric Hospital in Londonderry, where they planned to murder an off-duty member of the UDR.  At their funeral Martin McGuinness said, 'We are an occupied country and those brave enough to fight repression deserve nothing but respect and unfailing support from us all. Only the IRA can bring Britain to the negotiating table.'

To mark the anniversary of the deaths of the four IRA men Martin McGuinness gave a lecture in the new Irish language centre, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, which opened recently at a cost of £4 million  in Great James Street. There was also an exhibition in the centre of photographs of the IRA men, their deaths and their funerals.

The republican commemoration also included a wreath laying ceremony at an IRA memorial and a Gaelic football match between Na Piarsaigh CLG and Séan Dolan's GAC at Celtic Park in Londonderry.  Celtic Park is the main ground of Derry County Board of the GAA.

Once again various forms of Gaelic culture have been aligned with militant Irish republicanism.  The main county GAA pitch, which is owned by the Derry County Board, was used to host a Gaelic football match commemorating four IRA men and a new Irish language centre was the location for a commemorative lecture and exhibition.  Is it any wonder that unionists do not feel any affinity with either the Irish language or the GAA?


  1. Minister, in earlier entries, mention was made of the “depoliticisation” of the Irish language.

    One wonders whether it is possible, or even desirable to extract politics from a language.

    Indeed, for a language to remain viable, it must be able to accommodate discussion of politics as well as religion, science, sports, entertainment, technology, business and commerce.

    Perhaps, it would be preferable to speak of “politically broadening” Irish rather than pretending that Martin McGuinness or anyone else in Sinn Féin will refrain from using it anymore than from using English, along with microphones, loudspeakers, websites and newspapers.

    Is Irish a Republican language? Yes, in fact, it is. It can remain so while becoming a Unionist language.

    So to it already is a Catholic language, an Anglican language, a Presbyterian language, a Methodist language, a Quaker language, a Jewish language, a Baha'i language, a Muslim language, a Buddhist language, a Vaisnava language and an Atheist language.

    It belongs to all who speak it and it at the disposal of all.

  2. Hey Nelson can say what he likes here! Why don't you go to the DCAL website and see what groovy stuff is happening there.

    He doesn't need some namby pamby departmental disclaimer, he just talks straight about what's going down in Nelson Land!

  3. Hi, I would just like to say that this really is an important debate, one that ordinary Irish speakers feel isn't being debated enough. I thank Nelson for setting up a public blog so that we can understand his views more, I also thank him for replying in the past to the comments people leave.
    Anyway, back to them topic of Nelson's post, Nelson, you do tend to highlight the Irish language in a negative light only. In regards to the way Irish is Politicised, that cannot be argued, but it is true that Unionists also use that as their reason for not supporting it.
    Why not focus on the protestants or unionists who speak or spoke the language to try and change peoples opinions?
    Anyway, in reply to Mr McKeown, it's a friendly debate, i'm sure Nelson enjoys the debating that goes on here on the blog, but maybe he can confirm that for me.

  4. I Mac Murchaidh - I believe that debate and discussion are important if we are seeking to create better understanding. We may not always agree but in that case we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. As you say, it should be a friendly debate.
    You refer to 'protestants or unionists who speak or spoke the language' and that is an area in which I am very interested. I have read a number of the current books on the subject and it is something that I will return to again.

  5. By the way I was kidding. If anyone wants to know what I think about this issue here's the facts

  6. Irish has been spoken on the island for at least three millennia, before there was a border, and before the advent of Christianity, never mind Protestantism. If, like some members of the Executive, one is a young-earth creatonist, that is half as long as there has been a world. Human reactions are always understandable, but logic dictates that when dealing with our greatest natural resource one try not to take offence at what is, in diachronic terms, a little local difficulty.

  7. Scots Anorak - Both Irish and Ulster-Scots are part of our cultural wealth but your assertion that Irish is our 'greatest natural resource' is rather bizarre. However since you regard Irish as our 'greatest' natural resource, perhaps you could exaplain what you mean by 'natural resource', give some other examples of 'natural resources' and explain the basis for your claim that Irish is the 'greatest' of them.

    In the original post I had referred to the way in which 'various forms of Gaelic culture have been aligned with militant Irish republicanism'. This has been happening for more than a century and is certainly still evident today. It is not, therefore, something that can be ignored, however much you might want to ignore it. Moreover this particular incident related to a commemoration of four IRA terrorists and I think most people will regard terrorism as more than 'a little local difficulty', a description which I find rather shallow and callous.

  8. It is certainly right to characterise my take on this as callous, but not as shallow. If anything, I hope it shows an ability to think beyond the reflexive opinions and patterns into which we are born. Of course, I have not suffered personal loss, and I am conscious that if I did, my opinions might change, although by this stage they are probably well entrenched.

    Let us suppose that one of the many regional languages of France had been associated with a particularly nasty faction at the time of the French Revolution, perhaps one centred around Robespierre or Marat. Would it have been justified to discriminate against that language because of the association? Would it have been justified to let it die? I think at this juncture most people who believe in linguistic diversity would view it as a tragedy, since even the great upheavals of the French Revolution and the sides that people took in it were only temporary.

    Of course, there was a speech variety strongly associated with the French revolutionaries, but it was Standard French, and, partly as a result, that is doing rather well. But what if the Ulster dialect of Scots had been discriminated against because of its own strong association with Irish Republicanism in the 1790s? If discrimination were justified at the time, at what stage would it cease to be so? What if Ulster Scots had died out because of the discrimination the day before that happened?

    I am not in favour of killing anyone, and neither is the Irish language, for the simple reason that it does not have a personality. Commemorating an IRA man in an Irish-language centre is counterproductive and stupid, but a very partial association with contemporary or recent historical events does not justify a generalised antipathy towards an ancient language, which is, by definition, bigger than all that.

  9. Scots Anorak - At least you concede that your comment was callous.

  10. The information about the GAA game was taken from Republican News / An Phoblacht (10 December) but today I received information from the GAA contradicting the claim in the Sinn Fein paper. Ryan Feeney, the public affairs manager of Ulster GAA, has spoken to GAA officials in Londonderry who have stated that the match in question was a scheduled fixture which was played as part of the normal programme and that it had no link to any other event taking place in the city that day. He said that 'if there was a link made to this fixture by another outside group then it was done without the knowledge or permission of the GAA and we will be further investigating this matter. No commemorative or political event of any kind was held on GAA property namely Celtic Park.'

    I welcome this clarification and look forward to the further investigation mentioned by Ryan Feeney. The onus is now on Sinn Fein to come clean about this and to explain the report in An Phoblacht. Were they making it up or were they doing something without the knowledge of the GAA? Such actions by Sinn Fein certainly do not help the GAA.


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