Sunday, 28 November 2010

Culture Matters (2)

Irish cultural nationalism

Irish nationalism is essentially cultural nationalism and the Irish cultural movement has always been essentially nationalist.  That was certainly the case at the start of the Gaelic revival in the 19th century.

The Gaelic League was formed on 31 July 1893 to revive the Gaelic language and Patrick Pearse identified the formation of this organisation as the start of an Irish revolution.  Writing in The Irish Volunteer (7 February 1914) he said, 'The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that has ever come into Ireland. The Irish revolution really began when the seven proto-Gaelic Leaguers met in O’Connell Street.'

Meanwhile the GAA was founded in 1884 on the initiative of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and it has been a thoroughly nationalist organisation throughout its existence. Clubs, ground and trophies have been named after Irish republican heroes, past and present, and the constitution of the GAA still affirms its support for a ‘United Ireland’.

The early history of both the Gaelic Athletic Association, formed in 1884, and the Gaelic League, shows clearly the way in which both organisations were used by Irish nationalists as a means of promoting Irish nationalism.

It is often pointed out that there were some ‘Protestants’ involved in the Irish cultural movement eg Francis J Bigger, Roger Casement and Alice Milligan, and it is true that there were Protestants in the movement but they were nearly all Irish nationalists. Generally their interest in Irish culture developed into a commitment to Irish nationalism. 

Today Sinn Fein continue to pursue a cultural nationalist agenda.  Around the time of the IRA hunger strikes they launched a new cultural campaign and at a conference in West Belfast Padraig O’Maoicraoibhe, a Sinn Fein cultural officer, said, 'I don’t think we can exist as a separate people without our language. Now every phrase you learn is a bullet in the freedom struggle. The process of decolonisation will have stopped half-way if, the day we succeed in driving the English from our shores, what is left behind is an Irish people possessed of the language, culture and values of the English.'

At the conference in Conway Mill on 26 May 1982 another Sinn Fein activist, Tarlach MacIonractaigh, said, 'The armed struggle is the highest point of the cultural revival.'  The proceedings of the conference were reported in a Sinn Fein publication entitled Learning Irish and in this Sinn Fein observed that, 'Everyone [at the conference] was agreed that there was a definite link between the National Struggle and the Cultural Revival.'

Today Sinn Fein see Irish culture as a means of:
1. Broadening the battlefront – they added the cultural front to the terrorist front and the political front and later they added the parades front.  Their terrorist war is over, although it is being continued by dissident republicans, but they have placed a greater emphasis on their cultural war.
2. Strengthening the nationalist community – providing cultural confidence, strengthening solidarity and building capacity.
3. Undermining the Protestant/unionist community – they deny or demean our cultural expressions and try to convince unionists that they are really Irish.  Their tactics are those of cultural humiliation and cultural assimilation.

That is why Sinn Fein place so much emphasis on culture and make so many cultural demands. They know that culture matters.

There is nothing inherently problematic about the Irish language, Gaelic games or any other form of Irish culture.  They are part of our cultural wealth.  The problem is about the way they have been used by Irish nationalists and republicans to further their political agenda.

1 comment:

  1. Nelson,

    I have a few things to comment on here if you allow me.

    I very much believe that events past and present in Ireland can be explained by simple cause and effect. Since the statutes of Kilkenny Irish culture and language was subject to criminalisation, humiliation and indeed dehumanisation by the British as a matter of policy. The exploitation of Irish culture and language by Sinn Fein therefore is part of a long and broad backlash to their understanding of the oppressive history. In the cause and effect model they are simply reacting to their perception of history, rather than being offensive for the sake of it. In addition, this also does not mean that Republican expression of Irish culture and language is completely insincere, as there is a genuine love and appreciation for their heritage.

    For the past few years Unionists have been making comments regarding the cultural humiliation of Unionism. Such comments, ironically, are perceived by nationalists as confirming their beliefs that many aspects of what unionists refer to as their ‘culture’ is either made up (e.g. Ulster Scots is widely believed to be ‘made-up’ in nationalist communities), and such comments are seen as to expose the fallacy of the Unionist cultural argument. In drawing attention to unionist fears of cultural humiliation, your doing Unionists culture no favours, sardonically.

    This nationalist view is compounded by the fact that so many within the Unionist community appear to point blank deny that unionists have any links to Gaeldom whatsoever. Indeed whilst Ulster Scots is promoted; very little is ever mentioned of Highland Gaelic culture or language as part of the Unionist cultural repertoire, again confirmed nationalists’ believe in Unionists selectivity on the basis of sectarianism. For example, many unionists’ ancestors would have undoubtedly spoke Scots Gaelic and not English or Ulster Scots, but this is widely denied by unionists. For example you yourself own a scots gaelic surname ‘McCausland’.

    Ultimately, nationalist communities respond little to unionists cultural cries of non-recognition, because as I have mentioned, Irish language and culture (re: leprechaun language by Sammy Wilson etc) has been battered by unionists as inferior and something to be stamped out, therefore sympathy is out the window.

    If Unionist culture was sturdy and deep enough, it would never need to ask for legitimacy from anyone. The fact that your post exists says more than the post says.

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