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Teanga d’achan duine

March 31, 2014

I went to a lively public lecture in Muff last week. Linda Ervine was giving the talk. She is married to the brother of the late David Ervine, the PUP politician. Linda is a Protestant, and she is promoting Irish in East Belfast. And she is having great success: hundreds of people are attending classes in the East Belfast Mission and most of them are Protestant. Linda gave an account of the influence of Protestants in the preservation and revival of Irish in the 19th century- the work of John Mac Adam, the manuscript collector, for example. It was very fashionable to have names and mottos carved in stone in Irish on public buildings in 19th century Belfast. (That custom is still preserved, but they use aerosols now.) Linda said that Irish belongs to everyone, not to one political party or one religion. She showed how the Church of Ireland supports the language through its Irish association which organises services and publishes books in Irish. Services in Irish are held regularly in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast. There was a wide ranging discussion from the floor.
One contributor mentioned the great work of Cosslett Ó Cuinn, the Church of Ireland minister who gathered folklore from the last of the native speakers in Inis Eoghain in the 1930’s and who translated the New Testament into Irish. People complained about teaching methods, about compulsory Irish, about political influence. It was an honest open discussion and I think most of the audience had a favourable attitude towards Irish. This cross community work is very important. But it is very ironical that at this time, when so much progress is being made with regard to recognising Irish as belonging to all of the people of Ireland, that Iontaobhas Ultach, the organisation which does so much work to promote Irish as a community language, will be getting the axe.