Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Trouble in the Gaeltacht

This morning the Irish News (25 April) reported that until recently only one garda officer assigned to a station in the Donegal Gaeltacht could speak fluent Irish.

The Republic's Irish Language Commissioner found that of nine officers sent to the area, eight could not carry out their duties through Irish.

The issue came to light after a native speaker complained that when he went to the Garda station at Bunbeg in November 2010, the garda on duty said he did not have enough Irish to deal with him.  Presumbaly that was communicated to the native Irish speaker in English.

The Irish Language Commissioner then launched an investigation in February 2011 but this was temporarily stopped  when three Irish speakers were assigned to the station.  However this was not enough and the Irish Language Commissioner found that the Garda Commissioner had broken his statutory commitment to ensuring all staff assigned to stations in the Gaeltacht are able to carry out their duties through Irish.

This raises a number of interesting points:
1. It is clear that many members of the Garda are not fluent in Irish.  Only one of the original nine police officers was able to conuct his business in Irish and that may well reflect the general level of capability in the language in the police force across the Republic.
2. Since those garda who were not fluent in Irish were going about their daily work in the Gaeltacht it seems that many people there in the Gaeltacht were quite content to conduct their business in English - which raises questions about the level of usage of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht.
3. When Irish language activists talk about an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland, this is what they are talking about and in Northern Ireland it would result in discrimination against those who do not speak Irish with preferential treatment in some sectors of employment for those who do speak Irish.  That is why I am resolutely oppsoed to the creation of an Irish Language Act.  It would be divisive and discriminatory.

The Irish language is part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland, as it is also part of the cultural wealth of the Irish Republic, but it should not be allowed to become a cultural weapon in a cultural war.  Sadly many cultural nationalists have tried to use it in that way.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Hogmanay in Ulster

On 1 January 1912 the Northern Whig carried an article on Hogmanay, from which this is extracted:

Though in Ireland new years's eve has nothing like the festive significance which tradition attaches to the observance of Hogamanay amongst our Scottish friends, Belfast's adherence to the time-honoured custom of publicly and demonstratively 'seeing the old year out'. keeps the celebration from being altogether a dead letter on this side of the water.  It is a tribute to the influence of the Scottish element in Ulster that the festival is kept up year after year with an enthusiasm hardly surpassed in the country where it is regarded as one of the chief holidays.
When I was growing up, on 'old year's night' my mother always attended the watchnight service in a local church.  When she returned home she brought in a piece of coal as part of the tradition of 'first footin'.  It may have been because she was born in Scotland but as I recall such traditions were more prevalent in Ulster at that time and they were certainly reinforced by the thoroughly Scottish hogmanay programmes on television.

A Burns Night celebration for Queen's Island

There is a long tadition of Burns Suppers in Ulster, stretching back to the formation of the Belfast Burns club in the 1870s and taking in other Burns Clubs, such as the one that used to exist in Londonderry.

However I was surprised to come across this reference to a Burns supper in the Belfast News-Letter on 29 January 1923.  It was a report that 'the drawing office staff at the Queen's Island held their second annual Burns dinner in Ye Olde Castle  Restaurant'.

We know that Burns has a universal appeal but there was a special interest here in Ulster, because of the close cultural connection between Ulster and Scotland and especially because of the fact that the Scots language was understood by Ulster folk.

Back in 1923 the Burns Supper was held in Ye Olde Castle Restaurant, which is long gone, but perhaps when the Harland & Wolff drawing office is refurbished and brought back into use it might be the location for a future Burns Supper.

However in the meantime we can look back to 1923 and I am sure that many of those who worked in the drawing office in 1923 had been working there for some years.  As a result some of those who attended the Burns night celebration might well have worked on the drawings of the Titanic.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

An old Ulster-Scots poem

This evening I came across several poems in Ulster-Scots in the Belfast News-Letter for 1838.  The first was in the 7 December edition and was reprinted from the December edition of the Dublin University Magazine.  The poem, which was written in a light Ulster-Scots, was set in a graveyard in the Ulster-Scots community of Islandmagee.

It's up the hills, an' down the braes,
An' ower the heather green,
It's lang sin' ye were here before
It's langsome ye hae been -
There's mony a house, and mony a ha'
And mony a lass between.

Oh! Mary, wipe awa the tears,
They're happin'frae your een,
For mony a house, and mony a ha'
Sin' Beltane I hae seen
But no ae lass by the hearth-stane,
Sae bonny sits between.

Oh! Willy, tak' me to your bread,
An' let me greet my fill;
Ye're gaun awa again, Willy -
The sun blinks on the hill -
An' I maun bide the lee lang year
Sae mair again' my will.

Oh! let me kee you, my wee Mary,
For I maun gang my lane;
But will ye keep the tryst Mary,
When May flowers spring again?

Oh! weary are the lang, lang nichts,
An' driech the lanely hours,
Until the May comes back again,
Wi' a' her bonny flowers.

It's up the hills, an' down the braes,
An' ower the heather green,
It's lang sin' I was here before,
It's langsome I hae been -
An' mony a hill, an' mony a dale,
An' mony a mile between.

Weel hae ye kept yer tryst, Willy -
The red is in your cheek,
An' glancin' are your een, Willy;
An' pleasant words ye speak;
An' ye hae come frae the leevin' world
Your ain true love to seek.

What gars ye look sae pale, Mary?
What gars ye look sae wan?
Ye hae a smell o' the kirk-yard banes,
Amang the rotten san';
And I a leevin' man.

Come up wi' me to the kirk-yard,
Ye promised me to wed;
I sleep a' nicht in a deep. damp grave,
Wi' mouls sae newly spread;
An' lay ye down wi' me, Willy,
Upon our marriage bed.

Later that month, on 18 December 1838, the News-Letter carried the poem Tam o' the Balloch.

Some critics argue that Ulster-Scots is a recent invention but it is hard for them to argue that when we have examples such as the above, from 1838.