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State pays little more than lip service to preservation of the Irish language

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

A  school debate long ago trí Ghaeilge between Coláiste Iognáid (the Jes) and Coláiste Cholmcille from Indreabhán – like many debates in Irish – was on the state of the language itself. On this particular day, the theme went something like this: “An bhfuil teilifís ag marú na teanga?”

We had drawn the short straw. As well as having much poorer Irish than the Gaeilge bhinn bhlasta with the Connemara blas of our rivals, we were also arguing on the wrong side of the argument.

We were trying to prove that TV had had little impact on the language – and this was the early 1980s, a good decade before TG4. It was a no-brainer and we were no hopers.

The killer line was delivered by their captain, one of the Ó hÉanaigh brothers. Talking about one of their young relations at home, he said the first three words out of his mouth had been: “Mamaí, dadaí agus the Incredible Hulk”. In our hearts we knew we had lost once those words had been uttered.

The arrival of TG4 (Teilifís na Gaeilge as it was then) in 1996 was a crucial moment in the struggle for survival of the language. Sadly it is one of the few bright moments in a slow, sad and seemingly irreversible decline.

Michael D Higgins was Minster for Arts and the Gaeltacht back then. Only one Aire Gaeltachta, Éamon Ó Cuív, could be compared in the same breath. As for the arts, the spark brought by Higgins to the role has long been quenched.

Irish is still a living language but it faces challenges on multiple of fronts that could not have been imagined, even by us enthusiasts, three decades ago. Then you could go to the heart of the Gaeltacht in Connemara and meet a lot of people – admittedly older – who spoke no English.

In the fíor-Ghaeltacht – places like Carna and Leitir Mór and the islands – the Irish they spoke was unpolluted by English syntax and words. When you hear the likes of Seosamh Ó Cuaig or Máirtín Jamsie Ó Fatharta speak, you hear rich tapestries of language which has been weaved for generations.

But all that has changed. Of course, there are trade-offs. Isolation and relative poverty have given way to more prosperity and connectedness – from childhood children are exposed to the same cultural experiences as all others in the western world. And that means a bombardment of English.

There is no doubt that it has not only affected the way children growing up in the Gaeltachtaí speak Irish – there is an increasing tendency to form sentences using the English ‘frame’ – but there has also been a marked diminution in the number of children who are willing to speak Irish together.

I was at a seminar last year where a parent living in Carna talked about the losing battle to bring their children up in Irish there – once outside the house and the school, English was predominant.

Bilingualism is a reality in all Gaeltachts now. Every language is a living thing and all living languages are mongrels – Irish has borrowed liberally from English, Norman, Scandanavian and Latin over the centuries.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Changing political landscape fast becoming Double Dutch

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Big winner...Ivan Bacik after her by-election victory.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Holland is so used to enduring a perennial political log-jam – where every election just digs you deeper and deeper into a rut – that they’ve actually come up with their own name for it.

It’s called Dutchification – when society has become so urbanised, and globalised, and fragmented, and lacking cohesion, that no party, or parties, can expect to win any more.

The former RTÉ journalist Peter Cluskey wrote a very interesting article last week about this continued electoral limbo they have in Holland, where he’s been based for many years.

And truth be told, the same is happening here; the day of overall majorities is long gone.

We have gone from having two large parties to having three medium sized ones (and with the demise of Fianna Fáil it could even by two medium sized ones, or one large and one medium).

The reality is that it will be difficult for the foreseeable future for any two parties to form a coalition, and it could be difficult for any three parties to do the same.

The old fealties to the three long-established parties have been blown out of the water.

The biggest pool of voters now has no permanent loyalty. They are the floaters.

And there is a growing ‘none of the above’ contingent too, possibly spurred on by the cynicism, empty populism and downright lies, of social media.

They will vote for a party that opposes the government. And once that party they support goes into government, they immediately withdraw their support for it. Short of coming up for an elixir that guarantees everlasting joyous life, these voters will never support a party in government.

I know it sounds cynical but if you talk to enough people around the country – as I always try to do – the person with a deeply cynical disposition and a hate of politicians is no longer a rarity.

Sinn Féin is the growing party at the moment and – from this vantage point – looks like it will be in government for the next spin.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Toughest of first years for the three at the top

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Tough year...Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just a year ago, we got a new Government. It contained two parties who had separately led governments throughout the history of the State but had come together for the first time. Then there were the Greens. It was formed during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, caused by a Coronavirus pandemic. It came after an election of huge churn where the first time no single party won over 50 seats or, indeed, 40 seats. Seven of the Ministers were new to Government and two were recently-elected TDs.

Almost all of the collective effort in the past year has gone into addressing the enormous challenges of Covid-19. It has meant unprecedented levels of spending, of support, has led to extended lockdowns, huge percentages of people without employments, and whole sectors shut down for 15 months and counting.

Every new government has teething problems. Given those additional challenges, this coalition was not going to be an exception. Many of the Ministers had lousy starts and looked out of their depths, or out of sorts.

The administration of late is on a more even keel but the big challenges lie ahead when the huge financial supports currently in place begin to be dismantled.

I interviewed Eamon Ryan last week. He does not do negative. Most others would see the jagged internal Green Party rows and squabbling as a huge drag; the bitter divisions detracting from the achievement; the reputation of both Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin being damaged in the process.

Not for Ryan. While he acknowledges there will difficulties this is the prism through which he viewed the Greens’ first year in government and its response to Covid.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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